After weeks on tour, LA-based The Ceremonies had their homecoming show at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood, and I went backstage with the band to talk twin telepathy and get bromantic. Watch below!
Last week, I linked to this article about reinventing yourself as reflected on by someone who’s done it multiple times. Part of the process includes learning from mentors every day, “mentors” meaning people but also text, film, and TV shows among other content platforms. Personally, I enjoy pressing play on the occasional podcast, especially ones featuring my favorite performers like Nerdist‘s recent one with actor/comedian Aziz Ansari. In it, Ansari – a co-star on NBC’s Parks and Recreation – recalls that he plainly told his agents to stop sending him scripts for “IT guys” because he simply wasn’t interested in taking on roles steeped in such stereotype.
If you are a minority performer (host, actor, comedian, etc.) in Hollywood, your opportunities will be different from that of someone who isn’t. This is obvious on a superficial level (yes, if casting directors are looking to fill a role for a Chinese restaurant owner, they will probably rule out most of their “blonde Mom”-types) but on an institutional level as well, such that just getting into an audition room is a feat itself. In an industry where successful people are already the minority, being a minority within a minority means quite literally being 1% of the 1%, if that. Certain strides are being made to reflect the multicolored country and world we live in, and one can look to Sleepy Hollow, Grey’s Anatomy, Elementary and Hawaii Five-O among other network fare. But if we were grading in elementary school terms, Hollywood would most likely receive an “NI” – “Needs Improvement” in the subject of Diversity. Teacher comments: “May need to reconcile what we live and what see. Partial credit for effort.”
Minority performers are caught in some frustratingly unwinnable positions. You can bite the hand that feeds, putting those in charge on blast for leaving out minority characters, roles and actors, risking a professional reputation that could leave you role-less. You can take what is available to be a “working performer,” even if it means playing the maid, the best friend or waiter, accent optional but many times not: One of my favorite stories about sticking it to stereotypical roles is when an Asian-American friend of mine walked out of an audition for a major network show because she refused to play the part with the thick Japanese accent requested. She subsequently posted snapshots of the script and character description on the web. Or you can even go the way of SNL‘s Kenan Thompson and take umbrage with those who take umbrage. It’s a rock, a hard and a fuzzy gray place. But the myth that we live in a post-racial, post-Obama society has never been more of a myth in a time of Trayvon, Barneys and Renisha McBride, the discussions surrounding which are unavoidably racially-charged.
It’s a “chicken or the egg issue,” too. I recently had the opportunity to ask an editor of a prominent magazine to address the dearth of minority performers on the covers of the mag’s annual (and historically monochromatic) Hollywood issue to which the editor responded that there just aren’t enough minority actors in lead roles to warrant cover-worthy recognition. The argument goes, then, if it doesn’t exist in the first place, why try to make it sell magazine covers?
So, what’s the remedy? Do TV and movies and magazine covers need to incorporate diversity for diversity’s sake, to be politically correct, to check off the “ethnic minority BFF” checkbox? The touchstone of all arenas of pop culture is the idea of the “shared experience” but I think it’s also a reflective experience and a reflection of our times. I applaud Ansari for refusing to take on roles that would have him playing tech support; it’s a privilege I know that not all minority performers have. Perhaps one solution is to do what he and Mindy Kaling and Tyler Perry have done: Tell your own stories, own your roles, create. The world is a colorful place and becoming increasingly so; there is room for pop culture to reflect the shades and the nuances.
Recently, I had a chance to sit down with Dublin-based rock group Kodaline right before they played a sold-out show at the famous Troubadour in West Hollywood, and the band was gracious enough to not only give me an inside look at their cozy home away from home (the tour bus) but also invited me to stay for the show. Growing up, I frequented venues around LA and Ventura counties, including the Troubie, devouring live music. As a music fan, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing an artist forge a connection with an audience while performing live. But as pop music has taken a turn for the digital and more migraine-inducing (Aziz Ansari does a great bit about music played at clubs in his latest standup special “Buried Alive” – hilarious), I wonder if this generation of music-lovers even knows what it sounds like when musicians can sing. I don’t mean that facetiously; by “sing” I mean harmonize without the help of a backing track. Heck, just play without a backing track or lip-synching!
I was blown away by Kodaline’s ability to do just that and even more impressed by the fact that EVERY member of the band can work those vocal chords. Like Travis, Coldplay (the early years) and Mumford and Sons who’ve come before them, these talented young Irishmen are making waves from across the pond one lush harmony at a time. See video of the interview BELOW.
One of my favorite scenes from Mrs. Doubtfire is when Robin Williams, in his scheme to see his children on a regular basis as a cross-dressed nanny, “calls” in response to his ex-wife’s ad for help posing as potential applicants. In one, he simply says “I am job.” I’m reminded of this only because if you’re an educated Millennial, you might not be job at the moment.
I’m always weary when a new “jobs report” comes out when I juxtapose it with what I see in real life among my fellow Millennials. It seems that every minuscule uptick, every wee wiggle of the meter, every small indication that the work landscape might be changing for work-hungry twenty- and- thirtysomethings becomes an overinflated cheerleader story about how the effects of the Great Recession will all be over soon. Or maybe not: As noted by the New York Times, the October report indicated that “In a very distressing sign, the share of the population in the labor force fell to its lowest level — 62.8 percent — since the late 1970s… A shrinking labor force is a sign of waste and disuse, of insufficient opportunity and permanently lost output.”
Nothing was more frustrating than seeing a national news show tout how many industries are “hiring” this holiday season and advise wannabe employees to frequent the restaurant or shop at the store they would want to work at, which only seems odd because if one is actually looking for work, would one have the disposable income to dine out or shop in the first place? No mention that these are low-paying seasonal jobs. No mention that highly-educated or skilled potential workers like Millennials are probably not exactly clamoring for said jobs. No mention that young professionals, such as a lawyer friend of mine, have been struggling for months and, in some cases, years to find even a temporary gig tangentially related to their fields. It is a frustrating conversation and scenario to see play out as I see many of my peers enter into the stages of our lives where our parents would, reasonably, be thinking about buying their first homes and starting families. Chronologically, we are there; realistically, that piece of the American dream could not be further from our collective reach. We have jobs and only rarely, careers. It has become audacious to think we could build our lives out in the way our parents’ generation had the opportunity to do so when some of us are living in their basements to save on rent.
So when I came across this piece about reinventing oneself written by James Altucher, a described “investor, author, programmer and several-times entrepreneur,” I found it inspiring. Now, there is a certain privilege or luxury that allows oneself to reinvent but I think Altucher’s ideas, advice and no-BS approach might resonate with some of my downtrodden, work-seeking Millennial compadres who might find themselves at zero or hovering right above it. No one can guarantee the light at the end of a tunnel – not a jobs report, not your parents, not your career counselor – but trying to crawl out of it in the first place might be a good place to start. Because, as Altucher notes, “Eventually you’re dead and then it’s hard to reinvent yourself.”
ICYMI, here are a few stories I filed recently for E! News Now, E! News’s mobile leg. Your Hollywood fix is in!