‘Balls’-y Ben and Jerry’s ice cream lacks punchline

Schweddy Balls ice cream from Ben & Jerry's
Schweddy Balls ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s

Sometimes a joke that works on a late night Saturday sketch comedy show doesn’t always work in the grocer’s freezer. My heart had been set on trying the new limited batch of “Schweddy Balls” from Ben and Jerry’s the moment I read about it being released. Sadly, after an epic search for the confection, I found it to be ultimately underwhelming. Skip down to the review.

“Schweddy Balls” is named after a “Saturday Night Live” sketch from 1998. In the original sketch, two hosts of a public radio program called “Delicious Dish” interview a man named Pete Schweddy, who makes and sells confectionary balls for the holidays. He presents his creations to the hosts, who make a series of comments that would sound like raunchy double entendres to the fictitious radio audience.

Over the past few months, I have searched high and low for the product in Chico, but had no luck. I tried the Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop off of East Avenue, but I apparently missed it there (and the store sadly closed a few days later).

Later, I was outraged to read of a nationwide movement of mothers who threatened to boycott stores who placed such a product in their expensive ice cream sections and potentially expose presumably innocent children to a 13-year-old joke that would probably need to be explained to them in exacting detail because those young minds would have never — never! — been exposed to such crude humor in the first place.

Also — These children would also need to be at least four feet tall to even reach the expensive ice cream section of most fine stores. And what sort of irresponsible mother would let their child roam without supervision, randomly opening freezer doors or trying to peer through frost-glazed windows?

I was all set to declare that Chico had no “Balls” because of the mothers and the fact that the product isn’t being widely distributed. However, some friends have pointed out that they were able to find it at some Chico locations, so I may have either been looking in the wrong places or missed the boat.

Ultimately, I found my “Schweddy Balls” in San Francisco (which, because I’m 12, prompted a slightly immature tweet from me). I had actually struck gold twice. I had first found a pint in a liquor store near the Marina district. Although they wanted $5.99 for it, I was tempted but I had to say no because I had no place to keep it cold as I continued my day trip.

Heading back to the Embarcadero for the bus and train ride home, I stopped by a nearby 7-Eleven for one last check and I found it again.

This time, the price was $4.99, but there was some confusion at the counter because the barcode wouldn’t scan. The clerk grabbed some Dreyer’s MAXX and said they were the same and the same price — $2.99. I repeatedly insisted that it wasn’t, but ultimately relented to resolve the issue.

I headed to the Emeryville train station and started sampling the product. I knew most of it was going to melt, but I wanted to get enough of a feel for “Schweddy Balls” to write an adequate review.

Opening the carton of Schweddy Balls ice cream.

Opening the carton of Schweddy Balls ice cream at Emeryville train station.

Schweddy Balls is described as “Vanilla ice cream with a hint of rum, with fudge-covered rum and malt balls.”

The vanilla had good visual texture, with flakes, etc, and there was a discernable, slight taste of rum in the vanilla. However, that hint of flavor was often overpowered by the numerous mini rum balls although I could still detect it toward the end of the serving.

The balls in “Schweddy Balls” were about the size of chocolate-covered raisins and were scattered throughout the pint, although mostly down the middle of the container (in other words, it really didn’t look like the photo). The rum taste from the rum balls was fairly pleasant, with no discernable chemical aftertaste. The flavor was similar to what one might find in cherries liqueur.

The texture of the rum balls varied — some felt like fairly solid, chewy chocolate bites, while a few had a bit of a liquid burst to them.

The malt balls were like Whoppers, but smaller and perhaps had a firmer crunch. They had a stronger balance of chocolate to malt, possibly because of the size difference.

Ultimately, “Schweddy Balls” is a pretty straightforward and simple offering — exactly what was on the label and little more. As I continued to sample the dessert, I found myself having more fun trying to guess which flavor the next ball would be. It was a pretty even mix of both types.

“Schweddy Balls” is merely an OK entry into the novelty confectionary world. Sure, there are a few slightly guilty chuckles (or stern outrage) over the name, but it’s probably not worth the 270 calories per serving (or the 15 grams of fat, 60 mg of cholesterol, etc.).

Presenting the 2011 Christmas card

Christmas Card 2011 preview

Autofry and I hope you 'ring' in a merry 2012.

Continuing a proud tradition of homemade Christmas cards, I’m happy to present this year’s edition. On a positive note, the card was sent out to be received around the holidays… instead of mid-January, like last year.

As always, I started the card season with some great ideas, but I had to whittle them down to a concept that I could execute without investing in a Santa suit or driving deep into the Sierra Nevada in search for snow (but look for those in future years).

This year’s card plays up my desire to absurdly celebrate the season. While I didn’t want to mock the over-commercialized aspect of the holidays, I wanted to put a unique mark on the holiday. To accomplish this, I turned back to an old joke that a friend and I made several years ago.

In the early days of going to karaoke at The Maltese, my friend Ari and I would infrequently joke about the name of the bar’s fryer — Autofry. Because the name is so prominent on the otherwise unassuming metal box, the fryer became anthropomorphized as a benevolent provider of tasty, albeit slightly unhealthy treats.

We haven’t joked about it for years, but I thought about how silly it would be if Autofry and I posed for the holiday photo, much like a couple might.

With that basic idea in mind, I made a quick stop to Target for a Santa hat and a ribbon. As I continue to fashion my own cards, money has become a concern because I don’t want to break the bank making them. Thankfully, the materials for this year’s card cost about $8 — plus the onion rings.

While I was getting everything in order on the night of the shoot, I thought it needed a little something extra, and I was also hungry. I asked for an order of onion rings.

The rings turned out to a secretly smart move when it came to devising the caption for this year’s card. Because of that food product, it made sense that Autofry and I would hope that people would joyfully ‘ring’ in the new year.

I again used Costco’s photo service to print the cards (50 cards and envelopes for about $15 is still a heckuva deal). I also used one of their templates — although they can sometimes be a little underwhelming, I liked seeing my offering within the window sill frame.

Thanks for a Maltese staff for helping to letting me slip into the kitchen for about a minute. Also, kudos to Marcus for taking the actual photo.

The worst Super Bowl ads of 2011

Apologies for being a little late on this post, but I’m still a little bleary eyed after watching 6+ hours of TV on Super Bowl Sunday. When I wasn’t gripping the arms of my chair while the Pittsburgh Steelers slowly pecked away at the Green Bay Packers’ lead (which the Pack thankfully held on to), I was underwhelmed by this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads. It’s not exactly true about a bad apple spoiling a bushel, but, man, some of the ads were awful. You can see where the ads ranked on USA Today’s site.
In my eye, the worst ads came from discount coupon sites. Apparently their humor is cut rate as well. One ad that had me scratching my head was LivingSocial’s (which aired during FOX’s pregame coverage). The ad details how the discount site “changed” a man’s life from being trapped to embracing what appears to be a more effeminate lifestyle — including dressing in drag.
While some people are unhappy about LivingSocial making a joke out of transgendered individuals, I had no idea who this ad is supposed to appeal to. Most of the male audience wouldn’t necessarily get or appreciate LivingSocial’s message. Perhaps the ad was geared more toward the women in the audience — that could be savvy insofar as recognizing that the Super Bowl draws a large audience from both sexes.
The other set of ads that I thought were dreadful were the GroupOn ads. They start off with tearful testimonials about the suffering in the world only to say that it’s OK because people can save big bucks with this discount site.
Some of these ads seem to portray potential customers in a negative light. GroupOn basically says use our site and be a tool (but save!). It reminds me of the Sprint ads where people are being jerks but it’s OK because they have unlimited minutes or texting.
Although I’m a Sprint customer, my desire to keep the service is diminished whenever it portrays customers as blowhards. Portraying customers as petty, selfish and callous does seem to run counter to the old advertising tropes where you depict customers being attractive and successful while using a product.
Along those same lines, another ad that portrays potential customers as weird was a Doritos ad where a man apparently just can’t get enough of that nacho cheese-flavored crack — he has to rip a co-worker’s pants off to lick the crumbs that the co-worker wiped on his legs. I guess it might appeal to the more juvenile in the audience, but I wasn’t amused.
Another set of ads I didn’t find funny included two where a dog or baby are thrown into glass. The one with the baby dealt with a vacation home renting site HomeAway (which posited a problem with hotels that I don’t think most people have to deal with). The commercial depicted a lab testing how uncomfortable hotel rooms are culminating with a “test baby” being thrown into the lab’s glass walls. It was a little shocking, but ultimately was a miss.
The other ad with glass included a man taunting a small dog with a bag of Doritos from behind a glass door. The dog is running, running and running until the ad’s punchline where the dog breaks down the glass door, pinning the man and liberating those tasty, tasty chips. I didn’t think the ad was particularly funny and I was a little bored with it.
It’s interesting that people just loved the dog one (it tied for first in USA Today’s AdMeter), but panned the baby one.
Looking at the rest of the list of Super Bowl ads, many of them were just average. I did like the Coca-Cola ad where the two border guards find a creative way to share a Coke while staying on their respective sides of the border.
Movie trailers are interesting if you’re interesting in the upcoming attractions, but they aren’t great Super Bowl ads. I can’t remember the last time there was a creative trailer during the big game. I also won’t take a movie entitled “Cowboys vs. Aliens” seriously.
In the end, the Super Bowl is one of the largest stages left in the world and it might be hard to please everyone with so many people watching. That may be part of the problem — in trying to please everyone or to be “funny,” some advertisers end up pleasing no one.

My call on ‘The Marriage Ref’ — Foul

“The Marriage Ref” is established on sporting principles (based on the lengthy animated introduction with Jerry Seinfeld). Unfortunately, the performance of this panel show that debuts tonight on NBC (KNVN 24) is more XFL than NFL.
I’ll be short because other viewers and TV critics have already eviscerated this show. One critic snarked about a future when networks could get instant feedback and cancel a show in progress.
Based on the 30-minute preview that aired Sunday, I find myself dreading an entire hour of this banality.
If the “Ref” were a pitcher, there were months of wind up (including endless commercials), but the pitch is a roller in the dirt. If the “Ref” were batter, it’s probably going to quickly strike out.
But “Ref” is neither pitcher nor batter, it’s a simple show that would be at home on basic cable if it weren’t for the celebrity friends Seinfeld has gotten to join him as panelists for the actual ref, Tom Papa.
The premise of the show is relatively straightforward — footage of a couple bickering over a meaningless trifle is shown before a panel of celebrities. The celebrities pick apart the couple’s dilemma and hopefully make a few good jokes before Papa makes the call on which spouse is right.
Humor ensues, or it’s supposed to. However, as some critics pointed out, there may be some elements of the show that might work, but the execution is wrong.
The panel of celebrities are amusing, but they definitely aren’t as funny as they think they are. Some have accused the show of elitism — where the well-to-do celebs mock people from outside New York City. I didn’t necessarily get that feeling, but there was a sense of insincerity around the endeavor.
First – When Papa brings the couple back for the verdict, he says we’re going to meet the “real” couple. But the audience already saw a realistic depiction of the dispute earlier. Does that mean that it was faked with actors? That’s pretty lame. Update: I watched a small part of Thursday’s show. Apparently the couples are real throughout the program. Papa seems to say “actual” as a verbal tick (like “It’s the ‘actual’ David Blaine.”). Still lame.
Second – While cracking wise, the panel has made some pretty valid points about the relationships — like how one silly dispute may be due to a lack of intimacy. Does this get back to the couples? Not during taping, but maybe they’ll see it when/if it airs.
The whole thing reminded me of the goofy shows that Comedy Central aired in the past two decades, like “Win Ben Stein’s Money,” “Beat the Geeks,” or “Root of All Evil.” These shows are often a string of jokes built around an extremely flimsy premise.
When they live in the fringes of cable, the shows are enough to keep people amused for 30 minutes. But mild amusement isn’t enough to sustain a show that is shoved into the relatively bright light of network primetime for an entire hour.

Betty White an unlikely SNL fit, but could do well with backups

One of the latest Internet campaigns that seems to be gaining traction is a push to get comedienne Betty White to host an upcoming episode of “Saturday Night Live.” While she showed some toughness and strong comedic chops in a Super Bowl ad, I don’t know if the 88-year-old would want to go through the grueling, week-long gauntlet of live television.
The discussion kicked on Super Bowl Sunday when White appeared in a Snickers ad as a player of a rough game of pick-up football. She gets bullied about until she eats a Snickers candy bar and turns into a younger player. The spot, which also featured a Pleasant Valley High grad, ranked highly by USA Today’s Ad Meter.
Since then, people have been pushing for “Saturday Night Live” to offer White a hosting gig. A Facebook fan page had more than 441,000 fans, as of this writing. Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker imagined how the show might go.
The effort seems to be gathering strength, according to EWs Michael Ausiello.
I’m kinda excited about her getting this opportunity, but I was initially leery about her shouldering the entire show herself. Thankfully, it seems like SNL may give her a bench of relief pitchers, so to speak.
Ausiello reports that SNL producers are close to a deal with a possible catch — that White is teamed up to host with a “Women of Comedy” dream team. Names bandied about include Molly Shannon, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler — all good choices, but I hope they cast a wider net than just former SNL alumni.
Having a dream team co-host with Betty makes a lot of sense. It could be better than my idea of just having her pop up in a few Digital Shorts (which I think could still be funny and work well as viral video).
Betty is a trooper — she deserves to be the starter and should be the star attraction. However, hosting the show can be a grind. This is based on what I’ve read of the production — including the epic book “Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live” by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller. NPR’s “Fresh Air” also apparently has an interview with Tina Fey discussing behind-the-scenes of the show.
During any given show week, there are days of work of turning ideas into tangible sketches for broadcast. On Saturday, there are rehearsals leading to an 8 p.m. dress rehearsal filmed before a live studio audience. Based on that rehearsal, executive producer Lorne Michaels determines which sketches will air live at 11:35 p.m.
If Betty hosts, she would need to be “on” for more than 6 hours on Saturday (the two performances and additional morning rehearsals). That’s a lot to ask of anybody, but if anybody can do it, White can.
What White may lack compared to the pretty faces hosting this year, she makes up for with moxie, a proven history of performing in live situations, and sharp sense of humor that has stayed fresh over the years.

Everybody’s talking about … ‘Supertrain’?

A publicity still of Supertrain from the TV series of the same name.In what is probably one of the year’s biggest headscratchers, I’ve noticed a number of bloggers writing about the failed 1970s NBC TV series called “Supertrain.”

Haven’t heard of this “Love Boat” on rails? Neither did I, until I stumbled upon a post from sitcom writer Ken Levine. Here’s how he described it:

Television at its worst but cheese at its very best.

This landmark example of how not to create a TV show was also mentioned by prominent blogger Jason Kotke and The Infrastructurist.

I’ve seen the first 10 minutes of the pilot and it’s pretty bad. I broke out laughing during the teaser with the train company’s leader launching the Supertrain concept. It wasn’t the line that the train would be powered by an “atom powered steam turbine machine” that cracked me up. It was the leader’s “reassuring” response to a critic’s charge that the train was a huge gamble that could ruin the company.

“So you think it’s a gamble, do you? Well, gentlemen … Since I can count my remaining years on the fingers of one hand, from my point of view, it’s not much of a gamble at all.”

How is that supposed to be reassuring in any way?

Other than the fact that the pilot is exquisitely cringeworthy (Steve Lawrence gets top billing), I have no idea why it’s still getting mentioned 30 years after the show went off the rails. Perhaps discussions of creating regional high-speed rail networks has sparked some fond memories of bad television. It also might be better than most of NBC’s fall schedule, but I’m hoping not.

Here’s the first 10 minutes of the pilot. The remaining nine segments are on the Infrastructurist blog.

Photo: NBC publicity still originally provided to J. Morrissey and hosted on the NBC Supertrain Web site.

On Pop Culture: Pledge break

We’ll rejoin the regular “On Pop Culture” column in a minute, but first we’d like to take a moment of your time to ask you to call in with your pledge of support for this publication.

As you may have heard, our publication faces a tightening budget due to advertisers deciding that newspapers aren’t going to be the new MySpace. I know we’re not MySpace — the newspapers are like CraigsList, but with news and classifieds you have to pay for.

Because of the cutbacks, we’re now turning to you — the reader — for your support. For the cost of a submarine sandwich a month, you can help keep this column going. We will take your generous donation and buy our columnists sub sandwiches.

Since the inception of the “On Pop Culture” column last year, the average age of our publication’s columnists has been lowered by about 20 years. Without it and the “Starving Student,” the average age of the columnists jumps back to 67.

That includes Wm. Jameson T. Cornballer, our 93-year-old phonograph reviewer who thinks that “McPheever” is a disease his young fiancee died from in the 1930s. Thanks to your ongoing support, we have a vaccination for the most fatal and virulent forms of McPheever.

I know “On Pop Culture” can’t be as timely as the entertainment blogs or even weekly TV programs. Instead of going for instantaneous gratification, every two weeks our column goes for timelessness.

Remember where you were when he tried to explain the culture significance of the phrase, “Time to make the doughnuts”? Recall the good times when we tried to discuss the impact of the Disney Channel phenomenon “High School Musical” without actually seeing the program.

Who else but an overweight, out-of-touch columnist can shed insight on the things that you can hear and see with your own ears and eyes?

Call now. As our way of saying thanks, with your pledge at the level of $75 a year, we’ll give you a special premium — the voice of columnist Ryan singing a TV theme song on your phone answering machine. I’m a fan of “Electric Company” and “Speed Racer,” but can just as well sing the themes to “Lost” or “Heroes.”

We’re going to rejoin our regular programming in a minute, but we just want to let you know that we’ve got a lot of great things lined up for the next few months. April Fool’s Day is around the corner. We’ve got more “Secret Shames,” including a look at local karaoke bars.

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Thanks for your support. It’s been a blast these past four months. And, please, buy a newspaper once in a while. It’s good for you (and me).

Due to budget cutbacks, the size of the Enterprise-Record’s “Buzz” entertainment section was halved. “On Pop Culture” was among the items cut to save space.

This MySpace-only column is my reaction to the news. The Dude abides and I hope I do too.

Why Mom says I’m not as funny as I think

I try to be funny from time to time. It doesn’t always work (hence, why my mom says that). Some people laugh, but I’m always afraid it’s pity laughter.

Now you can judge for yourself. I’m reposting my twice-monthly “pop culture” column on my MySpace blog after it’s published in the newspaper (and on ChicoER.com).

Here’s my latest, skipping the usual moaning about Valentine’s Day and focusing on what comes next — marriage.

New service to give weddings an extra boost


When I wasn’t dreaming of becoming a diplomat (like they were on “Star Trek”), one of childhood fantasies was to save “Saturday Night Live.” Given how bad some of the episodes were back in the day, I figured I help out and save the show.

Although SNL emerged from that slump and has mired itself in a new one, I’ve moved on from that dream and turned to news writing.

My new position as an online editor gives a chance to stretch my legs a bit. One direction is a twice-monthly “pop culture” column where I have fun looking at our society from different angles.

Instead of focusing on Britney Spears’ latest f-up, my column strives to be longer lasting than tabloid tissue.

So please feel free to poke around and let me know what you think. Do _you_ think I’m as funny as I think I am?

Destroying my belief system

Pluming the depths of MySpace, I rediscovered “The Gleib” — aka Ben Gleib (name seems shorter than I remember from college). Anyway, Gleib is a comedian and is responsible of dispelling two beliefs that I’ve held for a while — that Screech from “Saved by the Bell” is funny and that dating shows are real. Sadly, Screech (Dustin Diamond) was dreadful live a few years back and “Blind Date” seems capable of pulling fast ones over its audience. More on my random thoughts on TV and music, here.

Grrr, why is MySpace’s music utility so lame? Where can I mark that I’m listening to the deleted tracks from The Blues Brothers soundtrack — specifically their cover of Johnny Horton’s “Sink the Bismark”? (BTW, you can download the songs from The Digital Bits’ review of the movie). It’s true that they recently rediscovered the missing tracks (they were on a reel deleted from the final cut of the film), but there’s no Blues Brothers listing at all. It’s crazy lame (just like MySpace eating this post). I don’t think Tom is truly my friend. 🙁


Since I’m a roll…

I wanted to link to comedian Rick Mercer’s blog. He’s definitely a pretty funny guy. I can get behind his trips to foriegn nations to support Canadian forces in war zones. Speaking of Mercer, I’m watching The National from CBC News. Of course, there’s no option for TV shows on the “Tell us” section. That’s a shame. What’s not a shame is the fact that I can watch the news program again after the legnthy lockout.