A comedy legend passes the torch to the next generation.
2020 has been a huge year in the career of comedy veteran Rudy Giuliani.
He began his career in comedy back in 1997, when he supplemented his part-time gig as mayor of New York City with hosting duties at Saturday Night Live. Unfortunately, he hadn't yet refined his craft to become the hilarious avant-garde performance artist we know today.
Recently, we learned that Giuliani has tested positive for coronavirus, with the soon-to-be former president Trump wishing him well after contracting the "China virus." Speaking of absurd politicians, we look back on Giuliani's contributions to comedy.
In the '90s, Giuliani's approach to comedy consisted primarily of dressing in drag and struggling to read cue cards. But, as funny as that is to watch, audiences didn't really "get" him, and Rudy's turn as host has frequently been listed among the worst in the history of SNL.
Rita Delvecchio's Thanksgiving - SNL www.youtube.com
Still, he had obvious potential as a sloppy, bumbling comedic genius. He would return to the show on multiple occasions, but it wasn't until years later -- as a frequent guest on cable news -- that Giuliani settled into his current, brilliant niche as "Donald Trump's personal lawyer" and a "cybersecurity advisor."
At 76 years old, conventional wisdom would dictate that Rudy's best years in comedy were far behind him. But Rudy Giuliani has never cared much for "convention" or "wisdom." In addition to various angry and unhinged rants, Rudy has given us some amazing comedy moments like the time he butt-dialed a reporter, the time he went to the Apple Genius Bar after getting locked out of his phone, and the time he texted another reporter his private password.
And those are just the cybersecurity bits from 2019! In 2020 his "lawyer" persona has reached new levels of comedy, including his scene-stealing collaboration with Sacha Baron Cohen for Borat 2 and a series of press conferences in which he "accidentally" booked a landscaping company instead of a luxury hotel and allowed hair dye to drip slowly down the sides of his face.
But this week he has topped himself. Rather than introducing another classic Rudy character, he used the incredible moment he's been having to elevate a newcomer -- passing on the torch of sloppy political ranting to a new generation of comedic genius: Melissa Carone.
Trump's star voter fraud witness goes viral HUMILIATING herself at “hearing" www.youtube.com
Carone had previously given a solid performances as the incomprehensible "whistleblower" on Fox Business's Lou Dobbs Tonight. There she demonstrated how poorly she could explain concepts like ballots being counted incorrectly and mysterious vans delivering something other than food.
With Dobbs she put on an amusing show, but was a bit too stiff and put-together to really lose herself in the role. It was only with Rudy's coaching that Carone was able to loosen up and deliver the sloppy, belligerent performance of a lifetime in a hearing in front of the Michigan legislature on Wednesday.
Billed as a key witness of election misconduct and voter fraud, Carone was on a roll throughout the hearing. In addition to making her explanation of ballot tabulation even more confusing, she slurred her speech and frequently interrupted the state senators with hostile comments while they attempted to clarify her baseless and confusing accusations.
I thought Rudy Giuliani was crazy. Then I thought that Trump's 46-minute tirade was insane. But the #Trump Star… https://t.co/hBVLxsNMDX— Colonel Hardstone (@Colonel Hardstone) 1607003476.0
Carone's bit involves her role as an IT contractor for Dominion Voting Systems, which placed her in Detroit's TCF while votes were being counted for the November 3rd election. There she claims to have seen workers counting stacks of ballots multiple times and signing voters names to incorrectly copied ballots.
Though Carone's claims have already been dismissed in court as incompatible with other witness testimony and "simply not credible," that didn't slow her down. She continued to hilariously claim that the fact that she had signed an affidavit was proof enough that she was telling the truth.
With unflinching, sloppy confidence, she delivered lines like, "I can't even get an actual job anymore ... because Democrats like to ruin your lives" and, "I signed something saying that if I'm wrong I can go to prison. Did you?" It was almost enough to make you believe that she really meant it -- which served to make the whole thing that much funnier.
Weekend Update: Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started a Conversation with on the 2016 Election - SNL www.youtube.com
While others have compared her performance to characters from Saturday Night Live (specifically, Cecily Strong's drunk girl character), there is something unrestrained and bizarre about it that more accurately recalls the heyday of Mad TV. Judging by the way he attempted to shush her, even Rudy couldn't believe how funny Carone was being, as she interrupted Republican state representative Steven Johnson to claim that the Detroit poll book contains zero registered voters and that turnout was 120% (it was actually under 50%).
Does it matter that she offers no evidence to support her claims that the poll book is "wildly off" by "over 100,000" votes or that "dead people voted and illegals voted?" Of course it matters. If she had any evidence for these claims, it wouldn't be comedy gold.
And now we have more of that comedy gold to look forward to. While the current outpouring of hilarious political comedy around "election fraud" and various clumsy, attempted coups is set to wrap up on December 14th, when the electoral college votes to elect Joe Biden the next president, Melissa Carone gives us a reason to be hopeful for the future of comedy.
Even if Rudy Giuliani retires from comedy later this month, he has anointed an heir in Carone. With her talent now in full bloom, we can all look forward to many more years of virtuosic comedic rants.
A tribute to the people who have made the last 500 years a little more bearable.
With the election behind us, and the Trump team's spurious legal cases being thrown out of court left and right, it's beginning to look like America will finally be able to leave the Trump era behind.
As many problems as we are still going to face after January 20th, it's a relief to know that we will no longer have to think, "Oh, god, he's the president..." every time Donald Trump says or tweets something offensive, dangerous, or moronic.
If he wants to spend the next four years sharing his thoughts on raking hurricanes or nuking wildfires, he will be able to do so from outside the White House, just like any other
inmate citizen. But with two more months of Trump administration to go, the world is still bracing to see what kind of stunts he'll pull in his final days.
As such, there has never been a better time to acknowledge the people who have been so helpful at relieving some of the ever-present tension that has dominated each
century week since 2016. These are the comedic bits that have helped to make the intense chaos energy of Donald Trump a little easier to process.
So, as Donald Trump fights his inevitable removal from office, we can at least thank him for gifting us some comedy gold—while doing everything in his power to destroy our country.
And Zuko's arc represents transformation from complicity to active allyship.
Addicted to an illusion of its own greatness. Motivated to violence by the belief that the rest of the world would benefit from colonization. Willing to go to war to achieve its goals.
These words could describe America. They could also describe the Fire Nation in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is a kids' show that aired on Nickelodeon from 2005 to 2008. It tells the story of a world of four nations, each with sovereignty over a specific element: Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. Throughout the show, we get to see the many ravages of the Fire Nation's 100-year war, which has devastated the environment, enraged the spirit world, and created thousands upon thousands of refugees.
The show begins in a world in which the Fire Nation has launched a massive war in an attempt to colonize the world. Most of the Earth and Water kingdoms have been overtaken, and the entire race of Air Nomads has been wiped out—all except one.
Aang, an Air Nomad, is the resident Avatar, who has the power to control all four elements and thus is the only living person who has the power to restore balance to the world.
But Aang has been trapped in a block of ice for a hundred years. At the beginning of the show, the ice is de-thawed by two Water Nation teenagers, Sokka and Katara, and so begins a three-season quest to defeat the militant Fire Nation.
When Avatar re-emerged on Netflix this May, it captivated whole new legions of fans—and not in a small part because of its political relevance. While the Fire Nation certainly represents elements of Japanese culture, many fans saw parallels between European colonization and the Fire Nation's belief in its own greatness.
Ali A Olomi, a University of Pennsylvania assistant professor of Islamic, Middle Eastern, and the global south's history, also sees parallels. "One of the things we see with the Fire nation is the ideological justification for what they're doing," he said in an interview. "We are a glorious civilisation. We have abundance, we have wealth, we have technological advancement; we need to share it with the rest of the world. That's almost word for word European colonisation."
The United States' Colonial Empire www.youtube.com
Parallels Between America and the Fire Nation
Many Americans watching the show in 2020 also saw strange connections between current events and the show's central conflict. In June, co-creator Michael Dante Dimartino shared a quote from a Salon article that read, "The sobering difference between watching Avatar in its time versus seeing it now is that life in America looks and feels a lot like life in the Fire Nation as Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, and eventually Zuko experience it. It is a place addicted to its increasingly hollow sense of greatness and even superiority, steered by a leader more concerned with his own glory than caring for his people."
To begin with, the Fire Nation in Avatar: The Last Airbender and America share a love of prisons—America has the highest prison population in the world, and the Fire Nation's prisons are overflowing with traitors and benders from other nations. "[Avatar] really highlights the corrupt policing system that we're experiencing in our own climate," argues one YouTuber named Channeling Chinez, describing the Fire Nation's prisons as an "accurate portrayal of what our prison system looks like."
AVATAR THE LAST AIRBENDER | Is America the Fire Nation? | 10 Wokest Avatar Eps | Channeling Chinez www.youtube.com
The two nations also share a love of war. America, like its forefather Europe, has long been starting wars and relentlessly colonizing other nations, buoyed by a firm belief in its own right to sovereignty and greatness—just like the Fire Nation.
It's no surprise, then, that the parallels between America and the Fire Nation's violent colonial efforts have long been discussed by the Internet's ranks of cultural critics. In one video by a YouTuber named Zotaku, the Fire Nation is compared to the United States through the lens of its occupation of Haiti.
America Is the Fire Nation 🔥 (US Occupation of Haiti) www.youtube.com
Like the Fire Nation, America has a lot to be proud of—but the idea that everyone else should be forced to follow America's lead is fundamentally flawed.
"Since the 1970s, China has not once gone to war; the U.S. has not spent a day at peace. President Jimmy Carter recently noted that in its 242-year history, America has enjoyed only 16 years of peace, making it, as he wrote, 'the most warlike nation in the history of the world,'" writes Wade Davis for Rolling Stone. "As America policed the world, the violence came home… As they stare into the mirror and perceive only the myth of their exceptionalism, Americans remain almost bizarrely incapable of seeing what has actually become of their country."
Origins of the Fire Nation's Senseless Wars
In Avatar's third season, we learn the backstory of Sozin, the Fire Nation general who started the entire war, and Roku, the Avatar who was Sozin's best friend. Through this flashback, we discover that there is no real logic behind Sozin's colonial efforts; there's only greed.
At one point, Sozin looks out over the Fire Nation and admiringly comments on how "successful" it is. Heasks Roku to help him create a "brighter future" for the world—by colonizing it and spreading Fire Nation ideology. Roku adamantly refuses, but the seed of the idea had already been planted in Sozin's head, and he goes ahead to expand the Fire Nation's army and navy. Eventually, he establishes colonies, burns down Roku's home, and starts the destructive war that would wreak havoc on the world for the next 100 years.
Since World War II, America has positioned itself as the world's policeman—ostensibly in an effort to shield the world from communism. A deeper look reveals that many of America's war efforts were not based in any real need—more often than not, they are based in a desire for profit.
the us overthrew a bunch of socialist states in latin america and south asian and growing up we're taught that the… https://t.co/le2DzuVuGS— s☭ (@s☭) 1599231495.0
today i learned the US army slaughtered 5000 bison every day for three years straight to weaken native americans by… https://t.co/KIoQAytEFV— Megan Magray 〰️ (@Megan Magray 〰️) 1598378275.0
Every day, America seems to veer closer to authoritarianism. In some ways, we are all Roku, observing the collapse of our nation. In other ways, we are all Zuko, born into a world we had no part in creating and forced to decide where our loyalties lie.
Zuko's Journey as a Blueprint for Growth and Revolution
One of Avatar's greatest strengths is the way it refuses to take black-and-white views of issues. In Avatar, the Fire Nation is not a monolith—and neither, of course, is America. American citizens are not evil, and neither are the Fire Nation's inhabitants. Instead, the efforts of a few corrupt leaders and a corrupt system have guided us and them down this path.
The Fire Nation may be the show's main antagonist, but the series also demonizes anti-Fire Nation rebels who resort to violence. Jet, whose parents were killed by the Fire Nation, attempts to flood an entire town in order to defeat a fleet of troops, but he's condemned by Avatar's protagonists.
The character arc of Hama, a Water Tribe firebender, functions as a moral lesson about the problems with violent rebellions. While imprisoned by the Fire Nation, Hama discovers bloodbending, a technique that allows the bender to control others' bodies. As an od woman, she attempts to teach it to Katara, who immediately recoils—and we soon discover that Hama has been abducting and imprisoning Fire Nation civilians as revenge.
The Life Of Hama (Avatar) www.youtube.com
The show's message is clear: While the Fire Nation's leaders might have done unfathomable damage, violence against innocent civilians is never justified. Arguably, Jet and Hama's actions exemplify the dangers of what happens when revolutionaries start using the tactics of the aggressor, fighting fire with fire.
Real revolutionary change, the show advises, has to occur within the mind and the spirit, not simply through aggressive military maneuvers. Nobody better exemplifies this lesson than Zuko, the beloved (and swoon-worthy) anti-hero whose redemption arc is arguably the lifeblood of the show.
For the first two seasons, Zuko maintains allegiance to his native Fire Nation—despite having been banished and burned by his own sadistic father. Like many Fire Nation children, who have to recite daily odes to the Fire Nation's greatness, Zuko has grown up believing his nation is the greatest in the world (sound familiar?)
America is literally the fire nation https://t.co/gj6Mn4l7GU— Spoookkyy Sydd👻 (@Spoookkyy Sydd👻) 1598935952.0
Aang Infiltrates a Fire Nation School 🔥🏫 | Avatar www.youtube.com
Determined to recapture the Avatar and regain his honor, Zuko betrays the resistance countless times. Eventually, though, the wise platitudes of his Uncle Iboh begin to alter his perspective, and he begins to realize that he does not have to blindly follow the Fire Nation. The last straw comes when he realizes that the Fire Nation intends to burn down large swaths of the Earth Kingdom in order to solidify its rule.
Zuko then confronts his father, Firelord Ozai, and says: "Growing up, we were taught that the Fire Nation was the greatest civilization in history. And somehow, the War was our way of sharing our greatness with the rest of the world. What an amazing lie that was."
zukos monologue where he realizes the fire nation is bad but replace “the fire nation” with “america”— defund the police (@defund the police) 1597173357.0
In an America where all children say the Pledge of Allegiance each morning, and where an ideal of American exceptionalism continues to legitimize our racism, xenophobia, and aggressive conquest of the Middle East, those words ring true with stunning relevance.
As children, we are taught that America is the land of the free, but yet it is a nation built by slavery and tormented by deep-rooted racist violence. For those of us who grew up within the system, realizing this can be jarring.
A YouTuber named Evelyn from the Internet argues that not only is America the Fire Nation, but Zuko's arc represents a journey from complicit leader to active accomplice within a corrupt system.
America Is The Fire Nation www.youtube.com
"It interested me how Prince Zuko, next in line to the throne of the Fire Nation, the person who was actively hunting Aang, the Avatar, decided that not only is it not good enough to verbally renounce the Fire Nation or verbally renounce the actions of his nation and his people—saying 'I'm not one of the bad ones'...he had to actively assist Aang and the crew in defeating the Fire Lord," she says.
In an era when passive allyship and performativity have become the norm, Zuko's progression reveals the true meaning of resisting corruption and actively supporting revolutionary efforts. Zuko's change of heart also proves that it's possible to change and do what's right, even within the belly of the beast.
Zuko's Realization www.youtube.com
His betrayal is clearly for the best. When a governing body grows as corrupt as the Fire Nation's, even its strongest leaders are destined for collapse. At the end of Season 3, we witness the unraveling of one of the Fire Nation's most vicious leaders—Azula, Zuko's sister. A cruel, relentless military genius, Azula completely loses her composure when her two best friends abandon her to support Zuko.
As we watch America flounder around during the COVID-19 response, as we see our nation unravel, cracks that have always existed in America are growing more visible. Like Azula in the last fight scene, America's government is growing weaker and increasingly fragile, less capable of unifying the nation, more erratic and alienating even towards its closest supporters.
That means that, like Azula's Fire Nation—which barely even exists at the end of the show because she fired her entire staff—America is vulnerable, but also ripe for real, radical change. There may have been no saving Azula and Ozai at the end of the show, but her decline and Zuko's change of heart opened a space for Zuko to take the throne and for balance to be restored to the world.
America is the fire nation and Barron Trump is Zuko— Will (@Will) 1598012934.0
@SOTM23478584 @ngonStrafe @BoThomas6 @son_of_gib @MarieGaskill @MKGenest Bruh did you even watch avatar? Standing u… https://t.co/d4iS27SMkS— angel (they/them) ♿🌈 (@angel (they/them) ♿🌈) 1596833742.0
Climate Change: A Consequence of the Fire Nation and America's Destructive Efforts
To be fair, the Fire Nation isn't an exact stand-in for America. Its customs differ greatly from American traditions (it's hard to imagine any Fire Nation civilian daring to not wear a mask during a pandemic).
Technically, the Fire Nation could represent any authoritarian government, any civilization willing to lay siege to another for the simple purpose of domination.
It also has clear parallels to another existential threat: climate change. There are, of course, obvious metaphors about rising atmospheric temperatures and the devastating effects of fire on the Earth.
Just as environmental destruction is connected to the Fire Nation's attempt to take too much power in Avatar, climate change is connected to American exceptionalism and Western capitalism. Climate change comes not from the wastefulness of billions but largely from the greed of a few select oil companies (never forget that there are 100 companies responsible for 70% of the world's fossil fuel release) and the politicians and infrastructures who continue to support them.
In both Avatar and our present world, the Earth and its inhabitants visibly suffer from the Fire Nation's disruption of balance and its greed and cruelty. We see infected swamps that sicken whole towns, swaths of displaced refugees, and huge landscapes that have been damaged enough to enrage the spirit world.
While there's no visible spirit world in America today (that I know of for certain), it's easy to see that there's a spiritual sickness plaguing our world (as well as the very physical illness that is COVID-19). As wildfires ravage California and hurricanes destroy coastlines–and as millions of us tune into Avatar,–it's not hard to draw parallels between the greed that motivates the Fire Nation and the greed that motivates American exceptionalism, as well as the hunger that motivates fossil fuel companies and the governments that prop them up.
🤢Colonial relationships continue China will no longer accept plastic waste from the West, so American industry nee… https://t.co/fJC48pZ3CH— Sasha Alyson (@Sasha Alyson) 1599110816.0
Perhaps there are lessons we can draw from Avatar that might help us through these difficult times. In the show, many of its calamities stem from lack of connection and a lack of respect for the interdependent balance of the world. But what saves the world in Avatar is not Aang's power or Zuko's betrayal alone, but rather the connections between Aang, his friends, and all the people they meet along the way. Only by connecting deeply with his inner world and listening to the ancient lessons of the world around him is Aang able to finally mobilize to defeat the Fire Nation.
And of course, Aang's youthful idealism doesn't hurt. From the youth-led climate movement to the youth-led Black Lives Matter movement, we're seeing young people standing up to corrupt powers helmed by power-saturated older generations. Perhaps it makes sense that a kids' show contains one of the most revolutionary stories of our time; kids and young people are at the forefront of any real change we might hope to see, in this world and in Avatar's.
None of these are exact parallels, and each one of these issues (and their solutions) is far more complex than can be summarized here. Importantly, no Avatar or single brave hero is coming to save America, and in fact there will probably be no "saving" the world at all.
Legend of Korra, the contested sequel to Avatar, perhaps does a better job of addressing the complexity and backwardness of politics—there are no real saviors, and those who claim to fight for peace often wind up committing the worst betrayals. But Avatar advises us, perhaps optimistically, that there can be healing—and maybe we can pull America and the planet back from the brink of its own destruction.
Adulthood is coming to the realization that America is actually the Fire Nation— Lauryn Courtney (@Lauryn Courtney) 1598901441.0
America is the fire nation tell me I'm wrong— Don't wake the coronie (@Don't wake the coronie) 1598788542.0
Was the Jimmy Fallon Blackface Skit Intentionally Released as a Distraction from the Murder of George Floyd?
Racist police violence is a modern epidemic. So why are we talking about an SNL skit from 2000?
At this point, celebrity apologies are incredibly common. In 2020, it seems like some formerly beloved actor or TV personality is being put through the wringer of public opinion a few times a week.
Most recently, Twitter canceled Jimmy Fallon after an unquestionably racist skit from the 2000 season of SNL resurfaced online. The skit features Fallon impersonating Chris Rock, complete with black face and an offensive imitation of Rock's speech patterns.
Jimmy Fallon Blackface youtu.be
This quickly led to the hashtag #jimmyfallonisoverparty trending on Twitter. While fans seemed split on whether Fallon should be forgiven for the 20-year-old misstep, most everyone agreed that Fallon should apologize regardless. This morning, he did just that in the form of a tweet.
In 2000, while on SNL, I made a terrible decision to do an impersonation of Chris Rock while in blackface. There i… https://t.co/6k9alCsBq7— jimmy fallon (@jimmy fallon) 1590526687.0
As far as celebrity apologies go, Fallon's is a pretty good one. He doesn't try to sidestep the blame, he doesn't bring up the fact that there were undoubtedly many, many other individuals involved in the creation of the skit, and he doesn't even mention the fact that in 2000, many people still thought it was possible for black face to be done in the spirit of fun, because the deeply racist nature of the act was largely ignored in mainstream (white) media. Of course, we know better now, and it's easy to see that a white person doing an exaggerated imitation of a black person—darkened skin included—can only be a racist, belittling act with a long, dark history of racial oppression. With that in mind, Fallon's only option was to apologize without caveat or reservation. Indeed, it's refreshing to see a celebrity apology that doesn't try to justify or minimize their own misstep. While we can all agree Fallon made a terrible, racist choice 20 years ago, we have to believe that, like all of us, he's grown since then. If cancel culture is to have any efficacy in making the world a better place, it has to leave room for forgiveness and growth. Hopefully, the whole affair will leave Fallon (and those who witnessed it) more racially sensitive.
All of that being said, one has to ask why the clip was brought up now, given that it's been circulated around the Internet before, and the specific YouTube clip that was shared was posted on the site over a year ago. It's also worth noting that the version of the clip that was going around Twitter has a text overlay that reads: "NBC FIRED MEGAN KELLY FOR MENTIONING BLACKFACE. JIMMY FALLON PERFORMED ON NBC IN BLACKFACE."
Megan Kelly, an outspoken conservative, was indeed fired from her job at NBC because she defended the use of blackface in Halloween costumes, saying on her talk show, "Truly, you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface for Halloween, or a black person who put on whiteface for Halloween," she said. "When I was a kid, that was OK as long as you were dressing up as a character." While Fallon's instance of racial insensitivity was in 2000, Kelly defended blackface in 2019, long after society at large had begun to acknowledge the hurt that blackface and other forms of racial impersonation could cause. This fundamental difference aside, Kelly also has a long history of racial insensitivity that Fallon does not, even once saying, "What is the evidence that what happened to Eric Garner and what happened to Michael Brown has anything to do with race?" in a conversation about the epidemic of racist police officers in America.
Given the text overlay, it's pretty clear that whoever began the #jimmyfallonisoverparty was not necessarily seeking justice for the black community, but was instead trying to imply hypocrisy in the cancellation of Megan Kelly, given that Fallon (who has been outspoken about the flaws of the Trump administration and political pundits like Kelly) is still on the air. One even has to wonder if, given that it's obvious that the #jimmyfallonisoverparty trend was begun by a conservative individual or group, if the trend was meant to be a distraction from the widespread racist police violence that has been emphasized in recent weeks by incidents like the death of George Floyd, a black man who was murdered in Minneapolis by a white police officer on Monday. It seems oddly coincidental that the clip of Fallon should flood the Internet with controversy the day after Floyd's murder, unfortunately serving to help steer conversation away from Floyd's unjust death.
Indeed, under the unquestionably racist Donald Trump administration, more and more black people are being harassed, attacked, and murdered at the hands of racist white civilians and police officers. But Trump and his supporters don't want you to focus on that–so much so that it doesn't feel impossible that the Fallon skit was intentionally weaponized as a distraction.
In the last few weeks alone we learned that Ahmaud Arbery was murdered senselessly by a white man while simply out for a jog, and we all witnessed the harassment of Christian Cooper, a black man who was threatened by a white woman in Central Park who didn't want to put her dog on a leash. It's clear that racism in America cannot be reduced to insensitive skits from 20 years ago but is instead a current and deadly problem. What Jimmy Fallon did in 2000 was racist, yes; but don't let that distract you from the deadly consequences of racism in 2020, don't let celebrity apologies make you take your eyes of our lawmakers, who aren't doing enough to protect people of color in this country. Don't let the latest "#_____isoverparty" trend distract you from the deadly consequences of racism in our laws, culture, and criminal justice system.