PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Convention Season Begins

This weekend convention season kicks off with three big conventions happening within driving distance of Charleston.  In Huntington, Tricon, the tri-state comic book convetion happens Saturday, June 2.  Guests like comic book artists Graham Nolan and Billy Tucci, writer Beau Smith and the flying McElroy podcasters will be on hand. Meanwhile in Columbus, on Friday and Saturday, June 1 and 2, MEGO Meet settles in a new home after three years in Skokie.  It’s cool to have them closer to Charleston, since they spent their first decade in Wheeling. It’s also cool that they finally persuaded MEGO’s former president, Marty Abrams, to attend. Finally, WonderFest USA shows off the mad skills of modelers and hosts actress Sybil Danning and a tribute to the work of George Romero in Louisville Saturday and Sunday, June 2 and 3.

Originally your PopCulteer had made plans to attend WonderFest USA, but on the way back from New York last weekend I decided that I was piling too much on my coolness plate, and decided to miss this great show for the first time in four years. Still, if you are deeply into the ultra cool neat stuff, you have your pick this weekend: Comics in Huntington, Action Figures in Columbus or Models and Movie Stars in Louisville.

 

 

Back From NYC

I’ve been back since Monday, but I have not yet taken the time to tell my loyal readers about my whirlwind trip to New York City last weekend. So let’s play catch up, shall we?

This trip was a last-minute thing. I’ve felt bad all year because we had so many trips planned, but they were all for stuff that I wanted to do, with no trips planned for my beautiful wife, Melanie Larch (seen right with yours truly in Times Square).

We’d considered a July trip to New York to see the play Three Tall Women (by Mel’s favorite non-living playwright, Edward Albee, and starring Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf and Allison Pill), but found out that it was a limited run that would end while we were in Chattanooga for the GI Joe convention.

So I told Mel to look for available tickets before it closed, even offering to drop our visit to Wonderfest (which we eventually decided to skip anyway) so she could go. She found tickets for last Saturday night, and we figured out a way to catch the train in Pittsburgh (The Amtrak Cardinal, which goes through Charleston, doesn’t go all the way to NYC again until November due to track repairs). The advantage of this is that we could crash at my sister’s place and drive ten minutes to take the Pittsburgh subway to the Amtrak station. And the train is daily, so we had a lot of leeway for returning.

We made it to our train and had fun on the way to NYC (passed the Boyer Smoothie candy plant in Altoona along the way). We got in to New York around 4:30 and grabbed a cab to the hotel. to settle in.

For dinner we walked a block and a half to get some real New York pizza from 2 Bros, then just came back to the hotel to eat and rest up for Saturday.

Keep in mind, I just learned a couple of weeks ago that being out in the heat is really rough on people with Myasthenia Gravis. Armed with that knowledge, I tried to devise a plan to minimize my exposure to the heat while still enjoying the city’s treats.

One other cool thing of which we were unaware going in was that it was Fleet Week, and the city was overrun with sailors wearing their dress whites, so it looked like On The Town was happening all over New York. Or maybe The Last Detail.

Having planned out our trip, we took advantage of the fact that our hotel was just two and a half blocks from the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market. So Saturday morning we got up and walked the long city blocks in 90-plus degree weather…and hit paydirt, even with us spending conservatively.

The normally-robust Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market was sparsely-populated because there was a big memorial day flea market at the Meadowlands and most of the regulars went there instead. However, I still found some gems, as you can see below.

I picked up the Power Records Fantastic Four book/comic set and an uncut sheet of Wacky Packages from one booth. And at another I got an issue of The Amazing World of DC Comics that I didn’t have–it’s the Justice League issue, mostly written by Mark Gruenwald, who was still a fan and not a pro at that point, plus I found a terrific issue of Trouser Press Magazine, from about two years before I discovered “America’s Only British Rock Magazine.”

At the last booth, I glanced down and noticed an Adventure Team GI Joe in rough shape, and another figure I couldn’t quite place, sitting in a tub full of umbrellas. I snagged ’em both.

The Joe was wearing the Russian Foreign Soldier uniform, complete with medal. The other figure was a vintage Dr. Evil, with his mask on with all the paint rubbed off of it. His hands and feet and head had faded to almost flesh color. I got ’em both for thirty bucks. Mel found some vintage Playbills and some jewelry, and I was starting to feel worn out, but we went on and walked another three blocks, stopping in a restruant in a Doubletree Inn so Mel could get breakfast and I could rehydrate.

At this point I was worn out, but Mel wanted to hit the Drama Book Shop, and it was on the same street as Midtown Comics, so we went on, and luckily the book store had chairs. I told Mel going in that we’d blow off Midtown Comics and just grab a cab back to the hotel, but I felt good enough by the time she got through that we walked on down to the comic book store.

The Drama Book Shop had a cool display in their window for a currently-running off-Broadway revival of Sweeny Todd that we want to see, but didn’t have time on this trip (you can see it to the right of this text)

When we got to Midtown Comics we were greeted by a flight of steps up, and I just turned around and flagged a taxi. I got plenty of comics anyway. Maybe next time we’ll check out Midtown Comics.

We went back to the hotel and rested a bit, then grabbed lunch at their restaurant, then we got dressed to go to the play. Mel wanted to hit another Drama book store, but thanks to the streets being closed for street fairs, we wound up walking another three long blocks to get there (for reference, a New York city block would reach from The Union Building to the Capitol Market in Charleston). That bookstore was one block over from the theater, and we cut through Schubert Alley to go pick up our tickets and then wait for the house to open.

Schubert Alley is a street-wide pedestrian alley, but apparently if you’re Bernadette Peters, you can park your car there. There was a Mercedes with cones around it parked right outside the stage door of the theater where she’s doing Hello Dolly. Didn’t get to see her, but we saw her car.

Turning the corner to go to our theater it hits you that this is BROADWAY. In this one city block, there are nearly a dozen theaters with the shows that you hear about all the time. We were across the street from Frozen and next door to The Iceman Cometh (with Denzel Washington), which was next to The Boys in the Band with that guy I can’t stand from Big Bang Theory.

Three Tall Women was great…and short–less than two hours with no intermission. I got to see Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf and Allison Pill perform live, and the set was mind-blowing. I’ll probably review the play here in PopCult tomorrow.

After the play we walked half a block to Junior’s Deli for the best cheesecake in the world. That’s not hype. It’s been scientifically proven. I think we need to take a moment to bask in the almost pornographic splendor that is Junior’s Cheesecake, presented here in a tasteful soft focus…

Leaving Junior’s, we were having trouble getting a cab, so we hopped into a bike taxi. It was expensive as hell, and worth every penny. The thing I’ve always hated about riding a cab through New York and Chicago is that you have to contort yourself to see out the windows. Not so with a bike taxi, and the guy took us through Times Square and took our picture with my phone. It was my first time actually being able to see Times Square in all its glory. It was like Disneyland and Blade Runner on speed. Near the end of the ride, I remembered that my new phone records video, so after we passed all the really cool stuff, here’s what it looked like…

Pardon the generic YouTube music. I didn’t want to risk the video getting pulled because of what the taxi was playing.

The next morning we got up, checked out and hopped The Pennsylvanian back to Pittsburgh. Our New York excursion had us in Manhattan for about 41 hours. After another night at my sister’s (thanks, Debbie!), we started home.  On the drive back, I made sure to make one last visit to the haunted Toys R Us near South Hills Village, and also the one in Clarksburg. We picked up a few goodies for 50% off.

I did make an observation: When TRU shuts its doors, some liquidator (probably Ollie’s) will have a bounty of Funko Pops that nobody will want, probably for three bucks or less. Both stores I hit had tons and tons of them left. There were no bare shelves in the Funko Pop sections.

Also on the drive back I made the decision to skip Wonderfest this weekend. I mainly go there to see my JoeLanta buddies, and I’ll see some of them in Chattanooga and the rest in Louisville at the Kentuckiana Joe show the last week in July. It makes more sense to rest up and save up for the Marx Toy Convention and the last Official GI Joe con later in June.

All in all, it was a total win-win-win of a trip. It’s not nearly as extravagant as it may seem. Amtrak costs way less than flying. We cashed in Hilton Honors points so the hotel was free. Our balcony seats at the theater were not as pricey as the main floor seats.  The food was reasonably priced.  Mel got to see her play, I picked up some vintage goodies and we were able to hit a couple of TRU stores on the way home. Even better, we made some wonderful memories together.

This week Wednesday means “continuing adventures” on four shows debuting on The AIR.

At 1;30 PM, Life Speaks to Michele Zirkle presents the second half of a meditation Michele delivered in Columbus. At 2 PM, Beatles Blast presents part seven of a classic Beatles BBC radio documentary. At 3 PM Curtain Call gets into the sequel game as Mel Larch, presents part two of her two-part look at the funniest showtunes in history. The AIR Audio Playhouse brings you the conclusion of a dramatization of Journey To The Center of The Earth at 5 PM. Tune in at The AIR, or listen on this embedded player thingy…

Our block of newness begins at 1:30 PM with Life Speaks to Michele Zirkle. This week we present the second half of a meditation talk that Michele led at The Tranquility Salt Cave in Columbus. She recounts her own story and takes questions from the audience to help them find their own path to enlightenment.

Life Speaks to Michele Zirkle can be heard Wednesday at 1:30 PM and 7 PM, with replays on The AIR Friday at 9:30 AM and Monday at 12:30 PM.

At 2 PM Beatles Blast presents part seven of The Beatles Story, a legendary BBC radio documentary from 1973, Beatles Blast can be heard Wednesday at 2 PM, Thursday at 11 AM and 9 PM, Friday at 5 PM, and Tuesday at 9 AM.

At 3 PM Wednesday Curtain Call unveils another new episode that collects the funniest songs from musical theater. Find out what put the “comedy” in “Musical Comedy” as Mel brings you tunes from Spamilton, Forbidden Broadway, A Day In Hollywood, A Night In The Ukraine, The Producers, Heathers The Musical and more. This is the conclusion of a two-part special. You can keep laughing at this not-safe-for-work collection of hilarity.

Curtain Call debuts Wednesday at 3 PM, with replays Thursday at 7 AM and 8 PM and Saturday at 6 PM.

At 5 PM, stick around for radio drama on The AIR Audio Playhouse. This week it’s the second half of Jules Verne’s Journey To The Center of The Earth.

Stay tuned all day, every day, for incredible music, thought-provoking talk and gut-busting comedy exclusively on The AIR. And check out the full schedule below…

Radio Free Charleston and The Swing Shift are new today on The AIR. You can tune in at The AIR website, or just listen on this little embedded radio doohickey…

At 10 AM and 10 PM our latest Radio Free Charleston opens this week with a track by Charleston’s new sensation, Emmalea Deal. We also have new tunes from Creek Don’t Rise, The Stars Revolt, Mark Beckner, In The Company of Wolves and Ptolemy, plus classic tracks from Feast of Stephen, Hellblinki, Karma To Burn and Punk Jazz. Just check out this cool hour of great local and localish artists…

RFCv4079

Emmalea Deal “The Light”
Creek Don’t Rise “White Coat Man”
Mark Beckner “I Don’t Want To Be Your Hero”
In The Company of Woves “Holding On To You”
The Stars Revolt “Burn What’s Left”
Bud Carroll “Tell It Like It Is”
Feast of Stephen “Mighty Gomec”
Ptolemy “Wax Knoll”
Bon Air “Virginia”
Hellblinki “Ants For Now”
Karma To Burn “37”
Screaming Js “Screaming Js’ Spaghetti”
Punk Jazz “Link Sausage”

Radio Free Charleston can be heard Tuesday at 10 AM and 10 PM, with replays Thursday at 2 PM, Friday at 8 PM and Saturday at 11 AM and Midnight, exclusively on The AIR.

At 3 PM stay tuned to The AIR for a special new hour of The Swing Shift, devoted this week to Electro Swing artists like Bart and Baker, Tape Five and Kitten on the Keys. This episode is presented as one long mixtape-style block of music, so we won’t post the playlist here. You’ll just have to listen to it and jive and groove along.

You can hear The Swing Shift Tuesday at 3 PM, with replays Wednesday at 7 AM, Thursday at 7 PM and Saturday at 9 AM, only on The AIR. You can also hear all-night marathons, seven hours each, starting at Midnight Thursday and Sunday evenings.

Also of note Tuesday evening: Last Friday we debuted a new episode of Sydney’s Big Electric Cat, our two-hour weekly showcase of the best music of the New Wave era. We had a bit of a hitch as our host company, Sourcefabric, had technical issues Thursday and The AIR went silent last Thursday, just as your humble blogger was headed to New York City for a whirlwind weekend of fun and theater and stuff. Because of this, I did not go into great detail about Sydney Fileen’s show.
Sourcefabric did manage to get The AIR back up and running  in time for the Friday debut of the Big Electric Cat, but this was a very special episode, as Sydney recorded the program directly after attending a viewing party for a certain royal wedding which she apparently did not want to attend. So as Sydney staked out her position by the bar, and imbibed judiciously throughout the proceedings, by the time she got back to Haversham Recording Institute to record the show, her inhibitions were tossed to the wind, along with three sheets and any semblence of respect for the monarchy. The show opens with The Sex Pistols performing “God Save The Queen,” and spirals into a bit of a punk-oriented festival of anti-royal songs, with a few jabs at her producer and engineer along the way. It’s actually quite entertaining, and it’s Sydney Fileen as you’ve never heard her before.

We have a replay of Sydney’s Big Electric Cat scheduled for Tuesday at 8 PM, and you can hear it again Thursday at noon. It’s worth checking out.

Monday Morning Art: The Negative Building

 

One of the stranger sights in Chicago is The Negative Building, on West Grand Avenue. The outer appearance of the building is bizarre, and you really can’t take your eyes off of it. But it gets really weird once you set foot inside. You are greeted by a doorman who says, “Goodbye.” Then at the front desk a receptionist asks you to list all the people that you aren’t there to see. In the elevators you have to push the “down” button to up, and the “up” button to go down. And apparently the landlord pays the tenants to live there.

I asked the doorman if this was some kind of Bizarro World building and he responded, “No, that’s Trump Tower. We may do things backwards, but we’re not crazy!”

Click the image to see it bigger.

Sunday Evening Video: Forbidden Monkees

We continue our look at unaired pilots with a strange take on The Monkees. This was shot on 16mm film by Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider in 1965 to pitch the show to NBC, and you’ll see several major differences here.

The opening is different, and the songs are performed by songwriters Boyce and Hart, and not the actual Monkees. In fact, this was made so early in the process that the Monkees are lip-syncing along to demos by Boyce and Hart.

Instead of the spectacular Monkeemobile, created by Dean Jeffries, the boys drive a beat-up old station wagon. Mickey Dolenz is credited as “Mickey Braddock,” which would be a great name for a hard-boiled detective.

The plot (co-written by Paul Mazursky) was remade as episode ten of the first season (“Here Come The Monkees”), but the differences are pretty remarkable. The Monkees are a bit more sedate, and are way more respectful of their manager.

Some versions of this start out with black and white footage of The Monkees addressing the camera, but this version looks better, and that black and white footage later turned up in the regular series, on the same episode that re-used the plot, so we went with the better quality video.

The RFC Flashback: Episode 140

For the past two months The RFC Flashback has gone back to the most ambitious run of episodes in Radio Free Charleston history. In June, 2011 I decided to try and do something sort of crazy. I’d managed to crank out Radio Free Charleston on a weekly basis before, which was no mean feat since the show was basically produced by me alone, with camera help from my now-wife Mel Larch and occasional help from other friends. For FestivALL 2011, I managed to produce eight episodes of Radio Free Charleston in under two weeks. This week we bring you the big finish.

This is the longest of our 2011 FestivALL shows, clocking in at over 33 minutes, and it has the most footage mixed in with the music and theater clips. Our performers include Joseph Hale, T.J. King and The Kingfish Five, Charleston Stage Company, Kathleen Coffee, Contemporary Youth Arts Company, The Velvet Nomads, WATT 4, Christopher Nelson and Albert Perrone. Intercut with the musical performances you will find scenes from The Art Parade, The Art Fair, The Antique Fair, Dizzy Doc’s Balloon Sculpture, Eamon Hardiman’s silent film, The Peer to Pier project and a few other surprises.

Production of these shows was a bit of a marathon for your PopCulteer. I could not have done this without the invaluable help, support and assistance of Melanie Larch, who was by my side running camera for most of the production of these episodes. I also want to thank our additional camerpeople, Steven Allen Adams and Liz McCormick, who pitched in to help record The Derick Kirk Memorial Concert, and Lee Harrah who was our still photographer on the final Saturday of FestivALL.

Next week we’re going to jump ahead a year to our 2012 FestivALL shows, and the current plan is to resume our chronological presentation of Radio Free Charleston the first weekend of July.

It’s Time For A Myasthenia Gravis Update

The PopCulteer
May 25, 2018

This will be a bit of a shorter PopCulteer, for reasons I will mention at the end of this post. It’s been a while since I gave my readers an update on how I’m coping with Myasthenia Gravis, and June is Myasthenia Gravis Awareness Month, so I thought I’d remind you folks what’s going on with me because I will be blogging about it a few times next month.

A little over two years ago I was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, an auto-immune disorder which effects the way that nerve signals are transmitted to your muscles. It basically makes your body attack the membranes that convey those signals, leading to severe muscle weakness.

Every case is different, and I am extremely lucky to have one of the mildest cases that my doctors have seen. I’ve been dealing with it since at least 2005, but it was not diagnosed until 2016. In my case, it mainly effects my eyes and fingers. Some people get hit so hard by it that they have to go on disability because they have trouble walking, talking or breathing. They call Myasthenia Gravis “The Snowflake Disease,” which has taken on a whole new connotation in today’s poltical climate, but which actually means that every case is different.

I have responded very well to treatment, and except for some lingering double vision I’m doing really well for the most part.

However, the last two years have been a learning process for me, and I still don’t know everything about this disease yet. Only recently did I discover that extreme heat and humidity can exacerbate MG symptoms. A friend who has this much worse than I do posted on Facebook about the effects of heat on Myasthenia Gravis. It was a bit of a revelation. I am still far from being an expert on this disease, and this explained a hell of a lot. I’ll be posting more about this June.

I’ve always hated the heat. I’m not a big fan of the outdoors. People suggest that I go for a nice relaxing hike in the woods and I look at them like they’re insane. It’s hot out there in the summer, and the woods is full of plants and bugs and animals and crap like that. Give me an urban landscape any day of the week.

I’ve always felt that way, and being outdoors for a long time always left me drained and miserable. Now I know why.

Add to that the fact that some of the meds I’m taking now instruct me to minimize my exposure to sunlight, and you can understand why I never accept invites to outdoor events any more. I might make the occasional exception, but only if it’s something I really, really want to see (like Paradise Park The Musical, or The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies at Live on the Levee). In the past I’ve covered some outdoor events extensively, and while I didn’t make a big deal about it, I always paid for it later.

I’m still trying to remind myself that, despite being in good shape, I have a chronic disease. I’m not going to let it stop me from enjoying life, but I am a lot more selective about what I do now. I don’t go to nearly as many local shows these days, but I do still support the local scene as best I can.

I have, however, stopped trying to kill myself by producing the Radio Free Charleston video show at an insane pace. I still plan to do one or two a year, but I’m also still trying to figure out how I managed to produce three hundred video shows (including The RFC MINI SHOW) in less than ten years while suffering from an undiagnosed chronic illness. Of late in The RFC Flashback in this blog on Saturdays I’ve been posting shows I produced in 2011 during FestivALL. That was a particularly brutal summer, with temps over 100 degrees for much of June, and I was still acting as the main caregiver for my uncle…and I managed to shoot–mostly outdoors, edit, produce and post eight episodes of RFC in two weeks. That was over three hours of video. And I did it for no money. Today I wouldn’t take on a project like that if they offered me huge amounts of cash for it (well, maybe, but it’d have to be really huge). I don’t know how I did it.

The best I can determine, I was running on fear. I noticed the changes in my body years ago, and in the back of my mind I had convinced myself that I had ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I felt a sense of urgency to produce as much work as possible because I thought I was one diagnosis away from spending the rest of my life bedridden, spending all day watching all the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies that I’d been avoiding. I thought I was racing the clock.

The thing is, that clock was not ticking for me. Myasthenia Gravis, though nasty enough for most people, is a walk in the park compared to ALS. It took me a year to stop being downright giddy about not having ALS. In the year since, I’ve started to learn to make more adjustments in my life to work around having this disease.

I am producing Radio Free Charleston as a radio show now, which takes it back to its roots. I’m having fun with The AIR, and while there is still no money involved, paying to run a radio station is actually less expensive than paying to produce a TV show, even for the internet. It’s less work and less wear-and-tear, and at times, it’s way more fun. Mainly, it’s way less work.

Fun is an important thing. I’ve lost my sense of urgency to work, and that means I have more time for fun. Melanie and I can travel now, and we’re taking full advantage of it. We’ll be travelling four out of the next five weekends. If you’re reading this Friday morning, it will be while I’m on a train from Pittsburgh to New York City to see the Edward Albee play, Three Tall Women (which apparently is not a Western). If I have some extra time, I may post photos from our trip while we’re there. If not, I will when we get back. PopCult was written in advance last Wednesday, and barring any posts from the road, will remain so until next Wednesday.

In the meantime, please continue to check PopCult every day, because even when I’m on the road, you’ll find all of our regular weekly features as well as fresh content every day. I will do my best  in the future not to promise a “short” column and then ramble on for a thousand words.

Extra PopCult Note: As I mentioned, I am in New York City this weekend. Right before I left, our internet radio station, The AIR, developed some kind of technical issue where there doesn’t seem to be any sound coming out of it. This is particularly annoying because we have a hilarious new episode of Sydney’s Big Electric Cat for this week, and special marathons of Curtain Call and Prognosis scheduled for Sunday and Monday. At the moment all we have is dead air. You may want to check the website over the weekend to see if our German IT Crowd can get it fixed, but I have a bad feeling it’ll be offline until I get back in town. Sorry about that.

A Bunch of Jews (and other stuff)

The PopCult Comix Bookshelf

A Minyen Yidn (un andere zakhn)
by Trina Robbins and various artists
Bedside Press
ISBN 9780993997051
$15.00

I’ve been a fan of Trina Robbins comix since I was probably too young to be reading them. A pioneering underground cartoonist and comics historian, Robbins has always brought a strong sense of storytelling to her work. In last year’s PopCult Gift Guide I recommended both her autobiography and a collection of some of her best work.

In her autobiography she talks about a book her father, Max B. Perlson, wrote that was published in Yiddish in 1938, A Minyen Yidn (un andere zakhn), which translates roughly as “A Bunch of Jews (and other stuff)” was thought lost, until her daughter tracked down a new edition, and eventually an original printing. After having it translated from Yiddish, Robbins realized that it would make for some great comic book stories.

A Minyen Yidn (un andere zakhn) is a great collection of character sketches and short, mostly-funny tales of Jewish life, pre- and post- Immigration to America. In terms of the tone of this adaptation, it would fit perfectly on your comics library shelf between Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, and Will Eisner’s A Contract With God.

Perlson was a talented writer who seemed to be working somewhat in the vein of James Thurber, maybe with a little traditional Jewish storytelling in the mix, too. This book presents snippets of Person’s life growing up in a shtetl in Belarus and immigrating to Brooklyn in the late 1910s at the age of 16.

Robbins no longer draws. For this book she has handed the scripts over to a group of terrific artists. The cover is by famed underground comic artist Barbara Mendes. Each of the 13 stories has been visually adapted by a different artist and includes contributions by: Steve Leialoha, Shary Flenniken, Eve Furchgott, Miriam Katin, Miriam Libicki, Sarah Glidden, Anne Timmons, Robert Triptow, Jen Vaughn, Elizabeth Watasin, Caryn Leschen, Joan Steacy, Ken Steacy, and Terry Laban. The effect is wonderful because each story is presented in a unique style, but they all combine into a cohesive whole because of the strong personality of the authors (father and daughter).

The stories are bright little vignettes that are very entertaining. Most are funny, though there is a tearjerker about a loyal dog, but all will hold your attention. The only problem is that the book is so brief. It really leaves you wanting more. That’s really not a bad problem to have.

A Minyen Yidn (un andere zakhn) is perfect for anyone with an interest in pre-WWII Jewish culture, but it will also appeal to fans of reality comics and good storytelling in general. You should be able to order it from any bookseller, using the ISBN number, or you can get it from Amazon.

Mo’ Monet

The Monet craze started with The Selfie Kid (Ryan McKenna, seen right with a friend) who used Monet on his phone during his Reunion Selfie with Justin Timberlake at Timberlake’s Man of the Woods concert in Boston in early April. Now, the Monet 3-in-1 phone grip that’s a wallet, kickstand and grip all in one is a viral trend on Instagram. We told you about it in The PopCulteer a few weeks ago, and now it’s conquering the world.

The Monet is such a simple idea, yet it works so well. It sticks on the back of your smartphone and can be used as a wallet (it holds a couple of cards or mass transit passes) and it has a strap that pulls out and allows you to easily grip your phone for selfies, or just to use to hold it more securely while you call people (apparently some phones are still used for that purpose). And if you leave the strap pulled out, it can act as a stand if you’re using your phone to watch video, or as an alarm clock, or a ramp for Hot Wheels.

Apparently Monet has become the new best friend for famous Instagrammers to help them get the best grip on their phone to take even better selfies. From celebrities like Scott Disick and Stephanie Ann Shepherd to beauty and fitness models like Jena Frumes, Sarah Stage, Lindsey Pelas and Emily Sears (seen left), with Monet on their phones, their Selfie-taking game has reached a whole other level.

The Monet is more than a Selfie-Taking Tool. According to Emily Sears, “….I can use it as my kickstand while I’m watching Netflix on my phone, and the grip to hold my phone is more comfy than any of the other kinds I’ve tried. It sits flat so I cfan fit it in my purse or pocket easier than the pop out ones! I love that it has wallet compartments also to hold my cards and cash when I want to go out without a huge purse. #obsessed #love.”

It’s even cool for old people like your PopCulteer, who doesn’t even have an Instagram account or watch TV on his phone. It’s nifty because it holds your vital cards so you don’t have to fumble with a wallet while you’re fumbling with your phone.