Two more TV picks … Bernie Mac and Insomniac

1. My madpig brother (he of cloven hoof) recommended “Insomniac with Dave Attell” on Comedy Central. Attell, a standup comic, finishes a show in a given city, then sets off to investigate the local nightlife, taking the viewer along for the ride. Attell offers some great, often seedy, glimpses into the flora and fauna of that populate city steets after midnight. The San Francisco show was a scream. They’re all funny. Check it out. (Though the web site leaves a lot to be desired … typical Comedy Central overkill with some faulty Flash photo galleries and an annoying Smirnoff Ice rich media ad (who drinks this shit?).

2. “The Bernie Mac Show“: This is the best think I’ve seen on Fox in a long time. Well written. Well acted. And it’s funny as hell. Bernie Mac takes in his crack-addicted sister’s three kids. And the reluctant father figure has a tough time adjusting. My favorite episode is the Christmas show. In each show, there are segments where Bernie Mac speaks into the camera, addressing the audience as “America.” In this one, he’s drinking potent eggnog and is progressively drunker each time he addresses the audience in these asides. I was howling.

Yet another reason to love Tivo …

Most folks who know me know I love my Tivo. And my Tivo loves me. Here’s another reason that I love Tivo. As you watch shows, Tivo lets you give them “thumbs up” and “thumbs down.” Based on your input, it starts recommending shows that it thinks you might like. Sometimes, these recommendations are downright strange. For instance, I had a tough time convincing Tivo that I don’t like “The Jeffersons.”

But I recently expanded the hard drive on my Tivo (to a whopping 110 hours), and now Tivo has more room than ever to record suggestions for me. Recently, it found a gem.

There’s a show on BBC American called “Coupling.” After watching it once, I told Tivo to get a season pass (it will now be recorded whenever it’s on, without me having to do anything.). I’ve seen two episodes now and the show is hilarious. I highly recommend it. BBC America largely has been a disappointment, but “Coupling” is the best show I’ve found there since “British Men Behaving Badly.”

First rock concert …

On the wind-swept plains of West Texas, I recently met a fellow ex-Pittsburgher. As we started talking, I realized he was at many of the late ’70s rock concerts that I attended, including my first show: Rush, Cheap Trick and Max Webster at the Stanley Theater in 1977.

I was in ninth grade and had hatched a scheme to sneak out the bedroom window, catch a bus downtown and see the show with my buddy Ralph. (I wasn’t allowed to go to concerts. I’d already missed Kiss. No way was I going to miss Rush.)

But my conscience got the better of me and I confessed what I was about to do to my parents, who — to my surprise — decided to allow me to go anway.

We were about 25 rows back at stage left. The smell of pot smoke hung heavy in the air. And I was totally blown away by the show. Didn’t know what to make of Cheap Trick (I think that was their first tour), but I was totally in awe of Rush. This was pre-synthesizer Rush. Great stuff. I bought the obligatory black concernt T-shirt (with that naked dude and the star — from 2112) and wore the damn thing till it fell off me.

The Stanley was such an incredible venue. It was an old movie/Vaudville venue that seated maybe 1,500 people. I ended up seeing dozens of shows there during the next few years. Everyone from UFO to the Grateful Dead. Ah, those were the days.

So what was your first show? Do you even remember it? Please don’t tell me it was the Bay City Rollers …

All the news that’s fit to print …

I’ve been reading The New York Times pretty regularly, and I’m always amazed at how many great stories they cram into each edition. In Monday’s paper (traditionally a “slow” day for newspapers), I stumbled across the following nuggest (you need to register to see these; it’s worth it).

Cambodia’s Mystery Mammal: For years, tales have emerged from Cambodia’s hidden mountain ranges of this strange animal known as the khting vor. Some mountain people say it eats snakes. Some say it can leap like a mountain goat. Some swear that it is a roaring, savage predator.

Pike invaders: Details attempts to get rid of non-native Pike in a California Lake. Despite bombing and poison, the pike are still hanging in there.

Rust never sleeps: Review of a new biography on good old three-chord Neil Young.

The college game: And finally, a three-day series detailing the quest of three very different students who are attempting to get accepted to the college of their choice. After I read part one on Sunday, I went out of my way to buy Monday and Tuesday’s Times just to make sure I saw the entire piece. I don’t recall ever having done that … This is what journalism is all about. I was especially stoked to realize that the online version had added features, including audio, video and slideshows. Nice …

Pittsburgh, the last hurrah …

I concluded last week’s travel with a trip to Pittsburgh to see my parents. They’re about to move to Florida, thus ending the Pittsburgh Years. The family homestead already has been sold. Now Mom and Pops are Florida bound. It seemed strange. In a lot of ways, I miss the ‘Burgh and felt a tinge of regret knowing that I’d have one less reason to drop by there once in a while. My brothers are still there, and I’m sure Pittsburgh hasn’t seen the last of me, but it still seemed like the end of an era. We ended my trip with a gathering of the Benz clan. Mom made stuffed pork chops. The niece and nephews where there. A good time was had by all.

Also swung by the Carnegie Library over in Homestead and and the Riverfront at Homestead. It was incredible. The site where the giant, hulking Homestead Works used to belch smoke and flame is now a strip mall that caters to yuppies. Barnes & Noble. Victoria’s Secret. P.F. Chang’s. All this where soot covered mill workers used to toil. I’ve been kicking around an idea for a novel that involves Homestead (and the Homestead Steel Strike of 1892) and I wanted to get over there to start doing a little research. I couldn’t believe how it’s changed since the days when I used to sit on a hill on the opposite side of the Monogahela, watching the entire river valley pulse reddish orange and listening to the giant reverberating crashes of metal crashing to the grown. Lot of fodder here for that novel. Also found a few books at B&N that’s I’d been looking for, including a copy of The Steelworkers, which chronicles the lives of Pittsburgh mill workers in the early 20th Century.

McSorley’s, East Village

Business took me to New York City for the first time in a long time. It was great to be back. Always love going there, but the first day can be really disorienting. Car horns. Crowds. The smell of urine. Ah, New York. It all overwhelms. But after a day, I always find my stride and become one with the great bawling masses. Highlight of this trip was McSorley’s, where I had drinks with two former interns who are now New York City success stories. The pub serves only two beers: McSorley’s Light and Dark, and I think we were there during happy hour since we were getting two for every one we ordered.

We managed to secure a corner of a table that was dominated by six or seven Poles and one Ukrainian who emphatically noted that he is from the Ukraine, “not Russia!” The Poles bought us drinks. I reciprocated. Things grew louder and the sawdust covered floor was soaking up plenty of McSorley’s Light and Dark. We were having a great time, and the Poles started singing something loud and Polish, but the bartender warned them, “No singing.” To which they sheepishly hushed their voices and sang quietly. But the beer and their enthusiasm always bubbled back into a din and another impatient warning from the bar keep.

I could feel us getting sucked into this strange, drunken vortex and suggested we strike out for dinner before we, too, were singing hushed hymns to Poland. The Poles were crushed to see us go. We shook hands and said farewell. By the time we made it to the door, we could hear their voices rising again in boisterous song …