My podcast appearance

Last week, I visited Michael Hansen and my former castmate Brenden Taylor for a taping of their podcast “Finding Christ in Cinema,” which looks for religious allegories and talking points in secular films. My original intent was to interview them for a story, which I did, but they also invited me to sit in as a guest on the podcast, and I did that too. Logrolling? Maybe. But I enjoyed it, and think I got a good story out of it, too.

Being a guest on the podcast was fun — I probably should have leaped into the discussion more often than I did, but I was kind of feeling my way around. I have an invitation to come back some time, and I think I’ll probably be a little more comfortable and a little more vocal whenever I do. It will have to be the right movie, though.

Anyway, my episode can be found here. You can listen to it from that page or click for a little popout player that you can then minimize so that you don’t forget and close it by mistake.

I’ve said here in the past that I’d love to have some sort of podcast. But (except for the short-lived talk show I did on WLIJ some years back) it’s been nearly 30 years since my radio days, and last week reminded me that filling air time is harder than it looks. My experiments, such as the little pilot episode I did in 2011 for a faith-based interview podcast — have also been very low-tech. Michael has a nice home studio, and you can hear it in the quality of the product he produces. I’m not in a position to even pay for hosting right now, much less equipment.

I’ve also never really settled on what I want to do. The more marketable ideas are also more restrictive; what I really want is the freedom to play, but that quickly becomes self-indulgent and not interesting to other people, which sort of defeats the purpose. The podcasts I really enjoy listening to are hosted by comedians or other creative people who have good content, but even when they stray from the content they can make stream-of-consciousness interesting to someone other than themselves. They also have a lot of access to good guests, sidekicks or interview subjects to play off of.

But I can still dream. Maybe one of these days, I’ll come up with a format or premise that I can run with.

Seth and pete

I was excited about the premiere of “Late Night with Seth Meyers” last night, of course, but I was also excited about the return of “The Pete Holmes Show,” which had been on hiatus for a couple of months but which TBS happily picked up for a new season. It’s times like these I’m happy for the DVR — I don’t need to stay up for Seth every night, as I did last night.

I watched Seth’s monologue and the comedy bit about Venn diagrams last night, then today I watched the Amy Poehler interview. I didn’t watch the Joe Biden interview – I’ve come to agree with pop culture blogger Mark Evanier about political figures on the entertainment-oriented late night network talk shows. Republican or Democrat, they come on, field a few softball questions, and rack up some unearned good will by appearing to be a good sport. Again agreeing with Evanier, I don’t think the answer is for the late night hosts to ask tougher questions – for the most part they aren’t qualified to be journalists. I don’t think office-holders need to be making the rounds of the entertainment shows to begin with.

Anyway, I enjoyed what I saw of Seth’s show.

I had been watching Fallon last night duirng Pete Holmes’ season premiere, so that, too, had to wait until today. (I watched it this morning while getting ready for work, as was my habit during his last run of episodes.) Holmes is a mystery – like another late-night comic, Craig Ferguson, he can careen from thoughtful intelligence to silly, sophomoric (but never mean-spirited) vulgarity in a heartbeat. Holmes comes from a religious background, and while he appears to have rejected the traditional Christianity I still hold dear, he’s still fascinated by spirituality and spiritual issues, much more so than any current comedian with whom I’m familiar. He had controversial author and former pastor Rob Bell on his podcast for a serious interview, then later featured him on the TV show in a comedy bit about surfing.

I think he fired just about all of the X-Men during his first run of episodes, but I hope he finds some use for his sharp-tongued Professor X during the new season. Maybe he could fire the other Marvel superheroes too.

My people

One small glitch in the “Raise Your Hand” program in Bedford County is that when your normal host teacher happens not to be there, the substitute may not be expecting you.

This happened to me a few weeks back, and it happened again today. Today, the substitute happened to be a former cast-mate, Keith Wortham. Just a couple of months ago, I was Clarence the Angel to Keith’s razor-sharp George Bailey in the benefit performances of “It’s A Wonderful Life.” We’d worked together a couple of other times prior to that.

If you know anything at all about school kids, you know that their behavior for a substitute teacher is not necessarily their behavior for the regular teacher. Today, when I arrived, five or six of them immediately ran over to me and gave me a big group hug. (“Mr. Carney!!!!”)

“They don’t normally act this way,” I told Keith, embarrassed. I do occasionally get one or two hugs when I’m arriving or leaving, but nothing this disruptive.

I really felt like a disruption, and I sort of wanted to leave and let Keith get back to what he was doing, but once the kids saw me I sort of had to stick around. Keith rolled with the punches and sent half of the kids he was working with over to play a game with me; we did that for half an hour and then swapped groups.

Keith, I hope I wasn’t too much of an imposition. You seemed to be doing a great job, not that you need my recommendation.

Here’s a confession: It was, disruptive or not, nice to get my excited welcome from the kids. I’ve been a little down for a few days, for various and sundry reasons, and that was kind of a pick-me-up.

Like sands through the hourglass

It just occurred to me that the end of the Jay Leno “Tonight Show” a week or two ago might have been the end of an era — I wasn’t sure if it was the last production in the Burbank Studios, formerly owned by NBC. NBC sold the studio in 2008 and gradually moved most of its production to Universal Studios (which is now, of course, part of the same company as NBC). During Conan O’Brien’s short tenure as host of “The Tonight Show,” he broadcast from a studio on the Universal lot. I read just now that Conan’s old studio is now the home of “Chelsea Lately.”

Jay Leno, however, was comfortable in the Burbank facility and stayed there throughout both of his runs at “The Tonight Show” and the short-lived “Jay Leno Show.”

It turns out Jay wasn’t the last NBC star to leave the ship; Wikipedia says that “Access Hollywood” and “Days of Our Lives” are still being shot at the Burbank facility.

I got to tour the studios in the year 2000 when visiting my brother and sister-in-law in California. (I may have told this story before.) Our tour guide told us the story about Jay Leno and the studios.

When Jay first took over “The Tonight Show” in the early 1990s, he went into the same large stage where Johnny Carson had been presiding since moving the show from New York to California. Johnny, who got his start in radio, was used to not being able to see his audience, and he was far enough away from the bleachers, with bright TV lights shining in his eyes, that he didn’t see them when doing his monologue. Jay, who got his start in comedy clubs with the audience at his feet, was never comfortable with that arrangement. During a week of “Tonight Shows” on the road in New York, he found himself in a much smaller studio and noticed a change in his energy level. Upon returning to California, he asked to move onto one of the smaller stages in the Burbank complex, and a special platform was built so that during his monologue, he would be much, much closer to the audience than he had been. He could even shake hands with them as he took his mark. Jay became more relaxed in his new surroundings and eventually started beating David Letterman in the ratings.

We did not get to see the “Tonight Show” studio that day – they were doing sound check or something at the time of our tour. But at the time, they took you into the parking lot to see Jay’s parking space, and which of his many vehicles he’d driven to work that day. We went out, and gawked, and as we turned around to go back inside there was a man standing on the loading dock from which we’d emerged, smoking a cigarette.

It was – no kidding – Maury Povich, who was taping the first few episodes of his revival of “Twenty-One” that day. (Someone in the gift shop had tried to recruit us for the audience, but we already had tickets for a sitcom over on the Warner Brothers lot that evening.) Maury saw the tour group looking at him, tossed his cigarette and ducked back into the building.

There were murals outside some of the stages of famous shows that had been shot on those stages, and the one of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” made me think of Gary Owens, hand cupped to his ear, announcing that the program originated from “beautiful downtown Burbank.” (This was sarcasm; Burbank is neither particularly beautiful nor does it have a noticeable downtown.)

Steve Allen did his version of “The Tonight Show” from Rockefeller Center in New York, where Jimmy Fallon has just taken over. But this is from some other prime time show or special that Steverino shot in Burbank, and I like the way it makes use of the corridors, which actually still looked a lot like this in 2000:

Anyway, I don’t know if the current owners of the Burbank Studios give tours, but if they do, and if you’re in Southern California, you need to stop by. It’s a pop culture historic site if ever there was one.

now is the podcast of our discontent

I was excited when Alton Brown, former host of “Good Eats” and current host of half of Food Network’s repetetive, overblown food-competition shows, started his own podcast. I even wrote a glowing story about it that was included in our Times-Gazette cookbook, a story about which I was reminded day before yesterday when I was looking at one of the cookbooks we’d set aside as a contest entry.

But I think I’m now officially disenchanted.

To backtrack a bit: “Good Eats” started on the Food Network in 1999 and ran for 11 years. Reruns still air regularly on Cooking Channel (a sister channel to Food Network). It remains one of my favorite things ever on television. It was a half-hour cooking show which combined recipes, science, sketch comedy and jury-rigged cooking contraptions. It won a Peabody Award, and Alton won a James Beard award for his work as creator and host.

During the run of “Good Eats,” Alton also had several outstanding food travelogues presented in miniseries format: two runs of “Feasting on Asphalt” (Alton and his crew traveled by motorcycle), and one of “Feasting on Waves” (because it’s hard to travel the Carribbean by motorcycle).

When Food Network, which had run and rerun episodes of the original Japanese “Iron Chef,” created its own version, “Iron Chef America,” Alton was signed as host – and that was fine with me at the time; I had been a big fan of the original Japanese show, and Alton brought a lot of his wit and knowledge to his “play-by-play” commentary. But, over time, Food Network became all about the competition shows. “Iron Chef America” doesn’t appeal to me at all anymore, nor do any of the other shows, all of which seem to blend together: “The Next Iron Chef,” “Cutthroat Kitchen,” “Food Network Star,” all of them involving Alton in some way or another, plus others like “Chopped,” “The Worst Cooks In America,” and on and on and on. (And on and on.) Someone is apparently watching them, but I have long since gotten sick and tired of them.

When “Good Eats” wrapped up, I figured Alton would be back with some different but equally-imaginative project in a year or two, and that all of these reality shows he was hosting were just helping pay the bills (which I completely understand).

Then, Alton launched his podcast, on the well-established Nerdist podcast network, and I was thrilled. The podcast originally had sort of a magazine format, including cooking tips that would have been at home on “Good Eats” as well as listener questions, along with an interview segment.

Over time, however, all of the other segments have been de-emphasized and the interview segment is now pretty much the whole podcast. That would be OK if the interview subjects were great – and a few of them are, such as the fellow from Nashville’s Olive & Sinclair Chocolates a few episodes back. But too many of them are either tied in with Alton’s competition shows and/or chances to reminisce about the behind-the-scenes production of “Good Eats.” Alton apparently does not share my feelings about the competition shows; based on the interviews, he’s still excited to host as many of them as they’ll throw his way. As a huge fan of “Good Eats,” I enjoy some of the behind-the-scenes stuff, but there’s been an over-reliance on it. I’m not as interested in “Good Eats” as I am in the next “Good Eats,” whatever that turns out to be.

This week’s episode is an interview with the production manager for Alton’s live tour – again, not a bad idea in and of itself, but in the context of where the show has been headed it just means another episode without any real food content, since the interview is the entire show.

I don’t guess I have much room to complain about a free, and advertising-free, podcast. It’s just that the podcast, when it first started, seemed like it might be appointment listening in the same way “Good Eats” was appointment viewing. And it’s not. Alton, you need to be doing something more worthy of your talent.

not a pilgrim

Is it heretical to say that I have no desire to tour the Holy Land?

The host of the daily Bible podcast to which I listen, and a different fellow who’s a former pastor of mine, are each (separately) in the Holy Land right now, beaming back reports through the podcast and through social media.

I’ve seen numerous slide shows and heard numerous accounts over the years, and I always have to bite my tongue and grit my teeth when I’m shown a photo and told that this is definitely, no question about it, the exact spot where such-and-such a Bible event took place.

Yes, we know where the temple was, and some other landmarks like that. I’d love to be able to see the Sea of Galilee even if I didn’t know the exact spot on its shores where Jesus stepped onto or off of a boat. But anyone who tells you that this is the exact field where Ruth gleaned Boaz’s grain is selling you something. I think about how many times control of Jerusalem has changed hands over the milliennia. I think about how many events in the Gospels were private, intimate events, the full significance of which might not be known until they were recalled much later, in the light of subsequent events. The idea that the exact locations where all of these various events happened have been known and preserved through the ages – especially during the medieval era – seems absurd to me. I don’t know how much of it is backed up by scholarly research and how much of it is just informal claims by individuals. And that doesn’t even get to all of the other various claims and artifacts and what not that I see on those slideshows and Facebook posts.

I have no problem with those who have been moved and inspired by trips to the Holy Land; I just don’t have any interest myself. Maybe there’s more scholarly research than I’m assuming, and I’m just being cynical. But I really don’t have an interest in going.

Ready to ring

Well, even though we missed a practice last week we’re moving ahead with our scheduled performance of the First United Methodist handbell choir this Sunday morning during the 10 a.m. service. I must say, I’m looking forward to it.

We’re going to get together during the Sunday School hour for one last practice.

I wondered if we were going to keep going after this performance, and apparently we are – Dulcie gave us two new pieces of music last night which we’ll start practicing next week. We may even go to one or two of the local nursing homes or another church or something of that sort.

We’ll probably take a break from practicing over the summer (as do many of FUMC’s Wednesday night activities), but Dulcie is already talking about us working on Christmas music next fall and performing over the holidays.

As someone with no real musical talent, I’m excited about this.

jiro dreams of sushi

I re-activated my Netflix subscription at the first of the year, but in the past few days – after seeing a $15 per month jump in my DirecTV bill – I’ve been thinking of cancelling it again. But this morning I watched something absolutely sensational on Netflix: the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” Here’s a trailer:

Jiro Ono, who was 85 when the documentary was made in 2011, operates perhaps the world’s finest sushi restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, located in Tokyo. It’s small – only 10 seats – and doesn’t even have its own restrooms. The style of service means a meal only takes about 15 minutes, and it costs 30,000 yen (about $300). Even so, you have to make reservations far in advance. It has three stars from Michelin, meaning it’s so good that Michelin would recommend you travel to that country just to eat at that restaurant.

“Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” beautifully shot, edited and scored, tells the story of Jiro Ono and his two sons. It’s about food, but it’s also about Japanese culture, family dynamics, the pursuit of excellence, and even about the environment and sustainability. Jiro never really knew his own father, who left when he was about 6 or 7. But he has tried to communicate his passion and sense of purpose to both of his sons, who follow in his footsteps – the younger already operates a cheaper branch of the family restaurant, while the older – in his 50s – will eventually take over the original location, knowing he’ll have to work twice as hard if he ever wants to step out of his father’s shadow. (Pay close attention, near the end of the movie, for a fact about the Michelin rating that sheds new light on the elder son’s status.)

There’s no narration, but all of the participants speak Japanese, so  you have to be OK with subtitles.

Dang it, now I’m hungry for sushi.

Old but not-a-papa john

I ordered Papa John’s Pizza tonight; it was kind of a milestone.

It’s the first time I’ve actually used my AARP membership.

AARP started sending me mailers on the day of my 50th birthday in 2010 (which is kind of scary, when you think about it too hard). I meant to join but never got around to it until a month or so ago. It doesn’t cost much, and you do get the discounts, and the magazine, and what have you.

Yes, I’m a pathetic old person.

The one discount mentioned to me by several out-of-town friends was that if you buy coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts and flash your AARP card, you get a free donut. But there’s no Dunkin’ Donuts in Shelbyville, and I don’t drink coffee.

But if you order online, AARP membership gives you 25 percent off at Papa John’s. That can’t be combined with any other sales or discounts, and in point of fact it’s probably not much cheaper than waiting for a good coupon or simply getting whatever pizza happens to be the current special.

But it’s the principle of the thing.

I ordered the “double cheeseburger pizza” that they’ve been advertising. It’s not bad, but it’s a little strange. (Dill pickles?) I think I may go back to a more traditional pizza next time, assuming I live that long. (Did I mention I’m a pathetic old person?)

a man for more seasons

My favorite type of chili to make is spicy Texas-style chili, without beans, either simmered for a long time or cooked in a pressure cooker to speed things up. Because of this, you want to either use coarsely-ground or “chili grind” beef, or beef cut into little half-inch cubes. I either use a variant of Alton Brown’s pressure cooker chili recipe or a product like Wick Fowler’s 3-Alarm Chili Kit. The Wick Fowler product used to have directions for a long-cooking preparation; those aren’t on the package any more, only the quick recipe with ground beef.

But I enjoy just about any type of chili, quick or slow, beans or no beans. Once in a while, a quick-cooked product will attract my attention and I’ll try it out, and it’s usually fine. The Tabasco sauce people make chili fixings in a jar – brown some ground beef, add the contents of the jar, and simmer just enough to heat through and wake up the flavor.

And (put your fingers in your ears, Texas friends) while I love making a good thick chili without beans, I don’t mind something like Wendy’s chili which has beans in it. And the beans are a healthy extender, with lots of fiber.

chilikitToday, while at Dollar General Market (the kind of Dollar General that has a full grocery store), I found something called a Hunt’s Chili Kit. It had a regular price of $2.75 but was marked down to $2.50. I had a pound of ground meat at home and figured I’d buy the Hunt’s kit to use with it. The chili kit is a box containing a full-size can of Hunt’s tomato sauce, a full-size can of Hunt’s diced tomatoes, a full-size can of Van Camp’s kidney beans, and a seasoning packet. None of the canned products is labeled as being “chili flavor” or “chili-seasoned” or “for chili” or anything like that, so none of them appears to have any sort of chili flavor built in. They are just the regular varieties of beans or tomatoes that you’d buy separately off the shelf.

The trouble is, I opened the box to look at the ingredients and found that it’s a very small seasoning packet – half the size of those packets of chili seasoning or taco meat seasoning you find in grocery stores. I don’t see how this packet could possibly have enough chili flavor for a pound of ground meat and the contents of those three big cans.

Even worse, I appear to be out of chili powder. I’m going to have to put off making the Hunt’s chili kit until I can have some chili powder standing by to augment the packet that was included.