Classic Punk Rock Sketches from Saturday Night Live, Courtesy of Fred Armisen

Comedian Fred Armisen is best known for his years on Saturday Night Live, his eight seasons of surreal sketch comedy (with Carrie Brownstein) on Portlandia, and his unnerving command of regional accents and impressions. True fans also know that for much of his career he’s also been a musician, primarily a drummer, since college. Starting in high school, he’s been in various bands, including Trenchmouth, the Blue Man Group, and sometimes sitting in with Seth Meyers' house band.

So the above skit from SNL is fun because Armisen gets to indulge his love of punk music. It’s a basic set-up, a 40-something groom and his best buds “getting the band back together” to play one more song at a wedding. But here the band used to be a political punk band along the lines of Fear, The Dead Kennedys, and Suicidal Tendencies, and the anti-Reagan lyrics (you too, Alexander Haig, you fascist!) have been preserved in amber.

Like most SNL sketches it unfolds kind of how you expect (and just kinda…ends), but man, this must have been fun to shoot. And yes, that’s the Foo Fighters/Nirvana’s Dave Grohl on drums.

If that skit was a tribute to American punk, then this other one is a nod to the Sex Pistols and the steady rightward drift of John Lydon. Armisen plays lead singer Ian Rubbish (you know, of Ian Rubbish and the Bizarros) whose lyrics decry and attack everything…except for Margaret Thatcher. The Queen? She’s useless (and other words we can’t write on Open Culture), but Maggie? Ian has a soft spot.

This 2013 skit came shortly after Thatcher died and Americans were treated to videos of some Britons (not all, but *a lot*) celebrating her death much as you would the death of Hitler or Mussolini. Goodbye, good riddance, and let me know where she’s located so we can pee on her grave. That sorta thing. And if that’s where you’re at, you might find the turn this sketch takes a bit too nice. But kudos to ex-Pistol Steve Jones for turning up and doing the Rutles-like thing. There’s even a nice parody of the infamous Bill Grundy interview.

(Bonus info: Ian Rubbish and the Bizarros played some actual shows.)

Armisen had another crack, by the way, at the reunion joke. In Season 8 of Portlandia, the “Band Reunion” skit brought together Henry Rollins (Black Flag), Krist Novoselic (Nirvana), and Brendan Canty (Fugazi) to bring back Armisen’s character’s band “Riot Spray” and record one more time. (Brownstein only figures a bit in the skit, but her reaction is priceless). The humor is just a little bit more mellow, a bit more empathetic, and hurts just that little bit more.

Related Content:

The Sex Pistols Make a Scandalous Appearance on the Bill Grundy Show & Introduce Punk Rock to the Startled Masses (1976)

The Sex Pistols’ 1976 Manchester “Gig That Changed the World,” and the Day the Punk Era Began

The Sex Pistols Play in Dallas’ Longhorn Ballroom; Next Show Is Merle Haggard (1978)

Ian Rubbish (aka Fred Armisen) Interviews the Clash in Spinal Tap-Inspired Mockumentary
Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s . . . John Lydon in a Butter Commercial?

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Rick and Morty as Absurdist Humor, Yet Legitimate Sci-Fi with Family Drama (Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #54)

Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt address the 4-season 2013 Adult Swim show, which currently has a 94% critics' rating on Rotten Tomatoes. What kind of humor is it, and how are we supposed to take its sci-fi and family drama elements? While its concepts start as parody, with an anything-goes style of animation, they're creative and grounded enough to actually contribute to multiple genres. How smart is the show, exactly? And its fans? Is Rick a super hero, or maybe essentially Dr. Who? What might this very serialized sit-com look like in longevity?

We also touch on other adult cartoons like South Park, Solar Opposites, The Simpsons, Family Guy, plus Community, Scrubs, and more.

Hear the interview we refer to with the show's creators. Watch the video we mention about its directors. Visit the Rick and Morty wiki for episode descriptions and other things.

Some articles that we bring up or otherwise fueled our discussion include:

Also, do you want a Plumbus?

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Comedians Speaking Truth to Power: Lenny Bruce, George Carlin & Richard Pryor (NSFW)

No matter how strenuously people claim to support free speech, hardly anyone believes we should get to say whatever we want, however we want, wherever we want. We all just draw the lines differently between speech we find tolerable and that we find beyond the pale. There are reasonable arguments for establishing legal boundaries, but comedy—goes one line of thought—should never be subject to constraints. Anything goes in stand-up, since the comic’s role is to say the unsayable, to shock and surprise, to speak truth to power, etc.

Rising comic John Early (“the left’s funniest comedian,” The Nation proclaims) finds all this gravitas a little absurd. “It’s just a weird, weird, time to be a comedian,” he says in a recent interview. “I feel there’s no greater testament to the fact that our public institutions have failed us than the fact that comedians are somehow moral authorities of this moment. We give so much power to comedians and their platforms, and I’m absolutely horrified by it.” To expect people who tell jokes for a living to have the best handle on what power needs to hear may be expecting too much. “Please don’t ever listen to me,” says Early.

Another argument goes that since comedians are just entertainers, they can say whatever they want, no matter how vicious or demeaning, because it’s “just a joke.” Whatever the merits of this position, when we look back to the greatest comics who shocked, surprised, spoke truths, etc., we see that they took jokes seriously—and that the targets of their humor were institutions that actually held power. This was maybe a prerequisite for how enduringly funny they still are, and how relevant, even if some specific references are lost on us now.

Before Early, Lenny Bruce went on TV to tell viewers of his 1959 jazz special that all entertainers, himself included, are liars. It’s just the nature of the business, he says, then goes through a bit where he shows—with real newspaper headlines all printed on the same day—how news media also exaggerates, embellishes, and lies to sensationalize crime. In under two minutes he rips through the cherished illusion of journalistic objectivity; just as Carlin, who also built a career on saying the unsayable, tears up the U.S.’s most cherished beliefs, above.

The American Dream is a scam, Carlin says. Argue over free speech all you like, but politics is a distraction. “Forget the politicians. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t.” (One is reminded of Devo.) In a scathing rant, Carlin goes after the biggest game, the corporate owners who control the politicians, the land, and “all the big media companies, so they control just about all of the news and information you get to hear.” He delivers his most famous line: “It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it,” and the audience applauds with recognition of a truth they already know.

Leave it to Richard Pryor, the comedy standard of speaking shocking truths to power, to bring these observations together in the interview clip above that takes digs at his own integrity as a TV entertainer, the slippery nature of television executives, and why they feared the kinds of truths he had to tell. “What do you think [they’re] afraid you’re going to do to America?” he’s asked (meaning specifically white America). He responds in all seriousness, “probably stop some racism.” If people can laugh at hard truths, they can recognize and talk about them. This is a problem for those in power.

“If people don’t hate each other, and start talking to each other, they find out who’s the problem,” Pryor says. “Greedy people.” Racism is a strategy, like sensationalist crime headlines or promises of a better life, to keep people distracted and divided. Those who promote it don’t need personal reasons to do so. “It’s part of capitalism to promote racism,” Pryor says. It’s how the system works. “That separates people. And if you keep people separated it keeps them from thinking about the real problem.” Maybe we are free to say what we want, but Pryor has a warning for those who emulate people in power, even if they think they have the best of intentions. The interview segment ends with the sounds of dueling cesspools.

Related Content:

George Carlin Performs His “Seven Dirty Words” Routine: Historic and Completely NSFW

New Digital Archive, “Richard Pryor’s Peoria,” Takes You Inside the Dark, Lively World That Shaped the Pioneering Comedian

Lenny Bruce: Hear the Performances That Got Him Arrested (NSFW)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Carl Reiner & Mel Brooks’ Timeless Comedy Sketch: The 2000-Year-Old-Man

I read the obits. If I’m not in it I’ll have breakfast. —Carl Reiner

Up until this week week, it seemed as if Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner could keep their 2000-Year-Old Man routine going forever.

The premise was simpleReiner as the serious minded announcer, interviewing Brooks as an elder with a Middle European Yiddish accent about some of the historic moments, trends, and celebrities he’d had personal contact with over the years.

The idea originated with Reiner, who, as a young staff writer for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, thought there was comic gold to be mined from We the Peoplea weekly news program that dramatized important current eventsnotably a plumber who claimed to have overheard some toe curling plans while repairing a faucet in Stalin’s bathroom.




Unfortunately, or rather fortunately, no one else in the writers room had caught the show, so he drafted coworker Brooks to play along, interviewing him as if he were the host of We the People, and Brooks were an average Joe who’d been at the Crucifixion:

Mel, aging before our eyes, sighed and allowed a sad “Oooooh, boy” to escape from the depths of his soul…

I pressured the Old Man and asked, “You knew Jesus?”

“Jesus … yes, yes,” he said, straining to remember, “thin lad … wore sandals … always walked around with twelve other guys … yes, yes, they used to come into the store a lot … never bought anything … they came in for water … I gave it to them … nice boys, well-behaved… .”

For a good part of an hour Mel had us all laughing and appreciating his total recall of life in the year 1 A.D. I called upon Mel that morning because I knew that one of the characters in his comedy arsenal would emerge. The one that did was similar to one he did whenever he felt we needed a laugh break. It was a Yiddish pirate captain who had an accent not unlike the 2,000-Year-Old Man.

The durable, always unscripted 2000-Year-Old Man made an instant splash with friends and family, but his accentwhich came quite naturally to the Brooklyn-born Brookscaused the duo to question the wisdom of trotting him out before a wider audience.

In the 20’s and 30’s Yiddish accents had been a comic staple on the radio, and in Broadway, vaudeville, and burlesque houses, but that changed when the Nazis came to power, as Reiner recalled in his 2003 memoir, My Anecdotal Life:

…when Adolf Hitler came along and decreed that all Jews were dirty, vile, dangerous, subhuman animals and must be put to death, Jewish and non-Jewish writers, producers, and performers started to question the Yiddish accent’s acceptability as a tool of comedy. The accent had a self-deprecating and demeaning quality that gave aid and comfort to the Nazis, who were quite capable of demeaning and deprecating Jews without our help. From 1941 on, the Yiddish accent was slowly, and for the most part, voluntarily, phased out of show business.

Eventually, however, the character found his way onto their 1961 LP 2000 Years with Carl Reiner & Mel Brooks.

They buttressed his 12-minute appearance with sketches involving astronauts, teen heartthrob Fabian, and Method actors, hedging their bets lest the accent flop with both reference-challenged WASPs and fellow Jews nervous about reinforcing problematic stereotypes.

One wonders what the 2000-Year-Old Manwho as a caveman had trouble determining “who was a lady”would have had to say about the movements for Trans Equality#MeToo, and Black Lives Matter.

A quote on Brooks’ website may provide a hint:

It’s OK not to hurt the feelings of various tribes and groups, however, it’s not good for comedy. Comedy has to walk a thin line, take risks. It’s the lecherous little elf whispering in the king’s ear, telling the truth about human behavior.

Brooks delighted by putting imminently quotable, off-the-cuff punchlines in the mouth of the 2000-Year-Old Man, hooking many young listeners, like veteran comedian and stand up comedy teacher Rick Crom:

The 2000-Year-Old Man was the first comedy album I ever listened to. I was quoting it at 10. I told my Sunday school teacher that before God, people worshipped "a guy...Phil.”

But it was Reinerwho maintained a wish list of questions for the 2000-Year-Old Man and who left us earlier this week at the not-too-shabby age of 98who steered the act, often by pressing his subject to substantiate his wild claims.

As Anne Libera, Director of Comedy Studies at The Second City and Columbia College Chicago, notes:

Carl Reiner was a master of the underrated art of the setup. Most "straight men" are known for their responses that release the laugh. Carl did that too, but even more brilliantly, he subtly puts all of the pieces into play for Mel Brooks to push off of into the comedy stratosphere. You see it in the Dick Van Dyke Show as well —he knew how to create the exact space for a comic character to do their best work.

Copies of the Complete 2000 Year Old Man can be purchased on Amazon.

Related Content: 

Hear 30 of the Greatest Standup Comedy Albums: A Playlist Chosen by Open Culture Readers

Judd Apatow Teaches the Craft of Comedy: A New Online Course from MasterClass

Steve Martin Performs Stand-Up Comedy for Dogs (1973)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Here latest project is an animation and a series of free downloadable posters, encouraging citizens to wear masks in public and wear them properly. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Listen to Medieval Covers of “Creep,” “Pumped Up Kicks,” “Bad Romance” & More by Hildegard von Blingin’

All ye bully-rooks with your buskin boots 

Best ye go, best ye go

Outrun my bow

All ye bully-rooks with your buskin boots

Best ye go, best ye go, faster than mine arrow

If bardcore is a thing—and trust us, it is right now—Hildegard von Blingin’ is the brightest star in its firmament.

The unknown vocalist, pure of throat, pays heed to the fascinating 12th-century abbess and composer Saint Hildegard of Bingen by choice of pseudonym, while demonstrating a similar flair for poetic language.

Von Blingin’s nimble lyrical reworking of Foster the People’s 2010 monster hit, "Pumped Up Kicks," makes deft use of fellow bardcore practioner Cornelius Link’s copyright-free instrumental score and the closest medieval synonyms available.




For the record, Webster’s 1913 dictionary defines a "bully-rook" as a bully, but the term could also be used in a joshing, chops-busting sort of way, such as when The Merry Wives of Windsor’s innkeeper trots it out to greet lovable reprobate, Sir John Falstaff.

And as any fan of Game of Thrones or The Hunger Games can attest, an arrow can prove as lethal as a gun.

Songwriter Mark Foster told Billboard’s Xander Zellner last December that he had been thinking of retiring "Pumped Up Kicks," as listeners are now convinced it's a bouncy-sounding take on school shootings, rather than a more generalized attempt to get inside the head of a troubled—and fictional—youngster.

With school out of session since March, it's an excellent time for von Blingin’ to pick up the torch and bear this song back to the past.

Ditto the timing of von Blingin’s ode to Lady Gaga’s "Bad Romance":

I want thine ugly, I want thy disease

Take aught from thee shall I if it can be free

No Celtic harp, wooden recorders, or adjustment of possessive pronouns can disguise the jolt those opening lyrics assume in the middle of a global pandemic.

(St. Hildegard escaped the medieval period’s best known plague, the Black Death, by virtue of having been born some 250 years before it struck.)

Von Blingin’s latest release is an extremely faithful take on Radiohead’s "Creep", with just a few minor tweaks to pull it into medieval lyrical alignment:

Thou float’st like a feather

In a beautiful world

The comments section suggest that the peasants are eager to get in on the act.

Some are expressing their enthusiasm in approximate olde English...

Others question why smygel, eldrich, wyrden or wastrel were not pressed into service as replacements for creep and weirdo..

To borrow a phrase from one such jester, best get your requests in “before the tiktoks come for it.”

Listen to Hildegard Von Blingin’ on Sound Cloud and check out the bardcore sub-reddit for more examples of the form.

Related Content: 

Experience the Mystical Music of Hildegard Von Bingen: The First Known Composer in History (1098 – 1179)

Manuscript Reveals How Medieval Nun, Joan of Leeds, Faked Her Own Death to Escape the Convent

1200 Years of Women Composers: A Free 78-Hour Music Playlist That Takes You From Medieval Times to Now

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Help contain the plague spread with her series of free downloadable posters, encouraging citizens to wear masks in public settings. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Explaining the Pandemic to My Past Self: A Dark, Comedic Reflection on the Last Few Months

What would happen if I tried to explain what's happening now to the January 2020 version of myself? That's the question that Julie Nolke asked and answered in early April.

Now she's back with a sequel where she tries to explain the events of June to her April self.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

Are There Limits for a Sitcom Premise? A Pretty Much Pop Culture Podcast (#47) Discussion and Quiz

Sitcoms provide a form of escapism that doesn't take one to a magical world of possibility, but instead to a basically unchanging, cozy environment with relatable characters engaged in low-stakes conflicts.

So what are the limits on the type of premise that can ground a sitcom? While most of the longest lasting sitcoms have simple set-ups involving friends or co-workers, streaming has led to more serialization and hence wider plot possibilities.

Does this mean that the era of sitcoms has come to an end? Or has the genre just broadened to admit entries like Ricky Gervais' After Life and Derek, Harmon & Roiland's Rick & Morty, Greg Daniels' Upload and Space Force, and Armando Iannucci's Avenue 5?

In this low-stakes, feel-good discussion, Mark, Erica, and Brian also touch on the Parks & Recreation reunion special, Curb Your Enthusiasm, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Community, Modern Family, Red Oaks, The Simpsons, Last Man on Earth, WOOPS!, the stain of Chuck Lorre, and more. Plus a quiz to guess which weird sitcom premises are real and which Mark made up.

Incorporate these articles into your situation:

If you enjoy this discussion, check out our previous episodes on Friends and The Good Place.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

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