Watch 13 Comedians Take “The Bob Ross Challenge” & Help Raise Money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

The late Bob Ross, the almost laughably calm host of PBS’ popular how-to series, the Joy of Painting, was a boss of many things—business, branding, the 16th-century wet-on-wet ”Alla Prima” technique...

Also speed, as thirteen New York City comedians recently discovered firsthand.

Invited to participate in The Bob Ross Challenge, a web series-cum-fundraiser hatched by comedians Micah Sherman and Mark Stetson, they gamely plunged ahead, regardless of artistic talent or familiarity with the master.

Some like, Julia Duffy, are simply too young to have encountered Ross in his public television heyday.

(For the record, all 403 episodes of Ross' painting show are now viewable online for free.)

Others, like Aparna Nancherla, above, chanced upon reruns screened for ironic effect in dive bars...

Or, like Keisha Zollar, they’re in a romantic relationship with someone who uses The Joy of Painting to combat insomnia.

The majority seem to share a latch key kid’s fondness for the gentle Ross, whose show proved a chill pairing with afterschool snacks.

“We spent about $1000 on official Bob Ross supplies,” Sheman reports. From easel to the fan brush, everything was set up for the participating comedians’ success. Like Ross, who typically shot a season's worth of episodes over a single weekend, the first season's shoot transpired over a few days.

The ground rules were simple. Armed with an arsenal of officially sanctioned supplies, each comedian entered a studio where a Joy of Painting episode was screening, charged with recreating that canvas in real time. At the end of the episode, it was “brushes down” whether or not the canvas bore passing resemblance to Bob’s.

“Our original title was Bob Ross Fails, but people were actually succeeding,” Sherman confesses.

That said, there’s a definite edge. The participants may be trained in improv, but as performers, there's an imperative to get over, and, as stated, Ross moves fast. In the time it takes an average mortal to apply a sky wash, he’s likely fan brushed in a couple of happy little trees.

Tough nuts.

The rules of the game decree that the stopwatch abides.

As Ralf Jean-Pierre observes, it’s a race against time.

Though not everyone plays by the rules…

David Carl, above, creator of Trump Lear, declares (in character) that he not only defeated Bob Ross, but that “no one’s ever had a better tree than that” and that his clouds are “beautifully tremendous.”

Sherman and his co-creator Mark Stetson have conceived of The Bob Ross Challenge as a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Like Ross, Stetson’s father was prematurely claimed by lymphoma. Make a donation in their honor here.

Watch the first season of The Bob Ross Challenge here.


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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her recent trip to Mexico City is the inspiration for her latest short play at The Tank in New York City on August 23, Follow her @AyunHalliday.

What Made Robin Williams a Uniquely Expressive Actor: A Video Essay Explores a Subtle Dimension of His Comic Genius

"He had admirers but no imitators," writes Dave Itzkoff in Robin, his new biography of Robin Williams. "No one combined the precise set of talents he had in the same alchemical proportions." Though Itzkoff's book has received a great deal of acclaim, many fans may still feel that important elements of Williams' particular genius remain less than fully understood. Scholars of comedy will surely continue to scrutinize the beloved comic's persona for decades to come, just as they have over the past four years since his death. The cinema-analyzing video essay series Every Frame a Painting produced one of the first such examinations of Williams' technique, "Robin Williams - In Motion," and its insight still holds up today.

"Few actors could express themselves as well through motion," narrator Tony Zhou says of Williams, "whether that motion was big or small. Even when he was doing the same movement in two different scenes, you could see the subtle variations he brought to the arc of the character." This goes for Williams' manic, impression laden performances as well as his low-key, slow-burning ones. "To watch his work," Zhou says over a montage of entertaining examples, "is to see the subtle thing that an actor can do with his hands, his mouth, his right leg, and his facepalm. Robin Williams' work is an encyclopedia of ways that an actor can express himself through movement, and he was fortunate to work with filmmakers who used his talents to their fullest."

Those filmmakers included Barry Levinson (Good Morning VietnamToysMan of the Year), Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society), Terry Gilliam (The Adventures of Baron MunchausenThe Fisher King), and Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting). Zhou credits them and others with letting Williams "play it straight through" rather than adhering to the more common stop-start shooting method that only permits a few seconds of acting at a time; they gave him "something physical to do," without which his skill with motion couldn't come through in the first place; they used "blocking," meaning the arrangement of the actors in the space of the scene, "to tell their story visually"; they "let him listen," a little-acknowledged but nonetheless important part of a performance, especially a Williams performance.

Finally, these directors "didn't let perfection get in the way of inspiration." While the quality of the individual works in Williams' impressively large filmography may vary, his performances in them are almost all unfailingly compelling. Even during his lifetime Williams was described as a comic genius, and he showed us that comic geniuses have to take risks. And even though every risk he took might not have paid off, his body of work, taken as a whole, teaches us a lesson: "Be open. This was a man who improvised many of his most iconic moments. Maybe he was on to something." Or as Williams himself put it on an Inside the Actors Studio interview, "When the stuff really hits you, it's usually something that happened, and it happened then. That's what film is about: capturing a moment."

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A Salute to Every Frame a Painting: Watch All 28 Episodes of the Finely-Crafted (and Now Concluded) Video Essay Series on Cinema

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Every Cover of MAD Magazine, from 1952 to the Present: Behold 553 Covers from the Satirical Publication

For 65 years and counting, the pages of Mad magazine have entertained readers by satirizing all the cultural items, social fads, news items, and political issues of the moment. Throughout that span of time the covers of Mad magazine have done the same, except that they've entertained everyone, even those who've never opened an issue, whether they want it or not. Though on one level designed purely as disposable visual gags, Mad's covers collectively provide a satirical history of America, and one you can easily browse at Doug Gilford's Mad Cover Site, "a resource for collectors and fans of the world's most important (ecch!) humor publication."

Gilford started the site back in 1997, a year that saw Mad's covers take on such phenomena as The X-Files, the Spice Girls, the Tamagotchi, and Seinfeld. That last seizes the presumably irresistible opportunity to draw Jerry Seinfeld scowling in irritation at "Neuman" — not his nemesis-neighbor Newman, but Mad's mascot Alfred E. Neuman, who appears in one form or another on almost all of the magazine's covers.

These sort of antics had already been going on for quite some time, as evidenced, for instance, by the June 1973 cover above in which Neuman dons a Droog outfit to take the place of Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange — or, in Mad's, view, A Crockwork Lemon.

To see the archive's covers in a large format, you need only scroll to the desired year, click on the issue number, and then click on the image that appears. (Alternatively, those with advanced Mad knowledge can simply pick an issue number from the pull-down "Select-a-Mad" menu at the top of the page.) Gilford keeps the site updated with covers right up to the latest issue: number three, as of this writing, since the magazine "rebooted" this past June as it relocated its offices from New York to California. Recent targets have included Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDonald Trump, and, of course, Donald TrumpMad's longevity may be surprising, but it certainly doesn't look like America will stop providing the ridiculousness on which it has always survived any time soon.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

What It Would Look Like If Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino & Other Directors Filmed Cooking Videos

I usually chafe when director Wes Anderson is labelled “twee,” but as an enthusiastic, sticky-fingered gobbler of bark and ash encrusted campfire s’mores, I did enjoy a rather rowdy laugh at his expense while watching the above video.

Each entry in filmmaker David Ma’s #FoodFilms series starts with a hypothesis that pairs a simple, familiar dish with a director whose visual style is well established.

What if Wes Anderson made S’mores? 

Ma’s early marination in the realms of food styling and advertising is a recipe for success here.

Anderson’s beloved God shot has become a staple of online cooking videos, but Ma’s attention to subtler details would pass muster with a Cordon Bleu chef.

The formally engraved card! The ribbon motif! The costumes!

The look is more Grand Budapest Hotel than the camp-themed Moonrise Kingdom, but no matter. That more obvious pairing started tasting a tad over-chewed around the time of the Moonrise Kingdom-inspired wedding photo shoot.

Ma’s homage to Quentin Tarantino is a butch and bloody take on spaghetti and meatballs.

To paraphrase Jean-Luc Godard, "It's not blood. It’s red sauce.

The soundtrack suggests that Ma’s ear is just as keen as his eye.

45 seconds in, there's a Part 2, as an extra treat for QT fans.

Big budget action king Michael Bay and a Gravity-centric Alfonso Cuarón round out #FoodFilms’ four-course tasting menu.

However satisfied viewers may feel with these hijinks, their appetite for the project is far from satiated. Sequel requests are piling up:

What if Kubrick made Toast?

What if Tim Burton made a grilled cheese sandwich?

What if Woody Allen made pizza?

What if Steven Spielberg made cupcakes?

What if Kurosawa made scrambled eggs?

What if Guy Ritchie did a Full English Fry-Up?

Gives me a hankering to see what Sofia Coppola would do with my grandmother’s favorite layered Jell-o salad.

While we’re waiting for Ma to serve up his next dish we can tide ourselves over with some of his other highly stylized recipe videos, like the Incredible Hulk’s Smashed Potatoes.

Readers, what director-dish pairing would you order up? Let us know in the comments.

via W Magazine

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

The Monty Python Philosophy Football Match: The Ancient Greeks Versus the Germans

Today, as the 2018 World Cup draws to a close, we're revisiting a classic Monty Python skit. The scene is the 1972 Munich Olympics. The event is a football/soccer match, pitting German philosophers against Greek philosophers. On the one side, the Germans -- Hegel, Nietzsche, Kant, Marx and, um, Franz Beckenbauer. On the other side, Archimedes, Socrates, Plato and the rest of the gang. The referee? Confucius. Of course.

Note: Some years ago, this match was recreated by The Philosophy Shop, a group dedicated to promoting philosophy among primary schoolchildren. The Telegraph gives you more details.


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Nick Offerman Explains the Psychological Benefits of Woodworking–and How It Can Help You Achieve Zen in Other Parts of Your Life

The world may know him as an actor and comedian, but Nick Offerman also loves woodworking. And he doesn't just love it in the evenings-and-weekends, something-to-do-with-my-hands-while-I-listen-to-podcasts way: he's actually devoted a serious chunk of his life, personal and professional, to making things out of trees. As neatly as it may dovetail with the musky, traditionally (and sometimes buffoonishly) masculine characters he plays, the woodworking aspect of Offerman's life exists independently of his other craft — not to say, of course, that you'll find the web site of the Offerman Woodshop completely devoid of humor.

Though pride in physical work well done is its own reward, Offerman believes that his woodworking also made it possible for him to succeed as an entertainer. "People often ask me, how can I get my kid involved in show business?" he says in the Big Think clip above. "And I always say, I would advise that you take up woodworking, because it’s addictive," a "craft that is so satisfying, that doesn’t require the input of any corporate entities." This in contrast to the Hollywood auditions where he always found himself performing for "a room full of bankers" and leaving bewildered, thinking, "'I have no idea how I did,' which gives you a lot of stress and a lot of agita."

This stress and agita sent him straight to his woodshop, where he would "just start sanding a walnut table." Before long, "I would see the tangible result of this work that I had done. The thing is, there’s no way to describe the sensation. There’s magic in it, whether you’re working with glass or metals or food or knitting or wood." He credits that powerful and empowering sensation, which he describes, in a perhaps uncharacteristically Californian manner, as having "an incredible meditative or Zen quality," with giving him "a mellow demeanor to the point that I no longer cared as much about the TV shows." And by caring less, he found that he could handle all of the performances show business demanded of him that much better.

You can get a tour of Offerman's Los Angeles woodshop in the second video from the top, a clip from This Old House. Beginning with his impressive wood stock, it continues on to his even more formidable set of indestructible-looking vintage tools. "The less electricity you can use," he tells the host, "the more pleasurable your woodworking will be." He shares more woodworking advice in the video just above, answering questions from the would-be woodworkers of Twitter: Is an apron really necessary? Yes. Does oak require a pre-stain conditioner? Don't stain oak at all. When one fellow requesting help identifying a joint type addresses Offerman as "Master Crafter Wood," Offerman corrects him: "I'm a student of the form, but I appreciate your optimism." That sums up what woodworking offers: a condition of eternal studenthood, and if not optimism then at least a helpful equanimity. "Zen" may be the right word after all.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Rise and Fall of The Simpsons: An In-Depth Video Essay Explores What Made the Show Great, and When It All Came to an End

As an American man in his thirties, I can, if necessary, communicate entirely in Simpsons references. But however voluminous and close at hand my knowledge of the Simpson family and their hometown of Springfield, it doesn't extend past the 1990s. Most of my demographic can surely say the same, as can quite a few outside it: take the Irishman behind the Youtube channel Super Eyepatch Wolf, author of the video essay "The Fall of The Simpsons: How It Happened." We both remember tuning in to the show's debut on December 14, 1989, and how it subsequently "transformed television as we knew it" — and we've both lamented how, in the nearly three decades since, "one of the best and most influential TV shows of all time became just another sitcom."

So how did it happen? To understand what made The Simpsons fall, we have to understand what put it at the top of the zeitgeist in the first place. Not only did the counterculture still exist back in the 1990s, The Simpsons quickly came to constitute its most popular expression. And as with any powerful countercultural product, it was just as quickly labeled dangerous, as anyone who grew up describing each week's episode of the show to friends not allowed to watch it remember. Yet its "rebellious satire" and all the consequent violations both subtle and blatant of the staid conventions of mainstream American culture (especially in its purest manifestation, the sitcom) came unfailingly accompanied by "comedy grounded in character and heart."

The fact that The Simpsons' first generation of writers might well revise a joke twenty or thirty times — creating the countless moments of intricately structured, multilayered verbal and visual comedy we still remember today — didn't hurt. But even if current writers put in the same hours, they do it on a show that has long since lost touch with what made it great. While each of its characters once had "a very specific set of conflicting beliefs and motivations," they now seem to do or say anything, no matter how implausible or absurd, that serves the gag of the moment. Celebrity guest stars stopped playing characters specially crafted for them but caricatures of themselves. Plots became bizarre. "The only thing that The Simpsons was a parody of now," says Super Eyepatch Wolf bringing us to the present day, "was The Simpsons."

While the show has been self-referentially acknowledging its own decline since about the turn of the millennium, that doesn't make comparisons with its 1990s "golden age" any less dispiriting. One thinks of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, another generational touchstone, whose creator Bill Watterson ended it after just ten years: it still finds an audience today in part, he says, "because I chose not to run the wheels off it.” The Simpsons, by contrast, now draws its lowest ratings ever, and it would pain those of us who grew up with it as much to see it end as it does to see it keep going. But then, "entertainment isn't meant to last forever. Rather, it's an extension of the people and places that made it at a particular moment in time." The Simpsons at its countercultural best will always define that moment, no matter how long it insists on running beyond it.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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