Monday, June 9, 2014

R.I.P. Rik Mayall (7 March 1958 – 9 June 2014)


I’ve been obsessed with the death rate in professional wrestling since I was in college. That dates back 20 years. I think it was Eddie Gilbert, Brian Pillman and Louie Spicolli all dying within three years of each other and all between the ages of 27 and 35 that really made me pay attention. They were all favorites of mine. Many wrestlers had died young before them, but those three hit me pretty hard.

Nearly as saddening – and lately, perhaps even more so – are the premature deaths of comedians. As a teenager, even before the death of Eddie Gilbert in 1995, three great comics – Robin Harris (36), Sam Kinison (38) and Bill Hicks (32) – passed away in their prime.

By then I had already known about funny people who had previously died way too soon – Lenny Bruce (40), John Belushi (33), Andy Kaufman (35), Gilda Radner (42). Even Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle” was a mere 46 when he passed on.

The rest of the 90s saw the deaths of television and film comedians John Candy (43), Chris Farley (33), and Phil Hartman (49) then John Ritter (54) in 2003.

In the last ten years, stand-up comedy has been rocked by the deaths of some of the most talented and funny performers: Mitch Hedberg (37), Richard Jeni (49), Bernie Mac (50), Robert Schimmel (60), Greg Giraldo (44), Patrice O’Neal (41), John Pinette (50), and Otto Petersen (53).

Think of it this way: When Bob Hope and George Burns died (Both were 100), each of them was older than Hicks, Belushi and Farley combined. And right now, Carl Reiner (92) and Mel Brooks (87) have each lived more than twice as long as more than half of the aforementioned comedians.

When Otto Petersen died, I wanted to write a tribute on this blog. I had met him; he inspired some of my writing. I decided, however, that writing something for Otto here would have been self-serving. My personal connections to Otto? Who cared, really?

Then this morning, as I was driving to work, I got a text message from my sister, comedy critic extraordinaire Angie Frissore. It’s sort of become our thing: she texted me about Patrice dying; I texted her about Otto’s death.

Her text this morning was simple: Rik Mayall died.

The name Rik Mayall probably doesn’t ring too much of a bell for 21st century American comedy consumers (Some may know him strictly from starring with Phoebe Cates in the film Drop Dead Fred in 1991.), but to me, and many others, he was a comedy genius. Mayall was a co-creator, writer and star of such classic British comedies as The Young Ones, Filthy Rich & Catflap and Bottom, as well as the stage and television act The Dangerous Brothers. HarperCollins published his hilarious pseudo-autobiography Bigger than Hitler, Better than Christ in 2006.

I remember when I first came upon Mayall’s comedy. It was quite by accident, as, when I was 14 or 15, MTV ran Monty Python’s Flying Circus every weeknight at 7 p.m. (In fact, this was around the time that another British comedy genius, Python’s Graham Chapman, passed away at 48.) MTV also ran Python at 10 p.m. on Sunday nights. That Monday was a holiday. So my parents allowed me to stay up late, and I somehow fell asleep watching Python. When I woke up it was about 10:45 and what I saw on the television blew me away. I will always remember hearing the line “Oh, great! The front door exploded!” in particular. The speaker of that line was Mayall, and the show was The Young Ones. I was instantly hooked, and I later videotaped all 12 episodes, watching them over and over again. At school, I began giving friends two fingers instead of just the middle one, a la Rik; I called everyone a “fascist” and used words like “bastard” (pronouncing it “BAH-stid”) and “Boomshanka.”

I later learned that Mayall, along with comedy partner Adrian Edmondson, starred in other fantastic comedies, including Filthy (Created by Ben Elton with Mayall playing Gertrude “Richie” Rich and Edmondson as Edward Didgeridoo Catflap) in 1987, and Bottom (Created by Mayall [playing Richard Richard] and Edmondson [playing Edward Elizabeth Hitler]) between 1991 and 1995. I grew to love Bottom even more so than Young Ones. Thanks to eBay, I later bought all of the live performances of Bottom on VHS.

Mayall stands in my mind as one of the greatest comedy geniuses that has ever been, comparable perhaps only to John Cleese in terms of British funnymen.

Now comes the self-serving part.

After publishing my first poetry chapbook Poetry is Dead, I immediately wanted to publish a second one. Unlike the first book, the title of which I pulled out of thin air on the spot, I knew what I wanted my second book to be called: Long Blue Boomerang.

Fans of The Young Ones might recognize this as a tribute to Mayall’s character “Rick,” a poet who fancied himself “The People’s Poet.”  In fact, I titled the first poem in LBB “The People’s Poet” –

I started calling myself
“The People’s Poet,”
like Rick from
The Young Ones,
only the “people” were
actually finger puppets
I made out of
construction paper,
and the “poetry”
just lines I took from
Dokken and Cinderella songs.

At the end of Long Blue Boomerang, I included the quote from Rick’s free-form poem from the episode titled “Flood”:

Rick, “The People’s Poet”: Marrow…Meringue…Boomerang…Long blue…

Vyvyan Basterd: Oh, shut up!

It made me both happy and sad to read a quote from Adrian Edmondson upon his friend’s death: "They were some of the most carefree, stupid days I ever had, and I feel privileged to have shared them with him. And now he's died for real. Without me. Selfish bastard."

To me a fantastic example of Mayall’s brilliant humor comes from his one and only tweet:

Or this autograph he sent to a fan:

So R.I.P., Rik Mayall. You left us way too soon. All I want to do now is break out my Young Ones and Bottom DVDs and watch all 30 episodes in one sitting.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The WWE Hall of Fame

I see a lot of Tweets, Facebook posts, even petitions asking World Wrestling 
Entertainment to induct certain wrestlers into its Hall of Fame. The ones I 
see most are Davey Boy Smith, Owen Hart, Randy Savage and Bam Bam Bigelow. 
Strong cases can be made for all four, especially considering past inductees 
like Pete Rose, Drew Carey, Bob Uecker, William "the Refrigerator" Perry, 
Donald Trump and Mr. T.
I mean, honestly, can Liberace and the Where's the Beef lady be far behind?
Turns out those two have something in common with the aforementioned non-inductees:
They're dead.
Not that WWE hasn't inducted wrestlers posthumously. Andre the Giant, Big John Studd, 
the Junkyard Dog, Eddy Guerrero and Curt Hennig were all inducted after death, as 
were Yokozuna, Road Warrior Hawk (as a tag team with Animal and Paul Ellering) and 
Paul Bearer.

But WWE seems reluctant to accept some deceased wrestlers into its Hall of Fame. 
Guerrero and Hennig were inducted in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Then a little 
something Vince McMahon would like us all to forget about happened. Has to do 
with a man named Benoit and a list that followed of the 100+ wrestlers under 50 
who died in the previous ten years.
Since then, possible, and very plausible, nominees whose inductions might have 
brought up discussions about death have been ignored. Sure, Peter Maivia and 
Eddie Graham made it in, but they died years and years ago. Yokozuna got in, 
but he was a big fat guy who would have died regardless of pro wrestling. 
Are there things WWE is afraid would be talked about during an Owen or Davey Boy 
induction? I'd say go ahead and induct the British Bulldogs as a team, but the 
Dynamite Kid has had his own issues I'm sure WWE doesn't want to acknowledge 
Overall, WWE's HOF, just like some other HOFs, seems arbitrary in its selections. 
Abdullah the Butcher is in the WWE Hall of Fame despite never having worked for 
the McMahons, but not Savage or Hart, or Rick Rude, Adrian Adonis, Hercules 
Hernandez, or even living wrestlers who spent years working there, such as Brutus 
Beefcake and the Honky Tonk Man.

At least Abdullah wrestled for decades. William Perry was in the battle royal at 
WrestleMania 2 and got into the Hall of Fame. By those standards, why aren't Dan 
Spivey, Ted Arcidi and the Killer Bees in the Hall?

Savage's brother Lanny Poffo is as or more deserving than a number of the serious 
inductees. And if Sunny, Lita and Trisha Stratus are in, why not Miss Elizabeth? 
Seems the Poffo family in general is getting the shaft.

I can't be the only one who's afraid that Dick Butkus, Aretha Franklin, Snoop Dogg 
and Lemmy from Motörhead will be WWE Hall of Fame-bound before the British Bulldog 
or the Macho Man. Or that, if Bam Bam Bigelow wants consideration, he'll need to 
stand in line with Susan Saint James, Regis Philbin and Rhonda Shear.
With the outpouring of affection for the Ultimate Warrior upon his untimely death, 
I know many wrestling fans will have their fingers crossed that, at the very least, 
Savage, Owen and Davey Boy are accepted into to Hall next year, with maybe the likes 
of Bigelow, Rude and Adonis to follow.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Most Spot-On Quote From All Puppet Shows Book Reviews

From "Book Junkie Joint" -

"Also, I admire the fact that this book is a non-conformist. In the publishing world, it's hard to find a book that hinges humor on purely insanity because it has limited audience and the author can't even get any assurance that people will like it. For me, this book is like a brave foray into a well-defined territory in an attempt to bring something different, and indeed, this book really brings something entirely different!"

Interview and Guest Blog

As of May I will no longer be an author at WAMM. Below are my interview and guest blog from that site, both of which I wanted to rescue before they disappear forever.

8 With An Author -- Michael Frissore

1. Where is the best place for you to go to people-watch?

In a tall tree with a pair of binoculars just outside the window you’re peeping through. Not too close. Pick a tree close enough to see, but far enough that you won’t get caught.

If you’re not the adventurous type, the mall is a really good place to go, especially for a parent. A mall play area or a park is great. You're people-watching skills can also double as pedophile-detecting powers. I also like any kind of event: a fair, a carnival, or if you can get to a demolition derby, run, don’t walk. That is some fantastic people watching.

2. Do you base your characters on real people?

There are some that have the pleasure of being born from actual people. For example, ”Seven Stages" started out that way – based on friends of mine, maybe a little of myself - and then went into all sorts of bizarre areas and there ended up being no trace of reality whatsoever. There are a couple of stories in Puppets Shows - and these are the ones that are my personal favorites - in which, in my head, there’s a character who is W.C. Fields or Groucho Marx. Way to make myself sound 100 years old! I won’t say which stories. We can make a game of it. Read Puppet Shows and guess which character is Fields and what character is Groucho. The winner gets absolutely nothing.

3. You write about a superhero in your book. Who is your hero?

We all know who people say the true heroes are: firefighters, policemen, soldiers, the 2004 Boston Red Sox, The Green Hornet, The Blue Blazer, Hiro the Japanese train from Thomas & Friends. But there's one group of heroes who don't get any kind of recognition, certainly not from the movie studios today. I don't know who producers think Mariah Carey, the Foo Fighters and Bonnie Tyler were referring to when they sang about heroes, but to me it was these guys, the protectors of the city of Good Haven. I'm talking about the Mighty Heroes.

I'm talking about Strong Man, with his southern accent and jet-propelled punch; Rope Man, the dock worker who always gets tangled in himself; Tornado Man, the meteorologist with the wheezy voice; Cuckoo Man, my personal favorite, the bird shop owner who changes in a cuckoo clock in lieu of some silly phone booth; and Diaper Man, the ginger infant who will knock super villains out cold with his baby bottle. These guys, and I pay homage to them in Puppet Shows, are my heroes, and have been since I was a wee lad.

4. In hindsight, many of us find that our writing was impacted by our schooling. What was your favorite assignment in high school English, your least favorite, and the one that affected you most?

My favorite assignment, or the one I can remember anyway, was in eighth or ninth grade a teacher asked us to write an essay making fun of something (Which today sounds ridiculous. You don't make fun of something! That's bullying!). I wrote about The National Enquirer. The teacher read it in class and some kids laughed, but this one girl accused me of stealing the jokes from Reader's Digest. I denied it, of course, mainly because I wouldn't admit to stealing, but also because I had actually stolen the jokes from "Weird Al" Yankovic and watermelon-smashing comedian Gallagher. So she was dead wrong. What kind of hack steals from Reader's Digest?

That’s how my writing career began was stealing. I remember writing something for another class that was about cannibalism, the idea of which I stole completely from Monty Python's "Undertaker's sketch." My story was two guys discussing eating one of their deceased mothers: a complete replica of the Python sketch. I had no shame back then.

My least favorite one was we had to do movie reviews, which I hate the idea of writing even today. We had to write two of them, and I couldn't have picked two more forgettable films. One was Mad House, the John Larroquette/Kirstie Alley comedy. The other was Body Slam, a wrestling movie starring Dirk Benedict and Tanya Roberts, along with Roddy Piper and Captain Lou Albano. I was always putting wrestling references into things I wrote in high school. It's really no different today. I'm actually amazed at how low Puppet Shows is on wrestling references. Readers should thank me for that. My poetry books are chock full of them.

5. You’re stuck on a deserted island with only three books and one other author. Name the books and the author then tell us why.
They would have to be substantial books that would keep me busy for a long time and perhaps make me want to go drown myself in the ocean. I always think people sound pompous when they bring up James Joyce, but the first two books would be Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake. Ulysses I read years ago and always said I'd read it again and haven't, and I've told myself for years I would read Finnegan's Wake and haven't. So, with any luck, I’ll end up on an island with Evangeline Lily and a smoke monster and get to read those.

The third book would have to be the Bible, the author of which, of course, is a bunch of dinosaurs and cavemen. I'm sorry, atheists who want to set fire to hotel rooms for having a Bible in the drawer, but that's what I'd choose because it's the Bible. I might instead choose something by Dave Eggers or David Foster Wallace just so that I know I'll be happy with my decision to throw myself into the mouth of a giant squid. But I'm told that Joyce and God are good island reading.

6. If your writing career was a novel, what would the title be?

Harry Potter and the References Nobody Gets

7. Have you ever judged a book by its cover?

No, never. No one does that. That's why the word "Don't" comes before the saying. You don't judge a book by its cover. Only assholes do that. Come to think of it, I’m sure I have. I mean, it's why book have covers. But who am I? A designer? What do I care what the cover of a book looks like? I'm colorblind and I usually end up scribbling genitalia and pentagrams all over the cover of all my books anyway. But I have. I remember seeing the cover of A Clockwork Orange and being all, “Wow, cool cover! This book must be awesome!” And it was.

8. If you could co-write a book with any author, who would you choose and what genre would it be?

With the recent popularity of that 50 Shades nonsense, I would love to write some erotica with Ann Coulter. Oh, we would tear up the Best Sellers List!



In The Words of Michael Frissore

I wanted to be a lot of things when I was a boy: a baseball player, a professional wrestler. I went through a stage when I thought it would be great to be a mailman. But writing was always my number one passion. The only thing that compared was to be a rock star. I wanted to be a famous guitar player since the night I saw Dexys Midnight Runners perform on Solid Gold.

But writing was my first love. I was always writing silly things as a kid: song parodies, poems, forged prescriptions. Every greeting card I gave my parents was filled with my nonsensical junior high school humor and a script for 20mgs of Oxycodone.

Then in one of my high school English classes we read “Muck-a-Muck,” the short story by Bret Harte. Not the wrestler Bret “the Hitman” Hart, mind you, but the American author and poet who wrote tongue-in-cheekly about pioneering life in California. It was hilarious, and I was the only one in the class who appreciated it. My friends were all, “Let’s go smoke some cigs in the boys’ room and beat up nerds,” and I was all, “This story is funny, you guys. LOL!” Then they were all, “What’s LOL? It’s 1990, weirdo!”

I spent the next 22 years writing Puppet Shows. Well, not really. I’ve written other stuff along the way – poetry, essays, screenplays, you name it, buster! However, there is one story, “Dinner at Wither Port,” the tale of everyone’s favorite mental asylum, that I first scribbled on cocktail napkins and fig leaves years ago in college when I was doing acid and drinking a lot of hairspray. When I got out of rehab at the turn of the century, I went on a writing spree that resulted in tiny portions of some of the other stories in this book, mostly just the beginnings of sentences, so none of it made any sense. I later found out that I had turned at the wrong century and a lot of my writing ended up ruining books by Mark Twain and O Henry.

It was only after a group of paleontologists in Boston were able to get the same dinosaurs that wrote the Bible to comb through all of my gibberish that this collection really went anywhere. Those brainy lizards cleaned it up, took out all the love letters to Debbie Gibson and the numerous references to Satan as the “one true Dark Lord,” and Puppet Shows was born.

I guess the other thing you should know is where the title came from. I was at one point writing this as a tell-all about my torrid love affair with Prairie Dawn from Sesame Street, but her lawyers are brutal, man. I’ll probably lose my house and children just for mentioning this here. Anyway, that project was quickly scrapped. I kept the title and went back to the original plan. That’s when the dinosaurs came in and saved my life.




Saturday, January 11, 2014

Praise for Puppet Shows

A fun collection of crazy short stories.” – WiLoveBooks

“not your typical short stories” – Bookish

Puppet Shows is the best book to read after you've had your heart ripped out by another book and cannot stand to feel for a while. It's fun, lighthearted, and goofy.”
-      Bookish

“this is one of the most ridiculous books I ever picked up...and I mean that as a compliment.” - Kindle Book Review

“one hilarious story after another” - Kindle Book Review

“uncommonly twisted, irreverent and wholly amusing short stories”
-      I Am Indeed

“Frissore poured his weird and boundless imagination onto the pages of this book seemingly without holding back. Even his character names were hilarious.”

“Buy it. Read it. Laugh a lot, and be grateful there are writers out there who can create this type of material.” - Novellarella

“a deliciously twisted collection of ideas” Jeanette Kempton, Author of the Karynja series

“randomly odd and bizarre” - Book Junkie Joint

“a brave foray into a well-defined territory in an attempt to bring something different, and indeed, this book really brings something entirely different!”
Book Junkie Joint

“This guy is weird, and the stories he tells are every bit as bizarre. But from page 1, they’re fun. The stories are so far off the wall they’re in the garden somewhere. “
 - Gav’s Book Reviews