Reggie Brown, the comedian yanked off the stage at the Republican Leadership Conference, gives me his take. (P.S. Republicans love him.)
The big news out of the RLC meeting in New Orleans last weekend didn't involve a candidate, but a president--or rather, a presidential impersonator named Reggie Brown whose comedy set poking fun at the Republican candidates and the president scandalized the organizers, who yanked Brown from the stage mid-set and later put out a statement slamming him for "racially insensitive jokes." It turns out Reggie Brown and I have a friend in common, and yesterday that friend put us in touch. We talked about how the RLC event looked from his vantage point--much different--and what the fallout has been. (Hint: Not too bad--he's got a bunch of new Republican bookings, including Fox News this weekend.) Here's a lightly edited transcript, along with video of his aborted RLC act and another one from his website that I like.
Was a Republican political conference different from the stuff you usually do?
I normally do corporate comedy, so I'll travel around and do everything from medical associations to lawyer groups, things of that nature. This was the first major political event I've ever been invited to, so I was real excited to get up and perform my material. I thought it was cool that a lot of the people in my act--the candidates--were going to be there. Because my latest material is based on the 2012 candidates, and for them to all be there, I thought it would be a great opportunity to make 'em laugh and poke a little fun at them. I thought that showed a lot for the Republican sense of humor.
Did the organizers give you any guidance about what type of humor they were looking for?
No, no guidance was given prior to the show. They booked me to come down based on my website and the links my manager forwarded them of my recent work. I was booked to do my routine.
What was your intention going in? Seemed like you tried to kind of hit every target, Democrat and Republican.
Oh yeah. Our show is designed to be fair and balanced. If we hit the Republicans we hit the Democrats, and then the Tea Party. We want to make it accessible to everyone, and let everyone have a good time.
So walk me through what happened out there on stage? What was your point of view?
So I came out and was going through my material. I was loving it, the audience was loving it--great energy. We're feeding off each other. And I started to get into my set about their candidates for 2012, and the Mitt Romney joke drew a lot of 'oohs' and 'aaahs,' but also a lot of applause and laughter. I delivered a couple more on Pawlenty and Gingrich, and then as I started into my Michele Bachmann joke and her PowerPoint slide came up on the screen, the music came up. I thought it was a technical error, because we do occasionally experience a glitch with the PowerPoint. Then the mike cut out, and the gentleman came on stage and told me my time was up.
Did they indicate that they were unhappy with your performance? What did he say?
No, not at all. He just came out and said, 'Sorry, your time's up.' I thanked the audience, went backstage, and a few of the organizers were saying, great job, very well done, we're all excited for you. I left the stage feeling like I'd done a great job. It was awesome, it was great.
Did you get to talk to any of the folks in the crowd afterward?
We went directly back to the hotel, my manager and me, and I got mobbed by the attendees. They were all saying, "Oh my god! Are you the Obama? Is that the Obama guy?" Because at this point I was in a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. They were like, "You were amazing! You were the best part of this conference. Why'd they pull you off?" People were upset that they didn't let me finish. They were just very complimentary. It was amazing. I had an 85-year-old woman tell me it was the funniest performance she'd every seen in her life and that she'd almost wet her pants. It was very well received and I really am sorry to my fans that I wasn't able to finish.
So at what point did you become aware that the organizers considered you a political problem?
When we got back to my hotel room, all these articles started popping up. The first few were saying "Obama impersonator mocks president at GOP function." Then a few started saying there was a controversy over racist jokes and things like that. So it was crazy to see the spin they started to put on it after I left--feeling I'd delivered a great performance, being told I did well. And then the eruption online.
They put out a statement condemning your afterward, right?
Yes, I met the guy before the show, too, and his wife, and he was all excited. He was like "This is great, I'm looking forward to seeing the show." Like most of the clients he was all happy, smiley, taking pictures together beforehand. Then afterward he started releasing these statements that weren't so positive, or accurate.
Anything in that act you regret?
No, I don't regret one joke. That's what I do. We spend a lot of time tailoring my material. I don't mean to offend anyone through my comedy. It is intellegent humor that's pretty much up to the minute on the political scene.
You don't consider that joke about Barney Frank's "soft backside" a little offensive?
No, that was just in reference to him sitting on his big behind while Freddie and Fannie collapsed. It wasn't really in reference to anything else.
Did you have any qualms about taking the gig? Are political crowds tougher than ordinary crowds?
It depends. A lot of it has to do with the energy, but this was a great audience. You have to be able to poke fun at yourself. It's amazing how things blew up. We've gotten like 500 emails, and news reports from as far away as Europe and South Africa. We already have a lot more bookings that have come in since then, and actually more on the Republican side than the Democratic side. I'll be on Mike Huckabee's Fox show on Saturday, in fact.
Just to clear this up, I'd seen some of your earlier clips and interview on YouTube and you didn't strike me as someone who has any animosity toward President Obama.
Not at all, I love our president. He has changed my life in ways I wouldn't have imagined. I have the best job in the world, I'm able to use my striking physical resemblance to him and my talents to develop this character that the world has been very receptive to. He's given me the opportunity to--and this may sound cheezy--but to live out my dreams. And it's been awesome. I love it.
You mentioned they yanked you before your Michele Bachmann joke. Want to finish your act for me? What was the joke?
[Speaking in the voice of Obama] What can I say about Michele Bachmann that she hasn't already said about herself? Now, last week she called me a one-term president. Uhh, now look. I may be a one-term president, but that's better than your former leader, George W. Bush, who was a one-syllable president.
Einstein’s gravitational waves rest on a genuinely radical idea.
After decades of anticipation, we have directly detected gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime traveling at the speed of light through the universe. Scientists at LIGO (the Laser Interferometic Gravitational-wave Observatory) have announced that they have measured waves coming from the inspiral of two massive black holes, providing a spectacular confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, whose hundredth anniversary was celebrated just last year.
Finding gravitational waves indicates that Einstein was (once again) right, and opens a new window onto energetic events occurring around the universe. But there’s a deeper lesson, as well: a reminder of the central importance of locality, an idea that underlies much of modern physics.
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
The revolution that ended the reign of beards occurred on September 30, 331 b.c., as Alexander the Great prepared for a decisive showdown with the Persian emperor for control of Asia. On that day, he ordered his men to shave. Yet from time immemorial in Greek culture, a smooth chin on a grown man had been taken as a sign of effeminacy or degeneracy. What can explain this unprecedented command? When the commander Parmenio asked the reason, according to the ancient historian Plutarch, Alexander replied, “Don’t you know that in battles there is nothing handier to grasp than a beard?” But there is ample cause to doubt Plutarch’s explanation. Stories of beard-pulling in battles were myth rather than history. Plutarch and later historians misunderstood the order because they neglected the most relevant fact, namely that Alexander had dared to do what no self-respecting Greek leader had ever done before: shave his face, likening himself to the demigod Heracles, rendered in painting and sculpture in the immortal splendor of youthful, beardless nudity. Alexander wished above all, as he told his generals before the battle, that each man would see himself as a crucial part of the mission. They would certainly see this more clearly if each of them looked more like their heroic commander.
When four American women were murdered during El Salvador’s dirty war, a young U.S. official and his unlikely partner risked their lives to solve the case.
On December 1, 1980, two American Catholic churchwomen—an Ursuline nun and a lay missionary—sat down to dinner with Robert White, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. They worked in rural areas ministering to El Salvador’s desperately impoverished peasants, and White admired their commitment and courage. The talk turned to the government’s brutal tactics for fighting the country’s left-wing guerrillas, in a dirty war waged by death squads that dumped bodies in the streets and an army that massacred civilians. The women were alarmed by the incoming Reagan administration’s plans for a closer relationship with the military-led government. Because of a curfew, the women spent the night at the ambassador’s residence. The next day, after breakfast with the ambassador’s wife, they drove to San Salvador’s international airport to pick up two colleagues who were flying back from a conference in Nicaragua. Within hours, all four women would be dead.
Ben Stiller’s follow-up to his own comedy classic is a downright bummer, no matter how many celebrity cameos it tries to cram in.
You don’t need to go to the theater to get the full experience of Zoolander 2. Simply get your hands on a copy of the original, watch it, and then yell a bunch of unfunny topical lines every time somebody tells a joke. That’s how it feels to watch Ben Stiller’s sequel to his 2001 spoof of the fashion industry: Zoolander 2 takes pains to reference every successful gag you remember from the original, and then embellish them in painful—often offensive, almost always outdated—fashion. It’s a film that has no real reason to exist, and it spends its entire running time reaffirming that fact.
The original Zoolander, to be fair, had no business being as funny as it was—it made fun of an industry that already seems to exist in a constant state of self-parody, and much of its humor relied on simple malapropisms and sight gags. But it was hilarious anyway as a candid snapshot of the fizzling-out of ’90s culture. Like almost any zeitgeist comedy, it belonged to a particular moment—and boy, should it have stayed there. With Zoolander 2, Stiller (who directed, co-wrote, and stars) tries to recapture the magic of 2001 by referencing its past glories with increasing desperation, perhaps to avoid the fact that he has nothing new to say about the fashion industry or celebrity culture 15 years laters.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Most people know how to help someone with a cut or a scrape. But what about a panic attack?
Here’s a thought experiment: You’re walking down the street with a friend when your companion falls and gashes her leg on the concrete. It’s bleeding; she’s in pain. It’s clear she’s going to need stitches. What do you do?
This one isn’t exactly a head-scratcher. You'd probably attempt to offer some sort of first-aid assistance until the bleeding stopped, or until she could get to medical help. Maybe you happen to have a Band-Aid on you, or a tissue to help her clean the wound, or a water bottle she can use to rinse it off. Maybe you pick her up and help her hobble towards transportation, or take her where she needs to go.
Here’s a harder one: What if, instead of an injured leg, that same friend has a panic attack?
A robotic road safety worker in India, a sacrificial llama in Bolivia, a sea otter receives a valentine, a deadly earthquake in Taiwan, a leopard attack in India, and much more.
A murmuration of starlings over Israel, a robotic road safety worker in India, a sacrificial llama in Bolivia, border barriers between Tunisia and Libya, a sea otter receives a valentine, a deadly earthquake in Taiwan, the annual Shrovetide football match in England, a leopard attack in India, and much more.
Why the Syrian war—and the future of Europe—may hinge on one city
This week, the Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes and Iranian-supported militias including Hezbollah, launched a major offensive to encircle rebel strongholds in the northern city of Aleppo, choking off one of the last two secure routes connecting the city to Turkey and closing in on the second. This would cut supplies not only to a core of the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but also to the city’s 300,000 remaining civilians, who may soon find themselves besieged like hundreds of thousands of others in the country. In response, 50,000 civilians have fled Aleppo for the Turkish border, where the border crossing is currently closed. An unnamed U.S. defense official toldThe Daily Beast’s Nancy Youssef that “the war is essentially over” if Assad manages to seize and hold Aleppo.
After getting shut down late last year, a website that allows free access to paywalled academic papers has sprung back up in a shadowy corner of the Internet.
There’s a battle raging over whether academic research should be free, and it’s overflowing into the dark web.
Most modern scholarly work remains locked behind paywalls, and unless your computer is on the network of a university with an expensive subscription, you have to pay a fee, often around 30 dollars, to access each paper.
Many scholars say this system makes publishers rich—Elsevier, a company that controls access to more than 2,000 journals, has a market capitalization about equal to that of Delta Airlines—but does not benefit the academics that conducted the research, or the public at large. Others worry that free academic journals would have a hard time upholding the rigorous standards and peer reviews that the most prestigious paid journals are famous for.