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  • 3:45 pm

RIP Charles Grodin, dry humor king. Pay tribute to his comedic legacy with this clip

Actor, comedian, and raconteur Charles Grodin passed away at 86. Here’s an example of his rare wit from an appearance on ‘Late Night with David Letterman.’

RIP Charles Grodin, dry humor king. Pay tribute to his comedic legacy with this clip
[Photo: Jason Augustine/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images]
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Conan O’Brien and Paul Rudd. Jimmy Kimmel and Matt Damon. Way before those playfully vicious, long-running feuds between a talk show host and a frequent celebrity guest, there was David Letterman and Charles Grodin.

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Although Grodin, who just passed away at age 86, starred in beloved comedies such as Midnight Run, The Heartbreak Kid, and Beethoven and once hosted his own talk show, his contentious appearances on Late Night with David Letterman comprise a vital part of his legacy.

Comedy duos ordinarily have a straight man, but Grodin and Letterman both seemed to have independently invented close strains of the same dry wit. Putting the two of them together in a faux-antagonistic face-off should technically not work at all. However, something about Letterman’s cool-guy needling and Grodin’s supreme deadpan rebuffs made each of their increasingly hostile tête-à-têtes a master class in comedic, passive-aggressive push-and-pull.

Although it’s worth falling down an entire YouTube rabbit hole to watch all of these appearances, there’s one in particular that several of Grodin’s fans have pointed out on Twitter in the wake of his passing. It’s an episode from 1991, in which Grodin brought on vaudevillian actor Joey Faye to pose as his attorney, so that he could sue Letterman for things he’d said to Grodin during another recent appearance on the show. It’s a dynamite entry point for anyone not familiar with this aspect of Grodin’s career, and a fitting tribute for anyone already in the club.

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RIP to a major comedic talent and an uncommon wit.

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  • 11:45 am
  • pov

Joe Rogan picked the wrong cancel culture hill to die on this time

Considering what a Rogan friend got in trouble for last week, right now is not an ideal time for him to complain about what white men aren’t allowed to say.

Joe Rogan picked the wrong cancel culture hill to die on this time
[Photo: Michael S. Schwartz/Getty Images]
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Joe Rogan has it made. For the mystifying salary of $100 million, he gets to say whatever the hell he wants, within reason, to millions of listeners, on one of the world’s most prominent audio platforms. Sometimes he says something along the lines of healthy young people shouldn’t get vaxxed, and then people get mad at him and he has to walk it back. Apparently, though, Rogan’s life is so frictionless that he considers having to watch what he says at all a form of oppression.

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Although not all of us get paid exorbitant sums to do it, like Rogan, all Americans are similarly able to say whatever the hell they want, within reason. It’s just keeping up with the ever-evolving catalog of what’s considered “within reason” that’s tricky. Last week, however, Rogan fumed on his podcast about the tyranny of not being able to say everything that pops into his head, completely unfettered by moral or social considerations, in a way that amounted to speculative science-fiction. “[I]f you give in to all these demands, it will get to the point straight white men are not allowed to talk,” Rogan said, in a clip that circulated heavily on Monday night. “It’s your privilege to express yourself when other people of color have been silenced throughout history. It will be you’re not allowed to go outside when so many people have been imprisoned for so many years. I’m not joking, it really will get there.”

Ordinarily, a 1%-tier wealthy white man whining to a massive audience about what he can’t say would just be standard-issue grievance porn. Chum for the hungry. On this particular week, though, it’s the last topic Joe Rogan should personally be getting anywhere near, let alone raising the stakes on. The reason? It’s the same week that one of Rogan’s friends came down with a serious case of Being Racist on Camera and got into serious career trouble in a way that couldn’t reasonably be considered “cancel culture” by anyone.

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The above clip features once-rising comedian Tony Hinchcliffe, a friend and occasional colleague of Rogan’s, just simply being racist about an Asian-American comedian. The only missing context that could possibly explain why Hinchcliffe might use a slur to describe the fellow comic who warmly brings him onstage would be that a) the two comics are well-known best friends and b) the slur is an affectionate part of the duo’s legendary, long-running performance art piece. That was unfortunately not the case. As such, the fully joke-free racist rant cost Hinchcliffe his agents at WME and a couple upcoming dates performing with . . . Joe Rogan.

Speaking of missing context, I should say that I have no idea what prompted Joe Rogan’s Twitter-viral lament about our dystopian woke future. The clip that is circulating is 53 seconds long, and I am not going to sift through an entire multi-hour podcast on a Tuesday morning to find out what preceded this 53 seconds. I’m going to give Rogan the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t directly complaining on behalf of Tony Hinchcliffe; arguing for his friend’s right to call Peng Dang a slur and do an 80’s-style white guy imitation of an Asian accent. Rogan should know, however, that it certainly seems as though that’s what he was mad about, given the timing.

This argument is beyond tired, even apart from the fact that it has become the right-wing rallying cry of 2021. (Well, aside from “Certain people should have a tougher time voting!” and “Trans kids shouldn’t get to play sports!”) It’s not just straight white people who have to watch what they say; It’s everyone! And watching what you say is not a new phenomenon; It’s been part of the social code since forever! Most people learn the hard way as children that while it’s technically legal to call your mom an a-hole, it’s not a great idea. Sure, it’s for different reasons than why it’s not a great idea to walk up to a non-binary person and scream about how many genders you think exist on a biological level, but the principal is the same: Just treat people with respect.

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It can be hard, frustrating work keeping up with what people need in order to feel respected these days. But the reason it feels that way is because a) more people than ever have the means to let you know what no longer falls within reason, and b) the method with which they do is sometimes far too aggressive. Anyone who thinks that the latter invalidates the former, though, is being short-sighted, narcissistic, and childish. Especially if they’re a famous comedian, rather than a college professor.

When a group of people points out that a comedian said something egregiously offensive, the comedian then must decide whether the group has a point that might be useful going forward, or whether their point is overblown and they’ll just have to learn to live with it. In a surprising amount of cases, that second option is fine! People will get mad, and they’ll move on.

If people get mad and do not move in, there’s a chance that the comedian has misjudged the situation, the first option is still on the table, and all it costs is one half-assed Notes app apology.

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Comedians have never existed in a rhetorical green zone where they could say anything they want, completely risk-free. Lenny Bruce, for instance, was considered exciting and dangerous precisely because he risked getting in trouble for saying anything he wanted, and he did get in trouble for it. The fact that modern comedians have to be more careful of offending audiences than of offending the government doesn’t make it a braver cause to get mad about. Quite the opposite! There’s no Lenny Bruce equivalent in the so-called anti-woke establishment. There’s just Tucker Carlson.

During a week where his buddy got widely panned for doing a soft white-supremacist bit on stage, Rogan getting mad about the plight of the straight white man is sadly clarifying. People like Rogan seem to think that ever apologizing for saying anything is a violation of some sacred comedian’s covenant, and you don’t need to be a social justice warrior to know that’s just plain wrong.

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Are there too many streaming services? 56% of connected device users are overwhelmed

A survey conducted by Verizon Media and Publicis Media suggests cord-cutters are having trouble with all the choices.

Are there too many streaming services? 56% of connected device users are overwhelmed
[Photo: saiko3p/iStock]
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After Disney and Netflix both reported lower-than-expected subscribers to their streaming services recently, a new study lends credence to the theory that consumers may be becoming overwhelmed by the sheer number of streaming services available. The survey was conducted by Verizon Media and Publicis Media and looked at the trend of cord-cutting and cord stacking, the latter being defined as “subscribing to both pay TV and one or more streaming services.” Here’s what the study found :

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  • 68% of Americans use their smart TV’s built-in software to access streaming services.
  • 50% rely on connected devices (such as an Apple TV or Fire TV) to access streaming services.
  • Consumers who use streaming services access 5 services on average.
  • Cord stackers (those who use streaming services and cable TV) use 7 streaming services on average.
  • 67% of connected device users say it is difficult to decide what to watch because there is too much choice of content available.
  • 56% say they are overwhelmed by the number of streaming services to choose from.
  • Of the respondents that accessed five or more streaming services, a whopping 80% said they wished there was a “universal search” feature that allowed them to find content across multiple streaming services.
  • Nearly half–48% of respondents say they are worried about how much money streaming services are costing them.
  • Unsurprisingly then, one in two streaming service consumers shares logins in order to keep costs down.
  • A majority of respondents–60% of them–said they wished more streaming services offered ad-supported subscription tiers.

The survey, called the 2021 CTV Growth Opportunity Report, was conducted between February 1-11, 2021 among over 3,000 nationally representative TV viewers.

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About the author

Michael Grothaus is a novelist, journalist, and former screenwriter. His debut novel EPIPHANY JONES is out now from Orenda Books. You can read more about him at MichaelGrothaus.com

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‘SNL’ is having a post-Trump renaissance, despite what you may have heard

Elon Musk aside, the spotlight on ‘SNL’ has dimmed since the election. You’re missing a show firing on almost all cylinders.

‘SNL’ is having a post-Trump renaissance, despite what you may have heard
[Photo: Will Heath/NBC]
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During a chaotic few weeks that saw an Afghanistan troop-withdrawal order, a Republican intra-party cancel-culture fiasco, major shifts in CDC guidelines on COVID-19, and a horrendous tipping point in the Gaza Strip conflict, one of the most enduring conversation topics was . . . Elon Musk’s episode of Saturday Night Live.

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The lead-up to the show, its immediate aftermath, and Musk’s subsequent actions around crypto all generated separate, connected discourses. But one thread woven throughout the entire saga—by Musk’s fans and critics alike—was the burning fact of SNL‘s irrelevance and overall state of disrepair. A lot of folks felt compelled to express either that the show hasn’t been funny in years or that they haven’t watched it in years, twin sentiments that cancel each other out. All this slander is a shame, however, because at least in this critic’s eyes, coming out of the Trump era, SNL has quietly become about as strong as it’s ever been.

Trump’s presidency started out as both a gift and a curse for the preeminent late-night comedy show, but it quickly curdled into just a curse. Too much was happening in the news, all the time, and it was often either too stupid or too terrifying to see rehashed in thunderingly redundant cold-open sketches each week. Trump proved intermittently great for SNL‘s ratings, but by 2020, audiences seemed burnt out on all the attendant turmoil reflected on the show, even beyond their exhaustion with Alec Baldwin’s noxious impersonation.

Only the first handful of the current season’s 18 episodes aired before America voted Trump out, though. While the Chris Rock-hosted premiere felt like more of the same, with high-profile pinch hitters such as Jim Carrey and 15-minute cold opens recapping yet another political debate, something had shifted within the show. More Trump-related material seemed to focus on less-explored topics such as the self-serving liberal pageantry around the then-president. One election PSA featured the cast posing as voters, voicing concern about just what the hell they would even talk about if Trump were no longer president—a question that some cynically minded viewers (and the writer of this article) might have wondered about the show itself.

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As much as Trump seemed to delight in being the main thing Americans were talking about at any given time, two topics had already superseded him in conversation by last fall: COVID-19 and systemic racism. Sure enough, SNL got some of its best material in years by paying more attention to those issues than the outgoing chief executive.

Over the past 15 months, the show has had the unenviable task of first finding a way to even exist during a pandemic, and then mine humor from every discrete phase of it. SNL was still in production as serious fears about COVID-19 seeped into the U.S., took a brief break during the early full-tilt panic stage, and then closed out its 45th season with a series of remote episodes. By the time the show resumed last fall, COVID-19 had become fodder for material rather than an inhibitor of it. SNL weighed in on ridiculous anti-lockdown protesters, the awkwardness of outdoor hangs with friends and indoor hangs with one’s pod, the inability to go home for Christmas, and the agony and ecstasy of pre-vaccine horniness and post-vaccine dating. The pandemic hit each person in different ways, but in casting a wide net SNL likely nailed at least one of them for just about everybody.

The show’s commentary on racism this season has been equally sharp and incisive. The show touched on corporate pandering and the icky motivations behind it, misguided white allyship, and wide-ranging discord around the Derek Chauvin trial. One sketch, however, approached a certain class of ostensibly well-meaning white people with particular acuity, humor, and intelligence. The fake ad for 5-Hour Empathy laid bare the fleeting nature of those heavy donations and antiracism reading lists; how empathy was something many white people might just flick on and off like a switch (or never flip on in the first place, or think they flipped on when they actually did not.

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Elsewhere on the show this season, the absurdist current that has always run through SNL (if too often relegated to the “10 to 1” spot) has flourished with delightfully unhinged sketches such as the Mr. Chicken Legs pageant, the Tiny Horse song, and Bowen Yang’s tour de force turn as the iceberg that sank the Titanic.

In its topical sketches, delightful turns toward nonsense, and everything in between, the show has lately often been firing on all cylinders.

The forever problem with Saturday Night Live has always been inconsistency. No matter what any random viewer remembers as their favorite season, I guarantee it would not hold up from episode to episode upon revisiting today. And guess what? The show remains inconsistent. That Elon Musk visit wasn’t the only time things went a bit off the rails in the current season. Fortunately, SNL is navigating the post-Trump and possibly soon-to-be post-COVID-19 era with aplomb and finding other areas of How We Live Now to tackle in its own way. Although it looks like there may be fewer reasons than ever to stay in on a Saturday night by the time the show returns next season, odds are that something well worth watching will be on for those who do so.

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Have a look below at some other memorable sketches from this past season.

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Disney stock price takes a hit after Disney Plus subscribers grow more slowly than expected

Slowed growth is the new name of the game for top streaming services like Disney Plus and Netflix.

Disney stock price takes a hit after Disney Plus subscribers grow more slowly than expected
[Illustration: FC]
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The Walt Disney Company reported better-than-expected earnings per share on Thursday, but that didn’t stop its stock price from taking an after-hours nosedive.

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That’s because the entertainment giant reported slower-than-expected growth for its Disney Plus streaming service. The service now has 103.6 million paid subscribers, versus a consensus estimate of 109 million cited by CNBC.

Disney shares were down more than 4% in pre-market trading on Friday.

The hit underscores the extent to which Disney—a diverse conglomerate with theme parks, TV networks, movie studios, and a vast consumer products division—is now wholly reliant on one metric. “Nothing else seems to matter,” analysts MoffettNathanson said in a research note Friday. “Previous [key performance indicators] that would swing the stock in years past like ESPN-affiliate fees, domestic-park profitability or global box office are accidental details in a market that is laser focused on Disney’s direct-to-consumer pivot.”

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With its disappointing numbers, Disney joins rival Netflix, which last month reported significantly slowed subscriber growth in the first quarter. The service added 4 million compared to an expected 6 million subscribers. Both companies are coming off a year in which people around the world were sheltering in place due to COVID-19 restrictions, but as those continue to lift, more people may decide to cut down on the number of streaming services they subscribe to.

Disney reported earnings per share of 79¢ for its second fiscal quarter, far higher than the 27¢ analysts were expecting. But revenue was slightly lower than projections: $15.61 billion versus $15.87 billion.

About the author

Christopher Zara is a senior staff news editor for Fast Company and obsessed with media, technology, business, culture, and theater. Before coming to FastCo News, he was a deputy editor at International Business Times, a theater critic for Newsweek, and managing editor of Show Business magazine

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