Monday, June 20, 2011

WSOP Minus One

Albert Brooks, 'Comedy Minus One' (1973), front coverNot long ago I mentioned the comedian and actor Albert Brooks here (in a post titled “Lost in America”). I’ve been a fan of his since way back when I first saw those short films he did for “Saturday Night Live,” kind of the precursor to the “SNL Digital Short” stuff that has worked so well on YouTube of late.

Brooks made a few other smart feature films in addition to Lost in America (1985), including one called Defending Your Life (1991) with Meryl Streep that I always liked. His debut as a writer/director/actor, Real Life (1979), is also a funny, way-ahead-of-its-time spoof of so-called “reality TV” (among other things). As an actor, Brooks does a neat turn in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) in a small role, and grabbed a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Broadcast News (1987).

Back in the 1970s Brooks -- whose real name is actually Albert Einstein (no shinola) -- did a lot of standup and like a lot of comedians of the day made some comedy LPs. Actually I think he only made two, and somewhere along the way I picked up both, Comedy Minus One (1973) and A Star Is Bought (1975).

The title of the first LP is kind of a play on a famous series of records called “Music Minus One” which were used for teaching purposes. The records would feature ensembles performing tracks minus a single instrument in order for a listener to play along. Sort of like karaoke, though not just for singin’. For example, you’d get, say, a string quartet with the violins and viola but no cello, and the listener/budding cellist could play along. I think the records came with sheet music, too.

What Brooks did with his first LP -- or at least for the lengthy final track of it -- was to emulate that same concept for comedy. That is, he was creating a comedy instructional album designed to teach the listener how to tell jokes and be funny in front of a crowd. A perfectly absurd idea, for sure.

The record actually comes with a script for the listener to follow. It’s an inspired idea, and while it is probably funnier as a concept than in execution, there are nevertheless some genuine grins scattered through the track’s 12 minutes or so. By the way, unlike with the “Music Minus One” discs which are at least listenable -- if a little odd-sounding -- with an instrument omitted, the “Comedy Minus One” track is utter nonsense without the script, with Brooks just delivering set-up after set-up followed by blank spaces and then laughter.

I found myself this morning thinking about Brooks’ album and the concept, partly because I had the phrase “T-Minus One” lodged inside my brain. Tomorrow is the day I leave for Las Vegas where I’ll be for the next four weeks helping cover the WSOP for PokerNews. Thus is today “T-Minus One” as in one day ’til take-off.

It has been interesting to follow all of the coverage of the WSOP from these first few weeks from afar -- i.e., coverage going on minus me. That is, to read, watch, listen, and consider how various outlets are approaching the business of reporting from the Series, something I haven’t really been able to do so well for the past few years while in the thick of it myself.

One thing I’m noticing while I do is how hard it is for me to follow the coverage -- and I’m referring to all of it, not just the live blogging on PokerNews -- without being somewhat judgmental or evaluative. I don’t mean just searching for errors or other missteps here and there, but constantly thinking about how I might’ve handled this or that bit of reporting a little differently.

The fact is, I think most poker players (the primary audience for all of this stuff) who follow the reporting probably are thinking along the same lines as they read, even if they haven’t reported on tourneys themselves. Much as we find ourselves instinctively evaluating and judging other players’ decisions and actions at the tables, I think a lot of us can’t help but do something similar when we read an account of a hand or event.

Albert Brooks, 'Comedy Minus One' (1973), back coverI mean we’ve all at least told others about hands we’ve played and heard others do the same. Every player thus has some reporting “experience,” so to speak. And so it is understandable that those reading the reports do so with fairly detailed ideas about how reporting should be done, and thereby make judgments accordingly.

I could probably go on a lot further on this topic, but I’ll leave it there, hoping that the observation makes at least some sense.

And if it doesn’t, well, you can think about how it might have been made differently.

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