A Tribute To Jan Hooks

SNL star Jan Hooks sadly passed away on October 9th.  Stephen Tropiano, author of Saturday Night Live FAQ, wrote a fitting tribute to this talented woman. Thank you for the laughs, Jan.

A Tribute to Jan Hooks

The recent death of Saturday Night Live of cast member Jan Hooks from an “undisclosed illness” took everyone by surprise last week. The fact she had been ill was never made public and she hasn’t been seen on television since 2010, when she appeared on the prime time special, The Women of SNL, and two episodes of 30 Rock as Jenna’s Maroney’s (Jane Krakowski) mother, Verna.

Liz and Candy Sweeney  (Jan Hooks, left, and Nora Dunn) butcher some holiday standards at their annual Christmas party (c/o "Saturday Night Live FAQ").

Liz and Candy Sweeney (Jan Hooks, left, and Nora Dunn) butcher some holiday standards at their annual Christmas party (c/o “Saturday Night Live FAQ”).

We often read stories about Method film actors like Robert DeNiro, Daniel Day Lewis, and Christian Bale getting “lost in a film role” and walking away in the end with an Oscar. Over Saturday Night Live’s forty year history, Jan Hooks was part of a select group of cast members—a list that also includes Dan Aykroyd, Nora Dunn, Mike Myers, and Cheri Oteri—who were the sketch comedy equivalent of Method actors. What separated Hooks and the others from most SNL performers is how they embodied the roles they played to the point where you felt like you really never knew the real person behind the comic persona.

A former member of the Los Angeles based comedy troupe, The Groundlings, Hooks never broke character because she was always in way too deep. She will be best remembered on SNL as Candy Sweeney, half of the meagerly talented singing duo, the Sweeney Sisters. They were high-energy and their performances were peppered with plenty of playful patter, yet musically Candy and her sister Liz (Dunn) always seemed like they were having an off-night.

Hooks created a few other original characters (Marge Keister and Anita), but she was also the show’s resident female impressionist for the six seasons (1986-1991) she appeared on the show. She was given the chance to play an array of famous women, like Hillary Clinton, Diane Sawyer, Sinead O’Connor, Jessica Hahn, and Tammy Faye Baker (to name a few). For five of the six seasons, Hooks, Dunn, and Victoria Jackson were the only women on the show. When Dunn left in 1990, it was only Hooks, Jackson, and newcomer Julia Sweeney.

It was talented performers like Hooks who paved the way for the other funny women who followed. Kristin Wiig, who was also in the spotlight during her seven seasons on the show (when Amy Poehler left in 2008, she was the only female regular on the show). Wiig paid tribute to Hooks on last week’s show. “She was one of the best that ever was,” Wiig remarked, “and her influence was clear in everyone one of us who has been here since.”

Get to the choppa: A Modern Sci Fi Films FAQ excerpt

Thirty years ago, we saw Arnie take to the screen in his most iconic role as the Terminator! Modern Sci Fi Films FAQ (new from Applause Theatre and Cinema Books) includes a special synopsis of this classic robot action film. Don’t worry – we won’t include any spoilers for those who haven’t seen it yet.

 

Robots and Robot Wannabes

Do You Worry About Rust?

The word “robot” is Czech in origin. Their word, “robota,” refers to drudgery, and, in general, a robot is a device designed to perform tasks usually done by a human (apparently, my time spent up to my elbows in dish soap would make me a “robot”).  As such, robots tend to appear in humanoid form, at least in the cinematic world.

The concept of a humanoid robot made sense in Hollywood, as the easiest way to portray one was to build a stiff metallic costume that could be worn by an actor or stunt man. That is, at least, until robots became reality in the 1960s and 1970s. Function overtook form, as the real robots of the world—such as the Stanford Cart—looked more like overloaded tea carts than mechanical men.

The miniaturization of technology took the “man-in-suit” out of the equation in many movies that featured robots. Still, actors Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker served robots C-3PO and R2-D2 well from inside their stuffy confines in the Star Wars epics. Ditto Peter Weller in RoboCop.

Stop-motion animation and computer-generated graphics made non- humanoid robots an alternative to men in suits. Take, for example, 1984’s The Terminator. Once stripped of its cyborg flesh, the T-800 skeleton was presented by way of a full-sized remote-controlled figure built by Stan Winston, as well as stop-motion animation by Doug Beswick, Gene Warren Jr., and the Fantasy II effects team.

The Terminator

Synopsis

  • 1984—American/Orion—108 min./color
  • Director: James Cameron
  • Original music: Brad Fiedel
  • Film editing: Mark Goldblatt
  • Art direction: George Costello

Cast

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger (Terminator)
  • Michael Biehn (Kyle Reese)
  • Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor)
  • Paul Winfield (Lt. Traxler)
  • Lance Henriksen (Det. Hal Vukovich) 


In 2029, a raging conflict persists between an army of war machines and guerrilla soldiers. The machines send one of their own back to 1984 Los Angeles, where they intend on killing Sarah Connor. If they don’t, she will give birth to John Connor, who is the leader against the machines in the future war. This killing machine, a “terminator,”—Model T-800—is an incredibly sophisticated cyborg. It’s constructed of human tissue, with a high-tech hydraulic skeleton and a single mandate—to kill Sarah. It arrives in a flash of lightning and immediately clothes its nude body by killing a group of toughs and taking their clothes.

But the Terminator is not the only time traveler. Kyle Reese also arrives from the future, sent by John Connor to save Sarah. She is a young single girl who seems dependent on many people. Looking in a phone book, the Terminator finds three Sarah Connors listed. He seeks them out, coldly killing the first two. Going to Sarah’s apartment, the Terminator kills her roommate and room- mate’s boyfriend. 
Sarah is not home, and she is disturbed when she hears on the news that two Sarah Connors have been murdered. She becomes even more fearful when she observes Reese following her. She calls her apartment from a disco, but only gets her answering machine. Not realizing the Terminator is still there, she leaves a message telling her roommate where she is. She then calls police, and Lt. Traxler tells her to stay put. 
In the disco, the Terminator arrives and zeroes in on Sarah, but Reese saves her by firing a salvo of shotgun blasts into the cyborg. It doesn’t faze him, and he responds with fierce gunfire, killing dozens of innocent patrons. Sarah and Reese escape in the fray, but the Terminator takes off after them. They duck him in a car chase, where Reese lets Sarah in on the whole story.

 Read more from Modern Sci Fi Films FAQ here

Saturday Night Live Turns 40

Saturday Night Live will begin its 40th season tomorrow! Saturday Night Live FAQ author Stephen Tropiano tells us all we need to know about the new season.

Saturday Night Live is Turning 40!

Stephen Tropiano

Saturday Night Live’s 40th season begins on September 27th with host Chris Pratt and musical guest Ariana Grande. They are both smart choices for the season opener: Pratt is the star of the summer blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Grande’s album, My Everything, debuted last month at #1 on the Billboard Chart. Pratt and Grande will be followed by two former SNL cast members: Sarah Silverman with musical guest Maroon 5 (October 4), and Bill Hader with Hozier (October 11). This is Silverman’s first appearance on SNL since her short stint as a cast member in Season 19 (1993-1994). Hader is a veteran cast member (Seasons 31-38, 2005-2013) currently co-starring with fellow SNL vet Kristin Wiig in The Skeleton Twins.

As expected, some cast changes and shuffling occurred at SNL over the summer.

  • Nasim Pedrad has officially left the show to join the cast of former SNL head writer John Mulaney’s new sitcom, Mulaney. Lorne Michaels is the executive producer, which explains why the Mulaney cast also includes former SNLer Martin Short (Season 10, 1984-1985) as Mulaney’s boss, a legendary comedian turned game show host, and Elliot Gould as Mulaney’s gay neighbor. The first member of SNL’s “Five-Timers Club,” Gould hosted the show five times during Seasons 1-5 (1975-1980) and the season opener for the disastrous Season 6 (11/15/80).
  • Three of the eight-featured players–Noel Wells, John Milhiser, and Brooks Whelan– will not be returning. A fourth, Michael O’Brien, who wrote for the show for four years, will be returning to the writer’s room full time. It’s not entirely clear why Wells, Milhiser, and Whelan’s contracts were not renewed, though it is safe to say that due to lack of airtime, they probably didn’t stand out enough compared to the two returning featured players, Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney, who, filling the void left by Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island collaborators, showcased his comedic talent in a series of quirky shorts. Bennett and Mooney will be joined by Sasheer Zamata, who debuted in January, and head writer/Weekend Update anchor Colin Jost.
  • Two new feature players, Pete Davidson and Michael Che, will be joining the cast. Twenty-year old Pete Davidson is a young stand-up comic from Staten Island whose credits include Nick Cannon Presents: Wild ‘N Out , the MTV series Guy Code, and an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Che will take over for Cecily Strong as co-anchor of Weekend Update with Colin Jost, marking the first time the news has been co-anchored by two males. Che, a stand-up comic, was a SNL writer last season and spent the last three months as a contributor to The Daily Show. Apparently Cecily Strong has no hard feelings–hopefully she will return to Weekend Update soon as “The Girl You Wished You Hadn’t Started a Conversation with at a Party.”
  • Darrell Hammond, whose tenure on SNL was the longest in the show’s history (14 seasons, 1995-2009), will be replacing the legendary Don Pardo as the show’s announcer. There is likely to be a tribute to Pardo, who died at the age of 96 this past August, sometime soon. As Hillary Clinton will no doubt be running for President in 2016, Hammond will hopefully also be appearing on-camera as the man who may become America’s “First Gentlemen.

South Park FAQ

New season of South Park starts tonight! Dave Thompson, the author of the South Park FAQ travels through the lives, times, and catastrophes that have established the tiny mountain town of South Park, Colorado, as America’s favorite dysfunctional community. There are few modern animated television shows that could survive over a decade and a half and remain as funny… or as stupid… or as sick… or as depraved… today as when they started. Read an an excerpt below!

00120815

Increasingly, we live in a world where opinion is pinioned by the need not to offend, nor even risk offense, by saying—even lightheartedly— something that someone might feel belittled by. Including people who aren’t actually present when the remark is made.

The soccer manager who told his charges the old joke about a monkey and an astronaut, and was promptly accused of racism by somebody else entirely.

The teen playing a video game who made an off-the-cuff remark about shooting up a school and eating his victims’ hearts. A fellow player over- heard the exchange, and the kid was arrested and threatened with eight years in jail.

The … and so on and so forth. All it takes is one person who doesn’t understand, appreciate, or maybe even acknowledge the existence of humor (however humorless the humor might be), and it doesn’t matter if he is the only person in the world who doesn’t sneak a smirk at the gesture. One complaint is worth a thousand chuckles, and the only positive that comes out of the experience is the possibility that maybe one day, the rest of the world will tire of these petty-minded dictators and start complaining about them instead.

Which is why we love South Park so much.

For there, exaggerated political correctness and microscopically focused nitpickery are already like a red rag to a bull in the eyes of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Like Cheesy Poofs to a big-boned eighth grader.

Totalitarianism is totalitarianism, no matter how loudly you condemn the people who actually point that out, which is one of the reasons why South Park has never rested in its campaign to highlight humbuggery wherever it may dwell.

True political correctness means respecting other peoples’ right to say whatever they like, no matter how much it might offend you, because that is the only thing that guarantees your right to say whatever you want to. Chip away at other people’s right, no matter how worthy your intentions may be, simply opens the door for other, perhaps less worthy people to take the process to its logical conclusion and outlaw free speech altogether.

Matt Stone outlined South Park’s approach.

“On one hand, it’s really fun when you flip off the principal and the principal yells at you. But in general, we do the show because we want people to like it. We are entertainers. We’re trying to entertain people. At the same time, we’ve been doing it long enough to realize we’re still not a mainstream show … we’re still on cable, we still consider ourselves an alternative show.” Far more people, he acknowledged, dislike South Park than enjoy it, but unlike most television shows, that was fine. “Twenty percent of people got this joke, and they love us for it, and we’ll piss off the other 80 percent just for them.”

The very best of South Park teases, as well. But it’s a knowing tease, a worthy tease, taunting the viewer with just enough information that you think you know where the story is going … but you cannot believe anybody has the balls to take it there. Again, a lot of the targets are as ephemeral as the headlines they are drawn from, but that is not an issue. The fact that … to draw a cultural irrelevance at random from the stockpile … Honey Boo Boo is even sufficiently well known to be considered a worthy target for the South Park sniper is itself sufficient condemnation of the culture that the show so gleefully ridicules, and of course she is not alone.

To concentrate on South Park’s status as the devourer of worthless worlds, however, is to overlook its other primary purpose, to act as a mirror to what we might call everyday society. South Park itself is Anytown USA, as accurate a reflection of small-town life as any live-action television series has ever mustered, and a lot more honest as well.

 

 

 

 

Happy anniversary to the Wizard of Oz

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the premiere of one of the world’s most beloved films – The Wizard of Oz - which took place at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on August 15, 1939. Since its debut,this timeless MGM film has become a treasure to young and old alike. David J. Hogan’s new book, the Wizard of Oz FAQ, celebrates this classic by providing a wealth of information about the film’s conception, creation, and reception. David includes a special section commemorating the Hollywood premiere. Read below! 00120812

The Hollywood premiere for industry insiders was mounted at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 15, 1939, at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, prominently located on Hollywood Boulevard. The theater’s forecourt was dominated by a faux cornfield.

Although Judy Garland was already in New York City for the August 17 Loew’s Capitol opening and her live show there, the Grauman’s event was attended by other cast members, Victor Fleming, and Mervyn LeRoy. Maud Gage Baum, widow of L. Frank Baum, attended, along with L. Frank Baum’s granddaughter, Frances Ozma Baum. Fred Stone, who had played the Scarecrow in the 1903 Broadway Wizard of Oz, also was an honored guest.

Typical of any high-profile Hollywood premiere of the time, the Oz gala was attended by a gaggle of stars. Eddie Cantor, a great fan of the Oz stories, was on hand. Others were Wallace Beery, Ann Rutherford, Bonita Granville, Harold Lloyd, and Orson Welles (less than a year after his Mercury Theatre “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast scared the pants off America). Most of the Munchkin players had left Hollywood months before, but a few who remained were recruited to appear in costume at Grauman’s: Nona Cooper, Tommy Cottonaro, Billy Curtis, Jerry Maren (as the mayor, filling in for Charley Becker), and Victor Wetter. Most of the opening-night Munchkins remained for the duration of the Grauman run.

The cost of reserved-seat admission to this gala event at one of the finest movie theaters in Los Angeles was two dollars, plus twenty cents for tax. (An admission ticket from the premiere—center left section, row 28, seat 1—sold at auction for $6,083 in the spring of 2013.) Those at the Grauman premiere received the requisite souvenir program. Fans could do star spotting from the relative comfort of five thousand specially erected sidewalk bleacher seats. The bleachers filled quickly, and the surrounding area was clogged by another three thousand fans that stood.

An after-screening party was held at the Trocadero nightclub, on Sunset Boulevard. Days after the Grauman’s event, Maud Gage Baum wrote to Mervyn LeRoy to express her pleasure with the faithful translation of her husband’s “kindly philosophy.”

Listen: David J. Hogan on Pop Culture Tonight

David J. Hogan, author of the Wizard of Oz FAQ visits “Pop Culture Tonight with Patrick Phillips” to discuss “all that’s left to know about life, according to Oz!”

>>LISTEN HERE<<

00120812The Wizard of Oz FAQ is a fact-filled celebration of the beloved 1939 fantasy masterpiece starring Judy Garland. It’s all here – from L. Frank Baum and his Oz novels to the complete background story of the movie’s conception, development, and shoot, with special attention given to the little-known parade of uncredited directors, casting difficulties, and on-set accidents and gaffes, as well as more than 75 sidebars devoted to key cast members, directors, and other behind-the-scenes personnel.

You’ll find a wealth of fun facts: How MGM overworked Judy Garland before, during, and after Oz; why director Victor Fleming had his hands full with the Cowardly Lion and Dorothy’s other friends; what it was about Toto that really bothered Judy; the physical horrors of filming in Technicolor; the racial Oz gag that was scripted but never shot; when the Wicked Witch was going to be beautiful; why The Wizard of Oz owes a lot to silent-screen star Mary Pickford; the story of deleted scenes, and a full two weeks of shooting that had to be scrapped; why MGM star Mickey Rooney was part of the movie’s traveling publicity blitz; how the Wicked Witch was literally blown off her broomstick one day; the place where lions, tigers, and bears really do live together; singers you hear but never see; the day MGM fired Judy Garland; and much more. Just follow the yellow brick road!

Listen: Stephen Tropiano on Pop Culture Tonight

Stephen Tropiano, author of Saturday Night Live FAQ visits “Pop Culture Tonight with Patrick Phillips” to discuss longest running comedy show on television!

00315538

>>LISTEN HERE<<

 

Television history was made on Saturday, October 11, 1975, at 11:30pm (ET), when Chevy Chase welcomed America to the first episode of a new late-night comedy series. With its cutting edge satire and cast of young, talented performers, Saturday Night Live set a new standard for television comedy while launching the careers of such comedy greats as John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey.

Saturday Night Live FAQ is the first book to offer the show’s generations of fans everything they ever wanted to know (and may have forgotten) about SNL. Beginning with the show’s creation in the mid-1970s by Lorne Michaels and the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, SNL FAQ takes you through the show’s history with an in-depth look at all thirty-eight seasons.

It’s all here – the comedic highlights and low points, memorable hosts and musical guests, controversial moments, and, of course, the recurring characters and sketches, catch phrases, and film shorts that have made SNL the epicenter of American comedy for nearly four decades. SNL FAQ also examines the show’s influence on American culture and includes profiles of over 100 SNL cast members, along with a comprehensive guide detailing every episode.