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.

Frank Zappa’s 1980s Appearances on The David Letterman Show

I’ve never been a huge fan of Frank Zappa’s music and gravitated more toward the bizarre yet bluesy sonic world of his sometime collaborator and lifelong frenemy Captain Beefheart. But I get the appeal of Zappa’s wildly virtuoso catalog and his sardonic, even caustic, personality. The phrase may have devolved into cliché, but it’s still worth saying of Zappa: he was a real original, a truly independent musician who insisted on doing things his way. Most admirably, he had the talent, vision, and strength of will to do so for decades in a business that legendarily chews up and spits out artists with even the toughest of constitutions.

Zappa, notes the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its profile, “was rock and roll’s sharpest musical mind and most astute social critic… the most prolific composer of his age,” who “bridged genres—rock, jazz, classical, avant-garde and even novelty music—with masterful ease.” Recording “over sixty albums’ worth of material in his fifty-two years,” he famously discovered, nurtured, and collaborated with some of the most technically proficient and accomplished of players. He was indie before indie, and “confronted the corrupt politics of the ruling class” with ferocious wit and unsparing satire, holding “the banal and decadent lifestyles of his countrymen to unforgiving scrutiny.”

Needless to say, Zappa himself was not prone to banality or decadence. He stood apart from his contemporaries with both his utter hatred of trends and his commitment to sobriety, which meant that he was never less than totally lucid, if never totally clear, in interviews and TV appearances. Unsurprisingly, David Letterman, champion of other fiercely talented musical oddballs like Warren Zevon, was a Zappa fan. Between 1982 and 83, Zappa came on Letterman three times, the first, in August of 82, with his daughter Moon (or “Moon Unit," who almost ended up with the name “Motorhead,” he says).

The younger Zappa inherited her father’s deadpan. “When I was little,” she says, “I wanted to change my name to Beauty Heart. Or Mary." But Zappa, the “musical and a sociological phenomenon,” as Letterman calls him, gets to talk about more than his kids’ weird names. In his June, 83 appearance, further up, he promotes his London Symphony Orchestra album. As he explains, the experience of working with cranky classical musicians on a very tight schedule tested his perfectionistic (some might say controlling) temperament. The album gave rise, writes Eduardo Rivadavia at Allmusic, “to his well-documented love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with symphony orchestras thereafter.”

But no matter how well or badly a project went, Zappa always moved right along to the next thing. He was never without an ambitious new album to promote. (In his final Letterman appearance, on Halloween, above, he had a musical, which turned into album, the triple-LP Thing-Fish.) Since he never stopped working for a moment, one set of ideas generating the next—he told Rolling Stone in answer to a question about how he looked back on his many records—“It’s all one album.” See a supercut below of all of Zappa’s 80s visits to the Letterman set, with slightly better video quality than the individual clips above.

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

Watch the First “Interactive” TV Show: Winky Dink and You Encouraged Kids to Draw on the Screen (1953)

Nearly everyone born within the past fifteen years naturally thinks of screens as both touchable and responsive to touch. But smartphones, tablets, and the other devices those kids have never known a world without will always look like technological marvels to their grandparents' generation. Growing up in the 1950s as part of one of television's most enthusiastic viewerships, they experienced the rise of that then-marvelous medium and the various concepts it tried out before settling into convention. Some may even remember happy Saturday mornings with CBS' Winky Dink and You, the show that they didn't just watch but actually "interacted" with by breaking out their crayons and drawing on the screen.

First aired in 1953, Winky Dink and You came hosted by Jack Barry, a famous television personality since the beginning of television broadcasting. (He would remain so until his death in the mid-1980s, having bounced back from the quiz show scandals of the later 1950s.) His animated sidekick, the titular Winky Dink, was voiced by Mae Questel, best known as the voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl. "Winky Dink said he wanted the children to mail away for a 'Magic Window,' which was actually a cheaply produced, thin sheet of plastic that adhered to the TV screen by static electricity," writes Winky Dink-generation columnist Bob Greene. "Along with the plastic sheet that arrived in the mail were 'magic crayons.' Children were encouraged to place the sheet on their TV screen and watch the show each Saturday, so that Winky Dink could tell them what to do."

Winky Dink, and Barry, often told them to draw in the missing parts of a picture, or to connect dots that would reveal a coded message. In the episode above, writes Paleofuture's Matt Novak, Barry invites kids to "draw things on Winky Dink’s family members, like flowers on the button hole of Uncle Slim’s jacket, or an entirely new nose on the old guy. Uncle Slim sneezes in reaction to getting a nose drawn on his face, as you might expect" — by the standards of 1950s children's programming, "comedy gold." Dull though it may sound today, Winky Dink and You dates from an era when television "was still seen as an education force for good," when "Americans weren’t quite jaded enough to believe TV was a passive technology that didn’t actually stimulate the mind."

And though the show managed to move two million magic screens, concerns about X-rays emanating from picture tubes (as well as the likelihood of impatient kids drawing right on the glass) ended its run in 1957. But in a sense, its legacy lives on: a much-circulated quote attributed to Bill Gates describes Winky Dink and You "the first interactive TV show," and it does indeed seem to have pioneered a kind of content that has only in recent years reached full technological possibility. Anyone who has watched young children of the 21st century play on smartphones and tablets will notice a striking resemblance to the activities led by Winky Dink and Barry. Different reboots have been attempted in different eras, but has the time come for a Winky Dink and You app?

(via Paleofuture)

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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.

Prince Plays Guitar for Maria Bartiromo: It’s Awkward (2004)

This uncomfortable scene played out on CNBC in 2004.

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A New Series About A Young Crime-Fighting Sigmund Freud Is Coming to Netflix

A recently announced, as-yet-uncast Netflix series centering on the exploits of young, crimefighting Sigmund Freud, tracking a serial killer in 19th-century Vienna, has been causing great excitement.

Though as Chelsea Steiner points out in the Mary Sue, Freud’s equation of clitoral orgasms with sexual immaturity and mental illness could put a damper on any sex scene in which a female character takes an active role.

Perhaps the youthful Father of Psychology won’t be hooking up with his female sidekick—a medium (always so helpful in cases involving serial killers!)

Perhaps instead the real love interest will be the intriguingly named Kiss, a testy war veteran cop. As Freud wrote in a 1935 letter:

Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function, produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them. (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime –and a cruelty, too. If you do not believe me, read the books of Havelock Ellis.

The eight-part German-language series will be directed by a Marvin Kren, who seems, in the translated press release, as if he might be equal to the task.

I more or less grew up underneath Sigmund Freud’s original sofa, meaning: in the same district in Vienna where he had his office. The difference: When I was born the world already profited from Sigmund Freud’s groundbreaking discoveries for almost a century. We, the modern human beings, live in post-Freudian times. It is very appealing and challenging for me to imagine a world in this series in which the ‘self’ was just a blind spot on the map of cognition, a world that hasn’t seen Sigmund Freud yet. I would like to emerge with ‘Freud’ into Vienna’s dark alleys before the turn of the century, to discover the reflection of the labyrinth of the human soul inspiring his life’s work. Abysmal, dubious and dangerous!

The series will debut on Austrian television. Netflix will control international streaming rights. Production is due to begin this fall.

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

Hunter S. Thompson’s Many Strange, Unpredictable Appearances on The David Letterman Show

An old quote from Joseph de Maistre gets thrown around a lot lately: Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite—“every nation gets the government it deserves.” As a historical claim it is impossible to verify. But the aphorism has an authoritative ring, the unmistakable sound of truism.

What if we put it another way? Every age gets the journalism it deserves. How does that sound?

I offer as exhibit one Hunter S. Thompson. Only a gonzo time like the late 60s and 70s could have produced the gonzo journalist, just as only such a time could have nurtured the journalistic writing of Tom Wolfe, Terry Southern, Joan Didion, James Baldwin, etc.

Do we find our current crop of journalists lacking in moral courage, righteous fury, death-defying risk-taking, gallows humor, literary reach, thoroughgoing independence of thought? The failing industry may be to blame, one might argue, and with good reason.

Or perhaps, with deference to de Maistre, we have not deserved better.

The New Journalism from which Thompson emerged dispensed with any pretense to “polite neutrality,” as novelist Hari Kunzru writes at the London Review of Books. And “no one took the voice of the journalist further away from ‘neutral background’ (or seemed less able to stop himself from doing it) than Hunter S. Thompson.” He exemplified Esquire editor Lee Eisenberg's description of the sixties New Journalist as "a liberated army of one."

Thompson’s “ability to articulate the undercurrent of ‘fear and loathing’ running through America”—not as a cynical spokesperson, but as somehow both an embodiment and a surprisingly lucid, moralistic observer—“ultimately led to his adoption as a kind of soothsaying holy fool for the counterculture.” In his later years, the legend turned his reputation for excess into a kind of schtick. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that the culture changed but Hunter didn’t, for better or worse.

As Kunzru points out, “later in his career the ‘story’ as independent entity was to disappear almost entirely from his work, which became a fractured series of tales about Hunter (mad, bad and dangerous) and his behavior (inspired, erratic, paranoid).” While this shift (and his daily diet) may have dulled his journalistic edge, it made him an ideal late-night talk show guest, and such he remained, reliably, on the David Letterman show for many years.

In the clips here, you can see many of those appearances, first, at the top, from 1987, then below it, from 1988. Further up, see Letterman interview Thompson in an ‘87 episode inexplicably conducted in a Times Square hotel room. The show was “a strange beast,” writes Vulture’s Ramsey Ess. “For most of the episode it feels unruly, nerve-wracking, and a little dangerous,” all adjectives Thompson could have trademarked. Just above, Thompson meets Letterman to discuss his just-published The Rum Diary, the novel he worked on for forty years, “a hard-bitten story,” writes Kunzru, “of love, journalism and heavy drinking.”

All of Thompson’s appearances are unpredictable and slightly unnerving, and become more so in later years. “Thompson would become more dramatic and more twisted,” writes Jason Nawara. “Whatever led up to the moment Thompson stepped on stage was probably far more astonishing (or terrifying) than anything caught on camera. Why is his hand bandaged? Why is he so paranoid? What is happening? When have you slept last, Hunter?” If late night television has become safe and boring, full of pandering patter largely devoid of true surprises, perhaps it is because Hunter S. Thompson has passed on. And perhaps, as Nawara seems to suggest, every generation gets the late-night TV it deserves.

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

Watch the Original TV Coverage of the Historic Apollo 11 Moon Landing: Recorded on July 20, 1969

During a recent dinner a few friends and I found ourselves reminiscing about formative moments in our collective youth. The conversation took a decidedly downbeat turn when a nationally televised moment we all remembered all too well came up: the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. Like millions of other schoolkids at the time we had been glued to the live broadcast, and became witnesses to horror. “It was NASA’s darkest tragedy,” writes Elizabeth Howell at, an accident that “changed the space program forever.”

The contrast with our parents’ indelible memories of a televised space broadcast from seventeen years earlier could not be starker. On July 20, 1969, the nation witnessed what could easily be called NASA’s greatest triumph, the Apollo 11 moon landing, which not only really happened, but was broadcast live on CBS, with commentary by Walter Cronkite and former astronaut Wally Schirra and live audio from Mission Control in Houston and Buzz Aldrin himself, “whose job during the landing,” Jason Kottke writes, “was to keep an eye on the LM (lunar module)’s altitude and speed.”

We don’t hear much from Neil Armstrong—“he’s busy flying and furiously searching for a suitable landing site. But it’s Armstrong that says after they land, ‘Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.’” Kottke’s fascinating description of the events points out details that heighten the drama, such as the fact that Armstrong’s heartrate “peaked at 150 beats per minute at landing” (his resting heartrate was 60 bpm). At around 10 minutes to landing, the astronauts link to Mission Control cut out briefly, which must have been terrifying.

“Then there were the intermittent 1201 and 1202 program alarms, which neither the LM crew nor Houston had encountered in any of the training simulations.” These turn out “to be a simple case,” notes NASA, “of the computer trying to do too many things at once.” Given that the Lunar Module’s computer only had 4KB of memory, this is hardly a surprise. What is astonishing is that such a relatively primitive machine could handle the task at all.

The film viewers saw on their screens was not, of course, a live feed—CBS did not have cameras in space or on the moon—but rather an animation.

The CBS animation shows the fake LM landing on the fake Moon before the actual landing — when Buzz says “contact light” and then “engine stop”. The animation was based on the scheduled landing time and evidently couldn’t be adjusted. The scheduled time was overshot because of the crater and boulders situation mentioned above.

There were, however, cameras mounted on the Lunar Module, and that 16mm footage of the landing, which you can see above, was later released. And then there’s that moon walk (which really happened), which you can see below—blurry and indistinct but no less amazing.

Just a little over eight years “since the flights of Gagarin and Shepard,” NASA writes, “followed quickly by President Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon before the decade is out,” it happened. Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins landed on the moon. Armstrong and Aldrin walked around and collected samples for two hours, then returned safely to Earth. In a post-flight press conference, Armstrong called the successful mission “a beginning of a new age,” and it was, though his optimism would seem almost quaint when a couple decades later, the U.S. turned its sights on weaponizing space.

Read more about this extraordinary event at NASA and Kottke.

via Kottke

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

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