Richard Dawson lives! Andy Cohen at Detroit’s Motor Casino Soundboard (review)


Watch What Happens Live! host Andy Cohen is Gen X’s answer to 70s talk show mainstays, like Richard Dawson or Mike Douglas, an affable if impish presence, eliciting the best cocktail party bon mots from an eclectic grab bag of A-to-D-list celebs. And like his precursors, he subsumes his incisive wit in the garb of the court jester, secretly the master pulling everyone’s strings. This is chiefly why his late night show is such a dangerous and anarchic pleasure to watch.

Furthermore, people forget that his day job is as chief production exec for the army of shamelessly, gloriously mindless reality shows (Real Housewives, et al) that Bravo pumps out on a daily basis. Cohen almost single-handedly transformed that network from one that reflected pop-culture to one that generates it, buzzworthy fare that keeps water coolers and social media hopping.


Oh, he is an author too, with three books to his credit, and heavy hitter friends like Anderson Cooper, buddies who would die on their swords for the man. Yet, he leverages his St. Louis-bred Midwestern values and his Jewish upbringing to achieve a humble cornfed nerd cred that makes him instantly accessible.

For the most part, he has deftly avoided any controversy in his career. Until this week, when the post-Trump hurricane of toxic finger-pointing caught up even with him as the still-festering feud between Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper spilled into Cohen’s well-tailored lap.


It is in this context that Cohen held a meet and greet/Q&A at Detroit’s Motor City Casino Soundboard venue. Local 95.5 radio show personality Mojo moderated the evening. Cohen himself admitted during the event that the controversy this week had him a bit gun shy, and he was noticeably reserved. Gone (for tonight) was his Joan Rivers-meets-Robin Williams rat-a-tat gossipy mensch persona. One cannot really blame him.

That said, what was revealed on stage tonight was a side of Cohen that is often overshadowed by his onscreen antics: a measured, kind, thoughtful, inclusive personality that is likely the engine driving his long term success as both a behind-the-scenes executive and a front of house huckster.


(We had the pleasure of a quick interaction with him before the show and a photo opportunity. He was warm and genuine and authentically appreciative of his supporters, taking what time he could to acknowledge our common humanity. It was rather remarkable as these kind of cattle call meet-and-greets go.)

There really isn’t much to review about the evening other than it was a loose and free-ranging conversation about Cohen’s history. I would have appreciated a bit more about his days as a CBS producer and the challenges he experienced transitioning to his current role. Alas, the crowd – a few of whom seemed to have stepped off the set of one of Bravo’s productions – were there for dirt on which “real housewife” was the biggest alcoholic or most likely to end up in jail. C’est la vie.


To be fair, Mojo could have put a bit more work into the kinds of questions he asked, a series of FM morning show queries which often fell below the caliber of Cohen’s innate wit. Nonetheless, Cohen seized every moment to engage his audience in playful banter and seemed to relish the 90 minutes he had with us. He described his pal Kelly Ripa as having the gift of making everyone who shares the screen with her a better host. The same could be said for how Cohen’s ease-of-self helped Mojo tonight as well.

There were delightful touches with images of Cohen in his youth and videos of his family and friends projected onstage. At one point, Cohen joked, “Is this a roast?” Not at all, in fact. It ended up being a joyous and heartwarming celebration of a free spirit who has carved his own path and seems gobsmacked by his own success. Hopefully, next time he will bring his buddy Anderson Cooper along to ask the questions.

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital). In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by BookboundCommon Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

No yellow-and-black briefcases full of money nor aspiring warblers from Topeka: Howie Mandel live at Caesars Windsor

Howie MandelThe other day over lunch with my pal Neil Simon (the consultant, not the playwright) I started to elaborate on a point I made earlier (apropos of nothing) on a blog entry about Gone With The Wind, namely that I love comedians who can mix bawdiness with self-deprecation, raunch with childlike whimsy, spiteful take-down with satiric absurdity. If a comedian is just mean or arrogant or gross for the sake of achieving some false sense of superiority over his or her audience, I ain’t havin’ it.

For me, Richard Pryor wins out every day over Eddie Murphy. Kathy Griffin or Joan Rivers get the prize over Lisa Lampanelli or Sarah Silverman. I’d rather spend an afternoon with Stephen Colbert, Lewis Black, or Whoopi Goldberg than Dane Cook, Kevin Hart, or Bill Maher (maybe). The list goes on.

(Maher may be the exception that proves the rule for me as his egomania, misogyny, and dyspepsia often serve as a brilliant counterpoint to the political zingers he is attempting to land…but he still gives me a headache.)

Howie MandelI’d never really given much thought to how I feel about Howie Mandel, though. Like Gallagher or Carrot Top, he made my junior high self laugh with abandon over the funny voices and the latex gloves on his head, the germaphobia and the OCD. I never watched St. Elsewhere – he may have been genius there. I just don’t know. I adored his charming children’s show Bobby’s World in the 90s, and it always amused me greatly that his helium-voiced alter ego also doubled as the vocalizations for Gizmo in Gremlins and Skeeter on Muppet Babies.

As I got older, Mandel just seemed to disappear into the margins. I may have unfairly lumped him into the buffoonish band of novelty comics, or maybe he just became complacent, hosting game shows (Deal or No Deal) and talent contests (America’s Got Talent) and shaving his head and growing silly-looking “soul patches” on his chin.

How wrong I was.

Howie MandelLast night, we had the pleasure of taking in his stand-up routine at Caesars Windsor in their much-vaunted Colosseum room. (Let me say, though, that the room does not live up to the marketing hype, resembling a giant pole barn and with an entrance/egress system that functions more like a giant game of Milton Bradley’s Mousetrap than an efficient/pleasant welcome/farewell to the audience. It is a claustrophobe’s and a process engineer’s nightmare.)

Regardless, Mandel presented a remarkable show, reminding, at least this viewer, what made Mandel great in the first place. His routine on Saturday night was a mix of prepared and improvised material, free-wheeling in its delivery and free-ranging in its topics. With a boyish pluck, Mandel brought down the house, riffing on audience members’ foibles and any information they recklessly volunteered. His silliest and funniest moments came at the expense of two security guards downstage who seemed more interested in staring at each other than in protecting the funnyman. Yet, Mandel was never mean nor cruel; he was ever-playful and as hard on his own eccentricities as those of the targeted audience members.

Howie MandelMandel was plenty “blue” in his material, but it never offended as he comes across more as a little kid laughing at his own farts than a skeezy old man who bullies those around him with dirty jokes. You know the type I mean, right? You’ve seen such pricks (sorry for the colorful euphemism) at your high school reunions or at family picnics? “Hey, you, listen to something really filthy here. Does it make you uncomfortable? Yeah? Good! I win!” Mandel’s not like that at all, thank goodness.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for his tone-deaf opening act Shuli Egar, a correspondent from The Howard Stern Show, who came off as a hateful little creep and who seems to think life is there for his ridicule and contempt. There were pockets of laughter during his set, but mostly it was a pretty flat affair that could be best described as Don Rickles/Cheech & Chong/Ray Romano as re-written by Attila the Hun. My advice to him? Ditch the hipster glasses that make him look like mean bird, make fun of himself more, and let us see his tortured inner life that makes him so despise his outer one. THAT would be interesting. (Let me add – Stern I’ve always loved. See rationale in opening paragraphs above. This toadie of Stern’s? Not so much.)

Howie MandelBack to Mandel. He shared with the audience that earlier on Saturday he had become a grandfather for the first time, and, rather than coming across as cloying or preachy (a la someone like Bill Cosby), he used said news in clever and irreverent ways to introduce such tried and true Mandellian topics as … his omnipresent fear of germs; the torture of being on the road 24/7; his love for his wife as expressed by torturing her daily with public tomfoolery; the highs and lows of being part of nationally beloved reality shows on the Peacock Network (En…BEEEE….Ceee!); and so on.

Seeing Howie Mandel live is an interesting phenomenon. A forgotten comic (at least to me) becomes vital, vibrant, possibly even essential in that setting. The electricity of his intelligence and his wit, the kindness in his heart, and the acerbic view he projects toward this ridiculous planet make him very winning, indeed. I’m sure the TV shows and the merchandise and the appearances rake in the moolah, but here’s hoping the third act of Mandel’s storied career gets him back on stage, alone and live, with no yellow-and-black briefcases full of money nor aspiring warblers from Topeka.

Detroit always looks best from ... Canada?

Detroit always looks best from … Canada?

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Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view.

In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan.

My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

Flattery will get you everywhere: Gone With The Wind Q&A with Bob Mackie

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

I often opine that no one reads my blog. That’s not exactly true anymore, but like comedians I’ve loved – Kathy Griffin, Carol Burnett, Don Rickles, the late Jonathan Winters, and recently departed Robin Williams and Joan Rivers – being self-deprecating is a way of life … and a good strategy to try to keep the gremlins away. So, if somebody reaches out, tells me they read this blog, and asks me to share something nifty with all 12.5 of you readers out there, I do it!

Warner Brothers checked out my humble efforts here and sent me a transcribed interview with top fashion designer Bob Mackie who is best known for costuming entertainment icons such as Carol Burnett, Cher, and many others, providing his signature approach to costume design.

 

 

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Y’see, 2014 is the 75th anniversary year for producer David O. Selnick’s masterpiece (and my mom author Susie Duncan Sexton‘s favorite. film. ever.) Gone With the Wind. And all kinds of fancy stuff has been planned in celebration….and here’s the commercial: Warner Brothers upcoming limited and numbered release, Gone with the Wind 75th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition on Blu-ray™ packaged with new collectible packaging, new memorabilia and new special features ($49.99 SRP) goes on sale September 30th at your favorite retailer.
From Warner Brothers –

Gone With the Wind‘s wardrobe is among the most celebrated in cinematic history and continues to influence designers today. The film impacted fashion designer Bob Mackie who has said “Mr. Plunkett was one of the most esteemed period costume designers of the Golden Age of film.”

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

More than perhaps any other movie, the costumes in Gone with the Wind brought the story to life.  From the crinoline hoops to the underskirt cages, costume designer Walter Plunkett and his team of seamstresses went to painstaking lengths to create the hundreds of elaborate costumes – including the famed ball gowns that epitomize the Southern Belle – for the film.

Many of the gowns required multiple versions reflecting different states of wear and tear to correspond with the different phases of the movie – pre-Civil War, during the war and after the war.  Consider that the war made it difficult, if not impossible, to access the luxurious fabrics and details because the fighting made the trade routes too dangerous, you’ll see this reflected in the costume design.  It’s the details like this that transport you to another world and which inspired so many other fashion designers.

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Below is a transcript of the Mackie interview …

 

WARNER BROS. TRANSCRIBED INTERVIEW WITH BOB MACKIE

You designed the famous curtain dress for Carol Burnett Show for the infamous parody segment back in 1976. This year, Gone With The Wind celebrates its 75th year.  How did the parody come to be?  Where did your inspiration come from?

On the Carol Burnett Show we often did parodies of classic old movies.  It was inevitable that we would eventually take on Gone with the Wind, probably the most iconic and most seen film of the time.  Everyone in the TV audience knew the moment “Starlett” (Carol) took the drapes down from the window and dragged them up the stairs that she would soon reappear wearing a dress made from the drapes.  For me, in the real film when Scarlett appeared in her curtain dress, it was already hilarious.  So for several days I agonized over what to do with the drapes.  When an audience expects one thing and you surprise them with something else, usually you get a reaction.  Well, when Carol proudly came down the stairs wearing the drapes – with the curtain rod included – the audience went ballistic.  They say it was the loudest and longest laugh ever recorded on television.  As a costume designer I was relieved; I got my laugh.

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

What elements of the famous dress worn by Scarlett O’Hara did you incorporate into the parody dress worn by Carol Burnett?

In the film, Scarlett was often quite ridiculous (thank God for Vivien Leigh).  For Carol to parody her was not a real stretch, and what juicy material to satirize.

What do you most love about Gone With The Wind?

Gone with the Wind is one of those films I can never turn off.  If I come upon it while channel surfing, I will stay up all night ’til it finishes.

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

How did the movie inspire you as a Fashion Designer?  Does it continue to resonate with you today?

The film’s costume designer Walter Plunkett called me after seeing our show and asked me if he could have my sketch of the television version of the curtain dress.  I was honored and thrilled!  Mr. Plunkett was one of the most esteemed period costume designers of the Golden Age of film.  He also designed my favorite musical film Singing in the Rain.

What fashion secrets can real women borrow from Scarlett O’Hara and Gone With The Wind?  Should women give a damn about what others think?

The film Scarlett was ruthless in her fashion choices.  She knew what she wanted and was never afraid to push the boundaries of what the proper lady of the 1860s would or should not wear.  She certainly didn’t care what other people thought.  Today fashion is a little too free, easy and sloppy.  Oh, well.  Time marches on.

 

Thanks, Warner Brothers for helping me with my easiest (and darned quickest) blog entry ever! Fun reading these insights from Mackie – I will be sure to check out the box set … and NOW here’s MY commercial (below) …

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Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

 

Tongues in Trees*: Ignorance is not bliss – a new appreciati​on for Ann Arbor’s Summer Festival

Ignorance is Not Bliss

Ignorance is Not Bliss

When Pat and Marjorie Lesko approached me after my recent book-reading at fabulous local treasure Bookbound and asked if I would like to be a regular contributor in their pages, I was thrilled.

[Alas, this is likely the last contribution I shall make. Another story for another day.]

However, their movie review slot was already taken. (Phooey! but if you want to read my views on popcorn epics, please check out my blog at www.reelroyreviews.com…oh, right, you’re already here!) So they said to me, “How about culture? You’re a theatre guy. You must love to write about culture. I mean, this is Ann Arbor!”

“You got it!” I sheepishly replied, fearful to reveal my true colors as a pop maven who prefers “The Harlem Shake” over Shakespeare, The Mighty Thor over Jane Austen, and Kathy Griffin over the ballet.

[You can read my first contribution to The Ann Arbor Independent about Ann Arbor’s Performance Network Theatre by clicking here.]

Pat, ever the good journalist, could see right through my ruse. “You haven’t gone to anything here, have you? No festivals, no art installations, no opera?” The jig was up. I suspected that my seven-year-successful-dodge of anything of artistic substance was about to come to a crashing halt.

Her next comment surprised me even more: “Good! Then you’re a blank slate. Write about that!” And like rat-a-tat Rosalind Russell from screwball classic His Girl Friday, she gave me a quick “Off you go!” and clicked off the receiver.

So … here I go. May as well start at the top … Top of the Park, that is.

Entering its 31st season, Ann Arbor’s famed Summer Festival was founded in 1984, and Top of the Park, the free outdoor cornucopia of movies and concerts and activities is arguably the fest’s most famous component. Of course, the festival is so much more, running from June 13 to July 6 with many ticketed offerings sprinkled about Ann Arbor, in addition to the outdoor events. (You’ve already read about Lily Tomlin’s opening weekend concert in The Ann Arbor Independent – I wonder if Pat would let me do those interviews in the future? Hmmm. I better be a good kid!)

If you want to find yourself overwhelmed, just check out the festival’s comprehensive website at www.a2sf.org – talk about sensory overload.

Ann Arbor Summer FestivalIf I have any (feeble) defense to offer for our household’s neglect of this Ann Arbor mainstay, it may be that, for a Tree Town neophyte, all of this activity can shut down a person’s central cortex. If you don’t know where to start or even how to navigate the various locations and parking challenges therein, you might be tempted to just to head to the Rave or Quality and watch the latest Channing Tatum/Michael Bay/Pixar offerings with their predictable start times, easy access, and pre-digested storylines.

However, the evil geniuses at the festival must have anticipated this quibble, and they have introduced a mobile app (free!) that can be your pocket guide to all things Fest related. Having done a quick spin through the app, they nailed it. It’s easily searchable, responsive, social, interactive and with just the right amount of content to help you have a good time. Kudos!

So, now that I have no excuses, I turn to the people who may shake their heads in shame at my ignorance but love me anyway – my long-time Washtenaw County-based pals – for some much-needed guidance and advice. (I won’t divulge who, but I did have one comrade-in-arms who emailed, “I have never been there [Summer Fest] either. Don’t tell anyone!”)

Rebecca Hardin, associate professor at U of M’s School of Natural Resources and Environment (not to mention someone who has suffered playing my spouse in The Penny Seats’ production of What Corbin Knew and helps host the fabulous radio show It’s Hot in Here on WCBN, Friday from 12-1 pm), offers,  “Highlights of past summer festivals, for me, include the acrobats from Australia towering over assembled crowds on enormous stilts, swaying among the roofs of Rackham, the Michigan League, and the Alumni Center, in brightly colored clothes. I also loved the eruption of local talent ‘from the ground up’ during a Bollywood flash mob dance moment…just look for ‘Bollywood flash mob connects communities’ on YouTube. Nothing compares to the chance to see local bands like Hullabaloo, eat local brands like Sylvio’s Organic Pizza, and just be, together with so many other Ann Arborites, grateful for the beautiful evenings.”

Clearly, Rebecca’s comments get to the heart of what makes Ann Arbor – and any of its various activities like Summer Fest – so special: spontaneity, creativity, involvement. And what a wealth of opportunities there are.

Beth Kennedy, Ann Arbor teacher and blogger (check out her witty ididnthavemyglasseson.com for a nostalgic yet fresh look at life in Michigan), concurs, “I love the music, people of all ages getting up to dance together, uninhibited,  feeling the rhythm. I love that they moved it from ‘top of the park’ on top of the parking structure down to street level and never went back up to the cement wasteland. That change alone puts people in a very festive and friendly mood. The beer garden is nice … I have never seen anyone unruly while there … a good thing. Most events are free, except for a few headliners. As a teacher, I adore that they have had the children’s bands perform here, giving them a friendly open space to play, with a receptive audience. I do wish there were more food stand choices, but those seem to be growing each year. Free movies at dark are great with classics and cult films. I will add that family ones are challenging because most kids are asleep by that time but that is just a consequence of Daylight Savings Time, alas!”

The challenges of kids, movies, and late sunsets seem to be a common refrain.

Ian Reed Twiss, an Ann Arbor resident and the pastor at Saline’s Holy Faith Church, remarks, “When the weather’s good, Summer Fest is a lot of fun to hang out and just listen to music. They have had some great high-wire and circus-type acts out on the green as well.  When we were childless, we used to go for the outdoor movies too, but haven’t done THAT in a while. We haven’t participated in any of the ticketed items at, say, The Power Center, but the offerings look great.” (As an aside, Ian mentioned another event to pass along. Summer is a month of fun but it can also be a great time to re-establish community. “et al,” a group aiming to create an inclusive and affirming environment for LGBT individuals and families in the Saline community through education and legislative advocacy and support, hosted a Gay Pride event on June 20, at Mill Pond Park in Saline.  It was a meet-and-greet, and local political leaders attended. It was co-sponsored by the Saline High Gay Alliance “Spectrum” and Diversity Circle. Thanks, Ian!)

Top of the Park definitely is the gateway for most attendees to Summer Fest’s offerings overall. One downside is that there seems to be some disconnect between the ticketed fare and what people commonly think of when they hear the words “Ann Arbor Summer Festival.”

Rebecca Biber, local music instructor, pianist, and conductor, remarked, “Is that where they have Top of the Park?  I have enjoyed an outdoor movie on occasion, because there is beer for the adults and the audience tends to have good camaraderie, yell out lines, and so on.  And some of the local bands are good.  Actually, this month on my birthday, the Fest is featuring two bands I have been meaning to see for years: The Crane Wives and the Ragbirds.  If you are up for some on-site research, I would love to drag you along.”

[Note: I did attend and it was fabulous!]

Well, look at that? My Summer Fest dance card is starting to fill up.

Linda Nyrkkanen, founder (and baker) at Flour Lab, Inc. (if you see her at the farmer’s market in Kerrytown, you must buy her cookies, eat immediately, and then buy some more), echoes Rebecca’s perspective, “I must confess that I am not a regular attender either, although I have been to a few of the free movies at Top of the Park.  The first one was the Wizard of Oz back when I was in college, and it was pretty magical seeing my favorite childhood movie under the stars with my friends. And fast forward to current times – we saw E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial a few years ago with our friends Sean and Rachel.  So fun! I don’t know if this helps you or not, but just wanted to share my limited experience.  I know the musical performances are great too, but it’s the outdoor movies that hold the most memories for me.  I think you and John should definitely try to catch one this year.”

Now that I have my marching orders, keep an eye out – you may just see us wandering about, iPhones in hand, scrolling through the many offerings, looking bedraggled, possibly dehydrated, but with big smiles on our faces as we’ve finally immersed ourselves in one of Ann Arbor’s signature events: “The Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s mission is to present a world-class celebration of arts and entertainment that enriches the cultural, economic, and social vitality of the region.” Well, all right – sounds good to me! See you next fall, Channing Tatum!

[P.S. Wonder what the heck “Tongues in Trees” indicates? One of the first monologues I ever delivered on-tage 20 years ago in Wabash College’s production of “As You Like It” directed by Michael Abbott – click here … not me reading it, but you get the drift.]

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Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.