Obama Adviser Rips Off Kevin Nealon to Win DC’s Funniest Celebrity

Proving  just how low the bar is for humor in Washington, DC, Obama economic adviser and campaign flashpoint Austan Goolsbee completely outclassed the competition at the 16th Annual “DC’s Funniest Celebrity” contest last night.  His routine was a total lift of Kevin Nealon’s “Mr. Subliminal” bit from Saturday Night Live.

While there were some very funny moments, like his jab at now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and his Glenn Beck-tweaking references to Marx and Trotsky, I had higher expectations for the heavily favored Goolsbee.  Even considering that his competition consisted of the likes of Joe the Plumber and Grover Norquist, he should have brought his “A” game.

Here’s Goolsbee’s winning performance, as introduced by Mediaite contributor Baratunde Thurston:

Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hollywood Liberals? Two Words: Roman Polanski

KELI GOFF HEADSHOT APRIL 2008I used to think that when conservatives denounced the so-called “Hollywood liberal elite” as being essentially amoral and out of touch with real Americans, they were being a bit harsh. And when Sarah Palin implied that middle America was somehow more sensibly American than those of us sin-lovin’-anti-religion-anti-America-fancypants-big city folk — I genuinely wondered what gave her (and some of my extended family in Middle America who appear to agree with her) such an idea.

Thanks to Harvey Weinstein, Debra Winger and co., now I know.

While our country is engulfed in two wars, struggling to climb back after falling off of an economic cliff last year and trying to find a way to provide health care for nearly fifty million uninsured Americans, I am glad to see that some of Hollywood’s elite, (including Mr. Weinstein, Ms. Winger and Woody Allen, among others) have found a truly important cause worth fighting for: defending Roman Polanski.

My first thoughts upon learning that Mr. Weinstein was circulating a petition on behalf of Mr. Polanski were:

1) Finally! Hollywood finds a cause the average American can get behind.

2) Shouldn’t Mr. Weinstein be more focused on saving his troubled studio than saving an aging fugitive?

3) When Woody Allen is coming to your defense in a case involving alleged sex with a teenager…well, that’s a punchline that writes itself.

I have been beyond baffled at the bizarre rationale (or lack thereof) used to defend this movement to save Roman Polanski.

His defenders seem to alternate between three primary lines of defense:

1) “He may have done it but it was a really long time ago.”

I’d never really looked at crime that way but Mr. Weinstein and his buddies may be on to something. With that in mind maybe we should stop pestering all those Nazi war criminals we have insisted on harassing for the last half century. I mean, after all, it was a really long time ago.

2) “He is really, really talented.”

Also a good point. Maybe it would be easier if we just created a set of penalties specifically for “really talented” people so we can avoid this kind of confusion in the future. I know some amazing pantomimes and jugglers. Should we give them free rein to sexually assault adults? I’m assuming you actually have to win an Academy Award to be given a free pass on children. It’s just too bad we already executed serial killer Ted Bundy because according to the judge who sentenced him to death, he was a talented attorney.

3) “The victim is ready to move on.”

Having to endure the pain of revisiting an assault of any kind, particularly in a public forum, is something I would not wish on my own worst enemy. I can understand a victim’s desire for privacy and closure, but thankfully in this country that does not trump the public’s right to justice — and protection from potential re-offenders. It is worth noting that a number of states have laws in place that give district attorneys the power to prosecute batterers even when victims of domestic violence refuse to testify, for this very reason. They may have a variety of reasons why they would rather “move on” than face their assailant in court (or perhaps more terrifying, chance facing him outside of court). But thankfully for the greater good and safety of society, it’s not always up to them.

Hollywood hypocrisy is one thing when it takes the form of a celebrity touting their environmental consciousness while globetrotting in a fuel-guzzling private jet (ahem, Madonna.) But when people like Mr. Weinstein, who supports a plethora of liberal candidates, and was the producing arm behind Michael Moore’s iconic, cinematic Bush takedown “Fahrenheit 9/11,” seem content to paint the former president as harmful to Americans but Roman Polanski as merely misunderstood, they are proving Sarah Palin and every other anti-Hollywood conservative’s point for them.

It is not for me to say that Mr. Weinstein and his cohorts have no moral compass but I will venture to say that they are certainly out of touch and maybe out of their minds. Because in the parts of America that so many of us in big cities think of dismissively as “flyover country,” they may not know that Le Cirque is a restaurant, but they do know that pedophiles are a bad thing — regardless of how rich, talented or influential they may be.

Actor, director and Polanski acquaintance Luc Besson provided a welcome measure of clarity on this whole mess in a recent radio interview when he said, “This is a man who I love a lot and know a little bit… Our daughters are good friends. But there is one justice, and that should be the same for everyone. I will let justice happen…I don’t have any opinion on this, but I have a daughter, 13 years-old. And if she was violated, nothing would be the same, even 30 years later.”

Even if the violator in question is really, really talented.

Keli Goff is a political writer for TheLoop21.com and the author of “Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence.” See more by Keli at www.keligoff.com. This column is a slightly modified version from one which ran earlier on the Huffington Post.

The Martha Stewart Tech Show

Untitled1Martha Stewart opened up her studio audience seats to live-bloggers yesterday in an impressive release of control for the notoriously cautious television talk show circuit. Where audience members are normally forced off the grid during tapings, Martha’s show staff asked us all to bring and use our laptops, smartphones and cameras. As Martha herself posted on Twitter, Facebook and her blog, the show was to be “all about social networking.” The result? Somewhat disappointing and not very social, but a smart move nonetheless.

Informed and prepared, Martha Stewart led a series of fast-paced interviews with a handful of social networking heavyweights including Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. Everybody including Martha seemed excited by the concept of live audience involvement but it was hard not to feel like we were odd visitors in an experiment they weren’t quite ready to handle.

SLIDESHOW: Behind the scenes at the Marth Stewart Tech Show

With 125 users trying to access the wireless network – 126 including Martha – it was slow or inaccessible to many of us. When we were all asked to disconnect so Martha could get a signal, live-blogging activities were quickly downgraded to the occasional smartphone tweet. In all, the experiment generated 452 searchable tweets and retweets using the announced hashtag #theTECHshow and another 99 using the more intuitive identifier #Martha. These are underwhelming numbers from a tech-equipped audience of social influencers like Julia Roy, who has 31,392 followers on Twitter, Idolator editor Maura Johnston and viral-web monitor Urlesque, but it’s all good. The Martha show gets a little extra shot of publicity, and the blogosphere gets some extra attention. And both are excited to be recognized by the other. By allowing us to take and post behind-the-scenes photos we all feel more involved and closer to the show. This was a smart move with zero risk, all reward despite the execution troubles.

The deeper question is why Martha’s advisors – and why the television industry in general – doesn’t integrate social media more frequently into the shows. Allowing people to stay connected and share their experiences directly from their audience seats shouldn’t be a one-time experiment. Successful television shows have always known the importance of social connections and word-of-mouth, yet somehow they’re almost all viewing the internet as a threat rather than a powerful opportunity.

What could the Martha show have done differently yesterday? Rather than treat social networking as a separate technology discussion, they could have prepped the tech guests to discuss how their products and sites enhance the domestic arts. Martha probably wouldn’t bring the head of GE Appliances on the show just to discuss the latest cooktop elements, and she wouldn’t go in-depth on the features of a glue gun without tying it into why her viewers should care. Similarly, Biz Stone should not have mentioned Twitter’s retweet functionality without tying it into how it can benefit the audience. Chris Hughes could have spent less time on Facebook’s privacy options, more time bringing it home to why Martha’s demographic cares. Yahoo’s Heather Cabot added more of a Martha vibe during her photo editing segment but for the most part the links between technology features and how the home viewer can benefit, specifically around the domestic arts, were rarely drawn.

Martha and her staff are to be applauded for their efforts but when the show airs tomorrow, Friday October 2nd, viewers at home will likely wonder what it all has to do with them.

Andrew Cherwenka is VP Biz Dev at Trapeze.com, an interactive marketing agency with offices in New York and Toronto. Find him on Twitter at @cherwenka.

Photo captions by Joe Coscarelli

Grayson’s ‘Die Quickly’ Is A Far Cry From Wilson’s ‘You Lie!’

Picture 5A relatively unknown Democratic Congressman from Florida made his celebrity debut on the House floor and in front of CSPAN cameras this week, and since then it’s become the sound bite everyone’s discussing (video after the jump). Representative Alan Grayson of the ninth district has now reached political celebrity because of his sarcastic rant describing the Republican health care plan, which went a little like this: 

Here it is. The Republican health care plan for America: Don’t get sick. That’s right, don’t get sick. If you have insurance don’t get sick. If you don’t have insurance, don’t get sick. If you’re sick, don’t get sick. Just don’t get sick. That’s what Republicans have in mind for you America. That’s the Republicans’ health care plan. But I think that the Republicans understand that that plan isn’t always going to work, it’s not a foolproof plan. So the Republicans have a backup plan in case you do get sick. If you get sick in America, this is what Republicans want you to do. If you get sick America, the Republican health care plan is this: die quickly.

This ballsy address has gotten the attention of Politico, Huffington Post, NY Magazine’s Daily Intel, the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and even Joe Scarborough on MSNBC yesterday morning, basically ensuring its merit as a lead story for the rest of the day. 

Yesterday House Republicans demanded that Grayson apologize and started circulating a resolution of disapproval, the same slap on the wrist that their own Joe Wilson got for his own rambunctious verbal address. Grayson obliged with an apology, though in a very different manner than what the Republicans were expecting. “I apologize to the dead and their families that we haven’t voted sooner to end this holocaust in America,” Grayson said on the house floor.

Media outlets have been quick to draw parallels between the two, and even North Carolina Representative Patrick McHenry is likening Grayson’s passionate, albeit contemptuous, demonstration to the “You lie!” outburst a few weeks ago. Yesterday, the Congressman tweeted:

Will Pelosi hold vote to reprimand #Grayson?http://bit.ly/4pGUWN Or was JWilson reprimand just partisan politics after all? #tcot

The problem with this comparison is that the two situations don’t compare at all. Indeed, Grayson was acting in a provocative way, but he was yelling to us through CSPAN. Wilson yelled at the President, to his face. Grayson was making a point, however colorfully, and he had the right to do so with his allotted five minutes. Wilson wasn’t just talking out of turn, but interrupting a televised speech. Being made by the President. 

People make confrontational speeches in the House all the time. But shouting like you’re in kindergarten while someone else is talking is something entirely different.  

Apples and oranges. Which was part of the point Keith Olbermann made on Countdown last night.

How Long Til Glenn Beck Gets On The Polanski Media Wagon And Calls For Eric Holder’s Resignation?

roman_polanskiI know. It’s a stretch. But that is the first question that jumped into my head when I came across this New York Times article about how Roman Polanski’s U.S. legal team has hired lawyer Reid Weingarten, who is “a well-known Washington power player and close friend and associate of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.”

Because, you know, Glenn Beck’s recent track record for bringing down Obama administration officials is pretty impressive. But also, because the media loves Roman Polanski. Not love as in bedazzled and supportive — so far the media seems fairly split down the middle, actually — but love as in Polanski makes great copy and is enormously polarizing and he’s currently the only thing everyone (but the President) wants to talk about. The Eric Holder angle seems like a great way for Beck to get in on the action (or retaliate to a not-so-happy official White House blog post!). That is, when he’s not — according to the hyperbole-stricken Bette Midler — starting a Rwanda-Like Civil War in the U.S. (below).

Brick City Announces Newark’s Revival

brickcityNewark is a city in transition and at the center of that transformation is its mayor, Cory Booker. Crippled by riots that took place in 1967, the city struggled to recover and it was only until recently, almost a half decade later, that Newark has begun to rise again. Booker’s sweeping reforms in city government and law enforcement have made Newark the leading city in America for violent crime reduction. In 2008, Newark had its lowest murder rate since 1959.

Booker is active in social media, he does regular videos which he posts on his website, and most recently got a fair amount of attention for a video where he humorously puts late night host Conan O’Brien on Newark’s “no-fly” list. Booker has been blogging since August of last year and has interest in curating a Tumblr for the city of Newark. Booker is very active on twitter, with close to 800,000 followers, putting him in the category of the top 200 most followed people on the micro-blogging network. As I write this column, Booker tweeted that he took justice into his own hands after witnessing someone trashing his city.

The real story of modern day Newark is chronicled in “Brick City”, a documentary that ran for five consecutive nights on the Sundance Channel, presented by Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, who is also the executive producer of the series. The name “Brick City” comes from the architecture in Newark as well as the toughness and resilience of it’s residents.

The show focuses on Booker, along with a couple of other characters that define the city’s rebirth. Garry McCarthy, the Police Director of Newark finds himself in a political battle with police chief Anthony Campos for control of the police department. McCarthy was the former Deputy Commissioner of Operations of the New York Police Department. Under his administration, McCarthy manages to reduce murder by 37% and shooting victims by 32% in Newark, a record for a city of Newark’s size. Born in the Bronx, McCarthy is seen as a New York outsider by some, he’s challenged at a community meeting for not doing enough to stop crime. His results speak for themselves, but there are some in the community who are not convinced, either for political reasons or because he wasn’t born and bred in Newark, the same reasons we witness some opposition to Booker.

An unlikely love story between a Blood named Jayda and a Crip, named Creep is another central storyline woven through the series. Jayda got involved in gang life at a young age and wound up in juvenile detention at the age of 11.  After a brief stint in Brooklyn where she becomes a member of the Bloods, she gets into a fight with her brothers and settles in Newark. Jayda decides to straighten out her life after a two year sentence, joins AmeriCorps, meets Creep, and begins mentoring 9th grade girls. Last year, Jayda launched a non-profit, 9 Strong Women, which received its first government grants. On New Year’s Eve 2009, she gave birth to Layla Anyai, her daughter with Creep.

A scene where a major community organizer puts together a trip for fathers and their children to get out of the city for the day is so powerful that you’d have to have ice water in your veins not to be moved by it. The show is a real life version of “The Wire,” dense in scope, gripping and filled with emotion. We witness the daily city hall battles and the battles taking place on the street, between rival Bloods and Crips as well as the police. City and street politics are interwoven, with Booker so committed to crime reduction he personally patrols the streets until times as late as 4 a.m.

I left watching the mini-series wanting more, wanting to know what happens next. Newark’s story is just beginning to be told, and with “Brick City” it announces its arrival and calls on the world to be a part of it’s revival.

Dear Hollywood, If You Want to Help Roman Polanski Then Please Shut Up

polanski_9-30Dear Hollywood,

Since Roman Polanski was arrested Saturday night in Switzerland for fleeing the U.S. after pleading guilty in 1977 to unlawful sexual intercourse (a plea deal for a rape accusation), you’ve been speaking out in droves to defend the director. CNN describes it as “Hollywood Embraces Polanski“, Fox News calls it “Hollywood Left Bands Together to Fight Polanski Arrest“.

Here’s a tip: stop.

We get it – Polanski is a brilliant director. “Rosemary’s Baby” was fantastic. “Chinatown” is a masterpiece. He finally got an Oscar for best director in 2003 with “The Pianist” a heartbreaking film that opened the door for Adrien Brody to make out with Halle Berry. You even gave him a standing ovation that night – even though he wasn’t there to accept the award (video on next page).

Of course, that’s because he’d be arrested if he set foot in the United States, due to that whole raping a 13-year-old thing. But let’s not dwell on that right now.

Hundreds of you guys and others like you in the film world abroad have signed a petition demanding Polanski’s release. People like Woody Allen, who is a bit of a creepster himself (although, notably, has not had sex with a 13-year-old). People like Monica Bellucci, who was cinematically raped (for art). People like Harvey Weinstein, who says he is “calling on every filmmaker we can to help fix this terrible situation.”

And here’s kind of the problem, Hollywood. You think this whole thing is happening to you (or at the very least, to brilliant people like you). Whoopi Goldberg wanted to make very clear this week that what Polanski did wasn’t “rape rape.” That doesn’t make much sense sense, of course, and doesn’t address the fact that the director never served his sentence because he fled fled. Even Sharon Tate’s sister, who thinks Polanski is a “good guy” and of course “brilliant”, wanted to draw the very obvious distinction that “there’s rape and then there’s rape.”

NEXT: How Polanski is not Joseph Goebbels.