Meet the “Grammar Vigilante,” Hell-Bent on Fixing Grammatical Mistakes on England’s Storefront Signs

In the age of Banksy, anonymity, energy, and acting without permission combine to make a potent brew. Those whose work springs up in a public setting overnight, without prior announcement or transaction, are freely assumed to be passionate swashbucklers, brimming with talent and sly social commentary.

But what about an anonymous middle-aged man who roams the streets of Bristol, armed not with stencils and spray paint, but a sponge-tipped broom handle that allows him to correct the improper punctuation on local businesses’ awnings and out-of-reach signage?

The so-called "grammar vigilante," above, became an Internet sensation after a BBC reporter trailed him on one of his nightly rounds, watching him apply adhesive-backed apostrophes where needed and eradicate incorrectly placed ones with blank, color-matched stickers.

While the manager of Cambridge Motors (formerly known as Cambridge Motor’s) hailed the unknown citizen who muscled his splintery wooden sign into compliance with the King’s English, elsewhere, the backlash has been brutal and swift.

The chairman of the Queen’s English Society shares the anonymous crusader’s pain, but frowns on his uncredited execution.

The Telegraph is one of several publications to have called him a “pedant.”

And the owner of Tux & Tails, whose website persists in describing the business as a “gentlemans outfitters,” is angry over what he says will be the cost of restoring a large vinyl sign, installed less than a year ago. “It looks like bird shit,” he declared to The Bristol Post.

On this side of the pond, Erin Brenner, an instructor in the University of California San Diego Extension’s Copyediting Certificate program, comes down hard in her Copyediting blog. In her opinion, there’s nothing to be gained from publicly shaming strangers for their punctuation boo boos:

It is not a kindness—it’s abhorrent behavior…It also gives the world a misguided idea about what professional editors, who are also passionate about language, do. We don’t go around slapping our authors’ wrists in public and telling them how wrong and stupid they are. 

Those with reason to fear vigilante justice for their public punctuation should be advised that the web abounds with apostrophe usage videos, one of which is above.

Watch a longer segment on the Grammar Vigilante here.

Related Content:

“Weird Al” Yankovic Releases “Word Crimes,” a Grammar Nerd Parody of “Blurred Lines”

Cormac McCarthy’s Three Punctuation Rules, and How They All Go Back to James Joyce

Steven Pinker Identifies 10 Breakable Grammatical Rules: “Who” Vs. “Whom,” Dangling Modifiers & More

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

Steve Martin Will Teach His First Online Course on Comedy

Can comedy be taught? The question has no clear answer, but if it can, Steve Martin would surely occupy the highest rank of comedy teachers. He could probably teach a fair few other crafts as well: besides his achievements as an innovator in stand-up as well as in other forms of comedy — famously appearing on Saturday Night Live so many times that even some of his fans mistake him for a regular cast member — he's also established himself as an actor, as an essayist and novelist, and even as a respected bluegrass banjo player. Still, despite his impressive artistic Renaissance-man credentials many of us, at the mere mention of Steve Martin's name, laugh almost reflexively.

Hence his place at the front and center of "Steve Martin Teaches Comedy," a new online course from Masterclass, the education startup whose faculty roster, as we've previously featured, also includes the likes of Werner Herzog and Aaron Sorkin. "We're going to talk about a lot of things," says Martin in the course's trailer above. "We're going to talk about my specific process, performing comedy, we're going to talk about writing." For a cost of $90, Masterclass provides more than 25 video lessons, a downloadable workbook with supplemental lesson materials, and an opportunity to upload your own material for critiques by the rest of the class as well as maybe — just maybe — by Martin himself.

Whether or not a master comedian can pass along his knowledge as a math or a language teacher can, anyone who's paid attention to Martin's comedy so far, as well as his reflections on comedy, can sense how much intellectual energy he's put into figuring it all out, even at its extremes of absurdity, for himself. Students unwilling to follow suit need not apply, nor those worried about landing agents and getting headshots, for the esteemed instructor makes it clear up front that he grapples only with the most important question in comedy, as in life: "How do I be good?" You can sign up here.

Note: If you want to hear Steve Martin narrate his memoir, Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life, you can always sign up for's 30-day free trial, and download it for free. (Everyone who signs up for a free trial with Audible gets two free audiobooks. Get more info on the free trial here.)

Related Content:

Steve Martin & Robin Williams Riff on Math, Physics, Einstein & Picasso in a Heady Comedy Routine (2002)

Steve Martin on the Legendary Bluegrass Musician Earl Scruggs

Steve Martin Writes a Hymn for Hymn-Less Atheists

Steve Martin, “Home Crafts Expert,” Explains the Art of Paper Wadding, Endorses Bob Kerrey

Steve Martin Releases Bluegrass Album/Animated Video

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, 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.

Creating Saturday Night Live: Behind-the Scenes Videos Reveal How the Iconic Comedy Show Gets Made

I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t have some gripe about the state of SNL, very often rooted in nostalgia for a simpler, funnier Golden Age. It’s hard not to associate iconic TV shows with lost youth, even shows that have moved on when some of the rest of us haven’t.

The live sketch comedy show, now two years into its fourth decade, has done its best to keep pace with changing times and tastes. While my own fandom has waxed and waned, one thing has remained a constant: my considerable appreciation for the talent and sheer moxie required to stage original live comedy on national television, week after week for forty years.

Comics and celebrity guests risk the disaster of dead air when jokes fall flat. Crewmembers rig up convincing sets only to strike them minutes later for completely different environs. Make-up artists transform Kate McKinnon from the cartoonish Jeff Sessions to the bald, jowly “Shud the Mermaid” in-between sketches, a process that seems to unfold in seconds in the sped-up behind-the-scenes video above.

Sure, everything on the show is scripted and choreographed, and the actors read from cue cards. But as the popular phenomenon of “corpsing”—breaking character by breaking into laughter—shows us, anything can go wrong live with the best-laid plans of writers and directors. The quick-change transition between the cold open and the opening monologue, which both happen on the “home base stage” of studio 8H, as you can see at the top; the rock-solid segues from the live band, below…. The SNL machine depends on every one of its many moving parts to function.

And if—or inevitably when—one of those parts malfunctions, well the show goes on... and on and on and on…. How many seasons does SNL have left in it? Another forty? A possibly infinite number? Given how well its teams of creatives and crew have mastered the art of live televised sketch comedy—not all of it to everyone’s taste, to be sure—it’s possible that Saturday Night Live will outlive even the phenomenon of television, transplanting itself somewhere in our brains in the far future, where we'll lean back, close our eyes, and hear the saxophones and that familiar, rousing announcement, “Live, from New York…."

See the show’s makeup department head and hair designer walk us through their process below, and watch four more behind-the-scenes shorts at the “Creating Saturday Night Live” playlist on Youtube.

Related Content:

Watch Dave Chappelle’s Saturday Night Live Monologue: “We’ve Elected an Internet Troll as Our President”

Saturday Night Live: Putin Mocks Trump’s Poorly Attended Inauguration 

When William S. Burroughs Appeared on Saturday Night Live: His First TV Appearance (1981)

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

Stephen Hawking Auditions Celebrities to Provide His New Voice: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Liam Neeson, Anna Kendrick & Michael Caine

Stephen Hawking's computer-synthesized voice is distinctive. You know it when you hear it. But, after so many years, it's time for a change. That's the premise of this short comic bit, created for Comic Relief's Red Nose Day. Above, watch A-list celebrities--everyone from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Liam Neeson, to Anna Kendrick and Bill Gates--audition to become the new voice of Prof. Hawking. You can see how it plays out.

Red Nose Day (just held on March 24th this year) is a fundraiser to help struggling people in countries around the world. You can donate to the cause here.

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.

Related Content:

Download the Software That Provides Stephen Hawking’s Voice

Before Siri & Alexa: Hear the First Attempt to Use a Synthesizer to Recreate the Human Voice (1939)

Monty Python’s “Argument Clinic” Sketch Reenacted by Two Vintage Voice Synthesizers (One Is Stephen Hawking’s Voice)

Stephen Hawking’s Lectures on Black Holes Now Fully Animated with Chalkboard Illustrations

Free Online Physics Courses

How Animated Cartoons Are Made: A Vintage Primer Filmed Way Back in 1919

Many techniques shown in Bray Studios’ 1919 short How Animated Cartoons are Made, above, were rendered obsolete by digital advancements, but its 21-year-old star, animator Wallace Carlson, seems as if he would fit right in at Cal Arts or Pratt, Class of 2017.

Like many of today’s working animators, the industry pioneer got started early, getting attention (and a distribution deal!) for work made as a young teen.

His comic sensibilities also suggest that young Carlson would’ve found a place among the 21st-century’s animation greats (and soon-to-be-greats).

It doesn’t hurt that he’s cute, in an indie Williamsburg Dandy sort of way.

The vintage feel of his little instructional film is pretty hip these days. It could be the work of a very particular kind of millennial, familiar to fans of Girls, Search Party, or other shows whose characters spend a lot of time in cafes, making art that will find its greatest audience on the internet.

You know, download some silent clips from the Prelinger Archives, browse the Free Music Archive for a suitably jangly old time tune, and put it all together in iMovie, messing around with title fonts until you achieve the desired effect. That’s what Carlson might have been doing, had he been born a hundred years later.

Some of his (silent) observations about his craft still ring true.

Unless you’re working on your own thing, it’s a good idea to get the boss’ blessing on your script before embarking on the painstaking animation process.

And character eyebrow movements remain an excellent storytelling device.

Animators whose talents are more visual than verbal could take a lesson from Carlson’s kicky period dialogue---“Gee I just busted a window! Hope I don’t get pinched.”---though I’d advise against turning a character’s disability into a punchline.

While today’s young animators have little to no experience with film processing, Carlson’s exhaustion after pumping out drawing after drawing may strike a chord. The devil is still in the details for anyone seeking to produce work of a higher quality than that which can be achieved with purchase of an app.

It’s also pretty cool to see Carlson prefiguring white board animation 56 years before the invention of dry erase markers, as he demonstrates how to set a scene using his Little Rascals-esque characters Mamie and Dreamy Dud.

Related Content:

Gertie the Dinosaur: The Mother of all Cartoon Characters (1914)

Early Japanese Animations: The Origins of Anime (1917-1931)

Winsor McCay Animates the Sinking of the Lusitania in a Beautiful Propaganda Film (1918)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  She used one of the alluded-to archives to create the trailer for her play, Zamboni Godot, opening in New York City next month. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Deconstructing How Louis CK Writes a Joke

Those who subscribe to the notion that deconstructing a joke ruins it may consider making an exception for the Nerdwriter (aka Evan Puschak).

His careful parsing of Louis CK’s Monopoly joke, above, takes rhythm, word choice, and the importance of a clearly stated premise into account.

Delivering the 207-word joke at the Beacon Theater, CK is characteristically nonchalant, but Puschak argues that there’s nothing unrehearsed about his performance.

Take the way he ramps up a scenario that will be familiar to any parent---the six-year-old who is emotionally unequipped to handle losing at games. CK gets at an even deeper truth about the howling injustice of being six, by saying that his younger daughter is “not emotionally developed enough to handle her inevitable loss in every game of Monopoly.”

Oh, the humanity.

Puschak also singles out CK’s acting ability. The way he speaks to his daughter, placing her in the first row of the audience, sharpens the comedy by helping the audience to fully visualize the scenario he’s set up:

I play Monopoly with my kids, that’s really fun. My nine year old, she can totally do Monopoly. The six year old totally gets how the game works but she’s not emotionally developed enough to handle her inevitable loss in every game of Monopoly because a monopoly loss is dark. It’s heavy. It’s not like when you lose at Candyland ‘Oh you got stuck in the fudgy-thing, baby! Oh well you’re in the gummy twirly-o’s! You didn’t get to win!’ But when she loses at Monopoly, I gotta look at her little face and go ‘Ok, so here’s what’s gonna happen now, ok? All your property, everything you have, all your railroads and houses, and all your money…that’s mine now. Gotta give it all to me. Give it to me, that’s right. And no no, you can’t play anymore because, you see, even though you’re giving me all of that, it doesn’t even touch how you owe me. Doesn’t even touch it, baby. You’re going down hard, it’s really bad. All you’ve been working for all day, I’m gonna take it now and I’m gonna use it to destroy your sister. I mean I’m gonna ruin her! It is just mayhem on this board for her now.

You can view the Nerdwriter’s other videos essays on his website or subscribe to his YouTube channel where a new video is published every Wednesday.

Related Content:

How the Great George Carlin Showed Louis CK the Way to Success (NSFW)

20-Year-Old Louis CK Performs Stand Up (1987)

Louis CK Ridicules Avant-Garde Art on 1990s MTV Show

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Bill Murray & Gilda Radner Deliver the Laughs in Two 1970s Skits for National Lampoon

Bill Murray is America's kindliest, most eccentric, best known secular elf, spreading joy throughout the year, as he treats strangers to impromptu birthday serenades, poetry readings, and bachelor party toasts.

How will younger fans, who've never been exposed to the brash Murray of yore, react to his late 70s Santa, above, for the "National Lampoon Radio Hour”? This Grinch is a spiritual forefather of such department store baddies as Billy Bob Thornton and that guy from A Christmas Story.

Forget about Flexy the Pocket Monkey… Murray’s sham-Claus gleefully denies even the humblest of sweet-voiced little Gilda Radner’s requests - a Nerf Ball and a Pez dispenser.

Saturday Night Live fans of a certain vintage may detect more than a hint of Lisa Loopner’s boyfriend Todd De LaMuca in Murray’s vocal characterization. Instead of Noogies, he sends Radner giggling through “the trap door.”

Man, these two had chemistry!

They revisited the scenario in a holiday sketch for Saturday Night Live’s 3rd season, with Santa downgraded from “evil” to “drunken.”

Murray’s “Kung Fu Christmas” for the National Lampoon Radio Hour’s 1974 Christmas show, above, makes a smooth vintage chaser.

In addition to Radner, collaborators here include Paul Shaffer, Christopher Guest, and Bill's brother Brian Doyle-Murray, a lily white line up unthinkable in 2016.

The lyrics and silky vocal stylings conjure visions of a disco-gritty yuletide New York, where “every race has a smile on its face.”

This time Radner gets to do the rejecting, in an extended spoken word interlude that finds Christopher Guest showering her with offers ranging from a house in the South of France to a glass-bottomed boat. (“Didn’t you like that Palomino horse I bought you last year?”)

Murray who continued to explore his musical urges with his SNL character, Nick the Lounge Singer, was replaced by David Hurdon when "Kung Fu Christmas" was recorded for 1975’s Good-bye Pop album.

Related Content:

Watch Bill Murray, the Struggling New SNL Cast Member, Apologize for Not Being Funny (1977)

Stream 22 Hours of Funky, Rocking & Swinging Christmas Albums: From James Brown and Johnny Cash to Christopher Lee & The Ventures

Stan Lee Reads “The Night Before Christmas,” Telling the Tale of Santa Claus, the Greatest of Super Heroes

Bill Murray Reads Great Poetry by Billy Collins, Cole Porter, and Sarah Manguso

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

« Go BackMore in this category... »