Eddie Murphy Gets Etched in Stone on Our ‘Comedy Mount Rushmore‘ While Larry David Pounds Sand; Plus, a Funny Moment From Paramount and a Clownish One From Tom Cotton

Mount Rushmore
(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The jet stream transports moisture-packed air from the Hawaiian Islands region eastward towards California. Because the stream is filled water, it can, in the winter months, bring torrential downpours to California and heavy snow to the Sierra Nevada mountains. This past weekend, this violent act of Mother Nature, blithely referred to by meteorologists safely situated in remote areas as an “atmospheric river,” descended upon the Los Angeles Basin. Bunkered down, caught in this earthly climate gone mad, Next TV writers David Bloom and Daniel Frankel kept their heads cool and their powder dry, biding their time and keeping their loved ones and prized possessions safe, as the waterline steadily and inexorably rose to the level of their mouths and noses. At all times, their robust intellectual prowess remained fixated on the media, entertainment and technology businesses. 

DANIEL FRANKEL: Hello, David. Well, another week, another brutal round of journalism layoffs. Looks like the Wall Street Journal's D.C. bureau lost 20 souls on this Friday. This was after we learned that The Messenger had shuttered and fired everyone, without severance, after blowing through $50 million in the course of about a year. But we’ve kind of beaten the death of journalism into the ground lately. How about we pound Netflix's 2024 slate announcement into the cold, dead earth? The return of two of the platform’s biggest series, Bridgerton and Squid Game, and a reboot of a film franchise that debuted 13 years before Netflix shipped its first DVD, Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. You see anything to get excited about here?

DAVID BLOOM: The sequel-laden Netflix slate isn’t much for excitement, though it compares well against the traditional studios, where last year’s strikes pushed back or killed lots of projects. Bad news for the studios, horrible news for struggling theaters. Analyst estimates I’ve seen project 2024 box office to drop after three years of improvements post-COVID. And remember that no one except some smart staffers in Netflix’s Seoul office foresaw the runaway train that was Squid Game. What else is tucked away in their production centers around the planet? Beverly Hills Cop 4 is interesting in one way. 

David Bloom

(Image credit: David Bloom)

If I were carving a comedy Mount Rushmore, Eddie Murphy might be on it, alongside George Carlin, Richard Pryor and who else? … Charlie Chaplin? Aristophanes? Oscar Wilde? Noel Coward? P.G. Wodehouse? Billy Wilder? Milton Berle? Definitely not Bob Hope. I welcome Murphy’s return to action, though recent projects haven’t been great: Candy Cane Lane, the crummy Coming 2 America sequel, the not-terrible You People and good Dolemite Is My Name. In the past decade, Murphy also did some music videos and Shrek-related donkey voicing. That’s a decade of wasted talent from one of our greatest comedic natural resources. Who would be on your comedy Mount Rushmore?

FRANKEL: I'd put Murphy on there. He sort of invented the modern standup special, no? I mean, as a 20-year-old, I had never seen anything quite like Raw before.  Bill Murray, for sure. Carl the Groundskeeper is, in an of itself, a career achievement. Fourteen-year-old me would have also proposed Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis (Bob and Doug McKenzie were a world view at the time).

And I think Larry David earns a nod. Really looking forward to watching the premiere of the final season of Curb Your Enthusiasm Sunday night. Speaking of comedy, how does an entertainment company, that soon might be broken up and sold in parts, come up with this comedic gold? 

BLOOM: We’re talking Mount Rushmore, not some Canadian sideshow that fell off the cultural radar three weeks after you passed puberty. Think bigger, man. As for Larry David, I, for one, shall happily wave goodbye to the self-absorbed, white, upper-middle-class, coastal-elite cringe humor that’s made him a billionaire. Never got it, never liked it, wouldn’t carve anything in stone for him but a gravestone for his career. But Larry David is certainly rich enough to buy a couple of mountains and hire his own sculptors. I wonder if his last (hope, hope, hope) show will outdraw the NFL’s Pro Bowl or the Grammys this weekend? Nah, I’m just joking. Of course it won’t. The Paramount Plus promo, though, that’s pretty amusing (also pretty pricey, given all the talent, plus the animation; it must be Super Bowl season). 

FRANKEL: I don't know, Dave. I kind of have the same feeling now that I have when someone tells me they don't like the Beatles. You can be a total hoser and, like, throw shade if you want on Bob and Doug (snort). But fine, no Comedy Rushmore for what was all just a reluctant — but pretty funny — passive-aggressive reaction to Canadian broadcast regulators. As for Larry David, four years ago, I bought into that National Review comparison of his collaboration with Jerry Seinfeld to John Lennon and Paul McCartney. You may not laugh at Larry, but you can't deny his huge influence on comedy and the broader culture and general. Speaking of cringe humor, did you happen to watch any clips of TikTok CEO Chew Shou Zi, a citizen of Singapore, speaking to Congress last week? The exchange with Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton certainly exhumed McCarthy.

What I found particularly interesting was Zi’s testimony that the average TikTok user is 30 or older. Like all political discussions right now, interaction by the far right seems to muddle everything. But TikTok is a massively influential black box. Particularly for TMT, it is useful for we Americans to understand as much as we can about it. I didn't touch these hearings last week because I thought our audience would shrug. I probably should have, anyway. 

Daniel Frankel

(Image credit: Getty Images)

BLOOM: OK, if you want to argue comedy influence over the last few decades, who’s bigger: Lorne Michaels or Larry David? Michaels has lasted far longer, found and built (and probably destroyed) far more talent, and did it in TV, movies, and beyond. Larry D. helped create a hit prime time show turned syndication gold mine, back when those were things. Now that Larry D. has gone solo, his output definitely isn’t as good as McCartney’s Wings era. Nonetheless, some people laugh at other people being obnoxious, while other people try to get re-elected by being obnoxious, as was the cotton-picking jerk from the great state of Arkansas. Then again, Congress has been notoriously goofy and clueless when lecturing tech execs about their (undeniable) shortcomings as rapacious move-fast-and-break-things capitalists. That comical interaction with TikTok’s non-China-based CEO was loony, but the more interesting moment came when Mark Zuckerberg turned around to apologize to audience members who’d lost children because of, partly, the terrible things others said to them on social media. Zuckerberg has been notoriously robotic in past Congressional testimony, but here he showed real humanity. 

Compare Zuckerberg’s humane moment with those overly lawyered-up Ivy League presidents of a couple months back. Two of them are out of their jobs after struggling to respond adequately to an admittedly complicated question: do you support free speech on campus as an absolute good, even when it directly or indirectly calls for actual genocide of a people who narrowly avoided that fate just 75 years ago? Their terrible responses set off another entitled, self-absorbed, obnoxious white guy billionaire. Now he’s fighting with publisher Axel Springer because one of its publications noted the entitled billionaire’s wife may have excessively “duplicated” language from Wikipedia in her own doctoral thesis. Petard, hoist away. 

FRANKEL: Yeah, the whole performative congressional hearing dance is mostly pretty petarded. Speaking of dumb public positions, I'm seeing a lot of shade being thrown at the Apple Vision Pro. (I would never call Joel Stein “dumb,” but I don't agree with his latest Substack assertions on this matter.) You and I have wondered in this space about the viability of a $3,500 consumer product. But every time I see one of Apple’s heavily rotated advertisements for the Vision Pro, I am further intrigued. Forget all the gaming and other interactive experiences. Imagine sitting virtually court-side for every NBA game you watch. Think about having an immersive massive-screen 3D experience every time you stream an action movie on your sofa. Think about playing poker with your buddies on a Friday night, while sitting on the same couch, in an experience that feels far more together and “real” than a Zoom meeting ever could? If Apple can figure out an enticing financing model -- $100 a month for three years with insurance for the device? — I suspect this could take off. I mean, at first, a lot of folks wanted an iPhone simply for the look and the aesthetic of owning one. Apple figured out how to make that $1,000 fashion choice work 15 years ago. Why not now?

BLOOM: Hmmm, guess you’re conceding the point on Lorne Michaels over Cringe Boy for Comedy Rushmore. Anyway, Apple and an immersive NBA will be a hot thing. Sportico reported the day the Vision Pro debuted that Apple’s Tim Cook met the NBA's Adam Silver to “walk through the league’s new app for the platform and discuss the future of the at-home fan experience.” That’s a shot across the bow of Meta and other headset makers, for sure, but also other sports leagues. What’s their immersive strategy? They’re still figuring out what to do with Amazon’s new stake in the bankrupt Diamond Sports RSNs. 

Also read: Diamond and MLB Mediate Deals to Keep the Rangers, Twins and Guardians on Bally Sports Through the 2024 Season

The NBA, I know from other recent work I’ve done, is very interested in the immersive space for its games, and for games about its game. Also don’t forget Apple's all-media MLS deal. Apple loves that soccer and basketball are as global as the tech giant is, in ways that American football, hockey, or baseball just aren’t. I’m not sure, though, that the Vision Pro is a “consumer” device. Apple’s usual “Pro” nomenclature is one clue (serious tools for serious creatives), though Apple already offers one-year financing at $291.58 a month, not cheap for a consumer, but not crazy either. Critics note that Apple has never been big in the enterprise space, so this headset must be for consumers. But Vision Pro launch-day offerings included all of Microsoft’s apps, including AI add-on Copilot. Last I looked, enterprises like Microsoft.

(Image credit: Apple)

FRANKEL: Jeezus, the monthly payment on my 1995 Plymouth Neon — the worst purchase I’ve ever made as a consumer — was $258 a month. But I suppose $291 a month is downright affordable by today’s inflationary standards. Heck, the way Apple describes it, you don't need a car anymore, anyway, because you’re going be living in your head with the Vision Pro. As for the Rushmore conversation, I would never call the farm system that Michaels created unremarkable. But Joe Piscopo, Victoria Jackson and the vastly overrated Molly Shannon aside, ’ol Lorne has quite a few misses to speak of, too. And I don't think we start etching Rushmore granite for non-players, no? With Curb, Larry David actually put up on-screen numbers. Surprised, you being such a Michaels guy, you didn't mention Will Ferrell. From slapstick to mildly dramatic, so much range. So much brilliance. And I will say, always a gentleman. Dude's kid played PONY at the same park mine did. As I've mentioned, you can tell a lot about a high- or medium-level entertainer by the way they conduct themselves as a sports parent. As for Amazon gaining further entry into live sports through Diamond/Bally, none of the leagues are signed on to be around on Bally Sports beyond the end of the Major League Baseball season. There is no guarantee that Amazon is going to get much out of its marginal ($115 million) investment. 

The Plymouth Neon probably had worse sight lines than the Vision Pro, and couldn’t take you as far either. Adjusting for 30 years of inflation, yeah, that monthly car payment would be far higher, for far less enjoyment. Speaking of modest payments, for $115 million Amazon is getting a sustained peek under the covers of three major sports leagues and nearly 40 franchises, who would be idiots if they didn’t want to be in business with Amazon beyond 2024. The teams have to replace that sweet, sweet cable RSN money, but, like finding a cherry 1995 Plymouth Neon that still runs, it’s not there. Amazon, meanwhile, holds a far bigger pile of what’s-left money than nearly anyone else. The leagues better take advantage, especially the NHL, given Andy Jassy’s minority ownership of its Seattle franchise. I would be remiss not to note this is the quarter Charter became the nation’s No. 1 cable provider, mostly because it didn’t shrink as fast as Comcast. And this from a company threatening to abandon the business back in September.  And finally, Will Ferrell is a) a terrific comic performer, b) a notoriously excellent human being, as your interactions suggest, and c) a devout USC guy. But not on Rushmore. He didn’t change or shape the business or craft of comedy in his era. Michaels may be off-camera, but SNL revived sketch comedy and live TV. Michaels’ say-so launched a lot of careers over more than 40 years, including Will Ferrell and Eddie Murphy. That should probably count for a lot. 

David Bloom

David Bloom of Words & Deeds Media is a Santa Monica, Calif.-based writer, podcaster, and consultant focused on the transformative collision of technology, media and entertainment. Bloom is a senior contributor to numerous publications, and producer/host of the Bloom in Tech podcast. He has taught digital media at USC School of Cinematic Arts, and guest lectures regularly at numerous other universities. Bloom formerly worked for Variety, Deadline, Red Herring, and the Los Angeles Daily News, among other publications; was VP of corporate communications at MGM; and was associate dean and chief communications officer at the USC Marshall School of Business. Bloom graduated with honors from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.