Rick Moranis and His First Comedy Album

I hear Rick Moranis in my head a lot, specifically whenever I catch myself babbling–trying to explain something I don’t really understand such as when my kids ask questions about the Bible. When I hear myself spewing out words that don’t demonstrate any kind of wisdom–I hear Moranis. In his comedy album, “Me, You, The Music and Me,” Moranis mastered the character of a DJ who talks a lot but says nothing.

At the top of his career, Moranis took a brief break from Hollywood to record the album, satirizing rock radio. “When you’re working on a $38 million dollar movie, a lot of people are worried about how much money you’re spending,” Moranis said in a 1989 interview with the Edmonton Journal. “So it was fun to go into a dark room for a couple of hours and improvise.”

According to the Edmonton Journal, Moranis based the DJ character from working at a Toronto radio station as a teen. “Ten minutes (of chat) would go by and they would have said absolutely nothing,” Moranis said in the article.

I love this character: the warmth, the confidence and yet meaningless. I can’t stop laughing. The album was only released in Canada. It doesn’t even appear on Moranis’s Spotify Page.

I stumbled upon “You, Me, the Music and Me” around 10 years ago and have been searching for clips online, only to keep finding the same version–a transfer marked by a weird clicking sound. If you can find an original cassette or LP on Amazon or Ebay–it’s pricey.

BUT HEROES DO EXIST! YouTuber Thom CD-ROM found a copy of the cassette and made high quality digital versions of the tracks this past March. I embedded three of the tracks in this post.

The Edmonton Journal article I quote from, “Moranis lampoons DJs whose blather is far from golden” was written by Helen Metella on July 22, 1989. I found it through a local University library–I couldn’t find a copy online.

Scientists label “talking too much” as overtalking, compulsive talking or talkaholism. Here’s an article from the New York Times how to manage someone caught in an episode of compulsive talking: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/11/well/what-to-do-about-an-overtalker.html

You can hear Moranis as an actual DJ (under the name “Rick Alan”) over at RockRadioScrapbook, which has this recording from 1973: http://rockradioscrapbook.ca/cftr-alan-jun73.mp3

In 2013, Moranis talked about his radio career on episode 368 of the Nerdist Podcast (he starts at about 11:15): https://id10t.com/podcast/episode-368-rick-moranis/

Here’s a list of Moranis’s albums:

1981The Great White North (with Dave Thomas)
1983Strange Brew soundtrack (with Dave Thomas)
1989You, Me, the Music and Me
2005The Agoraphobic Cowboy
2013My Mother’s Brisket & Other Love Songs

After being a DJ, Moranis appeared on the Canadian sketch comedy show SCTV. From there he jumped to Hollywood blockbusters such as Spaceballs; Honey, I Shrunk The Kids; and Parenthood. But my favorite film Rick Moranis film character is Louis Tully, from Ghostbusters–the man knows how to rack up tax deductions:

Mo Willems and Spider-Man

My kids have been doodling with Mo Willems every day. Willems is a children’s author known for his Elephant and Piggy books–and he offers daily videos, inviting us into his studio to look around and doodle. It’s one of the amazing online services artists are offering kids while schools across the country have shutdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

I have to admit, with the terrifying thoughts of Covid-19, I might enjoy Willems’ brief escapes more than my kids. The way he bends simple lines and shapes into life–as well as the warm, friendly and even tone of his voice–makes everything seem OK.

His videos feature a look at his work with glimpses of how he creates his books and characters, followed by an art lesson. Willems also answers mail. In one video, a fan asks Willems what he read he when he was little.

Willems says:

“Well Julia, I loved to read comic books when I was a kid. Now, when I was a kid, it was a long, long time ago. And a lot teachers didn’t think that reading Charlie Brown and Snoopy, or Spider-Man was really reading. But I knew it was so I read Charlie Brown and Snoopy, and Spider-Man, and anything with a fun character saying something in a word bubble coming out of their mouth.”

Wow! That’s what I was like as a kid and in many ways still am as an adult. Could I have been Mo Willems? That’s a question for another sleepless night. For now, I’m interested in what Mo Willems thinks about Spider-Man.

I found this 2012 interview from an Arizona children’s site with Willems. Here’s an interesting nugget:

“Coming from a family of Dutch immigrants, I didn’t have many American picture books as a kid. My strongest memories are those wonderful Peanuts collections that I picked up at the local K&B drugstore and lunch counter for 75 cents. I also dug Spider-Man in the mid and late ’70s. It was like reading about Charlie Brown with superpowers.”

Willems’ interest in Charlie Brown seems to have influenced his fascination with failure. I found another interesting interview from 2007 in the journal Children & Libraries. Here Willems says:

“I feel very strongly that failure is underrepresented in our culture. Only number one is good enough, and everybody has to strive for that. For instance, I don’t believe a child can do anything; I think that’s lying to a child because the child says, “Wait a second, I can’t fly.” You can say to a child, “You can do something,” which is much more specific and true.”

That’s as far as Mo Willems/Spider-Man trail has led me so far.

Politicians and Brain Health

There’s been some hefty internet chatter about the brain health of Joe Biden and Donald Trump. The criticisms stem from Biden and Trump’s language skills–a debate between these two guys wouldn’t exactly sound like Lincoln and Douglas.

But is it fair to associate stumbling over words, phrases and concepts with dementia? Should voters scrutinize the cognitive abilities of older political candidates?

Please (PLEASE!) investigate this topic yourself–but I think the answer lies in how the brain processes decision making–what scientists call executive functions–as we age. The brain’s executive functions help us manage things like impulses, inhibitions and planning for the future. As one ages, they can experience a decline in executive functions. This decline might be someone having trouble telling a complicated story or it might manifest as inappropriate conversation.

I recently saw this video highlighting Joe Biden sounding odd on the campaign trail. The video starts with a chunk of Biden speaking from 2012 for comparison. It’s a stark difference.

But I’d doubt I’d be much different. I’m constantly searching for words and not making any sense. It took me fifteen minutes to write this sentence alone. (I also want to point out this recent Atlantic article about Biden’s lifelong stutter).

Also, please note: when someone has trouble communicating (what a speech language pathologist might call aphasia) it may be due to a brain injury or dementia. Or it may be simple as common age related problems with finding the right word–an issue that starts in one’s forties (myself included).

Someone who has trouble talking doesn’t necessarily have dementia. And someone with dementia might not have trouble talking. A proper diagnosis requires a proper medical exam–something that’s impossible to do just from watching someone on TV.

But let’s not just focus on Joe Biden. President Trump routinely sounds incoherent. This 2017 STAT article is similar to the Biden video, the writer compares (with the help of experts) President Trump’s speech from the 1980s with the present.

According to the article:

“The experts noted clear changes from Trump’s unscripted answers 30 years ago to those in 2017, in some cases stark enough to raise questions about his brain health. They noted, however, that the same sort of linguistic decline can also reflect stress, frustration, anger, or just plain fatigue.”

And here’s a quote from psychologist Ben Michaelis:

“In fairness to Trump, he’s 70, so some decline in his cognitive functioning over time would be expected.”

Wow–then what should we expect from our leaders’ cognitive functioning?

I found this VICE article from the fall: “Is It Time to Start Testing Presidential Candidates for Cognitive Decline?

The article quotes, Elizabeth Zelinski, a professor of Gerontology and Psychology at USC. Zelinski, in the article, says senior citizens can be better at creative problem solving or divergent thinking. However there’s a decrease in executive function–from the article:

‘”These abilities, when they are measured in isolation, decline with age,” Zelinski said, a process which generally begins after age 60. (Educated, healthy, and active older people like all of the presidential candidates, she added, are less likely to decline.)

The VICE article goes on to cite a 2014 paper, “Executive Dysfunction, Brain Aging, and Political Leadership.” Here’s a quote (featured in the VICE article) straight from the abstract:

Based on the known neuroanatomical and neuropathological changes that occur with aging,we should probably assume that a significant proportion of political leaders over the age of 65 have impairment of executive function.

SIXTY FIVE?! Do you know how many current lawmakers would fit into that group?

I did the math: 48% of the Senate and 36% of the House of Representatives. I scraped the Wikipedia pages that listed all members of congress and calculated their ages for you. Feel free to look or use my data (it comes from Wikipedia): https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/19lzU2oUSrY6-tsnbIAcci21peGJXi7TdbIL-trO7Bhw/edit?usp=sharing

I’m not saying everyone over the age of 65 has an issue with impulse control and long term decision making –executive functions–but from my brief research, it looks like this topic shouldn’t be taboo when evaluating political candidates.

I’ll leave with this: “Executive Dysfunction, Brain Aging, and Political Leadership” gives a few examples of leaders with dementia. Here’s a story from the Reagan administration:

“When President Ronald Reagan underwent surgery for colon cancer in 1985, the Twenty-Fifth Amendment was again not officially invoked. The surgery lasted nearly three hours, and Reagan was noted to be disoriented upon awakening from the operation. The immediate issue was whether and when the President was competent to resume official duties. Remarkably,
the President was not given a mental status examination or any test of cognitive functioning. Rather, he was given a two sentence letter to sign that was drafted by three men, none of whom had a medical background:
White House Press Secretary Larry Speakes, White House Counsel Fred Fielding, and Chief of Staff Donald Regan. Some medical input, however minimal, was obtained from the President’s attending surgeon, who agreed that this letter was sufficient to determine when Reagan could resume his duties. No other physicians, including the White House medical staff, were involved in this matter, which appears to have been treated as a political decision rather than a medical issue. As it turned out, the Iran-Contra scandal developed while Reagan was recovering from surgery

Here are the sources the authors cite for this section on Reagan:

The President Has Been Shot by Herbert Adams (1992)

Jerrold M. Post, ‘‘On aging leaders: Possible effects of the aging process on the conduct of leadership,’’ Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 1973: 57-58.

Robert E. Gilbert, ‘‘The politics of presidential illness: Ronald Reagan and the Iran-Contra scandal,’’ Politics and the Life Sciences, 2014, 33(2): 58-76.