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Posts Tagged ‘comedy

Week in the World: New music, new love, British TV, and more

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Here’s a roundup of what’s been occupying my time these past few weeks.

St. Vincent’s new album, eponymously named St. Vincent, is out this week. If you haven’t heard her music yet, think Bjork and Tori Amos and you’re pretty close. Studio 360 spoke with her and The Guardian is streaming the new album.

New York magazine spoke with television producer Lorne Michaels about Saturday Night Live, the comedians he’s launched, and the various shows that have come out of his legendary late night program.

NY Mag: Have you ever felt restricted by the standards of broadcast TV?
LM: No. I believe that there’s no creativity without boundaries. If you write a sonnet, it’s got to be fourteen lines. If you write one that’s nine lines, it’s not a sonnet. So we have to be clever. We’re in a medium that goes into people’s homes, and, very often now, people watch our show with their kids.

Marc Maron is now dating Moon Zappa, and appears to be very happy. He tells the story of how they got together in the monologue of this episode. It’s a great reason to go back and listen to his interview with Moon from October 2013.

Speaking of podcasts, I can’t believe it took me until the 123rd episode to start listening to Throwing Shade, an irreverent comedy show hosted by Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi. Together they take on the pop culture topics of the day with blatant disregard for political correctness. They are hilariously brilliant — and brilliantly hilarious. If you want to break out of the winter doldrums, put this on your iPod.

If you’ve finished watching House of Cards and are waiting for the second season of Orange is the New Black to start this summer, you should consider watching Shameless, a British TV show about a family (and their surrounding neighbors) who live in a public housing community. There are no connecting themes to either of the Netflix shows, except that all seasons are streaming and it’s awesome. The first season features James McAvoy if you need some incentive.

I just plowed through Will Self’s 2006 collection of essays, Junk Mail. Spanning much of the 90s, these nonfiction works are taken from places such as the Evening Standard, the Observer, the Independent, Esquire, GQ and the like. The opening piece, “New Crack City,” describes a crack den Self once knew and the second, “On Junky,” is an introduction to William S. Burroughs’ popular work of semi-autobiographical fiction. But it’s not all drugs in this one. Self also writes about his stay at a hotel made of ice, there’s a profile of Bret Easton Ellis, a thought piece on Morrissey, and interviews with artist Damien Hirst and author J.G. Ballard.

The other week, The New York Review of Books ran the short story To Kill a Child by Swedish writer Stig Dagerman. It’s eery and compelling and might just bring back those winter blues so have Throwing Shade handy after reading.

Written by Gabrielle

February 25, 2014 at 6:53 am

Favorite Podcasts of 2013

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headphonesMy good buddy David over at Largehearted Boy every year rounds up year-end lists featuring books and music. On his suggestion, here’s my list of the podcasts I couldn’t stop listening to.

By the Way with Jeff Garlin
Possibly the best find of the year has been By the Way, Jeff Garlin’s new podcast. Recorded live at Largo in Los Angeles, Garlin sits down with his talented friends to discuss all sorts of things. Garlin’s laugh alone makes this one infectious but the conversations will keep you coming back. If you’ve not been listening to it, your 2013 has been a wash.

Longform Podcast
Longform journalism has been making some noise lately and, along with Longreads, the site Longform has done much to propel it into the public consciousness. What might not be as known is that they have a weekly podcast where they interview journalists about their work. The conversations range from particular stories the writer has worked on to how they make ends meet between jobs. I look forward to it every week.

Other People
Just over the 200 episode mark and still going strong, Other People, hosted by Brad Listi, is one of the best author interview podcasts out there. Not content with a simple conversation about the writer’s latest book, Brad delves into childhood memories, the writing process, and anything unique to his guest’s experience that they’re willing to discuss.

Book Riot
Literary website Book Riot started a podcast this year and it quickly became one of my favorites. Every weekend I look forward to the bookish banter of co-founder Jeff O’Neal and Senior Editor Rebecca Schinsky. Together they parse out the week’s publishing and literary news, discuss the latest book gadgets, and go over the week’s new releases. Always fresh. A must-listen.

Late Night Library
If you’re reading this site, there’s a good chance you can never hear enough about publishing. Late Night Library is an organization based in Portland dedicated to promoting book culture, especially the indie sort. On their podcast Late Night Conversation, along with writers they interview industry people about their various positions and how it works within the chain of events, manuscript to bookstore.

Pop Culture Happy Hour
Hosted by NPR editors, producers, and critics, Pop Culture Happy Hour is a casual conversation about the week’s pop culture news. The chemistry of the co-hosts, their familiarity with each other, is most-endearing. Perfect way to kick off the weekend.

Design Matters
I became aware of Debbie Millman after Maria Popova highlighted her book, Brand Thinking, a collection of interviews with design and advertising creatives. A look into these minds was fascinating, in large part due to Millman’s knowledge of the industry and her subjects. On Design Matters, a podcast hosted by Design Observer, Millman brings her impeccable research and optimism to the conversation.

Slate
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Slate has perfected the podcast. Duration, format, everything. They’ve nailed it. While there are four main shows — the Political Gabfest, the Culture Gabfest, the Double X, and for all you sports fans, Hang Up and Listen, hosted by Stefan Fatsis, Josh Levin, and Mike Pesca — they continue to explore themed series. There’s Lexicon Valley, which discusses language, the monthly Audio Book Club, and, most recently, Mom and Dad are Fighting, a frank and honest look at parenting.

Gweek
The popular site Boing Boing has a number of podcasts on their roster. One of my favorites is Gweek, a show where editor Mark Frauenfelder and friends bring authors, artists, and other creative types on to discuss their work. Some recent shows include interviews with Clive Thompson for his book on the Internet, book designer Chip Kidd, and Wired magazine founding editor Kevin Kelly.

Six Pixels of Separation
If you’re the least bit interested in where business and creativity meet, Mitch Joel’s interviews are a goldmine.

Also recommended:
Stuff You Should Know
Recommended if You Like
Next Market (a podcast about podcasting)

Written by Gabrielle

December 24, 2013 at 7:11 am

The Importance of Being Idle

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If you’re anything like me and you ask someone to describe you, “idle” would not show up on their list. I’m the type of person who will walk 20 blocks instead of connecting to another subway; it’s rare that I see a movie in the theater because the thought of sitting still for two hours makes my skin crawl; hang out with me for more than 45 minutes and I’ll suggest we get up from wherever we are and wander the streets; and if I’m not out of bed by 7am on the weekends I’ve wasted my day.

I read Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, and other “lifehack” type publications that promise lessons on super-human productivity. I aspire to “robot brain,” my shorthand for ultimate organizational skills. “Idle” is not in my vocabulary. So, it was an interesting choice in books when I decided, last minute, to buy How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto by Tom Hodgkinson, co-founder and editor of The Idler magazine.

While at the bookstore register, attempting to finish off a gift card, the bright orange cover propped up on the counter caught my eye. “Indispensable,” the bookseller said when I picked it up. I was sold. Maybe, I thought, just as I hone my productivity skills, I need to learn to relax. After all, recharging is an important part of the equation as well — or so all those seasoned lifehackers tell me.

In blending social history, humor, and profiles of famous idlers from science, the arts, and politics, Hodgkinson makes a convincing case for slowing down. At times, nearly sounding like a conspiracy theorist, he points out how we became workaholics. He quotes radical philosopher Terence McKenna, “… institutions fear idle populations because an Idler is a thinker and thinkers are not a welcome addition to most social situations.” He continues with his own thoughts:

It is precisely to prevent us from thinking too much that society pressurizes us all to get out of bed. … Introspection could lead to that terrible thing: a vision of the truth, a clear image of the horror of our fractured, dissonant world.

At one point in the book, the extremity of our situation — our collective discouragement towards idling — is made clear. We’ve gotten to the point as a society that many of us take vacation seriously: what should be a time of leisure has become “over-organized.” Not only are we under pressure to fit in all there is to see and do at our destination of choice but we’re expected to be cheerful about it.

From the first chapter, Hodgkinson flips your brain, putting you in a space to trust whatever comes next.

Sleep is a powerful seducer, hence the terrifying machinery we have developed to fight it. I mean, the alarm clock. Heavens! What evil genius brought together those two enemies of the idle–clocks and alarms–into one unit? … Is it not absurd to spend our hard-earned cash on a device to make every day of our lives start as unpleasantly as possible, and which really just serves the employer to whom we sell our time?

The chapters in How to Be Idle are broken down into hours of the day. 8 a.m., entitled “Waking Up is Hard to Do,” offers the advice of laying in bed longer and enjoying the half-awake time. 9 a.m., “Toil and Trouble,” suggests working fewer days a week. “Sleeping In,” which is 10 a.m., explains how idling is actually productive, using Walter Benjamin, Sherlock Holmes, and Rene Descartes as examples.

Defining idler as a “student of the art of living,” Hodgkinson finds valuable lessons in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, pointing out that in playing hooky there is potential for a journey of self-exploration.

How to Be Idle asks us to be our better selves — noble flaneurs in today’s fast-paced climate — and urges us to step outside the daily pressures:

As with all aspects of idleness, we should resist the pressure to reject the elements of our lives which do not fit into the productive, rational, busy paradigm that society and our own selves impose upon us.

To make time for conversation:

Sharing is at the heart of conversation: sharing ideas, entertainment and stories. … As well as giving rise to ideas, conversation gives a way of expressing them.

And to look up from time to time:

Gazing at the stars opens our minds to another reality, a mysterious eternal world, beyond material struggle.

How to Be Idle — as compelling as it is humorous — is a celebration of idleness, a lesson in the importance of stepping back, slowing down, and taking a deep breath. By the end it becomes clear, Hodgkinson’s book should be kept on everyone’s nightstand and reread at least once a year.

::[Links]::
Buy How to Be Idle from your local bookstore
Visit The Idler online
Read an interview with Tom Hodgkinson at 3:AM Magazine
Read an interview with Tom at Mother Jones

Written by Gabrielle

December 10, 2013 at 6:55 am

Posted in books, reviews

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New in Paperback for December

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Here are just a few paperback releases coming out this month that have caught my eye.

Black Is the Color by Julia Gfrorer
Black is the ColorBlack is the Color begins with a 17th-century sailor abandoned at sea by his shipmates, and as it progresses he endures, and eventually succumbs to, both his lingering death sentence and the advances of a cruel and amorous mermaid. The narrative also explores the experiences of the loved ones he leaves behind, on his ship and at home on land, as well as of the mermaids who jadedly witness his destruction. At the heart of the story lie the dubious value of maintaining dignity to the detriment of intimacy, and the erotic potential of the worst-case scenario. Julie Gfrorer’s delicate drawing style perfectly complements the period era of Black is the Color, bringing the lyricism and romanticism of Gfrorer’s prose to the fore. Black is the Color is a book as seductive as the sirens it depicts.

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel Pink
To Sell is HumanTo Sell Is Human offers a fresh look at the art and science of selling. As he did in Drive and A Whole New Mind, Daniel H. Pink draws on a rich trove of social science for his counterintuitive insights. He reveals the new ABCs of moving others (it’s no longer “Always Be Closing”), explains why extraverts don’t make the best salespeople, and shows how giving people an “off-ramp” for their actions can matter more than actually changing their minds.

Along the way, Pink describes the six successors to the elevator pitch, the three rules for understanding another’s perspective, the five frames that can make your message clearer and more persuasive, and much more. The result is a perceptive and practical book–one that will change how you see the world and transform what you do at work, at school, and at home.

Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor
Hip Hop Family TreeThe lore of the early days of hip hop has become the stuff of myth, so what better way to document this fascinating, epic true story than in another great American mythological medium — the comic book? From exciting young talent and self-proclaimed hip hop nerd Ed Piskor, acclaimed for his hacker graphic novel Wizzywig, comes this explosively entertaining, encyclopedic history of the formative years of the music genre that changed global culture. Originally serialized on the hugely popular website Boing Boing, The Hip Hop Family Tree is now collected in a single volume cleverly presented and packaged in a style mimicking the Marvel comics of the same era. Piskor’s exuberant yet controlled cartooning takes you from the parks and rec rooms of the South Bronx to the night clubs, recording studios, and radio stations where the scene started to boom, capturing the flavor of late-1970s New York City in panels bursting with obsessively authentic detail. With a painstaking, vigorous and engaging Ken Burns meets- Stan Lee approach, the battles and rivalries, the technical innovations, the triumphs and failures are all thoroughly researched and lovingly depicted. plus the charismatic players behind the scenes like Russell Simmons, Sylvia Robinson and then-punker Rick Rubin. Piskor also traces graffiti master Fab 5 Freddy’s rise in the art world, and Debbie Harry, Keith Haring, The Clash, and other luminaries make cameos as the music and culture begin to penetrate downtown Manhattan and the mainstream at large. Like the acclaimed hip hop documentaries Style Wars and Scratch, The Hip Hop Family Tree is an exciting and essential cultural chronicle and a must for hip hop fans, pop-culture addicts, and anyone who wants to know how it went down back in the day.

The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays by Martin Heidegger
Question Concerning TechnologyThe advent of machine technology has given rise to some of the deepest problems of modern thought. Featuring the celebrated essay “The Question Concerning Technology,” this prescient volume contains Martin Heidegger’s groundbreaking investigation into the pervasive “enframing” character of our understanding of ourselves and the world. As relevant now as ever before, this collection is an essential landmark in the philosophy of science from “one of the most profound thinkers of the twentieth century” (New York Times).

The Guy Under the Sheets: The Unauthorized Autobiography by Chris Elliott
Chris ElliottIs Chris Elliott a highly successful and beloved comedian—or a slightly dim-witted notalent from a celebrity family who managed to convince a generation of disillusioned youth that he was funny? From a ghastly childhood on the posh Upper East Side to his first job entertaining mobsters with his Judy Garland impersonation, The Guy Under the Sheets is packed with countless episodes from the life of a mediocre artist who somehow faked his way to the top—of semi-moderate fame and fortune. Woven throughout thectional fun in Elliott’s memoir are wonderful real-life anecdotes that will delight many new readers and loyal fans alike.

Pretty in Ink: North American Women Cartoonists 1896-2013 by Trina Robbins
Pretty in InkWith the 1896 publication of Rose O’Neill’s comic strip The Old Subscriber Calls, in Truth Magazine, American women entered the field of comics, and they never left it. But, you might not know that reading most of the comics histories out there. Trina Robbins has spent the last thirty years recording the accomplishments of a century of women cartoonists, and Pretty in Ink is her ultimate book, a revised, updated and rewritten history of women cartoonists, with more color illustrations than ever before, and with some startling new discoveries (such as a Native American woman cartoonist from the 1940s who was also a Corporal in the women’s army, and the revelation that a cartoonist included in all of Robbins’s previous histories was a man ) In the pages of Pretty in Ink you’ll find new photos and correspondence from cartoonists Ethel Hays and Edwina Dumm, and the true story of Golden Age comic book star Lily Renee, as intriguing as the comics she drew. Although the comics profession was dominated by men, there were far more women working in the profession throughout the 20th century than other histories indicate, and they have flourished in the 21st. Robbins not only documents the increasing relevance of women throughout the 20th century, with mainstream creators such as Ramona Fradon and Dale Messick and alternative cartoonists such as Lynda Barry, Carol Tyler, and Phoebe Gloeckner, but the latest generation of women cartoonists–Megan Kelso, Cathy Malkasian, Linda Medley, and Lilli Carre, among many others. Robbins is the preeminent historian of women comic artists; forget her previous histories: Pretty in Ink is her most comprehensive volume to date.

Written by Gabrielle

December 4, 2013 at 7:00 am

Podcast Roundup: Comedians

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Today, it seems like everyone has a favorite comedian; it’s almost hard not to. With great work being done for the big screen all the way down to mobile devices, smart, funny entertainment is more accessible now than during any other time in history. Here are just a few podcasts that give you a behind the scenes look at a life in comedy.

New Yorker: Emily Nussbaum, Jelani Cobb, and Sasha Weiss discuss “Key & Peele”
New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum and frequent contributor Jelani Cobb discuss the way the Comedy Central show “Key & Peele” addresses race.
Extra credit: read Emily’s review of the show.

By the Way, In Conversation with Jeff Garlin: Conan O’Brien
RIYLIt’s hard to go wrong with an episode of Jeff Garlin’s “By The Way,” his not-so-new-anymore podcast on Earwolf. As it turns out, Jeff and Conan O’Brien were roommates during their Chicago days, which makes this episode particularly entertaining.
Extra credit: watch the special Conan put together during the year he was exiled from late night TV, “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop.”

Recommended If You Like: Marc Maron
This past spring comedian and podcast host Marc Maron launched his latest book, Attempting Normal, with a bunch of interviews. It was interesting to hear him on the other side of the mic. In this show he talks in-depth about his career in comedy.
Extra credit: watch Marc Maron’s latest stand-up special, “Thinky Pain.”

WTF with Marc Maron: Baratunde Thurston
Marc Maron, back on his side of the table, speaks with Baratunde Thurston, comedian and author of How to Be Black. The two guys talk about their childhoods, their views on social media, and, of course, race.

Girl on Guy: Chris Rock
Host Aisha Tyler talks to Chris about his childhood, how he learned comedy, and sketch vs. stand-up.

Nerdist

Nerdist: Jim Rash and Nat Faxon
Jim Rash, known to “Community” fans as Dean Pelton, joins fellow actor/comedian Nat Faxon to talk about improv and teaching comedy at the LA-based comedy group The Groundlings.

Nerdist: Aziz Ansari
Having just released a new stand-up special, Aziz Ansari talks to Chris Hardwick about how he tested out the show’s material, where he is in his career right now, and the importance of change.
Extra credit: watch Aziz’s latest stand-up special, “Buried Alive,” now streaming on Netflix.

Comedy Bang Bang: Amy Poehler
What can only be described as mental jujitsu, Amy Poehler unleashes her improvisational skills for an hour and a half.

Written by Gabrielle

November 12, 2013 at 9:06 am

Week in the World: Podcasts Galore

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It’s been a big month in podcast world. Here are a few that have been especially amazing.

headphones

Judd Apatow sat down at Largo for Jeff Garlin’s incredible live show By the Way, in Conversation with Jeff Garlin. On WNYC, David Simon spoke with Alec Baldwin on his show Here’s the Thing. Aisha Tyler had a cold the other week and aired what was previously a premium episode, an interview with Henry Rollins.

Marc Maron’s doing the media rounds for his new book, Attempting Normal, and his show on IFC, Maron, and was just on the Nerdist to talk about both–among other things. In a more recent episode of The Nerdist, Billy Crystal was on the show to talk about his new movie Monsters University and also got around to discussing a few stories from his time in comedy. NPR’s comic critic Glen Weldon, who just wrote an unauthorized biography of Superman, was on the Nerdist Comics Panel to talk about the history of the superhero.

david simonHouse DJ and producer Felix da Housecat dropped by KCRW to discuss the origins of house music and how he became a DJ on Metropolis. The most recent episode of the show features an interview with the two brothers who make up Disclosure, an excellent British electronic act with a new album, which I can’t recommend enough.

Meanwhile, on the Los Angeles Review of Books’ podcast, host Colin Marshall talks with co-authors Jeff Weiss and Evan McGarvey about their book 2pac vs. Biggie: An Illustrated History of Rap’s Greatest Battle, a must-listen for hip hop fans. Also not to be missed, WBEZ’s Sound Opinions explored Johnny Cash’s legendary live album, Live from Folsom Prison.

henry rollins

Late Night Library, an excellent podcast that interviews publishing industry professionals, spoke with fellow podcaster Ed Champion and, before that, literary agent Laura Liss. Speaking of Ed Champion, he sat down with Claire Messud for her latest novel, The Woman Upstairs.

One of my new favorite podcasts hosted by Joyland Magazine spoke with the incredible writer and critic Roxane Gay. And on a long-time staple, Other People, Brad Listi spoke with Maggie Nelson, author of Bluets, a book I loved.

Lexicon Valley, Slate’s language show, is back after a brief hiatus and the first episode is on the odd phrase, “Yeah, no …”. I’ve been warning everyone, after you listen to it, you’re going to hear everyone saying it. And finally, great news, Book Riot’s Rebecca Schinsky and Jeff O’Neal are now co-hosting a bookish podcast that is more than worth a listen. For talk on new releases and book news, subscribe to this one today.

What are you listening to?

[Illustration via]

Written by Gabrielle

June 25, 2013 at 6:54 am

What to Listen to: Jeff Garlin and Friends

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By the WayThe mark of a great comedy podcast is having to give this caveat: if you aren’t comfortable laughing to yourself in public, best to listen to this one at home alone. Every one of the now seven episodes of By the Way, In Conversation with Jeff Garlin has made me laugh out loud, often with an uncontrollable sputter. Not only that, I grin nearly the whole way through, which, I might add, makes me appear friendly during rush hour, a threat to my tough New Yorker exterior.

Actor, comedian, producer Jeff Garlin, known best to me for his role as Larry David’s manager and friend in Curb Your Enthusiasm, hosts a conversation with fellow talented entertainment industry creatives in front of a live audience at Largo in Los Angeles.

The run time is about an hour and a half, with J.J. Abrams clocking in at an hour and fifty, but however long the show, it never gets tedious. Garlin is one of the rare hosts who can keep you engaged and entertained long past the standard 45 minutes.

Jeff Garlin and Lena Dunham

Whether Garlin has had the good fortune of sitting down with people who enjoy his company, or if he’s just that good at putting people at ease, every conversation has been comfortable and paved the way for mutual openness. In the first episode, Garlin draws out Larry David’s quirks, of which there are many—one being his dislike of listening to music for its own sake. In episode two, he and Lena Dunham discuss the hell that is awards shows—unless, as was the case with Dunham, you have your quick-witted mom in tow. Parenting, and family life in general, is a common topic: both J.J. Abrams and Will Ferrell like to make their kids breakfast and see them off to school. Farrell volunteers at his son’s soccer games and J.J. makes up stories at bedtime.

Even if Garlin didn’t have great timing and a knack for getting stories out of his guests, his laugh, boisterous and infectious, would be enough to get your smile going. The only downside of By the Way is its lack of an archive, having just begun in January of this year. However, if you get in on it now, you’ll be one of the lucky ones with bragging rights, able to say you were listening to it back when, because, with a bit of luck and more excellent guests, this show will be around for a very long time.

::[Links]::
By the Way, In Conversation with Jeff Garlin

Written by Gabrielle

April 9, 2013 at 6:49 am

Week in the World: Excellent Journalism Edition

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I don’t believe this is a new phenomenon but I’ve noticed an overwhelming amount of quality journalism on the Internet lately. Here are a few pieces that made me think about creative nonfiction, links to more straightforward writing articles, and, of course, television shows and podcasts for when you’re done reading.

CREATIVE NONFICTION
The Food That Ate Manhattan: The Implacable Rise of Frozen Yogurt Leaves Us Cold by Kim Velsey for The New York Observer
Frozen YogurtAnyone who knows me knows about my terrible frozen yogurt habit. I’ve memorized the locations of all the self-serve places below 14th street. I know the Tasti-d-Lites that surround the stores and coffee shops I frequent. I couldn’t go a day without it, or at least not easily. So, when I came across this fantastic article on the rise of frozen yogurt, specifically in New York City, and read its mocking, horrified tone, I was enthralled and wanted to share with everyone I knew.

It was not until one day in Union Square that I realized, in a moment of disquieting clarity, that frozen yogurt shops were everywhere. A Joyride frozen yogurt truck idled by the park, Diet Lite Ice Cream was visible just down 17th Street, and a Yelp search revealed that a Pinkberry, a Tasti D-Lite, a Red Mango, a 16 Handles, a Yoqua Bar and a Yogurberry were all within a five to 10 minute walk. None of which were deemed satisfactory by the friend at my side, who urged us on toward Flavaboom on Sixth Avenue, where one could get the nonfat flavors twisted together and heaped with cheesecake bites and cookie dough.

Nearly skipping with anticipation, she raved about frozen yogurt the whole way there. It was alarming. How could she be so into frozen yogurt? I wondered. How could anyone?

Saying Goodbye to Now by Thomas Beller for the New Yorker’s Culture Desk
CameraThomas Beller is an excellent observer. In this essay he looks at the difference between memories and photographs. At one point he asks, “Are [these memories] any more vivid to me because there are no photographs? Conversely, would photographing have taken me away and made it all less sharp in my mind?” But first he begins:

My daughter was now airborne. A flying monkey coming right at me, headfirst: straw-yellow hair, a blue skirt, blue spaghetti-strap shirt, apple cheeks, and lips garishly smudged with pink lip gloss within which is the whiteness of her bared teeth—

Stop! Right here, let’s freeze the frame. Here is an image that I will never see again, except in my memory. A girl in mid-flight, waves of green behind her, her face all bright with the colors —blue, pink, yellow, white—of joy and delight, and behind her, as though it was the place from which she had fled, an old, dignified mansion.

Right then, as she was airborne, my hand twitched and slapped my pocket, in the dim hope that I could locate my camera, pull it out, and shoot while the moment still held. But there was no camera, and anyway there was no time. I will never forget this image, though I may already be embellishing it. And you will never see it. You may picture it, but the picture itself was not taken. I had to fight off a sadness about this, because the moment, after all, was happening, and it was beautiful, and anything that detracted from my perception of that was a shame.

Deconstructed—Chris Ware’s Innovation by Steve Almond for The New Republic
Steve Almond is one of my favorite contemporary writers. I particularly like his nonfiction and usually find that his essays double as a writing lesson. In this review of Chris Ware’s epic graphic art experiment, Building Stories, Almond teaches us how to write about things of which we have no authority:

Let’s start with my qualifications as a critic of graphic novels: Putting aside an adolescent excursion into a stoner comic strip called the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, I have none. Worse yet, I tend to associate graphic novels with the regressive and haughty wing of hipsterism, the one that favors mope rock and off-brand beers. I guess what I’m getting at here is that I’m a nitwit.

There is no greater evidence of my nitwittedness (currently) than my initial reaction to the new release by the graphic novelist Chris Ware, who I have come to understand is something of a big deal in his field.

While this is totally hilarious, it is also getting at a problem that deserves attention–how do you write about something you haven’t got the slightest clue about? How do you look at a text, a work of art, a film, or listen to a piece of music and judge it, deconstruct it, and put to paper your thoughts and observations without context? Steve Almond breaks the taboo, touts his ignorance, and, inadvertently, champions the amateur.

Four hours with John McAfee by Adam Thomson for The Financial Times
McafeeThis profile of John McAfee, a tech tycoon who went on the lam after his neighbor was murdered, is a story that got really weird, really fast. The first reporting I’d read was in the Financial Times when one of their correspondents met up with him in Belize to write a profile:

There was nothing serene or tranquil about McAfee. As soon as he closed the front door, he ditched the limp and the crippled arm. Then, hands trembling, he reached for one of several cigarette packets lying on the table.”

His distress, and that of Samantha, his feisty 20-year-old Belizean girlfriend – during the interview, she accused me of being scared: “I’m young and smaller than you and I’ve got more balls” – was more than understandable given the saga that their lives had become over the previous few weeks.

Apparently, VICE magazine was there as well and gave away McAfee’s location through an iPhone photo embedded with GPS coordinates. Something McAfee is now suing them for. However, as The New York Times Decoder blog reports:

Within 36 hours, he began an aggressive campaign to court and spin coverage of his story. … Mr. McAfee seemed to understand the dynamics of journalism well enough to know which assertions reporters would pass along without double-checking or qualifying — like his claim that he had eluded the police by burying himself in sand and positioning a box over his head — even as his self-created narrative veered ever further into the surreal.

WRITING and PUBLISHING
How to Write a Book Review from Daily Writing Tips
Why Netflix Makes You a Better Writer on LitReactor
Five Dos and Don’ts for Picking an Editor by Susan J. Morris for Omnivoracious
Should You Spend Money On Publicity & Marketing? by Randy Susan Meyers for Beyond the Margins

TELEVISION and PODCASTS
GirlsFor those of you who don’t have cable, Lena Dunham’s show Girls is now available on DVD. While you’re at it, co-producer Judd Apatow’s show Freaks and Geeks (1999) is streaming on Netflix. And for his latest film, ‘This is 40,’ Apatow has been doing some interviews: The Nerdist with Chris Hardwick and Bullseye with Jesse Thorn.

Now that everyone’s caught up on Mad Men Season 5, you can listen to The Nerdist Writer’s Panel’s “Mad Men season five in review” episode with Creator and showrunner Matthew Weiner, showrunners Andre and Maria Jacquemetton, and writer Erin Levy.

Judd Apatow

Alec Baldwin spoke with Lapham’s Quarterly founder, Lewis Lapham, for his show, Here’s the Thing. Lapham has an excellent gravelly voice that makes his stories and wisdom even better, if that were possible. You can also read an interview Lewis recently conducted with Smithsonian Magazine that I meant to share last week.

To the Best of Our Knowledge spoke with autistic savant Daniel Tammet and it was mesmerizing. Daniel is one of the few people with autism who can express his thought process and explain what he experiences. To hear him tell the interviewer how he thinks was astounding.

Images: Frozen Yogurt Charms; Camera; John McAfee

Written by Gabrielle

December 18, 2012 at 6:50 am

Week in the World: Above and Beyond Edition

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Here are a few things I came across this week that were exceptional.

PODCASTS
Perfect Day Publishing on Late Night Conversation
I’ve mentioned The Late Night Library’s podcast, Late Night Conversation, before but their interviews continue to be amazing, so, here we are again. This Portland-based organization is devoted to spreading the awareness of independent publishing. The show, hosted by co-founder Paul Martone, features debut authors and publishing professionals from small presses. Martone has the conversational style that makes podcasts so great. He’s thoughtful, informed, and curious.

The latest episode features Perfect Day Publishing founder Michael Heald and author Lisa Wells, whose book Yeah. No. Totally was published by the press this year. I first came to hear of Perfect Day Publishing through a previously self-published book they’d reprinted after it gained some attention. Love Is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life is one of the best books I read in 2012.

In other podcast news, Alec Baldwin talked to Billy Joel in July and I just got around to listening to it. It was pretty great.You’ll probably enjoy it more if you’re from Long Island. A personal favorite, Teju Cole was on CBC’s Writers & Company, one of the best author interview shows out there today.

WRITING
This weekend I came across an article by Blake Butler on HTMLGIANT called ‘22 Things I Learned from Submitting Writing.” At first glance I expected it to be snarky. While the site is typically earnest, there’s a level of sarcasm lurking underneath. This piece from Blake, however, was truly generous. Here are a few of my favorite points:

4. Often editors who reject you are doing you a favor. Either the piece isn’t great and needs work (thus saving you face of looking back later like whyyyyy did I publish this) or taking a strong piece and making it stronger because of force of will.

5. Some pieces are you learning. Some never get it right. Don’t publish your homework.”

13. Don’t lose sight of someone you love in the midst of this.

19. Be a person, not an email address with a social profile and an onslaught.

Also of note is writer Brad Leithauser’s essay about the different ways we read fiction–mainly two ways, like a critic and like a child. He recalls the time he and his then 15-year-old daughter had a conversation about Rachel from Daphne du Maurier’s “My Cousin Rachel.”

I’m eyeballs deep in noir at the moment and came across this great essay by Raymond Chandler called “The Simple Art of Murder.” I’m sure many crime fiction fans have already stumbled on this, a few possibly owning a highlighted copy in their drawer somewhere, but for the rest of us…

Every detective story writer makes mistakes, and none will ever know as much as he should. Conan Doyle made mistakes which completely invalidated some of his stories, but he was a pioneer, and Sherlock Holmes after all is mostly an attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue.

ART
The Los Angeles Review of Books has quickly become the place to go for in-depth, thoughtful coverage of the arts. Their front page has a triptych that changes at least twice a week. Recently, I came across their LARBart Tumblr where the work is displayed and explained.

While the name suggests heavy coverage of books, LARB has able people writing about other topics as well. Recently, they ran an interview with Ellen Lupton, one of the curators of “Graphic Design: Now In Production,” now on view at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Ellen runs the MFA design program at the Maryland Institute College of Art and is the author of Thinking with Type.

Today, every designer is a production artist — setting type, retouching photos, and making endless updates for clients. The convergence of design and production gives us more direct control over the outcome of a project, while also loading us with an ever-growing list of skills and tasks to master. … Many designers today are using their knowledge of production techniques to become publishers, authors, editors, and instigators.

The term “graphic” has long been a point of contention in our field. … I like the word “graphic” because it connects us to the world of text, as well as to the “graphic arts” — the processes of printing and production. Typography is always about writing, and writing is a graphic phenomenon.

TV
I usually roll my eyes at algorithms, those computer generated recommendations, but the other night while I was clicking through Netflix I noticed a British program from the 80s that was highlighted for me, The Comic Strip Presents, a sketch comedy show featuring Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson of The Young Ones and Jennifer Saunders, who later went on to create and star in Absolutely Fabulous. If you’re a fan of any of the above, you should stop reading now and add it to your queue. For those more familiar with Portlandia, this is their long lost British forebear.

Written by Gabrielle

November 29, 2012 at 6:51 am

Week in the World: Publishing in Your Ears, Book Groups on TV, and Reading Journals

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While I do have a few book reviews lined up–including one about dark fantasy short story collections I think you should read–I’ve come across so many awesome non-book things in the past week or so that I needed to put those on the backburner in order to share some other great stuff with you.

Podcasts
Anyone interested in publishing should get ready for this lineup. There were three great podcasts these past few weeks that go behind the scenes of the industry.

The online literary community Litopia interviewed Faber and Faber chief executive Stephen Page for their Naked Book podcast, a show devoted to “ripping the covers off print books and finding out what lies beneath.” It was a candid, informed conversation about print and digital publishing. Well worth saving after you’ve listened the first time.

On Other People, Brad Listi spoke with Steven Gillis, co-founder of the indie press Dzanc Books–who also has a new book out. Listening to Steven’s daily routine was awe-inspiring–and envy-inducing. The following week, he spoke with Paris Review editor Lorin Stein, who was once a book editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The two talk about work/life balance, literary publishing, and digital publishing. [Disclaimer: I’m the publicist working on The Paris Review book and set up the interview but it was so awesome I couldn’t help but share.]

You may have heard about Longreads, a site that finds the best of long-form stories on the Internet. Well, they now have a podcast called the Longform Podcast. Their interviews with The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates and author and journalist Gideon Lewis-Kraus are good places to start.

The Nerdist was on a roll with their interviews with actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hanks (interviewed separately, in case that’s not clear). I’m a huge fan of Gordon-Levitt’s not only because I think he’s talented at what he does but also because he always sounds so appreciative and gracious. This interview was no exception. Hanks as well, a huge talent and a guy who seems like he’s happy to be doing what he does, was hilarious. If you only listen for his impressions of foreign fans, it’ll be worth it. And, while we’re talking about The Nerdist, co-host Jonah Ray was on WTF with Marc Maron. It was great.

Music
I picked up the new Kid Koala album, 12 Bit Blues, the other week in preparation of seeing him in November. I’m a longtime fan of the koala. His jazz and blues-meets-turntablism blows my mind and always look forward to what he’s up to. You should check out the official video for 8 Bit Blues on YouTube. It was excellent to hear him on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Television
While I wait for season 4 of Sons of Anarchy to free up on Netflix, and for Mad Men season 5 to release, I’ve been watching Grimm, the NBC show based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. It’s pretty good–creepy but not hard to watch at night, good characters, and an interesting storyline. The main character, Nick, a cop, turns out to be of the Grimm lineage and able to see the creatures that lie beneath seemingly average people. With his abilities, a unknowing partner on the force, and a reformed “Blutbad,” he solves crimes from week to week.

Also something worth watching, which is streaming on Netflix, is the Woody Allen documentary that came out in 2011. In the film, Allen remembers back to his childhood to tell how he came to filmmaking. He brings the camera crew on the tour of his old neighborhood and they interview the many people who played a part in his personal and professional life. Even if you haven’t seen all his films, this was a nice, intimate look at a great artist.

What I’ve been raving about however, is this quirky, little British television show that I came across serendipitously on Netflix, The Book Group, also streaming. An American girl, new to Scotland and looking for friends, forms a book group with a bunch of locals she’s never met. I fell in love with this show almost immediately and blew through the entire two seasons in a little over a week. If you like books, you should watch it immediately. You can thank me later.

Writing
Every Monday I look forward to Susan Moriss’s column, ‘Writers Don’t Cry’ on the website Omnivoracious. Every week Morris offers invaluable thoughts and tips on fiction writing. While I don’t write fiction myself, her column is so much fun to read I keep returning. This past week’s topic, keeping a “reading journal,” was so amazing, I printed it out, underlined choice sentences, and plan to take her advice.

As a blogger, predominantly of book reviews and essays based on the books I’ve read, finding a balance between reading and writing can be hard. “Should I read this morning or should I write?” is often a question I ask myself. Poignantly, Morris opens her column with “reading is not procrastinating,” an answer geared more toward fiction writers who don’t necessarily need to read books to work on their own stories. However, Morris–along with many other authors who often offer advice–begs to differ.

Reading, Morris says, “is an important part of maintaining and honing your skills, staying inspired, and keeping in touch with why you write.” She continues with a practical application which, honestly, sounds like a whole lot of fun:

To take the best advantage of your reading for your writing, I recommend keeping a reading journal. In it, you can keep track of what you like, play with particular paragraphs to figure out how they work, and experiment with the styles and ideas you read about to improve your own writing.

I won’t spoil the article for you, you really need to read it for yourself … and then, Mondays, set your calendar.

Written by Gabrielle

October 16, 2012 at 6:58 am

Book and Pop Culture Podcast Roundup

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I came across so many great podcasts lately, I just had to do another roundup.

The Nerdist Writer’s Panel wrapped up their series of live panels, taped at the ATX Television Festival.

The Books to TV Series featured David Hudgins (Friday Night Lights), Bob Levy (Alloy Entertainment: The Lying Game, The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl), Julie Plec (co-creator, The Vampire Diaries), and Michael Rauch (creator, Love Monkey) talking about the process of turning a book into a television show. It was moderated by Meg Masters of TVLine.

In Stages of TV Writing,Noah Hawley (creator, the Unusuals), Kyle Killen (creator, Awake and Lone Star), David Hudgins (Friday Night Lights; Parenthood), Hardy Janson, and Evan Miller (Hook Ups) talk about their careers.

Late Night Library, a show that focuses on the independent side of publishing, sat down with Robyn Tenenbaum and Courtenay Hameister. The two co-founders of Live Wire!, a live public radio program in Portland, talk about producing an arts & culture variety show.

They also spoke with independent press publisher, Rhonda Hughes of Hawthorne Books, and Liz Crain, their editorial and publicity director. The three talk the business of running a small press.

The Readers, a show between two friends about books, talked about what happens after you finish a great book. They also wonder if there’s such thing as a British Novel. This week they have a casual chat about imprints.

The other week in the New Yorker, Oliver Sacks had a story about his experiments with drugs in the 60s, all of which he treated as scientific research. On the New Yorker Out Loud he talks about it.

Everyone’s favorite comedian, Louis C.K., has a great talk about movies and television with Elvis Mitchell on KCRW’s The Treatment. Over the course of the interview, C.K. calls his daughters his heroes. Then he says money spent on entertainment is sacred. Amazing.

My favorite music show, Sound Opinions, explored what was going on in punk in 1977. First as it happened in the UK and, in part two, in the US.

Three Percent, hosted by two guys working largely with translated literature, talk about book reviews, sparked by some recent events in the publishing and writing community.

Ed Champion sits down with crime writer Laura Lippman, for the release of her latest book And When She Was Good. It was a great talk about the craft of writing.

For the 100th episode of the Other People podcast, host Brad Listi did not disappoint. He spoke with George Saunders, an excellent choice.

BBC Radio 4’s Open Book did a special on Scottish crime writing–or “Tartan Noir” as the specific genre is known. Host Dreda Say Mitchell spoke with an author and a publisher. It definitely made me want to run out and read some.

CBC’s Writers & Company rebroadcast an interview with British humorist Alan Bennett. If you like British humor–Stephen Fry, John Cleese, etc., and you don’t already know who Alan Bennett is, you’ll be psyched after hearing this.

Oh and … Joan Rivers was on The Nerdist. It was incredible.

Written by Gabrielle

September 6, 2012 at 6:55 am

Comedian Michael Ian Black Isn’t Doing it Right

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If you were a teen in the mid 90s and had cable television, most likely you know Michael Ian Black from The State, the sketch comedy show that aired on MTV. His new memoir, You’re Not Doing It Right, is best summed up as an unflinching look at finding love, getting married, becoming a father, and dealing with all the trying moments that inevitably come with that life. Black’s humor makes this a wince-inducing, laugh-out-loud-in-public take on adulthood.

Since the 90s, Black’s been busy acting in films (Wet Hot American Summer), on television (Stella, Ed, Michael and Michael Have Issues), and has even written a few children’s books. Recently, he’s moved into stand-up and can be found talking about food on the podcast Mike and Tom Eat Snacks.

I had a chance to ask Michael about his career in comedy, his thoughts on the industry today, and what his wife thinks about his honesty. You can read the interview in full at The Rumpus. Here are some highlights:

I’ve heard you talk about how seriously you take your comedic career, The State was meant to rival Saturday Night Live, yet anyone who knows your work could easily describe it as “ridiculous”. Your sketch comedy in particular is truly absurd (in that good, over-the-top way). How do you balance these two, seemingly at odds, versions of yourself—both personally and professionally?

Michael Ian Black: To me, the two ideas are not mutually exclusive. From my early work with the sketch group The State until now, I’ve thought a lot about comedy. Probably too much. In some ways, The State was more of an intellectual exercise than a comedic one. What I mean is, we were deliberately attempting to push a new kind of comedy out there. It was a reaction to what we were seeing on shows like SNL and in the observational stand-up that was out there at the time. We wanted to do a more aggressive, edgy, surreal comedy. All of that was very conscious and almost analytical. Of course I don’t know how analytical you can get about fart jokes, but we tried. The point is that silliness can be very serious. Sorry if I come off like a pretentious prick, but comedy is one of those things that, as soon as you start talking about it, you automatically sounds like a pretentious prick. Also: poetry. Also: fashion.

If you were just starting out, how do you think this environment would affect you?

Black: It’s much easier now, particularly if you don’t live in New York or LA. Because you broadcast your work so easily it’s much easier to find an audience. On the other hand, the flood of stuff that’s out there sometimes makes it hard to get noticed. I do believe that the best stuff will always eventually make itself known, though.

Speaking of, in your new book, I was impressed by how strong your voice is. How do you approach your essay writing and how does it differ from when you write sketch and stand-up?

Black: Essay and story writing versus sketch writing. All writing is basically the same: beginning, middle, end. The difference with sketches, and why sketches are actually harder, is that you generally have to establish an entire new world every few minutes with its own rules, get to the joke premise, explore that premise, and then end the thing all within tight time constraints. That’s very hard to do well. Even the best sketch shows generally fall on their faces half the time.

With essays and story-telling it’s a little different. For one thing, my current essay work is all very personal. It’s based on my life and so the world remains consistent. That makes things easier. Also, it’s anecdotal by its nature, so I usually have some idea of how it ends before I start. Finally, I don’t feel the same pressure to be funny when I’m writing anecdotally. The flip of that is that I do feel pressure to actually say something, to make some larger point about something. I don’t feel that pressure when writing sketch comedy.

Go check out the rest. In the meantime, you can buy Michael Ian Black’s memoir, You’re Not Doing it Right, at IndieBound (or find it at your local indie). You can also follow Michael on Twitter at @michaelianblack.

Written by Gabrielle

April 17, 2012 at 7:11 am

On the Shelf: Recent Sights and Sounds

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Here are a few things that caught my eyes and ears these past few days.

Rub Out the Words: the Letters of William S Burroughs 1959-1974 ed by Bill Morgan

I’ve always found William Burroughs intriguing — after all, he did kill his common-law wife while playing a game of William Tell, or so the story goes. I read his novel Junky multiple times but could never get into Naked Lunch, the book he is best known for. Now, Ecco has published the second volume of his letters: correspondence that spans the years after the publication of Naked Lunch to the year he left London to return to New York.

Of the collection, The Telegraph writes:
“This second volume of correspondence may not quite dispel this image of Burroughs as American fiction’s resident alien, the lexical bomb-thrower in the body of a government man – but it does offer intriguing glimpses into the personality behind the mask. …

For fans of [his] way-out approach [the cut-up technique], the letters will provide a valuable glimpse into the genesis of his most impenetrable work, the trilogy that comprised The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded and Nova Express. …

One surprising theme in these letters is Burroughs’s cosmic indifference to the swelling counterculture. Our correspondent remains unmoved as the Sixties progress, beatniks become hippies, and even the parties he attends in Hampstead start to be filled with people ‘turning on’.”

What’s the big idea?
Dostoevsky tackled free will, Tolstoy the meaning of life – but is it still possible to write philosophical novels?
by Jennie Erdal

This past weekend’s Financial Times had an incredible essay on philosophy, literature, and the blending of the two into the philosophical novel.

Jennie Erdal, the author of the essay, begins with philosophy and philosophers: “while [they] were good at asking questions and setting out arguments, their engagement with truth was often woefully abstract, and a world away from the stuff of novels”. She continues, “The analytical style [of philosophy] rigidly separated reason from imagination, precision from imprecision.”

Of novels, she writes, “The more I read at university, the more I felt that fiction was where truth was to be discovered” and that some things “can never be adequately expressed in conventional philosophical prose.” Erdal then makes a case for the hybrid form, “moral philosophy needs the novel for the fullest possible expression of its aims . . . Plato was wrong to think that literature had nothing to offer philosophy . . . It is one thing to study John Stuart Mill’s defence of utilitarianism in ethics; quite another to read the passage in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866), where Raskolnikov tests utilitarianism to its limits by taking an axe and cleaving an old lady’s head in two.”

It’s a brilliant read all the way through. For anyone interested in literary theory and the grander workings of fiction, this is not to be missed.

Orbital / Wonky
It can be scary picking up a new album by a band who has been around for 25 years — especially if that band, up until recently, has been on hiatus — but that’s exactly what’s going on with electronic duo Orbital who just released Wonky, their first album since 2004.

About their music, one half of the group, Paul Hartnoll, told Wired magazine, “Ultimately, it has to move us emotionally…. We can get a great big thunderous beat … but melody is the real icing on the cake for me. If I get a really good melody, I get really excited about thinking about what’s going to come. That’s when I burst into tears, thinking, ‘That’s it!’ The hook’s got you, and you know you’re going to finish that piece.”

Explaining why they’re back together and making music, he says “When you’ve got a background and a history, and a rich idea of what you wanted to do, it was a real shame to give up … It was the live aspect that I missed.”

The article features the video for ‘New France’. Here’s the video for ‘Wonky’. Not sure how I feel about the cats.

A Fantastic Fear of Everything
Simon Pegg’s new comedy, A Fantastic Fear of Everything, looks amazing. Unfortunately, at the time of this post, no US release date has been confirmed. Science fiction and fantasy site io9 quotes the synopsis:

“Jack is a children’s author turned crime novelist whose detailed research into the lives of Victorian serial killers has turned him into a paranoid wreck, persecuted by the irrational fear of being murdered. When Jack is thrown a life-line by his long-suffering agent and a mysterious Hollywood executive takes a sudden and inexplicable interest in his script, what should be his big break rapidly turns into his big breakdown, as Jack is forced to confront his worst demons; among them his love life, his laundry and the origin of all fear.”

They also have the trailer.

Podcasts
The first week in April, on the WTF podcast, Marc Maron spoke with musician and comedian Carrie Brownstein. Carrie was in the Olympia, Washington-based indie band Sleater-Kinney and is currently in Wild Flag; however, these days, she’s best known as co-creator of Portlandia, the sketch show on IFC. On the podcast, Marc and Carrie nerd out about music — and other things. One of my favorite WTFs so far.

On the Nerdist, voiceover actors Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche taught me that voiceover actors are awesome. Rob and Maurice, which I only learned from this podcast, are the creators, and voices, of Pinky and the Brain. Their vocal skills do not end there. These two guys had Chris Hardwick awestruck. A must-listen.

What caught your eyes and ears these past few days? Comments are open.

Written by Gabrielle

April 10, 2012 at 7:03 am

What to Watch: Louis C.K.

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Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” hosted by Jon Stewart since 1999, and Stephen Colbert’s “The Colbert Report,” created in 2005, helped launch a revitalization of comedic television. Colbert, who got his start on “The Daily Show,” had come from the world of improv, and Stewart, who had been in stand-up, brought with him fellow comics Demetri Martin, Wyatt Cenac, and Samantha Bee to work as writers and correspondents.

FOX’s wildly popular show “Arrested Development”, whose cast included stand-up comedian David Cross, welcomed reoccurring characters played by the late Patrice Oneal and featured cameos by Bob Odenkirk and Andy Dick. Two years later, premiering on NBC in 2005, the US remake of “The Office,” was first created in the UK by comedian Ricky Gervais, and starred, until recently, Steve Carell. The show has enjoyed seven highly-acclaimed seasons and is now gearing up for its eighth.

Another sitcom bringing a few million weekly viewers a week to NBC is “Parks and Recreation” starring three actors from the stand-up and sketch comedy world: Amy Poehler, Aziz Ansari, and Aubrey Plaza. While the fate of NBC’s “Community”—a clever show set on the campus of a community college starring stand-up comics Joel McHale and Donald Glover, The Daily Show’s John Oliver, and legendary comedian Chevy Chase—hangs in the balance, it enjoys a following of hardcore fans willing to stage a flash mob outside of 30 Rock in protest of its possible cancellation.

Loyal audiences and rave reviews for these programs shows an appetite for smart, offbeat humor. These successes, it could be argued, have had an unintended side effect: they’ve paved the way for a wider appreciation of television comedy’s often darker, raunchier cousin: the stand-up show. This is how one might account for the rising popularity of once-underground comic Louis C.K.

For those looking for something harder than PG-13, there’s “Louie,” C.K.’s part-live show, part-sketch sitcom on FX. Written, directed, edited, and produced by C.K., Louie stars the comedian as himself making his way through everyday life—uncomfortably and usually without grace.

The show begins with a few minutes of C.K.’s stand-up act, with him at the Comedy Cellar in the West Village or Caroline’s in the Theater District, followed by a scripted sketch, a hyperbolization of his life as a somewhat-depressed, out of shape, divorced father of two girls.

Louis’s comedy tends to focus on two topics: sex and parenting. While you might not think admittances to thoughts of sexual deviance—often involving errant bodily fluids—would be endearing, C.K.’s self-deprecation and amused smirk gives him a certain charm.

Switching effortlessly between debauchery and fatherhood, and without creepy segues, C.K. says what’s on the mind of every parent: your own kids are boring and you hate other people’s. But his love for his two young daughters is obvious and his bits come off like a roast without the guest of honor’s presence.

Recently, C.K.’s been in the spotlight for the non-traditional release of his one-hour special, “Live at the Beacon Theater”. In an age where self-publishing and other independent ventures are lauded with the volume cranked way up, the reception for Louis has been especially loud.

Bypassing traditional television outlets, making the show available DRM-free on his website for five dollars, C.K. is currently the poster boy for DIY film production. At the time of my writing, the small fee allows you to stream the special twice on your browser and download it three times, which you can then watch as much as you want on any device and burn it to a DVD.

Louis is an ideal guinea pigs for this sort of digital distribution experiment. The success of his TV show meant he had the start-up money, a fan base, and name recognition. Unlike many artists trying to earn a living from such projects, Louis thought that if he could just break even, it would be worth it.

From years of doing stand-up and writing for such shows as “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” “The Dana Carvey Show,” and “The Chris Rock Show,” he had the support, and admiration, from peers and could rely on a certain amount of promotional airtime. A few days after the release he was on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and, as a favorite of Terry Gross, he was on the national radio program “Fresh Air”.

The release was also well-timed, intentionally so or a stroke of luck I don’t know. This year, “Louie,” now in its second season, made it onto various year-end top ten of 2011 television lists, including New York magazine’s, Entertainment Weekly’s, and NPR Fresh Air’s television critic’s. This top tier publicity along with the media’s coverage of his chosen business model, created a momentum that surprised the comic himself.

After just 10 days the show grossed one million dollars. Having grown up poor, C.K. didn’t feel comfortable having that much money so he broke it up into pieces. First he recouped on the film, putting the money back into his company, next he gave bonuses to all the people who work for him, and finally he donated $280,000 to various charities for women, children, and humanitarian relief.

Riffing off the opening for the FX show, the beginning of “Live at the Beacon Theater” shows Louis in his signature black t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers walking through the streets of Manhattan. This time it’s towards the Upper West Side venue. He shows up alone, wades through the crowd of fans waiting outside, and heads up to the green room. It’s this lack of pomp and circumstance that adds to his likeability.

“Live at the Beacon Theater” is C.K.’s best stand-up yet. From the moment he steps on stage to introduce himself, telling the audience to take their seats and the technicians to kill the house lights, the crowd is roaring. He adds, “don’t text or Twitter during the show, just live your life,” which, of course, gets another round of applause.

As one can imagine, if you’ve ever heard his stand-up, the hour-long routine is full of inappropriate humor, largely about masturbation, but, as Slate’s David Haglund points out in his review, there’s more political commentary in his act as well, including a bit on global warming where Louis, imagining himself as God, asks what we did to the polar bears.

With “Live at the Beacon Theater,” not only has C.K. proven himself a gifted entertainer, he’s shown himself to be an astute businessman. The entire project is brilliant and being a small part of it was well worth the five dollars. Watch “Louie” on FX, get the Beacon Theater special, and, if you’re not already, get on board for what I hope will be a very long ride.

::[Links]::
Buy Live at the Beacon Theater (Louis C.K.’s website)
Louie Official Show Site
Louie on Netflix (stream instantly)
Interview on NPR’s Fresh Air
Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (Part I)
Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (Part II)
Louis takes questions from fans on Reddit
Slate’s review

Written by Gabrielle

December 28, 2011 at 6:30 am

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Uniting Geek Girls with Leslie Simon

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In her introduction to Geek Girls Unite: How Fangirls, Bookworms, Indie Chicks, and Other Misfits are Taking Over the World, Leslie Simon defines a geek as “A person who is wildly passionate about an activity, interest, or scientific field and strives to be an expert in said avocation.” What distinguishes a geek from his or her close relatives—say, a nerd, a dork, or a dweeb—is that a geek “does not necessarily sacrifice social status to participate in area of expertise; instead, person will often seek out like-minded peers—in both the real and virtual worlds—in order to connect, bond, and celebrate mutual love for this area.”

With this sociability in mind, Leslie aims to unite geeky girls worldwide. She notes that geek guys have sucked up the air in the room—Seth Rogan, Mark Zuckerberg, and Michael Cera, to name a few—and that it’s time for women to claim some of the oxygen; but first, we must learn to recognize one another. This is where Geek Girls Unite, an amusing field guide to geekdom, lends a helping hand.

There are many types of geeks out there: there’s the comic book geek, the music geek, the movie geek, the comedy geek, the geek who enjoys the domestic arts, and those geeks who always have their nose in a book. Using pop-anthropology, Leslie profiles each of these types, highlighting where they can be found, their outward signifiers, and who their historical predecessors are.

Having written something of a manifesto, Leslie says, “Embrace your quirkiness!” and with Geek Girls Unite she makes it a little bit easier.

Leslie spoke with me about the impetus for the book, her research, finding geek mentors, and growing up geek.

What was the spark that led you to write Geek Girls Unite?

I’ve been banging my head against the wall trying to remember what or who it was that sparked the idea for Geek Girls Unite and the only thing I got out of it was a big lump on my noggin. Odds are, I was probably standing in the middle of some weird L.A. party, feeling completely out of place and having horrible high-school flashbacks. Or maybe I watching 30 Rock, basking in the amazingness of Tina Fey and her Liz Lemon alter-ego while sucking back a glass of wine. Either way, I’m sure it was inspired by how I used to feel my quirks and idiosyncrasies held me back when, in fact, they probably helped propel me to where I am today.

You’d mentioned feeling ashamed of your geekiness growing up. I can totally relate. When I look back at what I did to fit in I cringe. How did you react to, or against, your inner-geek — and when did you finally accept that it was who you were and you weren’t going to change?

I still consider myself a work in progress but my geek evolution started happening when I was 18. Once I went away to college and realized that I could choose my friends, it was a whole different ball game. I wasn’t forced to socially cohabitate with people just because they lived in the same zip code; I could actually choose my comrades based on similar interests and outlooks. (What a concept!)

What would you tell your teen geek self if you ran into her today?

I would definitely tell her to loosen up and live a little… or a lot! In high school, I was so scared of life—scared of not doing well on a test, scared of my friends thinking I was lame, scared of getting in trouble for missing curfew, scared of disappointing my parents. I really didn’t understand the concept of unconditional love, whether it was coming from my friends, my family or myself. When you want so badly to be liked (and/or loved), it’s easy to loose focus on who you really are and what’s really important. I know that now… but it would’ve been nice to understand that a little sooner.

You can read the rest of the interview at The Nervous Breakdown

::[Links]::
Buy Geek Girls Unite at IndieBound
Check out Leslie’s website

Written by Gabrielle

December 20, 2011 at 6:09 am

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