Steve Martin & Robin Williams Riff on Math, Physics, Einstein & Picasso in a Smart Comedy Routine

Back in 2002, Stanford University mathematics professor Robert Osserman chatted with comedian and banjo player extraordinaire Steve Martin in San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre. The event was called “Funny Numbers” and it was intended to deliver an off-kilter discussion on math. Boy did it deliver.

The first half of the discussion was loose and relaxed. Martin talked about his writing, banjos and his childhood interest in math. “In high school, I used to be able to make magic squares," said Martin. "I like anything kind of 'jumbly.' I like anagrams. What else do I like? I like sex."


Then Robin Williams, that manic ball of energy, showed up. As you can see from the five videos throughout this post, the night quickly spiraled into comic madness.

They riffed on the Osbournes, Henry Kissinger, number theory, and physics. “Schrödinger, pick up your cat,” barks Williams at the end of a particularly inspired tear. “He’s alive. He’s dead. What a pet!”

When Martin and Williams read passages from Martin’s hit play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile Williams read his part at different points as if he were Marlon Brando, Peter Lorre and Elmer Fudd. At another time, Williams and Martin riffed on the number zero. Williams, for once acting as the straight man, asked Osserman, "I have one quick question, up to the Crusades, the number zero didn't exist, right? In Western civilization.” To which Martin bellowed, “That is a lie! How dare you imply that the number zero…oh, I think he’s right.”

The videos are weirdly glitchy, though the audio is just fine. And the comedy is completely hilarious and surprisingly thought provoking.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in September, 2015.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Watch Battle-Scarred Heavy Metal Musicians Play Rock ‘n’ Roll Classics on Hello Kitty Instruments

When Sanrio—that megalithic maker of kawaii icon Hello Kitty—partnered with guitar companies to make pastel-colored six-strings bearing the mouthless kitten’s face, many a big-time musician found the ostensibly kid’s-oriented instruments irresistible. Hello Kitty guitars were “possibly the apex of Sanrio’s cross-media synergy-blitz,” wrote David McNamee in a cranky 2009 piece at The Guardian, “that has seen them slap the cold, vacant stare of their brand-leading cash cow… on to every conceivable kind of consumer merchandise including vibrators (sorry, massagers), assault rifles, tampons, condoms, urinal cakes, cars, computers, booze and pet costumes.”

The chirpy Lisa Loeb took to Hello Kitty guitars as part of a personal brand makeover, which doesn’t much surprise since she eventually moved to writing children's music. But “a scan of YouTube,” McNamee goes on, “reveals that Hello Kitty’s core audience is actually balding, middle-aged men, shredding out covers of Yngwie Malmsteen and Rush.”

I’m not sure how accurate this statement is in market research terms, but I can testify to knowing at least two middle-aged men who swear by pink Hello Kitty Stratocasters.

Go ahead, laugh it up, but you probably wouldn’t do so in front of certain Sanrio shredders, like former Ozzy Osbourne and current Black Label Society guitarist Zakk Wylde, who has made a side gig—as we noted in yesterday's post—playing covers of heavy rock tunes on tiny, cutesy Hello Kitty acoustic guitars. See for yourself in his Hello Kitty take on Black Sabbath’s “N.I.B.” at the top and a version of his own original “Autumn Changes” further up. Would you laugh at seriously versatile Marilyn Manson guitarist John 5 and his Hello Kitty guitar? Maybe, but reserve your judgment until after you've seen him start his “new career” in Hello Kitty guitar marketing above.

Rising to the challenge, Mark Tremonti and Eric Friedman decided to take on Metallica’s “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” on a Hello Kitty guitar and ukulele, “refusing to skip the track’s various solos,” points out Loudwire. It’s ”a true jam on truly crappy instruments that the boys somehow made work.” What, exactly, is the appeal of these Hello Kitty sessions to people who aren’t, presumably, the usual Hello Kitty tween demographic?

Maybe it's just some good clean fun from people who might seem to take themselves a little too seriously sometimes. When rock stars show a sense of humor, it makes them more relatable, right? Hey, even the Beatles made their bones with musical comedy, so why shouldn’t Evanescence’s Amy Lee give us a moving, candlelit rendition of Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark,” as played on a Hello Kitty keyboard?

See all of these videos and more—including Bumblefoot’s soulful Hello Kitty metal classics covers and a potty-mouthed Mike Portnoy bashing away on a Hello Kitty drumkit—at Loudwire’s YouTube channel.

via Guitar World

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

Peter Sellers Gives a Quick Demonstration of British Accents

A while ago we brought you a hilarious series of recordings of the British comedic actor Peter Sellers reading The Beatles' "She Loves You" in four different accents. Today we have a brief clip from a telephone call by Sellers on the set of Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (in which Sellers played three different roles). Here he demonstrates the nuances of a few of the many accents around Great Britain. From cockney to upper class and from London to Edinburgh, it's classic Sellers all the way.

If this whets your appetite, don't miss the items in the Relateds below.

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Charlie Chaplin Films a Scene Inside a Lion’s Cage in 200 Takes

Charlie Chaplin was an actor and filmmaker committed to his craft--a perfectionist, in short. When directing City Lights (1931), Chaplin demanded as many as 342 takes of a fairly straightforward three-minute scene. That's what it took to get it right.

Above, we find an earlier example of the filmmaker's attention to detail ... and his appetite for risk. In the 1928 film, The Circus, Chaplin took more than 200 takes to complete the Lion's Cage scene shown above. Many of those takes, the official Charlie Chaplin website reminds us, took place inside the lion's cage itself. As the scene unfolds, the tension builds and Chaplin puts in a performance that helped him secure his first Academy Award.


Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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Pre-Flight Safety Demonstration Gets Performed as a Modern Dance: A Creative Video from a Taiwanese Airline

Taiwanese airline EVA Air’s pre-flight safety video is a genuine oddity in a field littered with creative interpretations.

Ten years ago, airlines were straightforward about complying with the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Federal Aviation Administration, and other governing bodies’ requirements.  These instructions were serious business. Children and other first time travelers paid strict attention to information about tray tables, exits, and inflatable life vests that jaded frequent flyers ignored, confident that most take offs and landings tend to go according to plan, and the overwhelming number of planes tend stay in the air for the duration of one's flight.

What about the ones that don't though? There are times when a too-cool-for-school business traveler seated next to an emergency exit could spell disaster for everyone onboard.

Virgin America’s 2007 animated safety video, below, was the first to recapture passengers' attention, with a blasé narrative style that poked fun at the standard tropes:

For the .0001% of you who have never operated a seatbelt before, it works like this…

The cocky tone was dialed down for more critical information, like how to assist the child in the seat next to you when the yellow oxygen masks drop from the overhead compartment. (Imagine the mayhem if indie animator Bill Plympton had been in the pilot’s seat for this one…)

The irreverent approach was a hit. The FAA took note, encouraging creativity in a 2010 Advisory Circular:

Every airline passenger should be motivated to focus on the safety information in the passenger briefing; however, motivating people, even when their own personal safety is involved, is not easy. One way to increase passenger motivation is to make the safety information briefings and cards as interesting and attractive as possible.

For a while EVA Air, an innovator whose fleet includes several Hello Kitty Jets, played it safe by sticking to crowd pleasing schtick. Its 2012 CGI safety demo video, below, must’ve played particularly well with the Hello Kitty demographic.

...looks a bit 2012, no?

A few months ago, EVA took things in a direction few industry professionals could’ve predicted: modern dance, performed with utmost sincerity.

Choreographer Bulareyaung Pagarlava, a member of Taiwan’s indigenous Paiwan community, and a small crew of dancers spent three months translating the familiar directives into a vocabulary of symbolic gestures. See the results at the top of the post.

You’ll find none of the stock characters who populate other airlines’ videos here—no sneaky smokers, no concerned moms, no sleepy businesspeople. There’s barely a suggestion of a cabin.

Unfettered by seats or overhead bins, the brightly clad, barefoot dancers leap and roll as they interact with 3D projections, behavior that would certainly summon a flight attendant if performed on an actual plane.

Does it work?

The answer may depend on whether or not the plane on which you’re traveling takes a sudden nose dive.

In “No Joking,” an essay about airport security, University of Ottawa professor Mark B. Salter writes that it is “difficult to motivate passengers to contemplate their own mortality.” The fashion for jokiness in safety videos “naturalizes areas of anxiety,” a mental trick of which Freud was well aware.

What then are we to make of the EVA Air dancer at the 4:35 minute mark, who appears to be falling backward through the night sky?

Would you show a jet's worth of travelers the modern dance equivalent of Airplane 1975, Fearless, or Snakes on a Plane before they taxi down the runway?

Mercifully, the narrator steps in to remind passengers that smoking is prohibited, before the digitally projected dark waters can swallow the writhing soloist up.

There’s also some question as to whether the video adequately addresses the question of tray table operation.

Readers, what do you think? Does this new video make you feel secure about taking flight?

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

David Lynch Teaches Typing: A New Interactive Comedy Game

Typing programs demand some patience on the part of the student, and David Lynch Teaches Typing is no exception.

You’ve got 90 seconds to get acclimated to the cruddy floppy disc-era graphics and the cacophonous voice of your instructor, a dead ringer for FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole, the hard-of-hearing character director David Lynch played on his seminal early 90s series, Twin Peaks.

Things perk up about a minute and a half in, when students are instructed to place their left ring fingers in an undulating bug to the left of their keyboards.

That second "in"? Not a typo (though you'll notice plenty of no doubt intentional boo-boos in the teacher's pre-programmed responses...)

The bug in question may well put you in mind of the mysterious baby in Lynch’s first feature length film, 1977’s Eraserhead.

On the other hand, it might not.

David Lynch Teaches Typing is actually a short interactive comedy game, and many of the millennial reviewers covering that beat have had to play catch-up in order to catch the many nods to the director’s work contained therein.

One of our favorites is the Apple-esque name of the program’s retro computer, and we'll wager that frequent Lynch collaborator, actor Kyle MacLachlan, would agree.

Another reference that has thus far eluded online gaming enthusiasts in their 20s is Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. Take a peek below at what the virtual typing tutor’s graphics looked like around the time the original Twin Peaks aired to discover the creators of David Lynch Teaches Typing’s other inspiration.

David Lynch Teaches Typing is available for free download here. If you’re anxious that doing so might open you up to a technical bug of nightmarish proportions, stick with watching the play through at the top of the page.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her March 20 in New York City for the second edition of Necromancers of the Public Domain, a low budget variety show born of a 1920 manual for Girl Scout Camp Directors. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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

School just got fun. And funny. Days after announcing that New Yorker author Malcolm Gladwell will teach his first online course on writing, MasterClass revealed that Judd Apatow, the director of umpteen funny films (The 40-Year-Old VirginKnocked Up, This Is 40, etc.), will present his own course on comedy, offerings lessons on how to "create hilarious storylines, write great stand-up, and direct comedies that leave audiences laughing."

In 32 video lessons, students will learn how to: find comedic inspiration; mine your life for material; outline and structure stories for film and TV; write stand-up material; write comic dialogue; pitch projects to studios and networks; work with actors; and navigate the entertainment industry. Now open for pre-enrollment, the course will officially get started this spring. Anyone looking to study comedy can also immediately get started with an existing comedy course taught by Steve Martin.

Each MasterClass course costs $90. But, for $180, you can get an annual pass to every course in the MasterClass catalogue.

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Note: MasterClasss and Open Culture have a partnership. If you sign up for a MasterClass course, it benefits not just you and MasterClass. It benefits Open Culture too. So consider it win-win-win.

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