A Reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” in 100 Celebrity Voices

For every august personage who’s taken a crack Edgar Allan Poe’s evergreen poem, "The Raven," there are thousands more who haven’t.

Humorist Jordan Monsell is doing what he can to close that gap, providing a sampling of 100 mostly male, mostly white, mostly human celebrity voices. It’s a solo recitation, but vocally a collaborative one, with a fair number of animated characters making their way into the credits, too.

He certainly knows how to cast outside the box. Traditional Poe interpreters such as Vincent Price and John Astin bring some well established creep cred to the enterprise. Monsell picks Christopher Walken and Christopher Lee already have existing takes on this classic, and Anthony Hopkins and Willem Dafoe are welcome additions.




But what to make of Jerry Seinfeld, Pee-Wee Herman, Johnny Cash… and even poetry lover Bill Murray? Manic and much missed Robin Williams may offer a clue. What good is having an arsenal of impressions if you’re not willing to roll them out in rapid succession?

While some of Monsell's impersonations (cough, David Bowie) fall a bit short of the mark, others will have you regretting that no one had the forethought to record Don Knotts or JFK reciting the poem in its entirety.

The titles offer a bit of a misnomer. In many instances, it’s not really the performers but their best known characters being aped. While there may not be too great a vocal divide between playwright Wallace Shawn and Vizzini in The Princess Bride, The Dude is not Jeff Bridges, any more than Captain Jack Sparrow is Johnny Depp.

The project seems likely to play best with nerdy adolescent boys… which could be good news for teachers looking to get reluctant readers onboard. Show it on the classroom Smart Board, and be prepared to have mini-teach-ins on Katharine Hepburn, Walter Matthau, the late great Robert Shaw, and other big names whose day has passed. Shrek, Gollum, and Harry Potter’s house elf, Dobby, are on hand to keep the references from feeling too moldy.

The specter of Poe gets the coveted final word, a balm to the ears after the triple assault of Christian Bale’s Batman, Mad Max’s Tom Hardy, and Heath Ledger’s Joker. (It may be a matter of taste. You’ll hear no complaint from these quarters with regard to Mickey Mouse, Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion, or The Simpson’s Krusty the Klown, wonderfully unctuous.)

The breakneck audio patchwork approach doesn’t do much for reading comprehension, but could lead to a lively middle school discussion on what constitutes a successful performance. Who served the text best? Readers?

Furthermore, who’s missing? What voice would you add to the Monsell’s roll call, below?

Morgan Freeman

Kermit the Frog

Johnny Cash

Ringo Starr

David Bowie

Rick Moranis

Gary Oldman

Peter Lorre

Adam Sandler

Don Knotts

William Shatner

George Takei

Michael Dorn

Daffy Duck

Ricky Gervais

Foghorn Leghorn

Liam Neeson

Nicholas Cage

John Travolta

Anthony Hopkins

Rod Serling

Cookie Monster

Jay Baruchel

Jeff Bridges

Johnny Depp

Archer

Dr. Phil

Gollum

Mandy Patinkin

Wallace Shawn

Billy Crystal

Owen Wilson

Dustin Hoffman

Krusty the Klown

Apu

Christian Bale

Michael Caine

Tom Hardy

Heath Ledger

Mickey Mouse

John Wayne

Jerry Seinfeld

Phil Hartman

Goofy

Al Pacino

Marlon Brando

Jack Lemmon

Walter Matthau

Christopher Walken

Rowlf the Dog

John Cleese

Robin Williams

Katharine Hepburn

Woody Allen

Matthew McConaughey

Cowardly Lion

Jimmy Stewart

John C. Reilly

James Mason

Sylvester Stallone

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Stewie

Daniel Day Lewis

Maggie Smith

Alan Rickman

Dobby

Jack Nicholson

Christoph Waltz

Bill Murray

Dan Aykroyd

Sean Connery

Bill Cosby

Christopher Lloyd

Droopy Dog

Kevin Spacey

Harrison Ford

Ronald Reagan

JFK

Bill Clinton

Keanu Reeves

Ian McKellen

Paul Giamatti

Sebastian

Stan Lee

Jeff Goldblum

Hugh Grant

Kenneth Branagh

Larry the Cable Guy

Pee-Wee Herman

Shrek

Donkey

Charlton Heston

Michael Keaton

Homer Simpson

Yoda

Willem Dafoe

Bruce Willis

Robert Shaw

Christopher Lee

Edgar Allan Poe

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

Watch Author Chuck Palahniuk Read Fight Club 4 Kids

The first rule of Horsing Around Club is: You do not talk about Horsing Around Club.  ― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club for Kids

Retooling a popular show, film, or comic to feature younger versions of the characters, their personalities and relationships virtually unchanged, can be a serious, if cynical source of income for the original creators.

The Muppets, Archie, Sherlock Holmes, and James Bond have all given birth to spin-off babies.

So why not author Chuck Palahniuk?

Perhaps because spin-off babies are designed to gently ensnare a new and younger audience, and Palahniuk, whose 2002 novel Lullaby hinged on a nursery rhyme that kills children in their cribs, is unlikely to file down the dark, twisted edges that have won him a cult following.

That said, his most recent title is formatted as a coloring book, with another due to drop later this fall.

The same spirit of mischief drives Fight Club for Kids, which mercifully will not be hitting the children’s section of your local bookstore in time for the upcoming holiday season (or ever).

Much like Tyler Durden, Palahniuk's most infamous creation, this title is but a figment, existing only in the above video, where it is read by its putative author.

If you think Samuel L. Jackson’s narration of Go the F**k to Sleep—which can actually be purchased in book form—represents the height of adult readers running off the rails, you ain’t heard nothing yet:

The horseplay would go on until it was done

And everyone who did it would always have fun

Especially the Boy Who Had No Name

Who once just, like, beat this dude, who was actually Jared Leto in the movie, which was so fuckin’ cool and intense, and he’s just pummeling this guy and of course, being Jared Leto, he was essentially a model, but when our guy is done with him, he’s just this purple, bloated, chewed up bubblegum-looking motherfucker covered in blood, head to toe!

(The second rule of Horsing Around Club is: You DO NOT TALK ABOUT HORSING AROUND CLUB!)

Find more printable Chuck Palahniuk coloring pages here.

via Mashable

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

Watch Steve Martin Make His First TV Appearance: The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1968)

“What if there were no punch lines?" asks Steve Martin in his autobiography Born Standing Up. "What if there were no indicators? What if I created tension and never released it? What if I headed for a climax, but all I delivered was an anticlimax?" These questions motivated him to develop the distinctive style of stand-up comedy — in a sense, an anti-stand-up comedy — that rocketed him to superstardom in the 1970s. But before the world knew him as a banjo-playing funnyman, Martin worked for a couple of his especially notable comedian-musician elders: Tom and Dick Smothers, better known as the Smothers Brothers.

"We happened to be walking through the writer area of the show, and there he was, sitting at one of our writers' desks," Tom says of Martin on the 1968 broadcast of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour above. "Later we found out that he actually was one of our writers. Since he hasn't been paid for his work, we thought we'd let him come out tonight and make a few dollars."




So introduced, the 22-year-old Martin begins his television debut by re-introducing himself: "As Tom just said, I'm Steve Martin, and I'll be out here in a minute. While I'm waiting for me, I'd like to jump into kind of a socko-boffo comedy routine." With his prop table ready, he then launches into "the fabulous glove-into-dove trick."

Though the studio audience may look pretty square by today's standards (or even those of the late 1960s), The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour had already built a reputation for pushing the envelope of mainstream television comedy. Still, it's safe to say that its audience had never seen any performer – and certainly not any prop comic — quite like Martin before. In this short set, he performs a number of deliberately botched or otherwise askew magic tricks, using his tone to generate the humor. "If I kept denying them the formality of a punch line," as he writes more than 40 years later in Born Standing Up, "the audience would eventually pick their own place to laugh, essentially out of desperation. This type of laugh seemed stronger to me, as they would be laughing at something they chose, rather than being told exactly when to laugh.”

Watching today, Martin's fans will recognize his trademark sensibility more quickly than his appearance, since the clip predates both the white suit and the white hair. Even then, he wanted to perform in a way that, in the words of The Guardian's Rafael Behr, "would unnerve and alienate the audience, but also, through self-deprecation, engage them in conspiracy against himself." Martin seems to take a dim view of his own early television work, having described himself in a 1971 Virginia Graham Show appearance as "mannered, slow and self-aware. I had absolutely no authority," a quality that he has since developed in abundance, and of which "the art of having an act so bad it was good," as Behr puts it, demands a surprising amount.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The 100 Funniest Films of All Time, According to 253 Film Critics from 52 Countries

Does comedy come with an expiration date? Scholars of the field both amateur and professional have long debated the question, but only one aspect of the answer has become clear: the best comedy films certainly don't. That notion manifests in the variety of cinematic eras represented in BBC Culture's recent poll of 177 film critics to determine the 100 greatest comedy films of all time. Most of us have seen Harold Ramis' Groundhog Day at some point (and probably at more than one point) over the past 24 years; fewer of us have seen the Marx Brothers' picture Duck Soup, but even those of us who consider ourselves far too cool and modern to watch the Marx Brothers have to acknowledge its genius.

That top ten runs as follows:

  1. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
  2. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
  3. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
  4. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)
  5. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)
  6. Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979)
  7. Airplane! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, 1980)
  8. Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967)
  9. This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984)
  10. The General (Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton, 1926)

The BBC have published the top 100 results (the last spot being a tie between the late Jerry Lewis' The Ladies Man and Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy) on their site, accompanied by a full list of participating critics and their votescritics' comments on the top 25, an essay on whether men and women find different films funny (mostly not, but with certain notable splits on movies like Clueless and Animal House), another on whether comedy differs from region to region, and another on why Some Like It Hot is number one.

Though no enthusiast of classic Hollywood would ever deny Billy Wilder's gender-bending 1959 farce any honor, it wouldn't have come out on top in a poll of American and Canadian critics alone: Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove wins that scenario handily. "Intriguingly, Eastern European critics were much more likely to vote for Dr Strangelove than Western European critics," adds Christian Blauvelt. "Perhaps the US and countries that used to be behind the Iron Curtain appreciate Dr. Strangelove so much because it ruthlessly satirises the delusions of grandeur held by both sides. And perhaps Some Like It Hot is embraced more by Europeans than US critics because, although it’s a Hollywood film, it has a continental flair and distinctly European attitude toward sex."

Other entries, such as Jacques Tati's elaborate modernity-critiquing 70-millimeter spectacle Playtime, have also been received differently, to put it mildly, at different times and in different places. But if all comedy ultimately comes down to making us laugh, the only way to know your own position on the cultural comedic spectrum is to simply sit down and see what has that singularly enjoyable effect on you. Why not start with Keaton's The General, which happens to be free to view online — and on some level the predecessor of (and, in the eyes of may critics, the superior of) even the physical comedies that come out today?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Al Franken Provides Comic Relief at the Grateful Dead’s 1980 Halloween Concert: A Tribute to Our Favorite Deadhead Senator

Our illustrious Senator from Minnesota Al Franken has long been a Deadhead, or at least an ardent fan. He and comedy partner Tom Davis were the first writers hired by Saturday Night Live in 1975 and occasionally also performed routines on the show. They were also Grateful Dead fans responsible for getting the band booked on SNL.

So by the time 1980 and the eight-night residency of the Grateful Dead at Radio City Music Hall rolled around, Franken and Davis were asked to host the final night, Halloween, for a show that was simulcast on radio and closed circuit television to 14 movie theaters around the country. Their job? To help entertain viewers and fill the two 40-minute breaks in the Dead's show.

For Radio City Music Hall, the event saved its financial skin. According to Rolling Stone, by the late ‘70s, “with New York City in fiscal freefall, Radio City's future was suddenly shaky; movie attendance dropped, and plans to convert it into an office building or parking lot loomed.”

The solution was to book pop and rock acts. The first was Linda Ronstadt. The second was the Dead, and soon Deadheads descended on Rockefeller center, buying up 36,000 tickets.

Franken and Davis pre-taped many of the segments, and the Dead loved mocking themselves. There’s a Jerry Lewis Telethon parody for “Jerry’s Kids,” where Franken urges donations for acid casualties; Bob Weir's luxurious hair is admired; drugs and penis jokes abound; and at one point Davis "mistakenly" drinks acid-dosed urine and trips out. (In reality, Davis actually had dropped acid for the live portion.)

Radio City’s lawyers sued after the concerts for damaging its reputation, but later settled. A compilation video of the Halloween show and the previous night’s concert was released in 1981 as Dead Ahead, the source of these clips.

Tom Davis died in 2012 from throat and neck cancer; and Al Franken represents the citizens of Minnesota, but did briefly take over SiriusXM’s Grateful Dead channel in May of 2017 to host a full day of music and interviews with Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, the surviving members of the Dead (always an ironic turn of phrase).

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

The Comedic Legacies of Dick Gregory and Jerry Lewis (RIP): A Study in Contrasts

Two titans of comedy passed away this weekend, but the deaths of Dick Gregory and Jerry Lewis have seemed like cultural footnotes amidst some of the most anxious, angry few days in recent U.S. history. Gregory and Lewis are stars of a bygone era, maybe two full generations behind contemporary popular relevance. And yet, in many ways, the mid-20th century world where both men got their start feels closer than ever.

Both Gregory and Lewis once wielded considerable power in the entertainment industry and in their other chosen spheres of influence—the civil rights movement and charitable giving, respectively. In nearly every other respect, the two could not have been more different.

Gregory broke into mainstream success with a new wave of black comics like Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor, and like Pryor, he did so by telling painful truths about racism that many white Americans laughed about but were unwilling to honestly confront or change. You can hear an early example in the routine above, from his 1962 album Dick Gregory Talks Turkey.

Gregory got his big break in 1961 when he seized the moment in a tryout at Hugh Hefner’s Chicago Playboy Club. As he later told CBS Sunday Morning, “I pushed that white boy out of the way and ran up there…. Two hours later, they called Hefner. And Hefner came by and they went out of their mind.” That same year, he made his first national TV appearance. See it at 15:16 in the documentary Walk in My Shoes just above, which also features Malcolm X and Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) founder James Farmer.

In the playlist  below, you can hear three full Gregory comedy recordings, Living Black & White (1961), East & West (1961), and an interview album, Dick Gregory on Comedy. Throughout his career, Gregory was an uncompromising civil rights activist who was beaten and arrested in the sixties at marches and protests. He was at the 1963 March on Washington, faced down the Klan to help integrate restaurants, and fasted to protest the Vietnam War. In a review of his provocatively-titled autobiography, The New York Times described him as “a man who deeply wants a world without malice and hate and is doing something about it.”

He also did something about it in comedy. When Jack Paar’s producer called him to appear on the show, Gregory hung up on him. Then Paar himself called, and Gregory told him he wouldn’t come on unless he could sit on the couch, a privilege afforded white comics and denied their black counterparts. Paar agreed. “It was sitting on the couch,” he said, “that made my salary grow in three weeks from $250 working seven days a week to $5,000 a night.” For the next several decades, he leveraged his wealth and fame for humanitarian and civil rights causes, and even a run for mayor of Chicago in 1967 and a popular write-in presidential campaign in the 1968 election. He died at 84 a venerated elder statesman of stand-up comedy and of the Civil Rights Movement.

Jerry Lewis’s legacy is much more complicated, and serves in many ways as a “cautionary tale,” as Nick Gillespie puts it, for the hubris of celebrity. Lewis broke through in the 50s as the animated, rubbery comic foil to Dean Martin’s suave straight man in the hugely famous comedy duo of Martin & Lewis. See them above do a standup routine in 1952 on their Colgate Comedy Hour, with an introduction (and intervention) from Bob Hope. The act was a phenomenon. “Coming from literally nowhere,” writes Shawn Levy at The Guardian, “the pair rode a skyrocketing 10-year career that made them staples of American showbiz for the rest of their lives…. They met when they were just two guys scuffling for a break in Times Square, and they helped forge a new brand of popular entertainment suited to the postwar mood.”

In the same year as the broadcast further up, Lewis made his first appearance, with Martin and Jackie Gleason, on the Muscular Dystrophy Associations of America (MDAA) telethon. Just above, see them do a bit while the familiar banks of operators stand by behind them. Lewis began hosting his own MDAA telethon in 1966 and did so until 2010, raising billions for the organization, which remembers him as a “Comic genius. Cultural icon. Humanitarian.” Many disability activists feel otherwise, including many former “Jerry’s Kids,” his “pet name,” writes Gillespie, for the poster children he recruited to represent the MD community on the telethon and related advocacy materials. “The telethon was widely parodied,” and Lewis’s efforts have been seen by many activists and protestors as self-serving, perpetuating harmful, demeaning attitudes and encouraging pity for MD sufferers rather than acceptance and social equality.

As a movie star, Lewis often played an all-American doofus whose physical antics and stammering, boyish persona endeared him to audiences (see above, for example, from 1952’s Sailor Beware). As a director, he made tightly choreographed madcap comedies. He also traded in offensive stereotypes, participating in an ugly Hollywood tradition that emerged from anti-Chinese bigotry of the 19th century and anti-Japanese World War II propaganda. (Lewis was unflatteringly remembered in The Japan Times as the “king of low-brow comedy… forever squealing, grimacing and flailing his way” through various roles.) He introduced Asian caricatures into his act in the Martin & Lewis days (see below) and reprised the shtick in his critically-loathed 1980 film Hardly Working, in which, writes Paul Macovaz at Senses of Cinema, he “realizes an offensive, profoundly racist yellow-face sashimi chef.”

“I imagine that most viewers will be troubled by it,” Macovaz comments, “wrenched viscerally from their enjoyment of the Lewisian idiot and pressed squirming into the overdetermined conceptual narrative zone of American Orientalism.” Those viewers who know another of Lewis’s later-career disasters will recognize another awkward character in Hardly Working, the sad-faced clown of 1972's disastrous The Day the Clown Died, a film so ill-advised and badly executed that Lewis never allowed it to be released. (Just below, see a short documentary on the abortive effort.)  In the movie, as comedy writer Bruce Handy noted in a 1992 Spy magazine article, the comedian plays “an unhappy German circus clown… sent to a concentration camp and forced to become a sort of genocidal Pied Piper, entertaining Jewish children as he leads them to the gas chambers.” Meant to be his first “serious,” dramatic role, the largely unseen film now stands as an archetypal epitome of poor taste—an artistic failure that Mel Brooks might have dreamed up as a sick joke.

As Gillespie points out, Lewis’s last years saw him threatening to punch Lindsay Lohan and telling refugees to “stay where the hell they are.” Long past the time most people wanted to hear them, he persisted in making "racist and misogynistic jokes" and gave “the most painfully awkward interview of 2016” to the Hollywood Reporter. He became well-known for verbally abusing his audiences. The running joke that Lewis was beloved by the French, which “only made him less respectable in his home country,” may have been run into the ground. But in the latter half of his career, it sums up how much American comedians—even those like Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, and Eddie Murphy, who were clearly influenced by his manic humor—were often unwilling to make too much of the debt. But looking back at his 1950s dada zaniness and at films like The Nutty Professor, it's impossible to deny his contributions to 20th century comedy and even a certain brand of absurdist 21st century humor.

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

Why Jim Carrey Needs to Paint: “Painting Frees Me, from the Past and Future, from Regret and Worry”

In his top-grossing comedies, actor Jim Carrey displayed an antic quality that seemed to rule over his personal life as well. While other stars used interviews as opportunities to normalise themselves to the civilians in the audience, clown prince Carrey was relentless, an uncontrollable fire hose of funny faces and voices that felt not unlike demons.

All that output was exhausting, and caused many to wonder if the man was capable of calming down long enough to receive any meaningful input.




His performances in films such as the Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind suggested that perhaps he was…

As did the revelation that he spent a lot of his childhood in his bedroom drawing - the flip side to his crazy living room performances, staged, in part, to keep an emotionally troubled family from sinking any lower. He also drew in school, aggravating teachers with unauthorised portraits.

As Carrey recalled in a 2011 interview:

After I became famous, my sixth-grade teacher sent me sketches she had confiscated. She kept them because she thought they were cute. She also knew how to harness the energy. If I was quiet, she would give me 15 minutes at the end of class to perform. Today, I’d be on Ritalin, and Ace Ventura would have never been made.

These days, the funny man seems to have turned his back on performing in favor of a more contemplative visual arts practice. His most recent acting credit is over a year old. As David Bushell’s documentary short, I Needed Color, above reveals, the quantity of Carrey’s output is still impressive, but there’s a qualitative difference where the artist is concerned.

His face and body are calm, and the crazed imperative to entertain seems to have left him. Watching him go about his work, one is reminded of cartoonist and educator Lynda Barry’s observations about the neurological connection between the ability to go down the rabbit hole of art and a child’s mental health:

I think it’s what keeps us sane. I think about how, if I’m sitting here with a kid who’s four years old and I have all these markers and I say, do you want to draw, and that kid’s too freaked out to draw, we’d be worried about that kid a little bit, wouldn’t you? We’d be worried about them emotionally. OK, on this side I have a 40-year-old, same situation, she’s too scared to draw, but we’re not worried about her. Why? Because there is a tacit understanding that something is going on when kids are playing or [drawing] that has something to do with their mental health. All of us know that if a kid is not allowed to play till he’s 21, he’s going to be a nut. He’s going to be a psychopath, actually. The brain studies they’ve done of kids in deep play show that their brains are identical to an adult’s brain that is in creative concentration. We know that play is essential for mental health. I would argue that so is drawing.

Art saves lives, right?

Carrey’s earlier success affords him the luxury of time and money to immerse himself in his new vocation without limiting himself to any one style or medium. Giant paintings, tiny sculptures, works that involve black light, squeegees, or shredded canvas stitched back together with wire are all cricket.

Given his movie star status, nasty reviews are to be expected, but approval is no longer what Carrey is seeking:

When I paint and sculpt it stops the world for me, as if all time has been suspended. My spirit is completely engaged, my heart is engaged, and I feel completely free. I think I just like creating. All of it is a portal into present, into absolute, quiet, gentle, stillness. This involvement, this presence, is freedom from concern. That’s harmony with the universe.

Those who can’t make it to Signature Galleries in Las Vegas this September 23 for a $10,000 per couple opening of Carrey’s paintings can take a gander at his work for free here.

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

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