It's all too easy to dismiss the cyberculture as being a really groovy club where you're not a member. That would be an obvious initial conclusion to draw from last week's Digital Be-In at the SOMAR Gallery, held in conjunction with the Macworld Expo.
Wandering among vendor tables like the ones for WorldsAway Website development, OnLive! real-time Internet voice communication software, or the "digital puppeteer" with Motion Analysis Face Tracker, you begin to wonder if, apart from the naked woman dancing with fire in the courtyard, there's anything at this Renaissance Faire-with-modems remotely accessible to the average human being. Underneath the veneer of pagan ritual and tribal consciousness, you'd think there would be something tangible to life here on Planet Earth that maybe doesn't depend on a T1 line and SoundBlaster 16-bit sound card.
And then you spy the Spacephones. Twin neon lime-green plastic cones connected by what appears to be a section of the ever-popular Slinky toy. Self-explanatory, and best of all, totally analog. A man in Dockers picks up one "phone" and his woman friend places the other end to her ear.
"Hell-oooo," he says into the contraption, and then taps the Slinky coil.
"Ooh, that's weird," she says.
They smile and set down the Spacephones. The path to the millennium is paved at last. Virtual hug, everybody!
Messrs. Show and Tell
Award-winning commercials for the KKK and NAMBLA. An eccentric computer geek billionaire who invented the delete button and is addicted to tofutti. Movie executives who sue the American public for not buying tickets to their latest film. Cops so drunk that criminals steal their squad car. A megacorporation that turns San Francisco into a family theme park, complete with a musical song-and-dance tribute to "Bachelorland."
These are some of the inventions of comedians Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, the pair behind Mr. Show With Bob and David, a favorite of late-night insomniacs on HBO with something to offend pretty much everybody. They host and star in this subtle yet smart aberration of a sketch-comedy series that may seem at first glance an acquired taste, but ends up holding your attention over any recent episode of SNL or MAD TV.
Odenkirk and Cross will be in town this week performing at the Punch Line Tuesday through Saturday, Jan 14-18. While both will be doing solo stand-up here, it is their TV material that has gained them cult status -- comedy bits strung together via abrupt Monty Python-style segues, alternating between live audience performances and filmed segments.
Their shared comic sensibility tends to defy description, except maybe that it's extremely weird. "A lot of it has come from fucking around," admits Cross. "I can point to certain bits and say, 'I remember when Bob riffed that at a party.' My message to the children is to fuck around."
Formerly a writer for the megalithic SNL, Odenkirk is happy he's no longer working under such limiting conditions. "The host has to be in every scene, and that's just insane. When I was writing there, I always wished that we would have one week when the cast was the host, and they would let these great people just do what they do, and not have some fucking person there that's limping along, trying to fit in, overloaded with stuff to do."
The two oversee everything on Mr. Show, from costumes and locations to music and casting. You find yourself cracking up at characterizations and high-concept details that aren't even necessarily jokes. For instance, you're pleased that someone would actually take the time to costume a roomful of movie studio executives in suits that are exactly the same color. It's difficult to convey why one episode should start with the two hosts resolving an argument by beating up a hippie in the audience, but it somehow makes you happy. And there's no real reason why an annoying, adenoidal guy chatting with his equally annoying friend in a doughnut shop would be interesting, but it is. HBO apparently thinks so as well, and has renewed the program for a third season.
"There aren't many sketch shows that will invest a lot of time in a boring, annoying person," says Cross of the doughnut-shop piece. "It's not a sketch that has a big neon arrow pointing out how annoying they are."
"We switch off roles a lot," adds Odenkirk. "The key with us is that we don't disagree. We agree about what we're after, generally, and we sort of follow each other." For the Punch Line show, Odenkirk's hilariously nervous portrayal of an Australian iguana might even make an appearance. "That's something that I sort of did in stand-up. What I call stand-up, which is just me dicking around onstage. You can warn people of that, if you want."
Leno's Desk Smarter Than Him
Berkeley's EcoTimber International, a distributor of environmentally certified wood, has been enjoying lots of good press lately, but as with all news stories, you can't believe everything you read. A few months ago a Rainforest Alliance benefit concert in New York called "Smart Sounds" featured Jackson Browne, Carly Simon, NRBQ, and other socially conscious types, all playing Gibson guitars made from Smart Wood. The "Smart Sounds" concert brochure gleefully ran a photo of Jay Leno's desk from the set of The Tonight Show, and gushed that "every night Jay Leno hosts The Tonight Show he's helping to conserve the world's forests." Well, not exactly.