Day: February 20th, 2008

John Oliver @ Symphony Space

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008 | All Things, Events

After a light dinner at the not-so-divey Dive Bar on W. 96th Street — hey, I wasn’t about to cross the picket lines at Saigon Grill — we headed over to Peter Norton Symphony Space for the taping of John Oliver‘s upcoming Comedy Central special (scheduled to air on April 20).

We both knew the drill and made sure to arrive early, queuing up for our spots in the cold outside the theatre. And it was a biting, bitter cold, too: the type that chills to the bone, and against which no amount of Starbucks skim chai latte could insulate us. By the time were given the go ahead to file inside, I was in serious need of some warming laughter.

Symphony Space

Symphony Space

Oliver rose to the occasion brilliantly, delivering the kind of sharp, smirking political commentary — offered in dry British tones, “with more authority¬†than you’re used to hearing” — that makes him such a popular correspondent on The Daily Show. He proved a remarkably good sport, too: about fifteen minutes in, the AV crew lost power to the video screen on stage, requiring Oliver to backtrack and run through a rather lengthy segment of his act several times — with the exact same jokes and “spontaneous” inflection. No doubt a nightmarish scenario for any comedian, but Oliver’s chucklingly rueful gamesmanship earned him an enthusiastic round of applause at the end.

Giving full credit (or blame) to the “10-year old Indonesian boy” to whom he had outsourced his joke-writing, Oliver covered topics ranging from colonialism, how Americans view the rest of the world, the school track incident that led him to pursue a career in comedy over sports, his teary-eyed Pavlovian response to all images backed by cheesy 80s power ballads (looking at you, Divine Miss M) and, with fellow comedian Andy Zaltzman, offered a brilliantly loopy argument on how the erosion of civil freedoms is a valid homeland security strategy, as it eliminates the very thing which the terrorists find most hateful about our country, thereby making us less appealing a target.

Also, some trenchant observations about American culture, as epitomized by the existence of a market for the inflatable¬†floating grill — a barbecuing device used for cooking inside a swimming pool. Oliver cited the ludicrousness of such an invention as definitive proof that in terms of the sheer force of consumerism, America has no peer. Take that, China!

The roots of conspicuous consumption may be traced to post-World War II-era prosperity. We — as Americans, and particularly as New Yorkers — live in a culture driven by “stuff,” where so much of our lives revolves around the acquisition of material things as markers of a certain type of success. I found this recent New York magazine piece particularly resonant: “The Upside of the Downside — Why the Recession May Restore the City We Moved Here For.

Despite being aware of “how loaded we are, comparatively speaking, and not just loaded in that abstract compared-with-the-developing-world way… loaded compared with most of the people in this city,” I too feel the “psychic effect of living in a place that is so in thrall to money, so dominated by the monoculture of luxury that even if you’re not on the front lines, working for a hedge fund or whatever, the values encroach on your life.”

I don’t know. Maybe that MacBook Air commercial is just getting to me.

Tags: , , ,

There are 3 comments

Washington Square Park in progress

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008 | All Things, NYC History

After years of protests led by the Open Washington Square Park Coalition, Justice Joan A. Madden of State Supreme Court in Manhattan approved Washington Square Park’s renovation plan in early December.

The work includes moving the park’s fountain, shrinking the central plaza and raising it to street level grade — transforming the park into a garden-style pass-through mall, surrounded by a four-foot fence, which critics claim will make the park less hospitable to spontaneous gatherings.

I remember a time when the “spontaneous gatherings” were mostly drug dealers, pouncing upon and offering their wares to every junior high schooler who happened to cut through the park.

Washington Square Park

Tags: , ,

There are 4 comments