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April 23, 2001 marked the beginning of "Turn Your TV Off
Week." Or was it "Turn Off Your TV Week?" Or
was it "Take Your TV To Work Day?" I don't know, I get them
Actually, it was called "TV Turnoff Week" and,
ironically, I learned about "TV Turnoff Week" while I was
watching, of all things, TV. Why, you wonder, would anyone
inside the glowing box utter such heresy? It seems that the
pointy-headed news director at my local television station felt it was
his civic duty to instruct viewers to ignore --if only for a week --the
very medium that provides his livelihood. I half expected to pick up the
newspaper the next day and read that it's "Wipe Your Ass With The
Sports Section Month."
"TV Turnoff Week" is the creation of the TV Turnoff
Network and the group's website proudly states that "TV Turnoff
Week" is endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General. Of course, keeping
in mind that a former U.S. Surgeon General once endorsed
masturbation, I have to wonder what the current Surgeon General
thinks the turnoff in "TV Turnoff Week" really
Normally, during such campaigns, I make an effort to be as
ornery and contrary as possible. That is why I always eat a Big Mac
during the "Great American Meat Out." Oh, yeah --and I also
have sex. So, of course, when I'm instructed not to watch
television, I tend to watch it even more than I normally would. I soon
learned, however, that regret is not just a river in Egypt...
wait --that's denial. My contrariness, it turned out, cost me dearly
this time, as I sat through 120 greuling minutes of the ABC
original movie Kiss My Act.
In a never ending quest to do as little work as possible, I've
decided to reprint the synopsis of Kiss My Act that appeared in
the Virginian-Pilot daily paper rather than write my own capsulization.
"Camryn Manheim plays Sam, a comedy club bartender who secretly
dreams of taking the standup stage herself. But she's convinced that
nobody wants an overweight female comic for anything but fat jokes. So
she feeds her best stuff to airheaded Jennie, who makes a hit with a
comedy festival scout."
Here is what the Virginian-Pilot failed to mention. Kiss
My Act is yet another remake/ripoff of the classic (and beaten to
death) story, Cyrano Debergerac. "Airheaded Jennie,"
it seems, not
only makes a hit with a comedy festival scout, but she
makes his pants fit tighter as well. Manheim's Sam pretends
to be Jennie via an email relationship
with the scout, because, as we know, once the scout discovers that Jennie
isn't intelligent, he will lose interest in her. (This is a
fantasy, right?) I can hear the pitch session now: "It's like
Cyrano Debergerac, but with women...and the women are standup
comics...and instead of the guy being ugly, this time the chick is
fat..." They would have been better off calling this Cyrano
This film was wrong on so many levels, but I am particularly
annoyed at the depiction of standup comedy. Why? Because I'm a comic
and if my doctor saw Erique LaSalle operating on E.R. with a
bottle of whiskey and an X-Acto blade, I would expect him to at
least write a letter to the network brass. Objectivity be damned!
Little things bugged me:
1. Naming the fat girl "Samantha Burger"
2. Showing a comic trying out material on a bus (Trust me when I tell you that most comics dislike contact with strangers. We don't talk to them unless we absolutely have to.)
3. Hearing Samantha say to the scout, "Don't fall for any of those overrated hacks in Boston."
4. A male talent scout being depicted as shy (Years ago during a Letterman audition I was hit on by then producer Robert Morton. He didn't get a date. I didn't get the show.)
5. A comic killing on her first, second and third time onstage.
6. An alleged brilliant comedian doing "complex and accessible" material which, in reality, is so lame that not even an "overrated hack in Boston" would touch it.
But I think it is the larger issue --no pun intended --of
Samantha's size that bothered me the most. Sam (portrayed by
noted slow-metabolism activist, Camryn
Manheim) moans that there's "no room in comedy for an overweight
woman. And that she's "doing it for all the fat chicks."
Does the name Roseanne ring a bell? How about Totie Fields? Sophie
Tucker? Rosie O'Donell? In fact, it's airheaded Jennie that would most
likely have the more difficult time being accepted by both the audience
and the shy festival talent scouts. Which of the two is more
likely to hear the drunk in the back of the house yell,
"Show us your tits!" ? At least Jennie has the guts to go
onstage. In yet another scene where she makes excuses, Sam whines to
another comic, "People like me are a heckler's buffet." Stand
in the heckler's buffet line, Ms. Burger. Stop
feeling sorry for yourself --we're all targets! I once worked
with a visually-impaired comic. As he was being introduced, I
overheard a guy in the audience say, "Let's fuck with the
blind guy!" Comedy's tough. Deal with it!
Throughout the tortuous two hours, Samantha confides in an
aging comedian played by Dabney Coleman. He sits at the end of the bar
and constantly tries to convince her that she's a natural to be a
boffo standup comic. He is so convinced of her
talent that he freely and regularly puts what's left of his reputation on
the line. And he drinks...a lot. At the conclusion of this fright fest,
we learn that he will be receiving a lifetime achievment award of sorts
at the upcoming Aspen Comedy Festival. Naturally, he asks Sam to
accompany him. Naturally, he invites Sam up on the stage during the
festival to do her act. Naturally, Sam kills even thought she's only
been onstage twice before. (This is a fantasy, right?) Here
was Sam's closing bit. "A guy once told me he loved me like a
sister." (My husband Brian says, from the comfort of his chair,
"Let's move to Alabama!") Sam says, "So, let's move to
Georgia." What a "complex and accessible" bit! The
comics in Boston must be shaking in their little Boston boots.
Later that evening, Sam is told to get to bed early because
"there's going to be a lot of meetings tomorrow." Meetings?
What kind of meeetings? Overeaters anonymous, perhaps? (Sorry, I did
that one for airheaded Jennie.)
This movie was an embarrassment for Camryn Manheim, for
ABC and for the Aspen Comedy Festival. More importantly, it was an
embarrassment to standup comedy. Maybe the folks at the
TV Turnoff Network had the right idea. Maybe they should change
their mission to "Bad TV Turnoff Week." That
I could support. Just in
case they do, I would like to nominate Kiss My Act to the
"Bad TV Turnoff Hall of Fame." It was definitely TV
not worth watching.
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