Can touring comedians make jokes about New Orleans?

The Professor Longhair painting above stage at Tipitina’s. Comedian Pete Holmes made jokes about him at a 2013 New Orleans set. (Photo from wwoz.com)

During comedian Pete Holmes’ 2013 set at Tipitina’s, he turned around and noticed the mural of Professor Longhair that overlooks the stage. Exaggerating a startled reaction he asked the audience “Is that a ghost? Is this place haunted?” I could feel people’s lips purse. Professor Longhair is one of the most famous R&B musician in local music history, and is credited by many as the forefather of the modern New Orleans jazz sound. Tipitina’s is a music venue named for one of his most famous songs. New Orleanians were not going to laugh at Holmes’ joke.

Comedians often try to relate to crowds by riffing about their audience or the theater or the city they’re in. However, I’ve noticed that when touring comedians perform jokes that seems universal, fit for any city in the U.S., they don’t get laughs here. Context is everything in New Orleans. Maybe Holmes knew Professor Longhair’s relation to the club and thought we’d get a kick out of his reaction. What he may not have understood is that New Orleanians are so protective of the city’s culture that people here are rarely open to an outsider’s observation. However, it’s the touring comedians  who have shown they understand the city’s singular way of life that have struck a chord with audiences here.

Natasha Leggero, Moshe Kasher, Shira Pinsker,Chris Trew

A picture after Moshe Kasher’s 2014 set in New Orleans. (l-r) Comedian Natasha Leggero, Moshe Kasher, me, and comedian Chris Trew.

In his stand up, comedian Moshe Kasher pushes the comfort levels of his audiences. I discovered him in 2011, when The New Movement theater brought him here as part of Hell Yes Fest. During an improvised conversation with an audience member he made a very broad Katrina joke. The crowd went silent. I can’t remember the joke, but I do remember thinking that he might not know that the after effects of Katrina still haunt a lot of people. Kasher tends to exploit these moments, and went further into the joke. The audience was not on his side. I’ve seen Kasher perform in New Orleans several times since then, and it’s clear his time here has allowed him to hone in on details that would make any local laugh. A more recent joke he did about the ridiculous layout of shotgun houses got a huge response from the room. I think this gave him buy in to make more edgy jokes about the city, since the audience felt like he was doing it from a more loving place.

Hannibal Buress is a nationally known, touring comedian that can extract specific absurdities in New Orleans life and transform them into something palpable for both local and national audiences. He’s performed here with increased regularity over the past few years, headlining his own shows and popping up at local New Orleans comedy nights. (In fact, he’s performing 2 shows at tonight Civic theater!) Clearly, Burress’ time in the city has made him comfortable to comment on our culture to a national audience. Earlier this year, he performed a set on Jimmy Fallon entirely dedicated to his observations of NOLA.

He does a great job making the eccentricities of the city relevant to the rest of the country. What I think makes his humor “acceptable” to a local audience is that his affection for New Orleans is apparent. He accepts that its the city’s absurdities that can make it so loveable. And isn’t that what we all do?

Just like anyone else new to the city, comedians needs time to work out their feelings about New Orleans. Enough time to perfect a thought that resonates with people here. However, the comedians who have proven through their humor that they understand our culture have found acceptance and appreciation from audiences both local and national.

Are there any other national comedians who have NOLA-centric material that you like? Louie CK had some great material when he performed here. What do you think?

The Politics of Parking: Saving Your Spot During Jazzfest

Photo Apr 27, 3 53 18 PM

Photo Apr 30, 10 41 55 PMParking is a hot commodity in Bayou St. John during Jazzfest. Most people in the area have off-street parking, and I’m struck by all the different ways people try to hold a spot for their cars.

Some residents have fairly conventional methods, like orange cones or your trash bins. Then there are those that rig more elaborate constructions, like a piece of wood balanced on two trash cans, weighted by a concrete block. Signs are common as well. Last year, I saw a sign that begged people not to park in front a house because this person needed quick access inside to help their elderly family member. The note was pretty detailed for something you would squint to see at 5 mph. Yet, I wondered if this person concocted an elaborate story just so they could park in front of their house.

Photo Apr 30, 10 33 22 PM

Is it Fair to Save a Spot on a Public Street?
Spot-saving isn’t limited to festival time. My neighbors regularly have cones out in front of their house, and it really annoys me. Although they are older, as far as I can tell neither person has difficulty walking. I always tempted to move their cones, but I worry they’d recognize my car and I’d some neighborhood drama on my hands. I just grumble and park around the corner.

I can understand why someone would want to block a spot on the street during Jazzfest. All these people descend on your neighborhood and you just want to go on with your life. I’ve considered it, but I just remind myself that  Jazzfest is only 7 days a year.

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Parking Anxiety
Why is it that my pulse speeds up when looking for parking during Jazzfest, when at the most I’ve park 3 blocks away? I don’t have a family, I’m physically able to walk and I’ve never not found a spot. Certainly, there’s a safety concern if I’m alone and trying to park at night, but I can’t explain the fear that I’ll just drive around for hours and find nothing.

photo 1photo 2I can understand if you’re driving to Bayou St. John for Jazzfest and feeling parking anxiety. Looking for a spot Uptown during Mardi Gras is not for the faint of heart. Parking is competitive and hostile and you have to dodge drunk people and oblivious kids in the dark. Finding a decent place to park feels almost as good as catching a Muses shoe.

photoGetting Boxed In
Jazzfest-related parking panic is nothing compared to those who worry about getting “boxed in” during Mardi Gras. A few hours before parades, the NOPD shuts down the streets surrounding the route. People who live within the boundaries of these routes are not able to drive beyond the closures until the parade has passed. You are literally boxed into your neighborhood. Some of my co workers leave the office early during Mardi Gras to ensure they can get to their houses. Talk about anxiety provoking!

Where do you stand on the politics of parking? Have you ever moved cones (or another setup) to park on a public street? Do you thnk it’s fair to save a spot for yourself if you’re not elderly or dealing with tons of kids?

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The Psychology of Hurricane Season

tskaren

Scary hurricane graphic from the news.

We are almost at the end of hurricane season and New Orleans has emerged storm free. A few weeks ago it seemed the city would be hit by Tropical Storm Karen. The power of a tropical storm pales in comparison with higher-grade hurricanes, but the memory of Hurricane Isaac last summer filled me with dread about the potential of another set of days without electricity or something far worse to disrupt our fragile city. This recent storm threat had me pondering the hurricane mindset accompanied with growing up in the South.

The start of hurricane season on June 1 always makes the news and through the end of November, checking the weather requires a tertiary look at the tropics and the Gulf of Mexico for storm activity. I even know what times the National Weather Center posts their hurricane updates.  In Washington D.C. (where I used to live) it was the lack of conversation about activity in the tropics that made me realize that hurricanes are pigeonholed as regional news across the country. I didn’t miss the pre-storm shopping frenzy and drumbeat of doom fostered by the media, but unless a hurricane made landfall, the threat of a hurricane never made news up there. I moved to DC shortly before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, and I didn’t even know a hurricane had formed until it came ashore in Miami.

Screenshot of Tropical Storm Karen's projected path. It's pretty depressing, but by wishing a hurricane changes direction you're essentially hoping it hits someone else.

Screenshot of Tropical Storm Karen’s projected path. It’s pretty depressing, but by wishing a hurricane changes direction you’re essentially hoping it hits someone else.

The morose biproduct of watching the path of a hurricane so closely is that you hope the hurricane shifts away from your city– essentially hoping it goes and hits someone else. In Miami, where I’m from, the hope was that it would turn and dissipate somewhere in the Atlantic. Here in the Gulf South, a slight turn is a sigh of relief for New Orleans. But if you really consider it, you’re just relieved you’re not in West Louisiana or Mobile Bay.

Growing up within this culture also helped me retain information about the science of hurricanes. I think this is unique to areas threatened by hurricanes, simply because we are inundated with news information about them from the time we are very little. I can barely tell you why it rains, but I know that warm waters strengthens a hurricane.

The branches of a downed tree in my yard, after Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

The branches of a downed tree in my yard, after Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

I wonder if this the same for other regions affected by severe weather? I assume not because earthquakes and tornados don’t have the same predictability. Do regional differences influence the way the weather is covered in your area?

My Favorite Rap about the Saints

The best $5 I’ve ever spent was on a two-song rap EP. It was 2011, and I was at the Howlin Wolf for Hot 8 Brass Band’s regular Sunday-night gig. At intermission the band introduced local rapper Bossman Superior and he performed this song:

Bossman’s song about the Saints contained all of the touchpoints of a classic fan anthem, complete with a call-and-response chorus and a shout out to nearly every player on the roster.

“Mark Ingram, Colston, Meachem, Sproles, Ivoryyyyyyy, Vilma, Moore–I can name everybody!”

I had been back in New Orleans for a few months, and although I followed the Saints from Washington D.C., I was eager to assimilate into full New Orleanian Saintsdom. Obviously, this meant I had to buy the album.

The two songs* on the album cycled over and over in my car throughout that football season. Every turn of the ignition was met with “The lock out over now babyyyy… OoooooHHHH OOOOOooHHHH, Send ‘em out there, Sean Payton!” Bossman’s thick New Orleans accent and his song’s references to local culture made my heart swell with city pride. Each year, I look forward to football season because it’s time to put “Black & Gold” on rotation.

Other Saints Raps
“Black & Gold” is just one of many rap songs associated with the Saints. Arguably, the most famous is the Ying Yang Twins “Halftime (Get Crunk),” re-recorded in 2009 by NOLA rapper K. Gates as “Black and Gold (Who Dat).” It’s become the unofficial anthem of the team.

I visited NOLA a few weeks before the Saints won their first Super Bowl title, and I remember hearing the song at a party. Everyone shrieked and started talking about the Saints chances for the Superbowl. “How does everyone in this room know this song? ” I wondered. “What does it have to do with the Saints?”

Do Other Teams Have Raps?
Is it common for NFL teams to have fan-penned songs that penetrate the local zeitgeist? Some meager You Tube searches reveal other fan bases certainly have songs about their teams, but is it as pervasive as it is here? Perhaps it’s the city’s ties to the team or the city’s strong musical traditions. (Although, I bet Steelers fans have put together some good raps.)

The only other fan song I know is the Dolphins cheerful fight song.. It written by a fan in 1972 and that still reeks of that time period. Growing up in Miami, this was the only song I ever heard about the Dolphins.

Does your NFL team have a fan song? Can you recommend any other songs about the Saints?

*The second song on the album is a ridiculous track about getting a girl in bed. It contains many quotable lines, but it deserves its own blog post.

Remember Me?

Today, I signed into this blog for the first time in nearly six months.  After entering my username and password, I had the option to save my password. The checked the box that said “remember me.” How ironic.

Oh Kind of New Orleanian, I’ve missed you! In April I began a new job, and it has taken up a lot of my time. I also began writing for Go NOLA, a blog I have long admired. It’s the blog for the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing council and they do a spectacular job of highlighting what’s going on in NOLA and also digging into some of the history and cultural traditions of the city. When I did have free time to write, that’s where I directed my energy.

Still, I miss having a platform to work through my thoughts on city identity and observations of New Orleans. Many things have happened in the last six months, so hopefully I can work through them in this space–with the help of your thoughts and suggestions!

As a jump start, I’m going to start cross posting my work from Go NOLA. Last week they published a post I wrote about Bell Street, a street nearly a mile from my house, in Bayou St. John. Enjoy!

Hidden Road of New Orleans: Bell Street

I’m Calling Out Rouses for Using Too Many Plastic Bags

Rouses is a statewide supermarket chain that has three locations in New Orleans. Although Rouses is a vast improvement over the awful Sav-A-Center grocery stores that they bought out, my major quip with the Rouses is that the cashiers and bag boys/girls use an outrageous amount of plastic bags when they bag groceries. A common practice is to place one or two items per bag, so that if you buy six items you have nearly as many bags. Additionally, cashiers don’t seem to notice when I bring a canvas bag. It always feels obnoxious to repeat, “Excuse me, I’m sorry… I brought a bag.” This happens at every single location I’ve been to, even outside of Orleans Parish.  It’s upsetting.

In January 2010 Washington D.C. implemented a 5 cent tax on all plastic bags. Although it’s only 5 cents, I shook my fist in anger when I got caught with the fee. I never wanted to pay it! The tax has also made DC merchants a lot more sensitive to how they bag your groceries. It’d be a long time before Louisiana passed a progressive environmental law, but this blog post is my 5 cents of advocacy and publicity.

A Pictorial Investigation of Rouses Bagging Practices
Last week I made a trip to the Rouses and purposefully didn’t bring any bags. Once at home, I took photos of my all the bags used.

I purchased 27 items and was given 10 bags.

This bag has room for more items.

There is clearly more room in this bag. Perhaps it could’ve been combined with the bags of vegetables.

Four bags with one item each. However, given that I purchased beer, wine, chicken and cupcakes, which are all in delicate cases, I think it’s okay each item has its own bag. (I realize you, dear reader, are going to make fun of my purchases.)

There are only two items here! Unacceptable!

This bag has two items. As you can see, there is room for more.

I believe these groceries are the only ones properly bagged from the shopping trip.

Again, two items with room for more.

If I acquiesce the four items given individual bags, than Rouses used six bags for 23 items. I believe the cashiers could’ve consolidated, what do you think? And have you had this same experience at Rouses?

I’m going to send this post to someone at Rouses, in hopes this will draw attention to their irresponsible bagging practices.