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To read more about Episode 199, visit the main episode page.
Michael Moore [00:00:54] This is Rumble and I am Michael Moore. Welcome, everyone. Larry Charles, my guest today is one of the great comedic writers, producers and directors of our time. His list of Emmy awards and nominations are too long for me to list here on this podcast. But these are just a few of the TV shows that Larry has either written for, produced, directed or done some combination of all three. Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Mad About You, Entourage, Dilbert, The Arsenio Hall Show, among many, many others.
Michael Moore [00:02:11] He has directed a number of films, including Borat, the original Borat, and Bruno, both of them with Sacha Baron Cohen, the incredible documentary Religulous, Bill Maher’s take on religion. And Larry co-wrote and directed an amazing film called Masked and Anonymous. And his co-writer was Bob Dylan. And the star of the film is Bob Dylan, if you haven’t had a chance to see that. In 2019, Larry released a wonderful series, and I mean a wonderful series, that’s still now available on Netflix. And it’s called Larry Charles’s Dangerous World of Comedy, where Larry travels the world in search of comedians from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures to find the true meaning of comedy. It literally is a dangerous thing to watch. We’ll talk a little bit about it here on today’s episode of Rumble. Not only is Larry a great comedy legend, he’s also a good friend of mine. It’s such an honor to have him here. And I am very pleased to welcome to episode 199 of Rumble, Larry Charles. Larry, welcome.
Larry Charles [00:03:32] Thank you, Michael. Thank you. That was quite, quite a build up.
Michael Moore [00:03:34] Well, it’s all true. And I’ve had the pleasure and the experience of actually having worked with you on a couple of things. And most notably, you and I wrote and we did a pilot for CBS. This must have been back in, oh, man, 1997, ’98. Yes. Back in our youth. We were just out of college, but we did this sitcom basically called Better Days, about these two assembly line workers in a dying auto town. It starred Jim Belushi and Chris Elliott along with others. And it’s just one of the most fascinating moments of my life. So there’s so much to get into here. And I don’t really want to start with the past, but we’ll get to that because you have some incredible Seinfeld and Larry David – Curb Enthusiasm stories that maybe I can get you to share.
Michael Moore [00:04:31] But first and foremost, here we are on the Fourth of July weekend. And I said to Basel, you know who I’d really love to come on and celebrate America’s birthday with me is Larry Charles. Because, Larry, I mean, I have good friends and I have people that I work with. They’re so smart and they’re funny and all this. But, Larry, your approach to the world and to how you see it and the lens you see it through and the voice that you use, especially the satirical voice, there is no match for you in my life in terms of you operate with reckless abandon, you are not afraid, you will not pull your punch. You will go up to the line that you’re not supposed to cross and then cross it sometimes maybe tiptoe back an inch. In Borat, you have Sacha Baron Cohen and his sidekick. They are in a huge fight with each other. The clothes have come off. They are naked. They are in a San Diego, I think, hotel, and they come out of the elevator and through a ballroom where there is the national convention going on of bankers, I think some kind of banking.
Larry Charles [00:05:49] I think it was actually mortgage brokers.
Michael Moore [00:05:54] Oh, the worst. And this is and you’re filming this during a time that is leading up, we don’t, the crash of ’08 hasn’t happened yet, but the planning of the crash of ’08 is, in part, happening in this ballroom of these mortgage brokers who wrecked our economy. They’re in the middle of wrecking it. You don’t know that the night you’re there, you and Sasha, you go barreling into this thing and they naked wrestle through the mortgage bankers convention and disrupt it. While now looking back in hindsight, we know they’re in there plotting the the destruction of our housing market is it’s like you end up there at the crossroads and the way this is and this is how you’ve been your whole life, the crossroads of comedy, comedy, slash humor, slash satire and the world we live in politics, those in power, all of that. Where did you come from? How did you happen? Where and how did this start?
Larry Charles [00:07:01] Well, you know, one aspect of this, Michael, and I don’t mean to blow smoke at all, but I have to tell you, and I don’t know if I ever even told you this, but my sensibility, if not changed, if not expanded, if not blown up, really, really was impacted by Roger & Me. Seeing Roger & Me, seeing what you did, the the chutzpah and the balls that you displayed in that movie and the way you were able to navigate a very, very serious subject with your very patented light tone and really juxtapose those two and make a movie that just felt so immediate as opposed to all the scripted stuff that I had been involved with, that really changed my way of thinking. And the fact we became friends and we just really great summers of Traverse City, you know, that was really just a blessing, but really seeing your work was one of those seminal things that I went, wow, you could do that, you know, you can actually kind of step into it and still maintain your humanity, still maintain your humor, not be pretentious. Talk to a wide audience about the things that are on your mind.
Larry Charles [00:08:25] Be funny. You know, those things really, really had a gigantic influence on me. I mean, you know, I’m from Brooklyn. Brooklyn is a place where in order to survive, you have to be somewhat of a gambler and have some kind of a crazy sense of humor. But the way that develops over the years can turn into many different things. And I think I was on a very kind of, you know, a safer comedy path, even though my sensibility might have been dark and extreme. You know, I was working within very traditional forms and seeing you kind of just take a camera and take a small crew and go out there and get in people’s faces and be funny about it, and yet, in some ways, the humor is what made it so powerful that really, really kind of carried with me and that made me think about, and I’m sure you’re familiar with this filmmaker from when we were kids, there was a guy named Emile de Antonio.
Michael Moore [00:09:30] de Antonio. Yes.
Larry Charles [00:09:30] And he made a movie. And again, I think I saw it by accident really in Manhattan somewhere when I was a teenager. It was called Millhouse. It was kind of like a comedy documentary about Nixon. And I thought it was great. He used clips. He juxtaposed things. He got laughs while still making this incredible point. And at the end of the movie, I’ll never forget it, he had a list, a long list, a crawl of all the corporations that have invested money in the Vietnam War and it really sort of just blew my mind. I never even thought about, wow, companies are profiting from war. You know, you’re from Brooklyn, you know, maybe I had read Catch 22 by that time. But still, the idea that American corporations were sort of sponsoring war in these other countries, that was, again, another thing, his movie really was one of those things until your movie that I kind of kept in my head as a possibility that you could do those things.
Larry Charles [00:10:37] I’m always amazed when I think about the things that you’ve accomplished and that other people have accomplished like that. It’s very unique. There’s very few examples. I mean, between Millhouse and Roger & Me, you would be hard pressed to find a nonfiction comedy documentary that had as much impact, you know, so that’s important to say. I’ve never had a chance to really give you credit for that. But seeing Roger & Me was a mind blowing moment for me. It’s like, wow, well, this is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. And I loved the, you know, it was like punk. It was like punk rock, you know, it was DIY. You didn’t ask anyone’s permission. You didn’t have to, like, get notes from the studio. It was liberated. Very liberating to see that. And I wanted to have that experience.
Michael Moore [00:11:29] Wow, man. Thank you for saying all that. I know we’ve known each other for 25 or plus years, that ‘s I know people are thinking really, guys, it took you to just be on a podcast with each other to say these things. But I guess, you know, when you find soulmates, people that are your brothers and sisters in your life, things don’t need to be said because they exist in our daily lives. But thank you for saying that. And I had the same influences that you were talking about. I saw that film Millhouse, that documentary from Emile de Antonio, and he made another film called In the Year of the Pig. Right. And I remember when I saw Millhouse in Ann Arbor. I had to drive from Flint to Ann Arbor as a teenager. And they had an opening short called Checkers. It was Nixon’s Checkers speech. And then this incredible film, it hit me.
Michael Moore [00:12:36] That film had a huge influence on me. And Kevin Rafferty and Kevin and Pierce Rafferty’s documentary in the early ’80s called Atomic Cafe Rock, again using humor to talk about how we were essentially heading toward the end of the world. But why? But you’re right, though. It is, I thought after Roger & Me, frankly, and I thought now this is going to be so great because maybe they opened the door up a little bit. Warner Brothers is distributing the film, so it tells filmmakers, hey, you can do this, you can use humor and politics together, and you can make a film with facts, nonfiction, but you can also be funny. Why I thought the floodgates would open. That didn’t happen, really and, you know, it’s why not? And this is the part I don’t understand. Why don’t more filmmakers, documentary filmmakers use humor? Obviously, Religulous, your film is definitely full of all of that. But I don’t know if I’ve ever told you I was on the Academy board for a few years, the Oscars and each year you can nominate other people who should be in the Academy and you can nominate them to be in your branch.
Michael Moore [00:13:52] So one year I nominated you to be in the documentary branch, and not just because of Religulous and the other things. But I stood up and I made the case for why Borat is a documentary. It’s a piece of nonfiction filmmaking that essentially, pretty much everything you see in the film actually happens in real life. It happened. It was filmed. There’s only one fictional element in it, and that’s Borat. But that’s the genius of the film, is that you take a fictional character and place him in all these nonfiction settings from the Christian boarding house down south to the rodeo somewhere in Texas where they mangle The Star-Spangled Banner and everything. Those were all real and those were all very dangerous, including the mortgage brokers, dangerous situations to insert the fictional character. But what a great idea, Larry, that you and Sacha figured out.
Michael Moore [00:14:52] We can tell greater truths by having one just one little element here of untruth, this fictional character. But it is going to expose so much truth because we’re going to place the fictional character in nonfiction, a nonfiction setting. You guys, you must have talked about this. You clearly have thought about this for some time. And I still call it one of the greatest documentaries ever.
Larry Charles [00:15:18] I appreciate that also. And I think, you know, let’s remember that Sacha was also, I mean, this is another big impact on me, a big influence on me. Sacha was practicing this stuff on the Ali G Show where he was blurring that line. And what I was able to do with him was create these alternate realities. So it was as much of reality to the people involved in the movie as any other aspect of their life because they felt Borat and Bruno, for that matter, was a real person and operated as if this was reality. And sometimes in the middle of an interview, I remember this happened quite a bit. People would stop the interview and start to kind of go off the rails in a good way comedically. And they’d say to me, if I was in the room, sometimes I would disappear, but if I was in the room, they would say, is this real? Is this real? And I would go, Yeah, yes, absolutely. This is real. And what I wouldn’t say to them is it’s just not the reality you’re thinking of.
Larry Charles [00:16:13] You know, it’s not the reality you believe, but it is reality. Believe me, you’ll see it in a movie someday. So I think there’s a, you know, another person that kind of plays into this that blurs that line. And I’m sure that you appreciate his work. Also, of course, he died prematurely was Andy Kaufman. Oh, yes. I was a writer on Fridays, which was a lot of late night TV shows that lasted for a couple of seasons on ABC. And, you know, it was a sketch show like Saturday Night Live and, you know, it was hit or miss. But Andy Kaufman came on and disrupted the reality of the organized, controlled liveness of the show and created chaos. And again, I was like, wow, I can’t. I was blown away. Once again, my mind was blown by somebody thinking more deeply about the medium, about the meaning of things, about the significance of all the elements that we take for granted and then, you know, kind of unmooring that and deconstructing that. And that was also another big influence on me. And in fact, I used to talk quite a bit, Sacha, about Andy. He wasn’t even quite familiar with him because he was in England and but he was kind of Sacha in his own way doing that same thing.
Michael Moore [00:17:39] Mm hmm. You mentioned growing up in Brooklyn. Am I right? Do I remember you telling me at one point in your childhood you were growing up in the Trump Villages?
Larry Charles [00:17:50] Yes, Trump Village just down by the end of Brighton Beach and Ocean Parkway near Coney Island. It’s still there, by the way.
Larry Charles [00:17:55] Coney Island. Yes. It was owned by Trump’s father. Right. And, of course, at that time when you’re growing up, you don’t even know what it means to be growing up in Trump Village, I guess. But there’s just something about how the stars align. I just love the fact that you grew up in Trump Village and then went on to do you know what you’ve done.
Larry Charles [00:18:22] Well you knew something was wrong, I’ll tell you that, I mean, I didn’t know that Donald Trump, of course, would become Donald Trump. But if you ever saw you, and I’m sure you have seen a picture of Fred Trump. He’s one of the scariest, most satanic people I’ve ever seen. He was a frightening presence when he would show up to various things like the opening of the Little League field or whatever. He was a scary, scary guy. And I was like, wow, there’s something I don’t even understand, but there’s something evil going on here even just as a little kid. I kind of had an instinct about that.
Michael Moore [00:18:56] As a kid, you knew that and yet, but you didn’t have the thought as a child, I must do something about this to stop the demon seed from continuing. Well, you know, I love reading your Instagram and your tweets and everything. And, man, I’ll post a couple of them here so people listening can get a dose of what you’ve been putting out over the last year, two or three. What is it about the time we’re living in? And this is, you know, this is my July 4th question to you. Where where the fuck are we? And, you know, so many people are so nervous and so worried that we aren’t really through the worst of it, that Trump hasn’t gone away, that the people that support Trump, that he got 11 million more votes than he did the first time, that people loved what they saw in those four years and came out for him. But there were many, many more millions of us. So therefore, he’s not in the White House. But I’m just curious, your thoughts. You know, I haven’t talked to you in a number of weeks here, and I’m just curious what your thoughts are about what’s going on right now and everything that’s happening. I mean, I remember a month ago what you were posting about Israel bombing the civilian population there in Gaza. And, man, that was…I love it when I read or see something of yours on Instagram and I go, wow, I don’t know, can I do that? I don’t know.
Larry Charles [00:20:37] Well, you know, when I was a kid in Brooklyn, one of my best friends was a guy named Neil Lipshutz, who today is one of the executive editor of The Wall Street Journal. Actually, he and I used to hang out and we would watch what was going on, like in the playground. And people were, there was just like a lot of surrealism going on, a lot of, like, inexplicable behavior. We go, wow, the world is crazy. And I realized, like, here I am, like 50 years later still thinking, wow, the world is crazy. It seems crazier than ever. We seem to be in the throes of like a cult weirdness that’s taken over America, even though there may have been more votes for Biden, the fact that there are tens of millions of votes for somebody like Donald Trump, who if you grew up in New York, you had his number back in the day. How he could have risen despite that to this level?
Larry Charles [00:21:35] And now look at what’s going on. I mean, he’s [Trump] guilty of all kinds of obvious crimes, but, you know, he’s going to get off and we see Bill Cosby being released today and you just feel like, wow, we’re moving further and further away from justice, from truth, from equality, despite the fact that Biden’s in office, despite the fact that Kamala Harris is Vice President, despite the fact that the squad exists. They’re a minority. It feels like the truth has become a minority stance. And I can’t really explain. People are desperate, maybe, people are frightened, people are lonely, and maybe they turn to these sort of outlets to express themselves, to feel part of some community because they feel so alienated. But power seems to have solidified in ways that’s very distressing to them.
Michael Moore [00:22:35] You’re rightly angry about the situation that we still find ourselves in. And while a lot of people just have wanted to go after four years, OK, I just need to rest. You are not acting like you want to rest. You are like a clarion call telling people this is the way it is. Let’s get real folks and let’s get busy. And it’s man, it fires me up. It really gives me some inspiration to see you just going for it. Do you ever stop and think I have children?
Larry Charles [00:23:12] I have grandchildren at this point.
Michael Moore [00:23:14] That’s right. You have grandchildren, yes.
Larry Charles [00:23:16] Yeah, I worry about my kids, but I worry about everybody. I mean, I’m worried that we are leaving. I mean, because there are political issues that seem to be unraveling and out of control. But you look at the climate, you know, I’m here in California and, you know, you look at the northwest, you know, Portland and Seattle having temperatures they’ve never had before. And, you know, talking about the Central Valley of California, where most of the agriculture in the country comes from, you know, is drying out. It’s going to be a desert soon. You know, I don’t think people are really absorbing the truth of, wow, what happens when the water’s gone, what happens when you don’t have food in the supermarket? We had a little glimpse of that during COVID, in the midst of the pandemic, you might go into a store and see empty shelves. But I’ve been to Liberia and Somalia and countries like that where they don’t have anything, they don’t have clean water, they don’t have access to food, they don’t have access to resources. And we’re only one step away from that. And I don’t think people are at all prepared. I think they’re being snowed about, no pun intended, about the reality of that. And that’s something that I feel like, wow, I have seen that. I have observed it. I need to share those kinds of insights with people and hope that it has some kind of, you know, impact. It has some sort of lasting value.
Michael Moore [00:24:50] So do I, because your warnings, the warnings and the things that you post on Instagram, I think I hope people are listening to this. I hope they are watching this. Don’t turn away, please. People, pay attention to this. These are warnings that need to be heeded. And I mean, Larry, I mean, really beyond that, beyond what you and I do with media and film and writing and all that, what is it that we can do or what can people maybe who are listening to this, what can they do to to act? Because, I like you, fear that. Time is slipping away at a much faster rate than we realize, and we are not out of the woods with this virus. We have no idea what’s in front of us. When I saw that map of Canada this week on the weather map and Canada had their hottest date ever, like in the history of Canada, any day, 116 degrees. And then it showed the swath of that heat wave going up in the 90s across the Arctic Circle. Yes, in the 90s in Canada. And I thought, holy shit. Paris Accords, we’re going to fix this by 2050, are you fucking kidding me? I don’t know. I don’t know if we have 50 months left.
Larry Charles [00:26:20] I mean, that’s so true. We have been, you know, look, I think it’s hard to face. You know, it’s maybe fun to watch a movie about the apocalypse or watch a movie about UFOs or watch, you know, entertainment about these things. But I think really our entertainment has become kind of another arm of propaganda to some degree so that we can kind of have this sort of vicarious experience of what it’s like to have no water or have no food or have a nuclear winter or whatever it might be. And the reality doesn’t therefore sell. And we keep it at arm’s length, you know, and I guess what I’m trying to do is say, you know, strip away all of that because it’s happening to you right now and you don’t even realize it.
Larry Charles [00:27:10] And one of the reasons I do these little videos is, you know, having been in Africa and the Middle East, I’ve seen how the mass media has broken down and people are sort of just taking their cameras, taking their phone cameras and shooting their version essentially of The Daily Show, you know, without any production, just kind of talking to the camera and bypassing the government, media, the mass media to go directly to the audience. And I guess that’s what I’m trying to do. It seems like a very immediate form of communication.
Larry Charles [00:27:44] That I’m able to sort of, you know, reach people without, you know, the day that I think of that thing I can write it, I can shoot it and I can put it out rather than submitting it to a corporation that has to give me notes that I have to sort of wait on. And by the time it comes out, so much time passed. There’s an immediacy to that. That I think is part of how I see the problem, you know, because the problem is immediate and we’re not dealing with it like an immediate problem. We act like it’s going to be somebody else’s problem. But whose problem is it going to wind up being? Our children? Our grandchildren? The people of the world are going to suffer. They’re suffering now. And this seems like the best way for me to communicate right now.
Michael Moore [00:28:29] So I’ve been thinking about this during the year and a half we’ve had here during the Coronavirus, you know, staying locked down as I have, I think you’ve been in a kind of a similar situation. So we had a lot of it. We had a lot of time to think. And certainly our way our minds work or there’s certain no holds barred creativity sometimes that’s going on the I should do this or that or whatever. I’m just thinking about what is my next step? Do I go back into the world that we used to have where we have these large corporations and media companies or whatever, and, you know, Netflix, they will have you back, Larry. And Prime will have me. And, you know, I have no doubts about that. But what do we do with that? And I’m just curious, I have not had a chance to ask you this, and you don’t have to share it if you don’t want to. But you must have been spinning your wheels here in your head over these last months of when this is over or almost over post-pandemic, how do I, Larry Charles, come out of this and use my creativity and my thought process to reach millions of people that I want to reach?
Larry Charles [00:29:52] Well, as you know, that’s always a challenge because to get things distributed properly, first of all, we don’t even know, Michael, what distribution of our ideas is going to look like in the future. In the near future. Right. Are people going to go back to movie theaters like nothing ever happened? Are people going to rely more and more on TV, more and more on cable? And, you know, the Amazons and the Netflix of the world, which, by the way, I appreciate on a certain level, too. I mean, my show, the Dangerous Comedy Show was on Netflix and I’m grateful to them for putting it on. And you know, I really, really am. So I don’t know if I would have been able to do that without their help.
Michael Moore [00:30:34] Maybe not. That’s right.
Larry Charles [00:30:36] So it’s a thin line between, you know, being part of that system and rebelling against that system at the same time. And I don’t have a definitive answer to that. I know that as you say my creative juices have been spinning. I actually made a movie, a documentary, over the course of the pandemic that I’ve just finished that I think, you know, is going to hopefully be on the air soon at some point or in the next couple of months. So, you know, I kept working, but I also realized, wow, I’m in the house here, you know, and you don’t need a lot of money. I’ve been to so many of like, I said, these men and women in these undeveloped countries who sort of had an iPhone and were able to make a TV show with it, you know, and so I thought that’s what I should be doing, is not relying on the system so much and just making stuff and putting it out there, you know, whether it’s on a YouTube channel or on Instagram, which again, is owned by Zuckerberg. And I recognize there is some, you know, kind of conflict in that.
Larry Charles [00:31:46] But that is a place where you can put your stuff out, put your thoughts up, put your ideas out, whether it be Tik Tok or Instagram or Twitter and, you know, it’s there. And people have a chance to look at it. People have a chance to directly communicate with you. It’s a very immediate form of art, in a sense, and a new form of art. And I feel like, you know, that might be where the future lies. You know, we may be breaking down the system where everything has to be through a studio, everything has to have stars. All those things are kind of like very, very, you know, top heavy at this point, you know, and because of that, they have to lack immediacy. And they also, you know, are there to sort of lull us to a large degree into a sense of complacency and I guess what I’m trying to do is fight all of that while still being part of the system. And like one foot in and one foot out. And that’s tough, as you know. That’s a tough position to hold, it’s a tough part of the battle.
Michael Moore [00:32:54] But you and I have been able to navigate that. And I think we have also learned that every one of these entities, whether it’s Warner Brothers or Netflix or Hulu, you name it, there are good people working at all of these places. There are fellow travelers, so to speak, and they will do their damnedest to get our work out there to the American people and to people around the world. Can you tell us what this documentary is that you’ve been working on? Are you able to share that with us?
Larry Charles [00:33:28] I don’t. I can’t say quite yet. That’s only because I just am not ready to say what it is.
Michael Moore [00:33:37] We’ll have access to it, it won’t be just on the Canadian Broadcasting Channel.
Larry Charles [00:33:41] No, it’ll be on a major cable network, which has already been established. But I just want to make sure that everything is in place and they don’t change their mind or anything like, you know, until it’s real. Look at the pilot that we made. We were told, if you remember to start hiring writers, you know, to come to New York to do the upfronts. And then suddenly we were told it’s over…
Michael Moore [00:34:10] The night before they were gonna…
Larry Charles [00:34:12] And so, you know, I’m kind of superstitious that way, I guess.
Larry Charles [00:34:16] No, I think that’s right to be that way, because I remember that night when they make in May all the announcements for the new fall shows and we got the word that we’d been picked up and get ready to come to New York, whatever. And then the night before we get a call from one of the executives at the network saying, look, we love the show, but, you know, we have to run these by our main advertisers. And three of the top ten advertisers on television said they would never advertise on this show. And I think I can say their names now. One was General Motors and one was Nike and one was Procter and Gamble.
Larry Charles [00:34:58] And by the way, I never even knew until that happened. And I’ve been doing it for a while at that point. I never knew until that happened that pilots were shown to advertisers before they were picked up.
Michael Moore [00:35:15] Oh, yeah.
Larry Charles [00:35:16] To make sure that they would be endorsing them and supporting them when they got on the air and that GM and these other companies had seen a pilot with your name on it. Yeah. About disaffected auto workers and that sort of comedy, and they said you got to be kidding. You know, we’re not we’re not going to support the show. And that would be enough to stop it from getting on the air despite it being creatively satisfying and funny. Great performances, all those things that a great TV show has. It didn’t matter in the end.
Michael Moore [00:35:52] And the network had tested it with these focus groups all across the country. And it came back with the highest marks. They never would have let us on if we hadn’t tested well with the American people. So all of that had happened. And then, but I had learned actually before this with my television show, TV Nation, which was on NBC, and I learned this like an hour before it’s going to air on the whatever night, Tuesday night it was on and they called over from NBC saying that you make a mention of McDonalds in your episode and McDonald’s is a sponsor of the show and they do not like the joke. And so therefore, we have an hour to remove all the McDonald’s commercials and insert them with some other commercial. I had never known that literally all of our episodes.
Michael Moore [00:36:48] And I’m sure this was true with Seinfeld, I’m sure it’s been true with every broadcast network, the sponsor, somebody at the sponsor watches the show and makes the final decision whether the American people get to see it or not. Or they pull their spots. And the other thing I learned is that the insurance company for the network, there’s an insurance man that watches every single episode and has to approve it, has to sign off saying there’s no libel or slander or anything here that’s going to get us a lawsuit. And it’s amazing. The American public does not know that whatever they’re watching on TV has to first be approved by an insurance company and by a sponsor or two or three. And you’re right, I learned that for the first time and I was like, wow.
Larry Charles [00:37:37] Yeah, these are all revelations to me as well. I mean, you know, I had dealt with censors quite a bit, but I realized as time went on, the censors are kind of just like the iceberg, that insurance, you know, sponsors, those people were really driving the choices to a large degree. And you’re right, this discrepancy, this discrepancy between what an audience craves and what is permissible to put out over the airwaves, it’s often a very big gap. And that’s why it’s great to have, you know, these alternative outlets, which we did not have at that time. I mean, we might have been able to take something like Better Days and, you know, put it on YouTube, you know. Right. And there may have been other outlets, but at that time there were not. The idea of social media did not exist, the idea of computers really just barely existing at that time. So things like the Internet. It’s technology that also drives a lot of this innovation as well. You know, and ultimately, the technology can also drive an increased form of censorship, too.
Michael Moore [00:38:52] Well, I’m excited to hear that you’ve made this. I will look forward to it. And if there’s anybody from any of the large conglomerates that are listening to this, we’re just really talking about something pretend. Larry hasn’t really made anything. And don’t worry about this. We’re all going to be OK. But let me just ask you about comedy. Just a couple of just questions about because, I mean, you did do standup. You did work for Fridays. You did, you lived in the comedy world for a long time. And and then at some point, you know, you and Larry David, and Seinfeld, others thought maybe this could be even smarter and that the American people aren’t as stupid as maybe we treat them to be. And and so, you know, we ended up with these great shows.
Michael Moore [00:39:42] But comedy, you know, our good friend Bill Maher has been harping on this now for some time this past year or two about the cancel culture and all this. And, you know, I still don’t get exactly what the problem is. I mean, I understand that, yes, with comedy, you are supposed to say things that are offensive and people will be offended and all that. But there’s also this clip that’s going around now. I don’t know if you’ve heard or seen it or heard it lately on the Internet from Larry King interviewing George Carlin. And this is is God knows how many years ago, but he brings up Andrew Dice Clay and George Carlin, who, you know, was never afraid to say anything or be offensive in any way whatsoever, had a kind of a nuanced and very interesting and, I thought important, well, can I just play this? I want to play it. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Larry Charles [00:40:40] I’ve seen other things like this. I don’t know if I’ve heard this exact clip, but I’m happy to listen to it.
Michael Moore [00:40:45] Because comedy is going through its own changes right now. And some of it’s good. And some of it is, oh, no, no, no, I don’t want to lose. This is why our ability to laugh and laugh at things we’re nervous about is very important. And so anyway, so let me just say this is George Carlin many years ago on the Larry King show talking about Andrew Dice Clay. If you are of a younger generation, you don’t know who he is. How would you describe Andrew Dice Clay?
Larry Charles [00:41:16] He had a persona that was extremely sexist and rude and disrespectful, you know, but it was a persona and it created a lot of controversy at the time or in a way like sort of Sam Kinison and George Carlin was very influenced by Sam Kinison and some of that comedy as well. At that time in his life,
George Carlin (clip) [00:41:42] I would defend to the death his right to do everything he does. The thing that I find unusual and it’s you know, it’s not a criticism so much, but his targets are underdogs and comedy traditionally has picked on people in power, people who abuse their power. Women and gays and immigrants are kind of, to my way of thinking, underdogs. And, you know, he ought to be careful because he’s Jewish. And a lot of the people who want to pick on these kinds of groups, the Jews are on that list a little further down. You know, women, gays, gypsies…a woman, and suddenly you find Jews and then suddenly Andrew’s arrested. Yeah. So, you know, I mean, obviously he should do what he wants.
George Carlin (clip) [00:42:15] And why does he get away with it, do you think then? Well, he’s appealing. I think he’s appealing largely, I think his core audience are young white males who are threatened by these groups. I think a lot of these guys aren’t sure of their manhood because that’s a problem when you’re going through adolescence. You know, am I, really, could I be, I hope I’m not one of them. And the women who assert themselves and are competent are a threat to these men and so are immigrants in terms of jobs. And so that’s why we as an audience will laugh? You say we, but…I don’t think. The collective we? I think that’s what is at the core of that experience that takes place in these arenas. It’s a certain, you know, a sharing of anger and rage at these targets. And I’m sure Andrew isn’t that angry at them. I’m sure he’s playing it as a comic.
Michael Moore [00:43:02] I found that really interesting. And yeah without ever having articulated it in that way, I always felt like it’s always funnier and satire works the best when you go after those in power, those who are abusing others in our society. To punch down, to punch down on people who are just struggling to get by, I don’t know, I never found that funny.
Larry Charles [00:43:26] But he said something else that’s really interesting too, that I think I think he’s right on in terms of his insights and he usually was George Carlin. I mean, that’s what made him so brilliant. But he says something else that’s really important and that I also very much agree with. He’s basically saying, look, and this goes to our cancel culture today or whatever that is, we have freedom of speech. Say whatever you want to say, anything you want, and I believe anybody said anything they want, but stand behind it, accept responsibility, accept the consequences of it, don’t cower after you’ve said something that’s rude or disrespectful or insulting to whomever. Stand behind it.
Larry Charles [00:44:11] Take responsibility for what you say. Part of what freedom of speech is, is the responsibility of standing behind what you say. If you want to say those things, go right ahead. I don’t believe in censoring anybody about anything, but I believe that you must take responsibility for what you say. And I think that’s kind of the way to balance those things. And in truth, after a certain point, Andrew Dice Clay did pay that price. You know, he had those people laughing for a long, long time. But eventually he, you know, the responsibility that went along with speaking that kind of humor he was spewing that kind of humor came back to haunt him. And he wound up being rejected. He wound up being a kind of a fad, rather than like George Carlin, who was also very politically incorrect, but was able to talk to people and communicate with people and be honest with people. You know, he wasn’t doing the persona of George Carlin. He was who he was. The way Richard Pryor was. And that’s why I believe there’s that difference. George Carlin was willing to stand behind what he said, where Andrew Dice Clay…he was like, well, it’s not me, it’s this character. And he kind of bailed on it to some degree. And I don’t think, you know, I think that’s sort of a dishonest way of avoiding the responsibility for saying the things that you said.
Michael Moore [00:45:42] So when you look at the landscape of comedy now in 2021 and let’s call it in the upcoming post-pandemic era, how do you see it? Where is it going to go? Have the lines shifted? Are there even better ways that we haven’t thought of to use wit and being clever and being satirical?
Larry Charles [00:46:04] I think one of the biggest changes that I perceived and again, this has something to do with my travels in these other countries, is that there are a lot of voices, there’s a multitude of voices that up until, you know, you hear Republicans, you hear Trump, you hear all these people complaining about cancel culture, it’s like white men have basically dominated comedy like they’ve done…and I’m a white man, obviously, and a Jew from Brooklyn, like a lot of great comedians. But we have dominated comedy for most of the history of comedy. You know, you have Richard Pryor, you have examples of the past of people who came along and broke through.
Larry Charles [00:46:46] But generally speaking, comedy on television and movies and on standup have been essentially, essentially a white man’s medium. You know, and I think what’s happening now, and what frightens people for some reason, is that there are new voices. There are gay voices, there are Asian voices, there are LGBTQ voices. There’s all kinds of voices now who are discovering their language of comedy. And it’s different. It’s different from the comedy that we grew up on. And you have to be open to that. I think that is a healthy thing. I think right now we’re seeing this kind of fragmentation of comedy where like, you know, the white comedians are over here and the gay comedians are here and the Black comedians are here and the Asian comedians are here. But the truth is that we are kind of figuring it out, we’re evolving our comedy language to reflect modern times, you know, and I think that’s a healthy thing in the long run.
Michael Moore [00:47:49] Oh, I think it’s so healthy. And I have been entertained running across all kinds of different voices. First of all, just on your Netflix thing. So people understand, Larry, goes to places like Somalia and a Muslim country and places and the comedy is incredible. And we are not exposed to this. We are not shown the humanity that comedy offers us in understanding our fellow inhabitants of this planet. And that’s why I loved the series so much because it’s like I didn’t expect this, you know, or you’re going here this week. OK, well, I know that last week was well, that guy was funny with this woman in this. OK, well, I’m going to watch because it’s Larry and then it blows my mind, it’s like, oh, my God, you know, where’s the Netflix of Bangladesh?
Larry Charles [00:48:46] It surprised me also, because I didn’t expect it to have that kind of impact on me, you know, seeing, you know, we again in this country with, you know, what is cancel culture in this country. You know, you pay a price, you pay a price with your career, with economics. But within these countries, when you pay a price, you may be assassinated, you may be jailed. You know, the price of comedy in these other countries is much, much higher. And therefore, there’s an urgency and importance to the comedy in these places, as well as the healing properties of comedy in these places that we here don’t really feel. You know, we don’t have to feel we can think of comedy as entertainment. But comedy is a lot more than entertainment in these places. It’s the last vestige of truth.
Larry Charles [00:49:35] You know, it’s the last place for catharsis in a society that’s kind of closed down, you know, and that really surprised me, that healing quality that comedy has in a country like Liberia where the Ebola crisis really allowed comedy to sort of arise, ironically enough, because people had no place else to turn. They weren’t getting answers. And so finally, people were talking about that, talking about this kind of idea of what do we do? And the comedy industry in Liberia, such as it is, arose out of that crisis. You know, we’ll see whether that kind of comedy arises out of the pandemic that we are still experiencing to some degree. Whether that will sort of bring us new voices in comedy, I hope so. You know, because that’s a possibility. That’s an option for us to hear new voices, to hear new language, to hear new reference points that can make us laugh at ourselves about our situation.
Michael Moore [00:50:39] I think too that comedy is so great, it’s the flipside of the anger coin. And it’s a great way to express your anger through humor. And, you know, just from studying the history of comedy, it seems like some of our greatest comedians can go back to the Marx Brothers, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor. They were in their personal lives, you know, pretty upset people. They were angry. They were angry at the social condition, the human condition, whatever. But it was their humor that gave them the avenue to get this out and express it. And to let other people, as you say, cathartically feel the same thing, because people sitting in that club with Lenny Bruce or listening to Richard Pryor are going, yeah, yeah, fucking you’re right.
Larry Charles [00:51:35] And I think Borat did a similar thing. I think your work has done this also. It taps into something that has been latent in the society under the surface. There are these feelings that are not considered appropriate to express and comedians, part of their skill is finding a language to express these unspoken feelings in a way that we can all share communally. And I think that is one of the great, that makes comedians so important to society. They are the truth tellers, especially in a world of politics and corporations. You’re looking, you’re seeking, you’re craving someone to tell you what’s really going on. And you can turn to comedians to get that truth. And they play a very crucial role in that way. And in these other countries where there’s even more censorship and more oppression and more danger, the comedian’s role is even more precious.
Michael Moore [00:52:40] So what’s going on right now in the world for you in terms of when you see things, when you see things going on this week, last week, whatever, that just like, you know, whatever the rage you might feel your eye, your comedic eye, your satirical eye comes forward and allows you to have a response in that you often, you know, share with us. But I mentioned Israel – Palestine earlier. This thing with the building that crumbled in Surfside, Florida. I want to scream at the TV because nobody is really talking about what needs to be talked about with any of these issues. And I’m just curious, you know, what your take is on some of the stuff that we’re dealing with right now?
Larry Charles [00:53:29] I think yeah, there are a lot of punch in the gut kind of moments, like this even today, you know, to see that Bill Cosby was freed on kind of a technicality.
Michael Moore [00:53:39] They overturned his conviction, right?
Larry Charles [00:53:41] Yes.
Michael Moore [00:53:42] The Supreme Court in Pennsylvania. So he can’t be tried again. This is it. He’s out and it’s like it didn’t happen.
Larry Charles [00:53:50] Exactly, exactly, and you see, that Trump is also going to, you know, he’s not going to be arrested, he’s not going to be indicted. If anything, the Trump organization might get some sort of, you know, minor tax thing. You know, it’s like, it’s not satisfying. You know what I mean? It’s not satisfying to see justice meted out so unequally. It seems patently unfair while so many people are rotting in jail, while so many victims have absolutely no outlet for justice to see wealthy men, and again, they are men usually who are able to walk away and skirt and no pun intended, the, you know, the criminal justice system.
Larry Charles [00:54:36] So that’s the kind of stuff, I mean, even in Surfside, clearly you see the corruption of the building commissions, of the landlords. You know, they knew this was coming. They did nothing about it. And they allowed people to die as a result. And then we’ll gloss over these things or they’ll settle or, you know, there’ll be some way of kind of just like the opioid crisis with the Sacklers, it’s like nobody’s really paying the price. Nobody is really feeling the consequences of their behavior on that level. And it just seems super unfair to me. And it’s outrageous. And people feel more and more powerless in the wake of it.
Michael Moore [00:55:18] Yes. And I I don’t know. I have some weird hope that just, I mean, you and I both spent time in South Florida for various reasons. And it really hit home. I went down there a week or two after the Parkland massacre at the high school there. Those kids were so sharp and so angry and so right on and in that school was a combination of kids who were Hispanic or Jewish or Muslim. And I thought, wow, man…even though we haven’t handed our kids and our grandkids the better world that we had hoped for many, many years ago, we have raised these kids. And I know your kids and I know my daughter and I know that they’re, I’m sorry to put this on their shoulders, but they are going to fix a lot of this shit. And so for that, I guess I have, you know, I have that level of hope.
Larry Charles [00:56:26] You have always been optimistic, this is one of your beautiful traits. I think you’ve always managed to find optimism and hope in these very, very bleak situations. I mean, I think that’s a key to both your personality, just getting to know you as a human being and to your work as well. And it’s something that I aspire to. I think I’m a little less forgiving than you are in that respect. But, you know, you see, like even with you mentioned Parkland, I mean, you know, and these kids who have suffered, not not just the kids who were killed, which is horrible enough of the parents and the families of those of those children who were murdered, but also the people that were the kids that were around that were traumatized by these events. Nothing is really being done for them.
Larry Charles [00:57:11] And beyond that, you have people walking around still to this day, which just seems insane, who say, it didn’t happen. It was a false flag operation. It’s like not only is it like spitting on these poor children’s graves, but, you know, it’s like they are allowed to go around and say that without consequences. And that goes back to this free speech thing. You know, it’s like say it if you want to, but if there’s no consequences to spewing that kind of hate and that kind of falsehood, it seems like there’s no justice then available to us. Right. Remedy those kinds of situations. You know…
Michael Moore [00:57:52] It’s so insane and so surreal that this happens for real.
Larry Charles [00:57:57] It really is.
Michael Moore [00:57:57] It’s got to feel like to you that you’re still sitting there on that bench all those years ago as a kid with Neil Lipshutz there in Brighton Beach and saying to each other, man, this world’s a crazy place. And yes, on this level, it hasn’t gotten less crazy. It’s probably gotten more crazy. And I know we’re running out of time here, but I promised people just a few words of behind the scenes of working there with Larry David on Seinfeld. You wrote so many of these early episodes there in the first three years, maybe share a story working there on that with Larry, with Jerry.
Larry Charles [00:58:41] I’ve heard some of these and it’s just, god you’re part, the three of you just were part of this amazing moment where comedy did take a turn and it took, I’ve told you the story before, you know, the episode with the rye bread and the stealing of the rye bread. And here’s my parents in Flint, Michigan. You know, they’re in their 80s. And I know they are like Seinfeld show number one fans in Flint. They had no idea of any of the context of the humor behind the rye bread or what the rye bread means. But it doesn’t matter because you guys, you created the show, a smart show for smart people and even people that maybe didn’t get all of it. And I remember my dad saying this. What he appreciated about you and the three of you is that, I may not get all the references, I like the fact that they think here in Flint, Michigan, I’ll get it. They think I know enough or I’m smart up here and that it’s so respectful of me. I’m a retired auto worker and this is my favorite show.
Larry Charles [00:59:56] Well, we got, you know, there’s a lot of aspects to what you just said. I mean, A) I myself was very lucky. I mean, I got to work with basically the John and Paul of comedy. And they were geniuses. And Larry particularly was a mentor to me from the first time I met him on Fridays, he’s from the same neighborhood. He was older than me, and took me under his wing. I was just very lucky that I met him at the time that I did. And he had a big impact on me as well. One of the keys to the success of Seinfeld was not trying to be a success. We assumed we’d do 13 episodes and then we’d be canceled. And so let’s just do what we think is funny.
Larry Charles [01:00:37] And we didn’t worry about success or ratings or that kind of stuff. We just did what we thought was funny and wound up inadvertently for a variety of reasons, tapping into something much larger. And I can tell you from traveling with Sacha and doing the dangerous comedy show and being in the Middle East and being in Africa and places like that, being in South America, like Uruguay, people will come up to me all the time and go, my friend’s just like Kramer, you know, or like, this is my buddy, he’s George, you know. And it’s like, it doesn’t matter what country it’s in, it doesn’t matter what language they speak, people connected to those characters because there was an underlying truth to them. Most sitcoms, as we know, have a certain contrivance to them, a certain falsity to them. And for whatever reason, Seinfeld cut through that. And there was an honesty to the dark side of human nature that we dealt with that people needed, just to know that they were not alone when they felt these feelings. And I have found all over the world people will, you know, completely relate to those characters, despite the fact that they don’t have those reference points. And that’s a phenomenon that I almost can’t explain. You know, it’s one of those wonderful mysteries that has taken place. I’ve had the fortune and the privilege to experience.
Michael Moore [01:02:06] Wow. Well, it’s a gift to all of us. Of the episodes that you wrote, I know it’s like asking for which is your favorite child, but is there one that, you know, that just is your favorite or is one that if we were to put it in a time capsule and send it up on that Mars rover, which one would you which one would you pick?
Larry Charles [01:02:29] Well, I had a couple of episodes. I mean, there’s an episode called The Subway, where I was able to, one of the great things that Jerry and Larry supported me in and endorsed and encouraged me to do was to expand the medium, you know, expand the storytelling of the typical traditional sitcom. And it’s an episode like The Subway. I was able to take these stories and, you know, explode them outward and then bring them back and kind of make it almost like a musical suite in a way and sort of explore those characters on their own and then have them intersect. So that was one of my favorites because of the structure. I really enjoyed playing with the structure of what a TV show could be.
Larry Charles [01:03:16] And that’s one that always strikes me. That I just got very lucky and I was able to use experiences that my father had told me to remember in the subway. Jerry’s on the subway and the guy across from him takes off his clothes. Well, that happened to my father. Yeah. I remember him telling me that story again and again when I was a kid, that he fell asleep on the subway. When he woke up, this guy was naked and everybody else was in the corner of the subway station. They didn’t bother waking him up, you know. So to be able to use personal stuff, to be able to use conceptual stuff, to be able to play with the medium, that was just a great privilege and a great luxury, that I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
Michael Moore [01:03:56] Hmm. Yes. And in that particular episode is so layered, it is a half hour show. And it’s so, you’re right. It almost plays like a piece of music.
Seinfeld (clip) [01:04:13] All right. Coney Island. OK, you can take the B or the F and switch for the N at Broadway and Lafayette. Or you can go over the bridge to DeKalb and catch the Q to Atlantic Avenue, then switch to the IRT, 2, 3, 4, or 5. But don’t get on the G. See, that’s very tempting. But you wind up on Smith and 9th Street, then you’ve got to get on the R. Couldn’t you just take the D straight to Coney Island? Well, yeah.
Michael Moore [01:04:38] So, Larry, we are out of time, but this has been so great. I’ve wanted to have you on here in my first year or so of doing this podcast, and I hope you’ll come back. There’s so many things I want to talk to you about. I think of you often and often I will go to your Instagram and say, wow, what’s he’s going to have to take on this. I got to see what this is. It means a lot to me. Your friendship means a lot. The kind words that you said, it really means the world to me. And I look forward to what is coming up from you and someday working together again would be awesome.
Michael Moore [01:05:17] Let me mention in full disclosure that I also started a film festival in Traverse City, Michigan, some sixteen years ago. Larry has been on the board for the past decade or so of the film festival. He comes every year. And we’ve had to cancel that for the last two years. But his presence there, the Q&A that you’ve conducted and the great night that we got to show Borat, thanks to you and Sacha. We got to show it before its North American premiere in Toronto a couple of weeks early, a little sneak of it in Traverse City. And I remember that night. The laughter in that theater, it really was one of those, it’s not hyperbole to say that they felt like the roof was going to lift off because you could barely hear the next line. The laughter was none of us had seen a movie like this. And you brought it to us there in Michigan. And I thank you for all of that and for the good soul that you are, for those kids that you have raised and everything else.
Larry Charles [01:06:23] Well, I cherish our friendship. I’m honored to know you. I often tell people that you’re an American saint. You’re one of the few people whose goal is to make everyone’s life better. You’re an unusual man. And I have my deepest, deepest respect and admiration for you. I hope we get a chance to hang out again soon. I hope we get a chance to collaborate. Next time, maybe we’ll talk about the Toronto Film Festival. When the film broke, we had to go up on stage…we wrote notes to people so they could be excused from school the next day.
Michael Moore [01:06:59] I remember that. That’s right. Oh my gosh. That’s a great story.
Larry Charles [01:07:03] Yes, you have played a major role in my life and my developing sensibility. And there’s no price to put on that. I’m just very lucky to have crossed paths, you know.
Michael Moore [01:07:16] Well, likewise.
Larry Charles [01:07:16] And anytime I’ll come back.
Michael Moore [01:07:18] Yes. Thank you for that. And the same back at you here. I’m sure many people know that person or people. There’s not much in your life that the absolute goodness and luck in some sense that they entered your life and how much better they made it. Larry, obviously, you are one of those people for me. And I can’t thank you enough and thank you for being part of my 4th of July weekend. And we’ll talk further.
Michael Moore [01:07:57] Everyone. Larry Charles, the great comedy writer, producer, director, director of Borat, director of Religulous. And Larry Charles’s Dangerous World of Comedy and some unspoken peace that is awaiting us shortly that I will make sure isn’t killed by corporate America. Thank you, Larry. Thanks very much. Well, that was great. I hope all of you enjoyed listening to that. Look on the description page here. I’ll have some links, a couple of Larry’s Instagram postings. If we can get one of the Seinfeld episodes that he wrote up there, that would be great. And maybe a clip or two from Borat, a Religulous thing, so many great works from Larry Charles. And I hope you enjoyed listening in on this conversation between two old friends.
Michael Moore [01:08:58] I hope everybody’s having a good weekend. My true sympathies for the people down in Florida and everywhere else in the world, whether it’s a place that our new president bombed in the last week or whether just everybody doing their best to get through this, we’re all going through. As Larry said, I do have a weird optimism if you’ve listened to this by now. Our next episode will be episode 200 in the last roughly, what, 18, 18 months now for Rumble. So be sure and listen to that one. My thanks to all of you who are listening to this. Thank you for sharing emails with me, Mike@MichaelMoore.com. I love hearing your feedback on the show, on the description page there’s also a link where you can leave me a one minute voicemail. I love to hear what you have to say.
Michael Moore [01:09:54] Looking forward to the great month of July that we are now entering. So we have a few cool things to share with you in the coming month. I will thank my executive producer, Basel Hamdan, our editor and sound engineer. Nick Kwas and everybody else who has been an inspiration to me and to this podcast. It does not go unnoticed. I greatly appreciate all my friends and people I live and work with back in Traverse City, Michigan, hope everybody’s having a good holiday. President Biden has decided to show up in our little 15,000 year round population town in northern Michigan. So very cool on that. And we are working to get our theaters reopened and are bringing our film festival back in the coming year here, things that we lost during the pandemic.
Michael Moore [01:10:53] But we got a great piece of news here this week from the federal government. They approved our grant application. It was an act passed by Congress, the Shuttered Venues Act, to provide some funds to reopen our movie theaters, especially our indie movie theaters, and to open up concert venues, museums, playhouses, where they perform live plays in towns all across this great country. They’ve all been shut down. Some of them are going to open back up. Some are struggling to survive right now.
Michael Moore [01:11:25] And we applied along with thousands of others. And we got one of those grants this week. And it will, in fact, and indeed save our Traverse City Film Festival in our state theater and our Bijou by the Bay Cinema. So thank you, United States of America on your birthday for using some of our tax dollars, the government of, for and by the people to help maintain our arts and things that even in rural areas where much help is needed. And happy birthday to everybody in Traverse City, because here this weekend, on Sunday, it’s the 105th birthday of our state theater. Opened 105 ago this weekend. We have restored it. We are keeping it alive. It’s a beautiful nonprofit movie palace. If you’re ever in northern Michigan, please stop by. OK, everybody be well and I will talk to you soon. This is Michael Moore and this is Rumble.