Thursday, May 24, 2012

Humor Me: The dog column (and how to get future columns)

I had expected to post a column today about my dog, Maggie, who is somewhere between the ages of 14 and 16. We're not really sure, because we got her from the shelter more than 13 1/2 years ago.

She was supposedly 2 or 3 years old then, which would make her 15 or 16 now. But we really have no idea, and looking back at photos of her (like the one here), I think maybe she was younger than we thought. She was full grown, but wild and crazy.

I didn't post the column because The Dallas Morning News decided to run it. It will appear on Sunday, and when it appears online, I will put a link in this post.

The Dallas Morning News used to run my humor columns weekly, but although I still work there full-time as a sports writer, I've only written humor columns sporadically over the last few years. I plan to write them more often now. I used to send out links to the columns with a mass e-mail, but most of the e-mail addresses people sent me are now out of date. That's also kind of a messy, impractical way to do it. Especially now that there are better tools for doing it.

For anyone who wants to read the columns when they appear, I've started a Twitter feed separate from my sports one. If you are on Twitter, you can sign up to get notified (it's free, obviously ... it's Twitter) when a new column is posted. Just click here:

Twitter is free and easy, and it's useful even if you don't want to send out Tweets yourself. You can just follow things you're interested in. (I know that for many of you, this is really oversimplified.)

If you're not on Twitter and don't want to be, you can also sign up to be notified by e-mail when a new column is posted. Over on the right side of this web page is "Follow by e-mail," and you can submit your e-mail, and then anytime a new column is posted, a link will be sent to you via e-mail.

You can always e-mail me with any questions, too. I really enjoyed writing the columns for so many years, and I always appreciated all the feedback I got from readers. The column I wrote about my other dog, Casper, back in 2007 was one of the most-read columns ever on The Dallas Morning News' website.

(Seriously, this is only the second time I've written a dog-related column in five years.)

Thanks again to everyone.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Humor Me: When American Idol kicked me out

I haven't watched American Idol in several years, but I know it's still a pretty popular show. Not like back in the Simon Cowell days, but still watched by millions. Americans are suckers for shows with singing and/or dancing and/or train wrecks involving either.

Anyway, back in 2006, I went out to cover an American Idol audition at Texas Stadium. I was shooting a video of some of the participants for The Dallas Morning News, and despite having proper credentials, I got run out of there. I wrote a column about it back then, and now that another season of American Idol is finishing up, I thought I would post it.

Humor Me: When American Idol kicked me out

If I auditioned for an American Idol judge, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear “get out of here.” I might even be relieved, considering my last public singing performance was so long ago.

It’s been nearly 30 years, in fact, since my first-grade class performed a German song that included words such as “uber” and “spielen.” It was considered my best musical performance ever, but unfortunately, it was also considered horrible. Our teacher probably muttered some German obscenities when we finished.

So yes, I can understand turning me away if I wanted to try out with people who are either truly talented or truly delusional. But at Idol central last weekend at Texas Stadium, I was told to take a hike BEFORE singing even one off-key note of “Desperado” or “Dream Weaver” or “Play that Funky Music White Boy.”

The exact words of the American Idol security guard:

“I want you to leave.”

Yes, I was asked to leave. Very callous. Maybe I shouldn’t have said I was working on a story about how Simon Cowell intensifies his British accent to seem more snobbish.

Actually, I just wanted to get some video of Idol hopefuls as they signed up to audition. And for a while, that’s what I did, interviewing them and taping them as they sang. I met a bunch of nice people, some of whom traveled hundreds of miles to audition. All had dreams of being the next singing superstar, and some were really good. Others were, well, really nice people.

I met 17-year-old Brittany Konas of Fort Worth, whose voice has been compared to Shakira’s. She sang “All that Jazz” for the camera, and her mom said I reminded her of “that movie director guy with red hair.”

You mean Ron Howard?

“Yes!” she said.

That was nothing new. When I was a kid, I was called “Opie” because I looked like Ron Howard’s character on the Andy Griffith Show. As a teenager, I became Ron Howard’s “Richie Cunningham” from Happy Days.

Other red-headed men my age have shared similar experiences, which leads me to this public-service announcement:

We do not all look alike.

I don't think so, anyway.

I didn’t take offense, however. Brittany’s mom was very nice, and she seemed very proud of her daughter. She also didn’t look at me like I was some rogue reporter with a camera up to no good.

That’s how American Idol security looked at me. Apparently there was a miscommunication about when I would be at the audition registration area, so the Fox media contact wasn’t on site when I started recording singers. I was told to stop shooting video until the media contact arrived, and I did.

But as I was waiting, one contestant walked over to me and asked if I was recording more singers. I said I had to wait until the media contact arrived, so the contestant said she would wait. She then introduced herself and shook my hand, and suddenly, Mr. Security Leader was all over me again. I was being disruptive, he said, and I needed to leave.

Fortunately, the media contact arrived, told the security guard to heel and gave me a big sticker that said “media.” She even offered me a bottle of water and asked if I was wearing sunblock. (Yes, I buy it by the gallon).

Wow, tight security. Or uptight security, anyway. I guess when you’re such a popular show, you need to take precautions. But my favorite part was when a Fox producer told me she had to be sure that I wasn’t trying to “poach” talent.

Like for my next movie, I guess. Maybe they thought I was Ron Howard.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Humor Me: 90s music in commercials


It’s amazing how music can bring back memories. A familiar song comes on the radio and what happens? Suddenly your mind is flooded with thoughts of another place and time, thoughts of old friends, maybe even thoughts of a lightweight mop that can also sweep and dust.

That’s what I think of when I hear Devo’s “Whip it.” The song was recently part of a commercial blitz for the Swiffer, which is truly the most exciting household cleaning product ever to include the phrase, “When a problem comes along, you must Swiff it.”

Sure, the original song was about something very different than housework, and the music video featured whips, mature content and –- unless I missed it -– no Swiffering. But I’m sure turning “Whip it” into “Swiff it” was irresistibly easy.

Kind of like another ’80s song, “I Melt with you,” ending up in a commercial for Burger King. So what if the song has lines about living without hate and saving the human race? Melt with you, melting cheese on a hamburger ... it’s perfect! And come on, you can’t save the world on an empty stomach.

You also can’t survive the world with an empty wallet, which is why many ’80s tunes have been used in commercials. The musicians who take the cash are often called sellouts. But I see them more as clever opportunists because they give new life to their music, help sell quality products, and most importantly, because I’m contractually obligated to mention that milk does a body good. Also, this sentence is sponsored by Odor-Eaters and the entire column is built Ford tough.

Anyway, ’80s songs peppered commercials last decade. But now that it's 2012, it’s time for songs from the ’90s to get a chance. Some of the songs that we could see in commercials:

1. “Livin’ la Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin
The song became a hit in 1999 and it’s tune is recognized worldwide. That makes it perfect for a commercial that's memorable --- in a horribly bad way, of course -- for McDonald’s blended coffees.
Original lyric: “She will wear you out, livin’ la vida loca”
In commercial: “Everyone will shout, I love frappuccinos with mocha!”

2. “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus
Before Billy Ray Cyrus was wowing people on Dancing with the Stars by wearing too much makeup, he was known for making people all achy-breaky in 1992. Could his tune sweeten sales for Pop Tarts?
Original lyric: “Don’t tell my heart, my achy breaky heart”
In commercial: “Don’t take my tart, my flaky, tasty tart”

3. “Macarena” by Los Del Rio
The song that took over the planet in 1996, aided by a simple set of moves that made us all look like we were playing a game of Simon Says. The song was so overplayed that it quickly became cheesy, making it ideal for a Kraft “Cheese and Macaroni” commercial spot. I’m so confident this will happen, child actors might be doing the dance at auditions today.
Original lyric: lots of Spanish words, followed by “Hey Macarena!”
In commercial: lots of kids dancing, followed by “Cheese and Macaroni!”

4. “Ice, Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice
Yes, it’s perhaps the most lampooned song ever. But hear this 1990 song once and it’s stuck in your head the way Vanilla’s hurricane-proof hairdo was stuck to his head.
Original lyric: “Ice, Ice Baby”
In commercial: So many possibilities. Minute Rice, rice baby. Old Spice, spice baby. Smirnoff Ice, ice baby. Or maybe as a public-service announcement featuring Vanilla Ice talking about how to get rid of lice, lice baby.

5. “Tubthumping” by Chumbawumba
The title might not give it away, but this is the song that gave us “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never going to keep me down” in 1997. Yes, that will now be stuck in your head all day. But in a country that seems to discover maladies so we can have more medication, this is bound to show up in a pain-reliever commercial.
Original lyric: See above
In commercial: People getting knocked down, getting up again, but thanks to pills, nothing’s keeping ’em down.