FOR THE HELL OF IT  Vol 8. No. 5


2016 – A YEAR IN REVIEWfullsizerender-14

By Johnny Heller

November 23, 2106

2016 will go down in history as a year neatly sandwiched between 2015 and 2017.  It seems that, however, only scratches the surface of its true nature.  Dickens wrote “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” and I think that applies to most years and half of it applies to 2016… the last half.

It is nearly impossible to determine the best or the worst years in human history. If you or yours suffered greatly – it was a bad year. If you prospered, it was good. It really depends on what metric one uses to make the determination. Is the worst year the one where the greatest percentage of the population was wiped out? The worst instance of massive genocide and cruelty? The beginning of a long period of prolonged suffering?  Or the year Donald Trump got elected? See? It’s all a matter of perspective. Certainly, for many people, Trump’s election is a wonderful thing that makes 2016 a great year.  I say again – it’s all perspective.

Surely there were worse years in our collective history – 1959 saw great famine and a continued rise to the death toll in China (actually a bad 10 year run that killed 45 million); 2011 saw the extinction of the African Black Rhinos – a horrible year for them and for us – with tigers and elephants next up to become extinct species;   2001 saw the terrorist attack that devastated the US and led us to enact the Patriot Act – diminishing American freedoms forever – in the name of safety; 1914 saw the start of WWI and 1939 WWII; 1346 was the year the black plague started and ended up with 100,000,000 dead – many were killed by the frightened populace who believed that the disease was carried by cats, witches and Jews; 1492 saw the beginnings of the European conquest and the destruction of hordes of people who had the misfortune of living where explorers showed up and claimed land that wasn’t theirs and exterminated, enslaved or expelled the natives – that surely sucked for the people who lived there first; 1932 saw Papa Joe Stalin commit genocide in the Ukraine killing 2-12 million by starving them; 1933 saw the rise of Hitler and beginning of the Holocaust – as a political leader rose to power by blaming the woes of a nation on immigrants, “other” religions and permissiveness and appealed to the seething bigotry, hatred and virulent racism rising in the middle class of his people (man, that sounds so –so  – right this minute doesn’t it?  Don’t worry though – I’m just musing. It was 80 years ago – no way a group of bigoted racist demagogues could ever come to power in a modern democracy today! Right?)

So anyway, in the history of mankind there have been many bad years. Which ones are worse than others is a wonderful idea for a party game assuming all the guests at the party are political science or history majors and you don’t have twister…or plans for a fun party.

Let’s – for the purposes of this particular essay –  assume that we are only concerned with the year 2016.  I am writing this in late November of 2016, before the year is actually done and before giving it a chance to have something wonderful happen to make it a splendid year and a potential future great memory.  “Remember that time in 2016, when we were all at each other’s throats and hate crimes were all over and people could barely speak to each other in civil tones and then all of a sudden that guy in Cleveland cured cancer and that lady in Oregon found a fully sustainable source of clean energy and God came down and united all the people of the planet and we found peace and love? That was a pretty good year!”
I just don’t think any of that will happen in the short time the year has left to redeem itself.

It would be like Andrew Wiener making amends and being forgiven and was no longer into sending dick pics to teenagers; Or Bill Cosby suddenly being exonerated by the multitude of women accusing him of rape and he gets the Presidential Medal of Freedom and his gig with Jello back; Or Prince not dying of drugs or Bowie or Gene Wilder just not dying.  It’s not going to happen.

So let’s look at some lowlights of the year 2016.


While the World Health Organization has downgraded the virus so that it is no longer a health emergency, for the majority of 2016, it was. And you could get it from a mosquito. A mosquito! It’s bad enough that mosquitoes are the boy bands of the insect world – hated by everyone – including members of boy bands. They buzz around. They suck your blood and they leave really itchy bumps. And now they can kill you. Or destroy the baby you’re carrying. A mosquito.  And they were all over Brazil. Brazil! That mecca of murder, kidnapping, crime and fecal waters that we sent all the world’s top athletes to.  We did! We said  – you people represent the very best each nation on earth has to offer. Wanna go to Brazil and risk Zika for a medal that only you and your family will recall in 5 years? C’mon!  I can see sending Ryan Lochte – he’s a complete douche — but the rest of them?  Just crazy. Thanks 2016.


Brazil bid a boatload of money they didn’t have and incurred great debt to host the games. They promised to clamp down on crime, clean up the polluted waterways, rebuild the ghettos, improve the infrastructure, increase tourism and provide jobs. None of the this happened and now Brazil is still riddled with crime, it’s Olympic structures in debt and underutilized and the ghettos remain with the majority of the money generated by the games shuttled to the already rich areas in Brazil – bypassing the populace most in need. But there is a nice new golf course. Oh and Ryan Lochte embarrassed an entire nation while he was there.  Thanks 2016.


We can’t blame 2016 for this but it is the year we had our election so it came up every once in while – when the candidates weren’t bickering over who lied to whom or who looked better or who tweeted what.  The civil war in Syria is a battle to oust Assad from power but his enemies are by no means coalescing behind one leader or another. The revolutionaries are from many factions – each with its own agenda and both sides of the conflict seem happy to kill as many innocents as cruelly as possible whenever possible. This being killed every few minutes has led many Syrians to decide that Syria is a horrible place to be and to date, some 12 million have fled – not all successfully. Not enough nations are welcoming the refugees and they have no place to go, no food to eat, no home to return to.  It has become, in this year, a situation that needs immediate world attention and solutions from the planet’s greatest minds. Trump as President elect has the open-minded good hearted Steve Bannon as his top advisor. Things don’t look good for the refugees. Thanks 2016.


We lost many greats in 2016. For fear of missing ones that you felt strongly about, I will not attempt a complete list. I’ll  just name some:

David Bowie, Prince, Alan Rickman, the great British comic – Ronnie Corbett – who I thought was just wonderful, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, Gary Shandling – unbelievable, Umberto Eco  – even Abe Vigoda finally gave up the ghost.  Thanks 2106


This has actually been building for some time. There is no doubt that police treat black suspects – first as suspects before they actually are – second, when they really are suspects, worse than other races. The issue is that there have been an extraordinary number of unarmed black men killed by police other nonfatal options were available. I do not pretend to know what it is like to be a cop. To have to apprehend suspects who may or who may not be armed. But when you have a gun out and your potential perp is not resisting, you probably shouldn’t shoot him.  Especially when you wouldn’t have even thought about shooting him if he had been lucky enough to be white. I should state that I am a fan of police in general. They do a brave and necessary job and get very little thanks or respect. However, the actions of the cops who killed without provocation have sullied the reputation of police forces across the nation. And as soon as one horrible incident occurred, you would think that police would be extra cautious in using deadly force or even in using force in general. Police were caught on video kicking perps, slugging women and generally being more a part of the problem than a solution.

Many people wondered why tasers weren’t used instead of guns. More wondered why cops didn’t shoot to wound instead of to kill. Here’s the thing, every time you read about a police shooting, you read that cops fired 17 to 2 zillion shots and the suspect was always hit 2 or 3 times. In the movies, our hero cop fires on shot and hits the bad guy square in the head and that’s that. In real life – bullets zip all over and the safest place to be is likely the line of fire. Many of these guys do not shoot well because they don’t get the training they need to be good shots or to be trusted with guns in general. I think the police across the nation need to step it up and regain the trust and respect of the communities they serve. Right now, more people fear them than trust them and that has everything to do with cops using too much force too soon and being too willing to kill unarmed black people.  There is a great deal of healing and reconciliation to be done and it has to start with the police because the onus is on them.

So thanks for that 2016.


Okay. The big story of 2016. One of the main reasons why it stands out as a truly sucky year. It’s not because Donald J. Trump won the presidency. (well, to many it is – but I think we need to go deeper). It is because we – the American people – finally got a really good look at who we really are and it is frightening.

Look – the GOP ran a Ted Mack Amateur Hour to pick a candidate. There were 17 people vying to succeed Obama and every one of them felt they were the right candidate for the job. We had a conniving bully from New Jersey who turned into a lackey for Trump and may still not see the White House except as part of a tour. We had a woman – who Trump belittled for her looks – which was really creepy and crude but bothered no one – when he should’ve pointed out that she nearly ruined Hewlett Packard—or is your CPU an HP? – thought not. Jeb Bush was there. We were told that he was the smart one – the smart Bush! He may be smart but he forgot to bring any semblance of a personality. Marco Rubio. The Ryan Lochte of the group. Enough said. Ted Cruz – a man known by all for being disliked by all. A man who worked the phones for the guy who criticized his wife and accused his dad of killing JFK.  What a craven gutter snipe. The list goes on and went on and on and on. Until only Don Trump was left standing as the great white hope to end the decadent rule of the leftist fringe.
And here’s the thing. He saw what no one else did. That until the Democratic and  minority voters actually showed up and voted as a single voice – uniting behind a single candidate, a con artist, vulgar shell of a man – filled with conceit and armed with bravado and chauvinism and brimming with hatred for all things not in John Wayne movies could get the gun carrying  masses – fearful of conservation, of science, of environmental protections, smarting under too many government regulations, tired of being dictated to by rich liberals who treated them like unwashed idiots – he could get them to unite behind him. He didn’t need a plan or a program. He needed only slogans and tweets that showed them that he was one of them. He never was one of them and never will be. He has ridden on their backs and broken them like a western movie land baron but he has succeeded – like PT Barnum – in making them believe that his is the greatest show on Earth.

Ms. Clinton was disliked. Many believed she and the Democratic Party stole the election from Bernie Sanders. And she was never able to win all his supporters back. There was always the expectation that the inner city blacks, the Latinos, the disenfranchised would flock to her banner as they did to Obamas – but they didn’t and she never saw it coming.

Neither did most of us. The media is to blame for that. The media – both left and right – gave Trump amazing and complete 24/7 coverage. His every idiotic comment played over and over again and no one realized that what he was saying – many Americans were actually thinking. That’s why women still voted for him – even after they knew for certain how he felt about them. Laborers-skilled and unskilled – voted for him even though they knew that he didn’t pay people like them for the honest work they did and that he ruined many of them.  But he wasn’t Hilary and that was all they needed to know. Hilary, the most investigated human in America had withstood every interrogation, every slur, every charge and came out innocent and clean and people didn’t like it. She is called a killer when facts exonerate her. But in 2016, facts didn’t matter – only the 5 second sound bit mattered and Trump was the master of that.

So now we have something new in America. An independent President. The GOP didn’t help him and neither did the Democrats. He is surrounding himself with a staff of bigots, racists, homophobes and rabid nationalists. He has zero understanding of the issues he faces or the job he must now do.

And that is what makes this democracy so constantly amazing. If this had been a movie, it would have been a comedy. As it’s real-life, we can only pray it won’t be a tragedy.  I don’t – obviously-  approve of Mr. Trump. I think he’s a horrible human being and I see many consistencies between his rise and the rise of other fascist demagogues.
I pray that our system of checks and balances and that our common decency as a people will prevail. But 2016 has me wondering about our decency.

The rise in hate crimes, of social injustice of pure evil for its own sake makes me wonder who we actually are. I appeal to you all to find your better natures. To fight for the rights of all – every day in every way.

I believe the words of Lincoln must be heard again today:  that we are, as we were in our civil war, testing whether our nation, or any nation so conceived can long endure unless we have a new birth of freedom – so that our government – of the people, by the people and for the people – shall not perish from the earth.

Thank you 2016. We hated you for the most part. But we accept the challenges you have left for us. We will persevere as one people. We will stand tall for those who cannot stand on their own because they are bent and broken by the bullying bigots or by the ruling class that sees them as eyesores and not as people in need and we must ensure that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness be available to all who come to us seeking the American dream.

And now the good things from 2016:

I lost 5 pounds. I will likely find them again very soon.

I fell even deeper in love with my lovely Jo Anna.

We got a new Chow Chow puppy to befriend Linus Van Pet. Keely Paws is no Tallulah Barkhead but she is a source of joy to us.

I celebrated the one year wedding anniversary of my dearest friends Nick Salamone and Clay Storseth – try ending that with therapy Mike Pence!

I had a wonderful Splendiferous Workshop in Chicago where I was filled with joy that so many got to experience so much love and support in one day.

I got to know better and love more my dear friends Scott Brick, Bill Lord, Steven J Cohen – who is now my business partner and major source of support and BF Helman – my dearest friend for many years who has always had my back.

I finished in 2nd  place in 2 fantasy baseball leagues – one with the amazing Marc Avila – who has been my companion throughout my audiobook career.

I got to take part in the Claudia Howard retirement party. She was my introduction to the world of audiobooks and I owe my success to her… but no money!

I worked hard with the SAGAFTRA union to push for more publishers to provide union wages to talent and I gave many workshops at the union office in commercial and audiobook vo.

I embraced my relationship with the wonderful people at Edge Studio – especially Graham Spicer, David Goldberg, Andrew Warner and Leslie Chastain and together we produced some first rate demos for some first rate people. I continue to be blessed with the professionalism of the entire organization.

This year I celebrate a birthday that I thought all my life that I would never see and I am thankful to have made it and that when I look back, I feel pretty good about what I’ve done and who I’ve become. My work continues and authors and publishers continue to trust me to share their stories – to speak their truth. My name has become a brand I guess and people expect good things from me and while the pressure mounts, I love the challenge of meeting the demands and bringing a sense of community and camaraderie to our industry in every event I participate in.

My Dad will be celebrating 90 years in February 2017 and I am looking forward to sharing that event with him. He is healthy and doesn’t look a day over 63! …maybe 64 but that’s it.

So thanks for that 2016. You still suck but every bad year has a modicum of wonderfulness and that’s what I hope we can all take with us into 2017 and beyond.

I wish you all a Happy Holiday Season and that we will all be the best we can be, individually and as a nation, in 2017.



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