roast battle

It is definitely a guilty pleasure – because some of the jokes are filthy – and so I’m not even sure I should post about “Jeff Ross Presents Roast Battle,” a live four-night event which I’ve been watching since Thursday on Comedy Central. It wraps up tomorrow night.

But – with the warning that you should NOT watch this program if you are easily offended – I wanted to write about it, if only to explore why I find it so funny.

My first exposure to the idea of a “roast” was the roasts that Dean Martin used to host, as stand-alone specials and as segments of his variety show, when I was much younger. Those network-TV-friendly roasts, of course, were based on the much-more vulgar roasts that the Friar’s Club had hosted for generations.

In the late 1990s, Comedy Central made a deal to televise several Friar’s Club roasts, editing and bleeping them to take out the very worst profanities, but still leaving in a lot of material that would never have made it past NBC censors in Dean Martin’s day. The relationship with the Friar’s Club ended, but Comedy Central just started producing its own roasts along the same model.

Jeff Ross is a comedian who served as a bridge between the older Friar’s Club members and a new generation of comics. He has a passion for the roast format, and has been on pretty much all of the Friar’s Club and self-produced roasts since Comedy Central got into the business.

A year or two ago, Comedy Central tried to give Ross a show, “The Burn,” in which he and a panel of comics tried to use roast-like jokes to comment on pop culture and current events, but it didn’t work – I think in part, because the jokes were directed at people who weren’t in the room. In the specific setting of a roast, you can be incredibly mean and insulting – because that’s the norm, the expectation, and the subject of the roast has, in effect, agreed in advance to this kind of treatment.

That’s not to say that roast participants, especially first-timers, aren’t taken aback by the atmosphere sometimes. When Comedy Central roasted Larry The Cable Guy, squeaky-clean Jeff Foxworthy was the host, and after one particularly vulgar roaster had delivered his monologue, Jeff looked at the camera and said, wryly, “I’d like to say hello to the members of my Sunday School class who are watching at home.”

Anyway, the jokes in “The Burn” didn’t have the same appeal because the victims weren’t in on the joke the way the guest of honor at a roast is.

Ross has, however, adapted the roast style of comedy to another format which is a little more successful – the roast battle. I’ve been hearing identical twin comics Randy and Jason Sklar talk about roast battles on their podcast, and this weekend’s TV event is the first time I’ve actually seen one.

It’s basically an insult competition. Two comics are brought out, and they take turns hurling the foulest, meanest, most creative and funny insults they can think of at each other. Like the comedy of Don Rickles, jokes that in any other context would seem racist, misogynist  or just in extremely poor taste are funny, because we the audience have consciously decided to allow them, and we know there’s no real malice behind them. On the TV show, each competitor gets four jokes. Then, a panel of judges decides which of the two comics got the upper hand.

Man, these jokes are nasty – both in the sense of personal attack and in the sense of vulgarity. But there’s a good-natured goofiness to the proceedings that takes the edge off. One of the announced rules is that the contestants have to hug each other at the end of a match.

This weekend’s event is set up as a tournament. They had a first round spread across Thursday and Friday, quarterfinals tonight, and they’ll have semifinals and finals tomorrow night. The judges so far have included Whoopi Goldberg, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Rogen, David Spade and Kevin Hart. (Ross is technically the third judge, but he tends to defer to the opinions of that night’s two guest judges.) Tomorrow, Judd Apatow and Sarah Silverman will be the judges.

Again, this is a guilty pleasure, something that a lot of people would consider offensive. But I can’t turn away.

sleight of …

I enjoy the TV show “Penn & Teller: Fool Us,” which airs on the CW network. The premise of the show is that professional magicians appear and do one of their best tricks with the bad boys of magic, Penn & Teller, sitting in the audience. Penn & Teller try to figure out how the trick is done. If they can, they communicate this to the magician using jargon or coded language, so that the trick is not ruined for the audience. If, however, they are fooled, the visiting magician wins a trophy, bragging rights – and the chance to be the opening act for a performance of Penn & Teller’s Las Vegas show.

The show started in the UK, with British TV personality Jonathan Ross as the emcee. The CW began running the British episodes and eventually took the show over itself. At first, they kept Jonathan Ross as the host, even though he’s not well-known here. Recently, however, Alyson Hannigan of “How I Met Your Mother” and “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” took over as host.

Tonight, a magician named Mahdi Gilbert fooled Penn & Teller. That’s not amazing in and of itself – in fact, they get fooled about once per hour-long episode. What was amazing about Gilbert’s performance was … something else. He performed a close-up sleight-of-hand card trick for Penn, Teller, and Hannigan.

I said “sleight of hand.” That was an unfortunate choice of words, but it’s the standard expression, but I’m not sure what to say instead in Mahdi Gilbert’s case. Here’s a YouTube video of Gilbert doing basically the same trick he did for Penn & Teller, in much more casual surroundings than a Las Vegas stage:

three dollar difference

I went to get some groceries this morning, and I went to a store with an older cash register system. Normally, they give me both a cash register receipt and a separate receipt for running my debit card.

I did not notice it at the time, but in retrospect I do not believe they gave me a debit card receipt this morning. I put the cash register receipt into my checkbook so that I could enter the amount later. My total purchase was $27.84.

This afternoon, I happened to go to my credit union website to check my bank balance. The website showed a $30.84 charge from that store. This was not a hold or pre-authorization. Sometimes gas stations or restaurants will put a hold on your account that’s different from the final charge that actually goes through, but this was not that. This was the actual, final charge, and it was three dollars more than I was supposed to have paid.

I went back to the store just now and asked to speak to the manager. He was very nice, paid me the $3 in cash, and made a copy of the cash register receipt and the bank website printout for his files.

If it had been a one-digit difference – $28.84 or even $37.84 – I would say it was just a case of her finger slipping as she punched in the number. And maybe it still was just an honest mistake. But it smelled funny for some reason, especially since I don’t think she gave me the debit card receipt.

Well, if there really is funny business going on, it will be found out eventually. If it was just an honest mistake, the store did all they could to make it right, and I appreciate that.

bad culture

I have been making my own yogurt on a regular basis for about two months, with only a couple of breaks.

Today, though, was the first time I had a batch turn out badly. It was sort of curdled, runny, and just had the faintest off smell, and I ended up dumping it rather than eating it.

I don’t know exactly what happened. I was using the second half of a half-gallon of milk. It was still before the sell-by date, and the milk didn’t smell bad, but it had been sitting in the fridge a few days since I’d opened it and used the first half. It had been longer than normal since the last batch of yogurt (which I made with the first half of that milk). My starter culture might also just have gotten weak, which is not uncommon.

I’ll make a new batch in another day or two, and start afresh with an envelope of freeze-dried starter culture and some milk straight from the store.

Today’s mishap aside, I really do like making my own yogurt. It tastes good, it’s less expensive than buying yogurt, and it doesn’t have artificial thickeners or stabilizers.

comedy bang! bang!

Since getting back a cable tier that included IFC a week or two ago, I have been catching up on the new season of one of my favorite shows, “Comedy Bang! Bang!”, the first season with “Weird Al” Yankovic as sidekick.

This show is really popular with a certain subset of comedy fans, but a lot of other people have never heard of it. I think it’s wonderfully creative and silly and joyful.

“Comedy Bang! Bang!” is based on a podcast of the same name – both the podcast and the TV show are hosted by Scott Aukerman. Strangely enough, I don’t really listen to the podcast that often. This post will be about the TV show, not the podcast.

It’s difficult to describe because it’s too easy to describe. It’s a parody of a talk show – but it’s actually a lot more than that. It’s got elements of everything from “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” to “Community” to “Saturday Night Live.”

Originally, Aukerman’s music director and sidekick was Reggie Watts, who was hilarious. Reggie left the show after several seasons to become the bandleader for “The Late Late Show with James Corden.” Kid Cudi took the position for one season, and he was fine, but he left because of conflicts with his musical career. This season, “Weird Al” – who had been a guest and done cameos on the show in the past – took the job, and he’s a perfect fit.

Within the talk show format, there’s a first guest – a real celebrity, although sometimes playing an exaggerated or caricatured version of themselves – and then a second guest, who is actually a sketch character or an impersonation of a celebrity. (The podcast follows this same real-guest-plus-fake-guest format.)

Here’s the real Ellie Kemper and a fake Jesse Ventura (James Adomian):

But there are several levels of the show going on at the same time as the talk show parody. First off, there’s a behind-the-scenes element. We see Scott and Al talking to crew members about the show, there’s an angry network executive who pops up from time to time complaining about things, and so on.

But there’s usually also some subplot making fun of some other pop culture – from beach movies to “Lord of the Rings” to “The Big Chill.” And there are funny fake commercials and trailers and flashbacks.

I really enjoy this show. It may take a few episodes to get into, especially since each episode has a different feel and flavor to it due to the pop culture parody aspect. You might even want to go online and look for some of the old Reggie Watts episode before perusing the newer Weird Al episodes – but I think it’s well worth it.

back to the book?

I’ve been feeling restless tonight – llike I should be working on something. After Relay For Life, and the Lake Junaluska trip, and the chili cookoff, I’m in kind of letdown mode – the next thing I have to look forward to is my Sierra Leone trip in November.

A year or two ago, I started pulling and adapting some old sermons, blog posts and other material with the idea of possibly self-publishing a book of faith-based essays. I don’t know whether there’d be any market for it, but – as with my Bad Self-Published Novel – it would be a low-risk enterprise, as much for the challenge as anything else.

So I started re-looking at some of the content tonight. It’s still a little short; I need to write a few more things exclusively for the book, if that’s what I want to do.

chili recap

For the past few years, I served as a judge at both the Friday evening and Saturday afternoon chili cookoffs held each July in Shelbyville. I always dreamed of entering, but it’s actually a pretty complicated and expensive process. This year, though, I took the plunge.

As you know if you followed my Facebook posts, it didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. I wasn’t happy with my entry and thus wasn’t surprised when I didn’t place last night, and when I got the chance to see my judges’ comments today there were some negative comments – at least one of which seemed to be the exact opposite of what I thought was wrong with the chili.

Anyway, I had a good time, at least before seeing those judges’ comments this morning, but I was also dog tired. Going into the process, my original plan had been to only cook on Friday, and then – if I happened to get lucky Friday – I might choose to cook on Saturday. During the evening yesterday, I considered coming back and cooking today even if I didn’t place, just because I was enjoying it. But I was frustrated with my final result, and, as I say, dog tired. Even before the final results were announced, I packed up the canopy tent I had been loaned rather than leaving it on-site (they had told us we could leave tents overnight and there would be security). I knew I wouldn’t be cooking the next day.

I laid down on the couch as soon as I got home and fell asleep until 12:30. Then I went up and got into bed. At 1:30, I started thinking about the leftover propane cans still in my car. What if I slept late in the morning? How hot would my car get? Would the propane tanks explode, destroying my car right in the apartment parking lot? I got up, went downstairs and brought the propane inside.

Anyway, here are some random observations.

* Chili cookoffs are expensive. For an International Chili Society-sanctioned cookoff, you have to join ICS, over and above the entry fee of the cookoff. Of course, you’ve also got ingredients – not only for the batch you prepare at the cookoff but for all of the ones you prepare in your kitchen getting ready. I ordered most of my herbs and spices from my favorite mail-order house (although I’ve got quite a bit left for use in regular cooking, so that’s some benefit). I was able to borrow a Coleman stove and a canopy tent, but I ended up buying a cooler (which I needed anyway) and a little folding table (which I thought would be a good thing to have).

The ICS membership is annual, so if I compete next year I’ll have to renew about that time. It would be nice if I could find another cookoff to compete in between now and then, to leverage a little bit of my membership fee. There aren’t any too close by, unfortunately.

* The atmosphere at the cookoff was wonderful. Yes, there was serious competition going on. Some of the cooks who came to Shelbyville from as far away as Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana and Mississippi were trying to place so that they could qualify for the ICS World Championship in Reno, Nevada, in October. They were serious about their cooking, but that didn’t keep them from being friendly, helpful and encouraging.

* Wes Carlson of Illinois, who was the ICS world champion for green chili in 2004, came back again this year to serve as head judge and work with local organizer Calvin Cannon in putting on the event. I had worked with Wes as a judge last year. When I raised my hand to identify myself as a rookie at the cook’s meeting last night. Several people yelled at me about salt. I honestly thought at the time that they were joking – that maybe it was some sort of tradition to try to trick first-timers into over-salting their chili. I do like salty foods – too much for my own good – but last year, one of the batches I tasted as a judge was so salty even I didn’t care for it. I had decided prior to the cookoff that I would have enough salt, but not too much.

But when Wes stopped by to check on me later, he actually mentioned salt again – and I could tell that he was serious. Even so, I thought I had it covered, and told him so.

Anyway, one of the judges’ comments I got: “not enough salt.” That may have also figured in to the judge who called my chili “bland.” I did not think it was bland; if anything, I though I’d gone overboard with a couple of added flavors. I added a little lime juice right at the very end of cooking just to wake things up, for example, and thought it might have been too much. I wasn’t happy with my entry, but I didn’t think it was bland by any stretch of the imagination.

* Another judges’ comment: “too thick.” This one, I’ll own up to. Part of the problem is that I was only entered in one category – red chili. I should have waited longer than I did to start my chili, and for a while I could not get the flame on the Coleman stove as low as I really wanted it without it going out. I eventually compensated by putting the dutch oven off-center rather than directly over the burner. I added water to the chili at several points to thin it out, but apparently not enough – and perhaps I should have added a little less masa flour at the end.

By the way, one of the other competitors saw me adding the masa and said she’d switched to rice flour as a thickener because it was flavorless. But to me, the taste of masa is actually a part of what I expect in chili.

* Back when I envisioned cooking in a chili cookoff, I thought I might try to recruit one of my nephews or a kid from church to be a second pair of hands. I really wish I had done that. I had to make about five trips from my car to my site unloading, carrying heavy items like the canopy tent and the cooler, and the same thing loading up at the end of the evening. Also, at one point Wes invited me to be a judge for the green chili category (which I had not entered), but I didn’t want to leave my chili unattended. Most of the other competitors had some sort of help – spouses, kids, friends, or so on. If I cook next year, I’m going to try to recruit a helper.

* This morning, I stopped by to get a few photos for the paper and also to check on those judges’ comments. But I was still kind of tired, and really didn’t feel like hanging around. I wish I had gotten the chance, with my new perspective, to maybe talk to a few of the other teams, and I probably would have been roped into judging had I been there this afternoon. (I particularly missed judging the salsa category this year.)

* In years past, I would be involved in the Nashville Symphony concert, Relay For Life and Mountain T.O.P. trips, all within a six- or eight-week period, all of them high points of my year, and then I’d feel kind of let down afterward. Well, the symphony concert is no more, and I didn’t go to Mountain T.O.P. this year. This year, I went from “The Foreigner” to Relay For Life to the Lake Junaluska trip to the chili cookoff. But the letdown is the same, and I think it’s started, especially since I feel like the chili cookoff didn’t go the way I wanted it to. I’ve been feeling cranky and out-of-sorts today. The one good part is that I can start looking forward to my Sierra Leone trip in November.

Win or Lose

Mt. Lebanon UMC
July 3, 2016

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 (CEB)

10 After these things, the Lord commissioned seventy-two others and sent them on ahead in pairs to every city and place he was about to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest. 3 Go! Be warned, though, that I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves. 4 Carry no wallet, no bag, and no sandals. Don’t even greet anyone along the way. 5 Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house.’ 6 If anyone there shares God’s peace, then your peace will rest on that person. If not, your blessing will return to you. 7 Remain in this house, eating and drinking whatever they set before you, for workers deserve their pay. Don’t move from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a city and its people welcome you, eat what they set before you. 9 Heal the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘God’s kingdom has come upon you.’ 10 Whenever you enter a city and the people don’t welcome you, go out into the streets and say, 11 ‘As a complaint against you, we brush off the dust of your city that has collected on our feet. But know this: God’s kingdom has come to you.’

16 Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. Whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
17 The seventy-two returned joyously, saying, “Lord, even the demons submit themselves to us in your name.”
18 Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning. 19 Look, I have given you authority to crush snakes and scorpions underfoot. I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy. Nothing will harm you. 20 Nevertheless, don’t rejoice because the spirits submit to you. Rejoice instead that your names are written in heaven.”

When I saw this passage in the Lectionary, I thought I’d preached on it before. So I went through my files, and found that I’d used this passage for a devotion during a training event for my teammates in 2009, when Gail Castle and I were co-leading a mission trip to Malaba, Kenya.
Of course, it makes perfect sense as a passage about missions. It’s about the disciples being sent out into towns and cities that they weren’t familiar with, telling strangers about Jesus for the first time.
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