The Year's 10 Funniest Moments in Business and Finance
Our list of the most memorable events, running gags and video spoofs.
10. Tim Geithner Still Can't Sell His House
Call this one a running joke, held over from the summer of 2009. That was when we witnessed one of the best, if not the best, takes on the housing market -- and a pretty spectacular takedown of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner -- courtesy of Jon Stewart and his merry band of Daily Show writers.
It seems that Lil' Timmy was having a bit of trouble selling his Larchmont, NY home after moving to Washington -- all the while, reassuring anxious Americans that they had no reason to worry.
Geithner and his wife, Carole Sonnenfeld Geithner, paid $1.602 million for the house in 2004. When he left for D.C., he put the five-bedroom Tudor on the market for $1.635 million. After it failed to sell, the price was dropped to $1.575 million. Still no takers. So the Geithners rented the place out for the princely sum of $7,500 a month, which likely didn't cover the monthly payments on the two mortgages totaling $1.25 million, plus yearly property taxes of $27,000.
This year, the housing crisis actually worsened, with foreclosure scandals, fraud, robo-signing, and so forth making precipitously declining home values look positively quaint by comparison.
According to real estate website Zillow.com, the Geithner manse is still on the market, the last sale being recorded in 2004-the year Mr. and Mrs. G purchased it. Geithner must be getting desperate, too-the price has dropped again, to $1.339 million. And still no takers.
9. The Tea Party Gets Speling Rong
To the rest of us, members of the Tea Party are a bit like Scientologists. We can understand how they've derived their way of thinking, but even casual familiarity with the inherent concepts tells us it's absolute nonsense and deception -- not a path we're ever likely to follow. Don't get me wrong, there are kooks and simpletons on our side, too. However, you gotta admit, the Tea Party is teeming with them.
And no better way to illustrate that is the vast variety of signs with atrocious spelling and grammar. If they're not calling Obama a "lier," then they're calling for English to be America's "offical" language. And they're dead set against a return to "Socilism" and "1930's Gemany."
Of course, in some ways, they're right. The "Constution" is very important. "Are" country does deserve respect. And "your" not the only ones outraged.
But until you can produce that third grade diploma, Fox News would probably appreciate it if you didn't credit the network for keeping you "infromed."
8. Apple Employee Forgets iPhone at Bar
The stern and grumpy Apple chief suffered a rough couple of scrapes this year.
Despite the explosive debut of the Apple iPad, Jobs still needed to combat this growing epidemic known as Android with a flashy, dynamic update to Apple's flagship iPhone. Unfortunately, his high-profile launch was undercut because an employee couldn't hold his alcohol in a Redwood City beer garden. An iPhone 4 prototype was left behind at the bar and it eventually fell into the hands of Gizmodo's Jason Chen -- who pored through its features two months before its official debut.
The device was launched last June and sold like hotcakes nevertheless, but Jobs' mood was visibly different regarding the iPhone 4. Complaints about the device's "Death Grip" prompted him to reply, "You're holding it wrong." And a testy email conversation with a Gawker employee ended with the CEO firing back, "By the way, what have you done that's so great?"
Reducing a billionaire to childlike taunts was, is, and forever will be hilarious.
7. Taiwan CGI Studio Covers Wall Street
When Jimmy Lai, described by some as "the Rupert Murdoch of Hong Kong", launched CGI house Next Media Animation with a surreal re-enactment of the Tiger Woods Escalade-Angry Wife-Shattered Window-Late Night Crash fiasco, he must have known how big his big idea was. "There's no better sensation than image. It's so in-your-face!" he told Wired magazine. "This is like watching a videogame, but it's the news!"
For the relative bargain price of $4,000 a minute, NMA recreates the news of the world in its unique style-like this one titled "Wall Street Gorges on Record Bonuses."
While the subject matter doesn't often lend itself to humor, it's hard not to crack a smile.
"There's a ghost in their machine," says Matt Harrigan, a producer at Adult Swim. "They have limitations that force unusual decisions and interpretations. What we get back is usually different from what we expect. Sometimes it's really funny."
Just one question: does the Uncle Sam in the above video not look eerily similar to Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes?
The European Debt crisis is the subject of much coverage and debate right now, with Portugal, Greece, Ireland, Spain, Italy, and even Belgium being reluctantly forced by bondholders to line up outside the headmaster's office of the IMF -- each desperately trying to avoid getting to the front of the line. They all owe money to each other, at the same time as they're meant to be bailing each other out.
Australian satirists John Clarke and Bryan Dawe tackled this subject in their inimitable way, ruthlessly shedding light on the follies of Europe's interlinked (and inter-debted) economies last summer. This skit ran on Australian TV last May but quickly went viral once it appeared on YouTube in June.
5. Toronto Man "Protests" Outside Shopping Center
It certainly feels wrong to derive entertainment from the sight of someone who's off his rocker having some sort of episode in a public setting, but this "protester" in Toronto got a lot of viral time nonetheless, thanks to the subject of his rant: His civil right to go shopping!
The timing didn't help, either.
This video was captured during the G20 meeting in Toronto last June. At the time, anti-globalization activists, most of them peaceful, took to Toronto streets. Mixed in with the earnest labor groups and antiwar marchers were a number of "anarchists" dressed in black and wearing balaclavas. These kids went to work smashing the windows of Toronto's downtown stores and getting into skirmishes with the police. Headlines declared that Toronto was caught in a grip of violence, which seemed unlikely enough.
In response to the chaos, many store owners chose to shut down for the day. Security guards at a large downtown mall, Toronto Eaton Centre, locked up the building, allowing people inside to continue shopping or leave.
The man in this video wasn't going to have any of it. His voice was heard, inside the mall, outside the mall and in at least half a million YouTube downloads. Meanwhile the non-violent protesters who were busy handing out pamphlets got relatively little airtime.
On May 6, 2010 -- the day of the Flash Crash -- StockMarketFunding.com, gave the financial world its answer to the Double Rainbow Guy. As with the amateur video that featured a perfect double rainbow over Yosemite park ("What does it mean?"), this online video keeps the camera trained on one subject (in this case, a trading screen) and is narrated by an off-camera, way too enthusiastic voice.
Wait for the break out at the 1:12 minute mark.
By the way, the logo for Stock Market Funding, seen on its main website, features a double rainbow. Coincidence?
3. BP Spills Coffee
Upright Citizens Brigade, a New York comedy troupe, came out with this video spoof on June 9, 2010, or Day 50 of the BP oil spill crisis. At the time, estimates regarding how much oil was being lost via three separate leaks had reached 20,000 barrels a day (by mid-June that estimate would rise to 40,000 barrels per day), and many began to expect that a solution might never be found.
On Day 50, we were also in the middle of BP's infamous trial-and-error phase. Engineers had already wasted time and money on underwater robots which were supposed to cap the leaks but could not. BP had run the course with its "junk shot" method, an attempt to clog the leak by stuffing it with various absorbent materials, such as shredded tires and golf balls. Some people were collecting human hair that was supposed to go into the making of a hair boom.
So by the time this video was posted, we were ready to laugh -- not at the spill and its tragic implications, but at BP's clumsy and seemingly ridiculous approaches to solving the problem. The well was finally sealed and declared "dead" on September 19. The price tag for cleaning up the area was set at $10 billion.
2. Carl Levin Sounds Off on the Sh*tty Timberwolf Deal
Few people realized how much they missed Archie Bunker until last April when Senator Carl Levin gave this fine performance at a Senate subcommittee hearing into the sub-prime market failure. In questioning Daniel Sparks, the former head of Goldman's mortgages department, Levin was as hard on the banker as Bunker was on Democrats (of which Levin is one).
The senator pinned the executive to the wall, quoting -- with obvious exasperation and disgust -- emails sent by Tom Montag, then a senior executive at the Goldman, to his staff. Montag appeared to be telling Goldman employees to make the "shitty deal" a priority sale.
He was referring to the controversial and now notorious Timberwolf CDO, which Goldman was underwriting but also, by appearances, shorting.
Sparks answered Levin's questions by first trying to re-frame the context for Montag's email, then claiming that he had forgotten the details. After one question, Levin indicated that he had endured enough of the games. "If you can't provide a clear answer to that one, Mr. Sparks, I don't think we're going to get many clear answers from you," Levin said.
He gave us the feeling that someone was going to pay for the sub-prime implosion. Those were the days.
New York City's Omid Malekan says he created this short video with the goal of educating a few people, mostly his friends, about the perils of quantitative easing -- or "the printing money," as it's called by one of the video's characters. He didn't spend much time or money on the project; he used free animation software from Xtranormal.com and posted the finished piece on You Tube the evening of November 11. Within hours, the video's popularity was spiking. A week later, the number of hits had surpassed two million. By the middle of December, "Quantitative Easing Explained" had been viewed more than 3.6 million times and was a news story in itself. More notably, the head of the Fed had a new nickname that would probably stick, "the Ben Bernank."
How did a seven-minute video about such an esoteric topic become a You Tube hit? Click here to watch Miyanville editor Kevin Depew interview Malekan about the video's message and unexpected fame.
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