A funny thing happened in Episode 5 of David Letterman’s new show, on Netflix, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. The man who’s verbally sparred with pundits, network executives, movie stars, politicians and fellow comedians just ceded territory to his guest. This is no loss or embarrassment for the 70 year old because his guest was Tina Fey and Letterman adores Fey. Not for her beauty which is striking, not for her kindness to him (Letterman distrusts gushers), but because as far as he’s concerned this is one the funniest people doing comedy today. Letterman did not deign to pass a torch to any of the many late night hosts upon his retirement the way Carson did for him but here you can’t help but notice who owns the stage in this exchange. Both come across as funny and intelligent but Fey shines and Letterman wisely doesn’t put up a fight. She won’t even let him win a point for saying one of her most recent skits was good. She deconstructs what was missing to applause. There’s nothing pathetic in this either, he states his opinions and gets quite a few laughs just by being himself but he’s delighted by how funny and intelligent she is and isn’t looking take any moment away from her.
Maybe his deference comes in this, as a liberal who has grown personally and politically in recent years and is constantly striving to create a better world with what little time he has left and worries about his young son. Maybe in Fey, Letterman thinks maybe the world will be alright and he’s not alone. Tina Fey is the gold standard of established female former SNL alumni. She’s done her own show, got some hit movies under her belt and is now doing a musical of her classic Mean Girls. She’s also a Mum and Letterman always fascinated by child rearing compares notes with his guest which is nice.
A lot of media buzz has been created by a moment where Letterman says he doesn’t know why he didn’t have more female writers on his show and offers maybe he didn’t believe they wanted to do his show. Fey who was one of the presenters when he retired, when he was awarded the Kennedy Centers Honours and the Mark Twain prize looks him in the eye and says but they did. If you’ve read The Last Giant of Late Night: Letterman by Jason Zinoman you’ll appreciate the history behind this moment. She’s not being disrespectful but she’s being direct and Letterman concedes he was ignorant. I think its important to note that this is not really a personal criticism so much as a principled statement. At this point Fey is discussing real benefits that came about as the writers rooms she’s worked in have become more diverse. Letterman seems to be in agreement and the show ends with Fey saying I can’t believe I got to meet you let alone talk to you. Yet she is maybe at the height of her powers and he is maybe past them and no kind words from either can mask that.
The remote in this episode is even odder than the one from Jay-Z previously. After talking about Fey’s days at Second City in Chicago Letterman asks for a recommendation of where to eat in the Windy City. So he meets Blues legend Buddy Guy at The Athenian where they talk a little over roast chicken slathered over some chips. Letterman wisely advices Guy not to think too hard on where the grease comes from. Then Letterman takes in a performance in a club with Guy and Paul Schaeffer on the keyboards. It’s nice to see Schaeffer again and Guy has an interesting story in himself but the whole thing feels unrelated and under explored for what it is. I don’t know now what to expect with the impending finale with Howard Stern but I hope the remote actually has something to do with Howard Stern!
For me the best thing about this episode besides Fey herself is this, I would say Fey at times seems to be intensely feeling some emotions that she keeps a handle on. Letterman gets her to talk about things in the long format, about her family, about the construction of comedy performance and I don’t know if others would’ve been successful in eliciting such a powerful hour of conversation out of her. Maybe but he did. He’s still got something to offer.
I was interested to what would happen in episode 4 of the new David Letterman show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction where he was to interview rapper Jay-Z. I don’t know Jay-Z or a lot about his genre of music. I also didn’t recall interviews between the two on The Late Show. To me it seemed like this was an opportunity for Letterman again to push outside his boundaries a little in away that interviews with Tina Fey, George Clooney, President Barack Obama and Howard Stern would not offer. Jay-Z is one of the biggest entertainers in the world and so its no surprise to find out that he was on Letterman back in the day but none of these talks seemed to have become the stuff of legend the way say ones with Stern did.
This new show disappoints and satisfies in equal measure then from what I was hoping for. For starters Jay-Z is warm, funny and thoughtful as an interview subject and he’s got a story or two to tell. Learning about Jay-Z’s life is the highlight of the program as he looks back on a father who wasn’t around, a mother who couldn’t be true to her own sexuality and a teenage boy selling crack after growing up in poverty. Music saved Jay-Z but its also interesting to note lots of people who helped him along the way. Now he is using his weight to look out for people not given enough opportunities or are treated unfairly from the justice system. If you’re inclined to argue that a justice system will target communities where crime is prolific not race I don’t think Jay-Z particularly cares. He’s offering scholarships for young people poor but smart. He’s asking does the punishment fit the crime and then fighting for those where he sees it isn’t. I’m happy to see that too.
But if you were looking to get an insight into the world of rap you will be sorely disappointed. Letterman discusses how complex the music is and Jay-Z discusses how putting something together is just like writing jokes for a stand-up. A few songs are discussed but they’re not played, something that would upset the flow of the show I admit. Also when Obama’s speeches or Clooney’s film clips weren’t shown in previous minds I didn’t mind because I knew what they were talking about but whereas here my own ignorance meant I was disappointed not to be showed more.
Also in those episodes the remotes fitted nicely into articulating an aspect of the main guest. Here we go to Shangri-La studios and talk to producer Rick Rubin on a day where they doing some recording with singer Madison Ward. Two things stood out immediately, Rubin gives Dave’s beard a run for its money and two you can be an older gentleman in shorts striking a yoga pose. I’m just sayin’. Rubin is a legend in his own right and could easily be the subject of his own show and Ward has a first rate voice. While Jay-Z discusses the artistic process of producer and singer, its obvious this is intended to give us a demonstration of it. It also perhaps hint that whatever the genre of music or the background of the artist the point of music is always the same. That’s a lovely sentiment and some of the remote is nicely edited together and the lyrics of the closing song (beautifully dueted by Ward and Lukas Nelson) echoes some of what has been discussed by Letterman and Jay-Z.
Yet you might not even be aware after watching it of Rubin having been co-founder of Def Jam records which Jay-Z would go on to become President of. You will however be painfully aware of Letterman’s high school romance with an English girl as being one of the coolest things that ever happened to him in the same hour of television where he discusses marital infidelity. Regina you’re a saint. As interesting as some of this was I can’t help think of how much more effective it would have been if we’d been in the recording studio with an actual hip-hop artist. To me the discussion of the music is where this episode misses the mark.
The show closes strongly when Letterman discusses his own transgressions and then asks Jay-Z if any of this sounds familiar. Jay-Z gives a good but perfunctory answer and they move on to another topic and then Jay-Z further articulates how you’ve got to be better than the worst you’ve done. Unprompted he owns up more to his regrets and the lessons he took from them. Some of the lessons Jay-Z is trying to learn are ones we could all learn from about how to put away ego and fear and be good to others. Letterman (who never gives easy praise) says he loves him and they shake hands. Missed opportunity or not, the show does have it’s moments.
I was looking forward to Malala Yousafzai appearing on David Letterman’s new Netflix show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction and as far as the reasons why I was not disappointed. Letterman is talking to a woman of a different age about important issue and for the first time. That means there is no established rapport and there may even be disagreements and that was one of the strengths of this episode.
Malala for example points out to Letterman things happen in other cities than New York and that she doesn’t like pizza amongst other things. With his target a polite and dignified person to interview, Dave plays the long game and brings out a little of her humour and makes her feel awkward in a good way like the way she challenges some of his presumptions. One of the most telling moments is when Dave pushes past her modesty to insist everything happens for a reason and she is doing good important work that will change many lives. We also find out that she is playing cricket at Oxford and that one of the world’s most famous students can sometimes start late on getting to work on assessment.
This is the girl who was shot by the Taliban, she’s more than that of course and this episode is a great way to learn about her as a person but Letterman as he did with wounded veterans has a way of getting to the guts of a moment in someone’s life that changes everything. As someone who was fascinated by his own quintuple bypass he has a way of breaking down the remarkable work that goes into recovering from such an injury as having a bullet go through your face and shoulder. This is Dave at his most powerful and in his search for answers and freewheeling musing he draws out what Malala really things about her own experience and where she wants to go next.
Perhaps still needing a moment where he chats to a man closer to his age, Letterman has fish and chips with Malala’s father Ziauddin Yousafzai, an advocate in his own right. This was a nice moment where her Dad has a different recollection of things showing more concern for his daughter’s safety and more pride in her courage than she can but I couldn’t help but wonder again (following on from George Clooney’s Mum and sister not saying much last episode), where is Mum? The other remote in this episode has Letterman following around a group of visiting high school students checking out the campus of Oxford led by Malala as a student representative. Letterman acts the clown quite a bit eventually winning over the kids with his unapologetic dagginess and Yousafzai playing a good straight woman to his routine. Letterman always cool by being uncool. The ironic detachment of the 1980s gone though replaced by an earnestness for the next generation to be left a better world. He jokes in the opening monologue that you can’t get much older than me. This is one of the best remotes of the series and what a shocker actually features the guest herself.
This was a strong episode and again I would encourage them to return for a second season with more guests like this. In the episode Malala talks about her home in Swat Valley and that one day she would like to return but there would be issues. Since the airing of this episode Malala went back to Pakistan for the first time.
X-Press Magazine was established in 1985 and at one point was Australia’s highest circulating free weekly entertainment publication with over 40,000 copies reaching 1,000 outlets every week. On the 24th May, 2016 Issue 1527 (the last one in print) hit stands. Like many publications of its ilk X-Press Magazine is now foremost an online magazine engaged globally and making the most of the possibilities that new digital technology offers. It’s roots though are tied to its home city, love of local artists and productions and music which it supports wholeheartedly. Perth a capital city most isolated from all the other capitals is continuing to grow and develop culturally and artistically with its own identity and talent. X-Press has always been there to capture this growth and will continue to do so.
The Anywhere Theatre Festival is currently running throughout my hometown of Brisbane. Act/React Theatre were doing their new show Kiss of the Vampire Squid as part of it at the Queensland Maritime Museum onboard HMAS Diamantina. HMAS Diamantina was the last World War II era ship to leave RAN service in 1980. The quarterdeck where the show was performed is where high ranking Japanese officers took part in surrender ceremonies of islands in the Pacific. This was such a unique setting for a venue from a group of performers I respect so much that I was really hoping I would get a chance to see the show.
I was even luckier than that, I got a chance to review it for Scenestr magazine attending the night of the final performance. I have seen shows from Act/React before including Love/Hate Actually and earlier this year one of the Convince Me comedy debates. I have also attended two shows by ImproMafia who share a lot of their same talent. In fact Kiss of the Vampire Squid was more similar to the comedy improv performances of Lord of the Thrones and Animated! from ImproMafia than say the thoughtfully prepared brilliance of Love/Hate Actually.
I don’t want to belabour the point, some performances are better than others when it comes to improv but I really do marvel at what these people do and how well they consistently pull it off. To have them part of the Brisbane cultural scene means a lot and they travel too so keep your eye out for them appearing in your neck of the woods.
Produced by Eyeball Media Enterprises Scenestr is an online national magazine with local offices around Australia. Celebrating 25 years in 2018 of publishing history they’ve excelled at moving into the digital realm but they remain at heart from the streets. They still publish magazines in print for Perth, Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane every month. If you’re into music they’re a great read but they do cover all of the arts including festivals, stand-up comics, fashion, theatre and film. I feel very fortunate to get to write for them.
After seeing Raw starting a tradition of Grilled Burgers while on assignment. Copyright Lloyd Marken
I probably wanted to be more Steven Spielberg than Roger Ebert growing up. Maybe Mel Gibson or Harrison Ford perhaps. But whenever I thought about film critics it just sounded like the best every day job you could have if you didn’t get to be a movie star. In 2004 in my final year of uni I had a film review published and it kind of made a dream come true but despite a few follow up efforts nothing really came of it. 2017 is many years on from 2004 so you can understand that when Scenestr published a film review of mine it was not something I took for granted. Suddenly things were possible, I set goals but remained scared this had been a fluke or I’d be found out. Since though I’ve submitted successfully to five publications, seen countless shows and films and interviewed some remarkable individuals. So I thought I would take stock because in April last year the idea of being published 100 times seemed very far away.
I’ve been published 9 times with Perth based X-Press Magazine recently, 8 times with Buzz Magazine where I mostly get to write about blockbusters, 25 times with Heavy Magazine, once with FilmInk magazine and I’m counting the review with Utopia from all those years ago. Rounding out the 100 is the 56 times (20 interviews, 16 reviews of theatre shows, 15 film reviews and 5 stand-up performances) I have been published with Scenestr magazine produced by the incredible team at Eyeball Media Enterprises.
This would maybe be the part where I tell you what some of the highlights were for me but they were all highlights so instead I’d like put it out to you gentle reader. Was there a review or an interview that you read over the past year that you still remember and think was kinda cool? It’s a tricky question I know, of those I regularly follow I couldn’t tell you their favourite posts. I liked when you got married or talked about Warren Zevon or waxed lyrical about Meg Ryan or said the Girl from Ipanema was a good song and quoted Frasier or wrote about your girl or hung shit on a bad teen comedy or relayed the sad facts of a long ago war. But maybe your memory is better than mine so who knows but I’d be interested to hear what you think.
As for me I just count myself very lucky to get this side gig and have it continue and that you here in my small blogging community continue to support me. It means a lot.
Karen and I with the cast of Aladdin. Copyright Lloyd Marken
I have been very fortunate to score the work of putting together another cover story for Scenestr magazine. Featured on the cover is cabaret star Natalie Gamsu who is bringing the highly anticipated Carmen, Live or Dead to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival but my interview was with the Festival’s Artistic Director Ali McGregor who additionally is debuting her new show Yma Sumac about the Peruvian songbird as well there.
We skyped and when it was over I realised I had just conducted my longest interview, at least since I started working for Scenestr. McGregor in addition to being a remarkable talent, was passionate about the art form of cabaret, full of praise for Adelaide crowds and came with her own fascinating back story about moving from a career in opera to one that is more diverse. It was a pleasure to get to speak to her and talk about the largest cabaret festival in the world. You can read the interview here http://scenestr.com.au/arts/adelaide-cabaret-festival-explores-the-possibilities-of-the-art-form
Produced by Eyeball Media Enterprises Scenestr. is an online national magazine with local offices around Australia. Celebrating 25 years in 2018 of publishing history they’ve excelled at moving into the digital realm but they remain at heart from the streets. They still publish magazines in print for Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland every month. The interview with Ali McGregor is the cover story for this month’s South Australia magazine featuring on pages 8 and 9. You can read a digital version of the printed Western Australia edition here http://scenestr.com.au/read/SA/2018/39-SA/scenestr-SA-39.html#p=8
A cover story interview with a person so creative and articulate you only hope to give some justice to them on the page. You can’t ask for a better gig than that and I count myself very fortunate.