Lauren Mayer: Viral For Old People

When I started posting weekly political comedy songs on youTube, my teenage son tried to caution me against unrealistic expectations.  “You know, Mom, anything over 100 views is viral for old people.”  But it turns out there are more fans of political comedy out there than he thought, and even some of us ‘old people’ know how to use computers to check out videos.  Not that I’ve rivaled Gangnam Style, or even most funny cat videos, but most of mine get into the mid 3-digits, and some go quite a bit higher.

So far I haven’t been able to draw too many conclusions about what makes one of my videos hit higher numbers – I’ve gotten into 4 figures with ones I really worked on, ones I threw together, some are parodies of recognizeable songs but other recogizeable parodies don’t seem to hit.  But there are certain hot button issues I can count on, and none more reliably than gun control.

Of course, most of the increased number of views come from people who really, really, REALLY disagree with me, and let me know in the comments.  The first time I did a gun control song, the comments were quite disturbing – tons of horrible language, vile insults and even threats.  But then I realized that if the spelling and grammar were any indication, these folks were not going to be able to figure out where I lived.  (More importantly, I also realized that they were showing off for each other more than anything else.)

The Waco shooting last week only made Texas loosen gun restrictions even more, but it did inspire me to tackle the subject once again, so let’s see what it does to my views (and my comments!):

Lauren Mayer: Cherry-Picking The Bible

The latest arguments against marriage equality remind me of a scene from the Mel Brooks’ classic “Blazing Saddles,” where Sherriff Bart is trying to keep the citizens of Rock Ridge from caving into Hedly Lamarr’s efforts to get them to leave and says, “Can’t you see this is the last act of a desperate man?”  Howard Johnson’s response is, “We don’t care if it’s the first act of Henry V, we’re leaving!”   The tide has turned so quickly and definitively, opponents of same-sex marriage are running out of usable tactics. “This is how marriage has been for millenia” is easily countered by the fact that for most of those millenia, marriage involved men owning women, and “It will hurt traditional marriage” doesn’t hold up against the evidence from all the states where marriage equality hasn’t produced higher divorce rates, polygamy, or people marrying their pets.

Some opponents cite Biblical passages (as though the Bible were in fact the US Constitution), but even those arguments only expose more hypocrisy, given that they ignore all sorts of other Biblical edicts.  (The one on ‘gluttonous children should be put to death’ sure raised my eyebrows when I  heard about it in Hebrew School. Fortunately, even the most observant Jews let that one slip . . . )   So here’s a musical response, in the hopes that gospel-style music might help marriage equality opponents finally see the light:

John Y. Brown, III: The Perils and Power of Praying with your Partner

jybderby_1During a recent routine physical, my doctor found some concerning results in my blood work and asked me to come in for some follow up tests which indicated I needed to see a specialist for still further tests to rule out anything serious.

I felt like I would probably be OK but was concerned and that night after I told Rebecca about it asked if we could pray together and she said, “Yes. Of course.”

I felt comforted by my wife joining me in prayer. I believe in the power of prayer and couldn’t imagine anything but good coming from it. Rebecca and I had done this before at the suggestion of a friend who told us praying together can be a great habit for couples if you can not worry about “sounding eloquent” and stay focused on your own praying and not your partner’s.

We knelt down, held hands and I prayed first. I asked God to please help me be free of the health problems that were concerning me and then added some “filler” prayer about other people and things so it wouldn’t seem to Rebecca (or God) like I was being overly self-centered and praying only for myself.

Then it was Rebecca’s turn. She asked God to please give her a “fuller heart” and then something else I couldn’t quite make out. I asked her to repeat it. I figured if I couldn’t hear it, God may not have been able to either. Rebecca again prayed for God give her a fuller heart and then followed with a more detailed way of saying what she had already said. Frankly, I didn’t feel the second part of her prayer added  much at all. But I was trying to focus on my praying and not Rebecca’s.

We both said “Amen” and then stood up and hugged. As hard as I tried not to think about Rebecca’s prayer, I couldn’t help notice she never asked God for me to be free of any health problems. I figured it was just an oversight on her part. I couldn’t imagine Rebecca purposely not praying for my health because she felt like she would give up an important chit with God that she was saving for something more important. So, I just let it go.

The next morning Rebecca and I got coffee and saw a good friend from church who had gone through some serious health challenges a few years ago and now was doing well. I shared with him my recent health concerns and he kindly assured me, “John, I’ll be praying for you to get a good medical report.” I made sure Rebecca was listening and responded, “Thank you. I’ll be doing the exact same thing myself!” I paused and looked over at Rebecca to see if she had anything to add. But she didn’t. Rebecca just smiled and hugged our friend goodbye and wished him a happy Derby weekend.

This was Rebecca’s second prayer snub for me in 24 hours and was obviously much harder for me to dismiss as just an oversight on her part. I didn’t say anything but was definitely bothered by it.

That night Rebecca and I were at dinner and she asked how I was doing. I told her I was a little anxious about the follow up blood tests being done the next day and hoped everything was OK. I tried to resist saying anything more but couldn’t resist. “Do you remember when we prayed last night?”

“Sure.” Rebecca answered lovingly.

“Well, I kinda noticed when we were praying that you didn’t pray for me for my tests to come back clear.”

“What? Yes, I did!” Rebecca shot back defensively.

“No. You really didn’t. Because I was listening closely for it and it just didn’t happen..” I paused to let it sink in and added, “At first, I thought it was an oversight. But when you had a second chance to pray for me this morning  at coffee and didn’t take it, it bothered me.”

Rebecca explained, “The reason I didn’t ask God for you tests to be clear is because I have been taught only to pray for ‘God’s will to be done’ instead of asking for specific things that I want Him to do for me.”

“What?” I responded incredulously.  “You’re saying you didn’t pray for my health because of some new prayer orthodoxy you just learned?”

“Yes.  I’m serious. ” Rebecca defended herself.

I sighed and shook my head. “I’m sorry. I just don’t think I can buy that.  If you were praying for our children —or even our dogs for that matter —- I suspect you would ask God to ‘please help them be in good health (or whatever you wee wanting for them) and then maybe after that add ‘If it be Thy will.’ But I can’t see you just praying, ‘Thy will be done’ without offering God other suggestions if it involved our kids or our dogs.”

Rebecca looked both perplexed and exasperated.

I continued, “Look, I’m not mad. I can’t tell you how you should pray. That’s between you and God. All I know is that if you were the one having medical tests tomorrow, I would ask God for your tests to be clear”

“OK. OK. OK! “ Rebecca interrupted, “I’ll be sure to ask God for your tests to be clear the next time we pray.”

“Don’t do that.” I said defensively. “I’m not even sure I want you now.”

“What?” Rebecca blurted in confusion.

“I sure don’t want you to pray for my health if it’s just to make me feel better. I want you to really mean it.”

“Of course, I’ll mean it,” Rebecca said . “I’m just not very eloquent at praying and wasn’t thinking. I want nothing more than for you to be well. I just forgot to say it.”

“Really?” I asked. “Do you mean that?” Rebecca assured me she did and I began to feel better about things and changed our conversation to a lighter topic.

Later that night before bed, Rebecca and I knelt down again and held hands in prayer. Rebecca went first this time and asked God for a “Fuller and more loving heart” but this time added, “And please help with John’s health”

I have to admit I was a little disappointed. “Please help with John’s health?” seemed weak and vague to me –and unlikely to have much of an impact at all. But I didn’t say anything. I was just glad Rebecca was trying. I bowed my heard and took my turn, I asked God to please help me to get “A clean bill of health with my medical tests” and before I could finish my prayer, Rebecca interrupted and added, “And please God help John to get a clean bill of health with his upcoming medical tests.”

Rebecca nailed it that time. Sure, she was just repeating my prayer verbatim, but I felt like Rebecca finally “got it” and was fully on board with doing all she could, prayer-wise, to help me out.

We said, “Amen,” and stood up and I thanked Rebecca.

The next day at the doctor’s office Rebecca and I held hands waiting for my results to come back. It was a long wait. I apologized to her for being so silly about how she prayed for me. I told her I was scared and wanted all the help I could get. She kissed me on the forehead and I said, “Thank you for being hear with me today. As always.”

Rebecca said, “Of course. That’s what I do. I’m always here for you and the kids. That’s my life.”

I smiled and said, “Well, I guess ‘being there for the ones you love,’ is about the most important job a person can have in this world.” Rebecca kissed me again on the forehead and we continued to wait.

Eventually the doctor came in and told us that the new tests didn’t indicate anything that we should be concerned about. It was a huge relief. There would be some follow up tests but I was essentially getting a “clean bill of health.” I hugged Rebecca tightly and thanked her for being such a good and supportive partner.

That night Rebecca and I knelt again to pray. We thanked God for all our blessings —with a special mention for my good test results. There were no special requests this time for either Rebecca or me. I was willing to pray for something for Rebecca if she wanted me to but she said she couldn’t think of anything. I did throw in a special thanks to God for providing me with such a loving an supportive spouse.  I felt like it was the least I could do.

Praying together as a couple is a very good thing. But not as simple as it sounds.

I know we aren’t supposed to focus on each other’s prayers, but Rebecca noticed my special thanks to God for her and thanked me afterwards. There was nothing more I had wanted from Rebecca prayer that night.

It felt feally good and I was already looking forward to praying together with Rebecca tomorrow night.

And secretly hoped Rebecca would thank God for giving her such a “loving and supportive husband.” But decided I probably wasn’t going to say anything if she didn’t.

Lauren Mayer: First Name Celebrity

One indication of super-sized celebrity is being so famous that your first name alone is enough to identify you.  Think of such iconic performers as Madonna, Cher, or . . . actually, those are the only clear examples I can think of (okay, maybe ‘Giselle,’ as in the super model, but that’s stretching it).  But now they can welcome a new member to this very small club.  Hillary Rodham Clinton is starting her campaign much more humbly than in ’08, doing small events, featuring mostly other people in her announcement video, and encouraging everyone to call her Hillary instead of Senator or Secretary Clinton.  And because she is such an iconic and polarizing figure, just her first name is more than enough to identify her and to elicit a huge range of responses, from outrage & conspiracy theories on the right, to ‘I’m for Hillary’ cheers on the center/left, to ‘Well, she’s our best hope since Elizabeth Warren won’t run’ on the farther left.

So I thought it would be appropriate to commemorate her announcement by parodying an iconic showtune all about a character’s first name.  (Hint, this is from a musical taking place in Iowa, appropriately enough!)

Lauren Mayer: Rand Paul Isn’t Sexist (He’s A Jerk To Everyone)

Senator Paul’s presidential campaign got off to a rocky start last week, with his constant issues with the media (and reminding everyone of the episode several weeks ago where he patronizingly ‘shushhed’ a female journalist).  He may not have been quite so patronizing to male reporters, but at least he managed to prove that his obnoxious behavior wasn’t limited to women.

I’m far more offended by his actual policies than his behavior – for a supposedly libertarian renegade, he hews quite closely to the far-right agenda of trampling on reproductive choice, gay rights, etc. – but as a satirist, I have to acknowledge him for said behavior, since it is what we in the business call ‘comedy gold’.

Lauren Mayer: Comedians’ Dreams Sometimes Do Come True

Frequently, in political satire truth is so much stranger than fiction that it makes my job a simple matter of setting reality to music.  If I were to write a fictional character who was so clueless, he didn’t bother to secure basic variations of his domain name, and so egotistical that he compared his science denial to the principled stance of Galileo (and then completely mis-represent Galileo’s breakthroughs), no one would take me seriously.  Which is why satire is almost always the best response to political shenanigans.

Ted Cruz’s first week as a declared candidate was like something out of a Monty Python routine.  So here’s a fitting musical tribute:

Lauren Mayer: Schadenfreude, Downton Abbey-style

I don’t generally take pleasure in the woes of others, but every now and then it is delicious to see someone get a much-deserved come-uppance.  Like when that speeding shmuck who cut you off 2 miles ago gets pulled over by a cop, or when a morality-preaching evangelical gets caught with his pants down.  So you can’t blame people for gloating a bit about the spectacular (and quick) downfall of resigned Congressman Aaron Schock – he used taxpayers and donors to finance a glamorous, jet-setting lifestyle having nothing to do with his district, and flaunted his exploits – and his abs – at every opportunity, on social media and magazine covers.  Not to mention his homophobic voting record, which as Barney Frank pointed out, actually does make his sexuality at least somewhat germaine.

And how fitting that Schock was a fan of Downton Abbey, a show about the lavish, glamorous lives of a soon-to-be-obsolete upper class . . .

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: March Madness Mittyism

jyb_musingsCall it pre-spring fever but every year in March (just before the basketball Madness begins), I break out with a serious case of roundball Walter Mittyism (James Thurber’s meek and mild-mannered fictional character with a daring and vivid fantasy life.)

Growing up in Kentucky means the usual childhood dreams of grown-up greatness inevitably include, at some point, imagined greatness as a basketball player. For the vast majority of us, basketball greatness never goes beyond the dreaming phase. But it’s a dream that continues to linger posthumously.

Kentucky basketball in March is a beautiful thing to behold. I suspect I am not alone in experiencing this annual psychological condition as our state’s college basketball teams emerge to dominate college basketball. The fever always passes but rarely before I experience obvious –and occasionally embarrassing – tell-tale symptoms.

This past Monday night I asked my 20 year old son Johnny to join me at a basketball court where we could play some competitive pick up games and he agreed.

As I strode onto the court, I imagined myself becoming transformed from a 5′ 8 1/2 middle-aged man in ” reasonably good health” (My doctors words) into a 51 year old basketball phenom who was about to dominate a new court playing against some unsuspecting innocent bystanders.

The other players on our pick-up team were impressive. In fact, daunting. They were regulars and probably played in high school and maybe even college. Two of them could dunk with little effort. As I took my warm-up shots from the range where Aaron Harrison strokes his tournament game winning 3-pointer jumpers, I imagined myself dishing a thrilling off-the-glass alley-oop pass to my one of my teammates who finishes with a thunderous dunk. My pass would be, I imagined, part John Wall, part Andrew Harrison and part John Y Brown III. After the dunk my teammate would find me on the floor and point as if to say “Nice pass, my man” and I would casually nod back (but without pointing) as if to say, “Nice dunk.”

My son Johnny was warming up with me but seemed more concerned about how successfully we’d match up with our fellow players on the court. After a few minutes, our pick-up game had begun.

And a few more minutes after that, our pick-up game had ended.

Political philosopher Thomas Hobbes would have described the game for our team as “Cruel, nasty, brutish –and short.” Dick Vitale would have simply said “Blowout, baby!”

Mostly, though, I didn’t care about the humiliating loss. I just wanted to steady myself against the court wall before collapsing or having to lie down on the floor to catch my breath.

One pick-up game, it turns out, was all I could handle last Monday. As we drove home, I said to Johnny in an forced upbeat voice (after having caught my breath), “Well…. I guess we did it. We played.”

“Uh, no Dad. We didn’t do anything.” Johnny responded slightly irritated with me trying to put a happy face on our disappointing performance.

“It was our first pick-up game in a long time. We are just rusty. That’s all.” I offered.

“Sure, Dad. If you say so.” Johnny said as be broke into a self-deprecating grin, “You know, even though I missed both my shots I was secretly hoping our teammates thought to themselves, ‘Hey, that guy may have missed his shot but he does have really nice shooting form. I hope he shoots again soon.’” Johnny laughed louder mocking his feeble fantasy.

“I think they probably did think that!” I offered compassionately. “You do have good form. Even great form. In fact, I was thinking that very thought when you missed your first shot.”

“You’re my dad. I can assure you no one else on our team had that thought” Johnny said shaking his head.

“Well, Johnny, when I shot my air ball I was secretly hoping the other players  on our team were thinking ‘Hey, that guy may have just shot an airball but he does have really nice shooting form. He probably just feels nervous right now since it’s his first shot of the game. That happens to all of us including me.  I’m not surprised at all he shot an airball. I hope he shoots again soon.”

I paused “Do you think the other players might have thought that after watching my airball shot?”

We both kept laughing at ourselves as we pulled into the driveway and we pledged for the remainder of March we would only play basketball on our backyard goal.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about that stunning off-the-glass alley-oop pass to a teammate leading to a thunderous dunk? Well, it never happened. But it was a beautiful thing to behold. In my imagination anyway.

But there is a consolation for my annual March Mittyism.  Some Kentucky college basketball player will make a comparable stunning play this month and do so on national television as millions of roundball fans watch in awe. And that makes my delusional fantasies just a little less absurd because I, too, am a Kentuckian in March.

Lauren Mayer: Homophobia Is So Last Millenium!

Public approval for marriage equality has skyrocketed, as state after state joins the accelerating trend.  But a few states are holding on to the past, this time by trying a bit of clumsy obfuscation – framing discrimination as ‘religious freedom,’ as though bigoted florists and bakers are the real victims.  They aren’t losing the right to worship the way they want, but when you do business in public, you follow basic laws.  For example, what if my religion disapproved of being Mormon?, or left-handed, or homophobic?  I still couldn’t turn away those clients.  (On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine a homophobic client wanting to hire a liberal musical satirist, but still, you never know!)

Clearly these feeble attempts are the last frantic sputters of dying-out resistence to gay marriage.  (Which always reminds me of the scene in Blazing Saddles where Sheriff Bart tries to keep the put-upon residents of Rock Ridge from leaving town and giving into Hedly Lamarr’s evil plot.  He says, “Can’t you see that’s the last act of a desperate man?,” and Howard Johnson replies, “We don’t care if it’s the first act of Henry V. We’re leaving!”)  So here’s a musical reminder to opponents of marriage equality that we see through their feeble attempts to disguise what they’re doing:

Lauren Mayer: Everything Old Is New Again

Retro is in!  The fun of nostalgia is that we can romanticize the aspects we liked (e.g. Downton Abbey’s fabulous costumes and Maggie Smith’s great lines) while ignoring those we wouldn’t really want to resume (servants with no lives of their own, no antibiotics or disposable diapers, etc.).  So it was only fitting that the controversy around Bill O’Reilly’s exaggerations erupted the week before Downton Abbey’s Season 5 finale.   Here’s my tribute to the 1920s/commentary on O’Reilly’s reaction (which was, shall we say, just a tad different from Brian Williams’), and it’s up to you if you want to consider it as also being a commentary on the age of O’Reilly’s target audience.

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