Sad 7-Foot Tall Clown Sings “Pinball Wizard” in the Style of Johnny Cash, and Other Hits by Roy Orbison, Cheap Trick & More

Readers, are you overcome with the Friday Feels?

Puddles Pity Party, a 6’8” Pierrot from Atlanta, empathizes.

The ‘Sad Clown with the Golden Voice’ has taken to releasing emotionally-freighted covers on select Fridays.

There’s something about a giant sad singing clown that comforts us, let’s us know it’s ok to feel, to show our feelings. It’s a sad and beautiful world, and we’re all in it together, even when we’re totally alone.

So quoth Big Mike Geier, the founder and frontman of the band Kingsized, and the man behind Puddles’ white makeup and rickrack-trimmed clown suit.

Whatever he’s tapped into, it’s real. The New York Times’ Jason Zinnoman, in a slightly skeeved-out think piece on clowns last year, wrote:

What makes him transcend the trope is his vulnerability. When you first see him charging down the aisle, he’s an intimidating figure, but his body is actually not aggressive. It slumps, passively. When he asks for a hug, it looks as if he really needs it. He makes you feel bad for finding him off-putting, and then he belts out a lovely song.

Friday, March 3 found Puddles accompanying himself on a red guitar for “It’s a Heartache,” a hit for Bonnie Tyler and later, Rod Stewart. They both have their strengths, but Puddles is uniquely suited to tap into the heartache of 'standing in the cold rain, feeling like a clown."

A previous Friday Feel, Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” was a fan request. (Yes, he’s still taking them.)

The video for “She’s Gone Again”---previously covered by Don Ho---touches on Puddles’  obsession with actor Kevin Costner.

February 10’s Friday Feel brought new listeners to a younger artist, Brett Dennen. Puddles praised his "Heaven" as “beautiful and thoughtful song,” confessing that he “barely held it together on this one.” Also see Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me" down below.

The piece de resistance, wherein the lyrics of Pinball Wizard are sung to the tune of Folsom Prison Blues, is at the top of the page. It’s no great surprise that that one’s gone viral. Puddles is transparent, however, giving credit to the late Gregory Dean Smalley, an Atlanta-based songwriter who died of AIDS in the late 90s:

 Back in 1994 or so, I saw (him) perform this mashup at the Star Community Bar. I was floored. Greg was a force of supernatural proportions and he is missed. Many people have done it prior to me doing it. I guess it was always meant to be.

You can listen to more of Puddles Pity Party on Spotify, or support the artist with a purchase on Google Play or iTunes. Subscribe to his youtube channel to stay abreast of future Friday Feels, or request a song.

via BoingBoing

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

Sinclair Lewis’ Chilling Play, It Can’t Happen Here: A Read-Through by the Berkeley Repertory Theatre

As a number of commentators have noted, it has already happened here in the past---that is, the fervid nativism, immigration bans, and mass deportations, the nationalist, fanatically religious, anti-democratic militancy… many of the characteristics of American authoritarianism, in other words. In the political climate we face today, these strains have come together in some very overt ways, under the leadership of a purportedly charismatic leader who swayed millions of followers with the promise of renewed “greatness.”

The questions that now arise are those once asked by It Can’t Happen Here, the 1935 novel by Sinclair Lewis that imagined the election of a charismatic leader who promises greatness, “then quickly becomes a dictator,” writes the American Library Association’s Public Programs Office, “enacting martial law and throwing dissenters into labor camps.” The novel resonated with a public increasingly concerned about rising dictatorships in Europe, as well as the growing power of the presidency at home. “Shortly after it was published,” the ALA notes, “the novel was recreated as a play and opened in 21 cities nationwide on October 27, 1936.”

You can see some still images of an original It Can’t Happen Here production in the video above about the Federal Theater Project. Last year---almost eighty years after the play’s debut and just days before the presidential election---several dozen theaters, universities, and libraries across the country held readings of Lewis' theatrical adaptation. See one such reading at the top of the post, performed on October 24 at the Yolo County Library in Northern California by the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, who at the time also staged a full, two part production of It Can’t Happen Here that was both “thrilling and grim,” as Alexander Nazaryan writes at The New Yorker. (See a trailer below)

The Berkeley Rep’s production significantly rewrote Lewis’ adaptation, which they decided was “terrible.” But the novel itself is not quite a literary masterpiece. “Lewis was never much of an artist,” Nanaryan notes, “but what he lacked in style he made up for with social observation.” While his skills as a close observer of American political tendencies may still be unmatched, the prescience of his novel in imagining the situation we find ourselves in today may have as much to do with Lewis’ abilities as with the recurrence of certain depressing themes in American political life. As Alex Wagner writes at The Atlantic, the mass deportations and raids on immigrant populations that have now increased in cities nationwide saw a chilling precedent in the 1920s and 30s, “a time of economic struggle, racial resentment and increasing xenophobia.”

Then, Herbert Hoover, “promised jobs for Americans—and made good on that promise by slashing immigration by nearly 90 percent” and deporting as many as “1.8 million men, women and children” of Mexican descent or with “a Mexican-sounding name.” As many as sixty percent of those deported were U.S. citizens. We’ve seen in recent months numerous comparisons of our current political situation to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. While these may be warranted in many respects, they may also be superfluous. To understand the origins of racist authoritarianism in America, we need only look back to several moments in our own history, those that Lewis closely observed and satirized in a novel that once again shows us an image of the country that many people have chosen not to see.

This reading will be added to our list, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free

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

Kurt Vonnegut Gives a Sermon on the Foolishness of Nuclear Arms: It’s Timely Again (Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1982)

Image by Daniele Prati, via Flickr Commons

Many writers recoil at the notion of discussing where they get their ideas, but Kurt Vonnegut spoke on the subject willingly. "I get my ideas from dreams," he announced early in one speech, adding, "the wildest dream I have had so far is about The New Yorker magazine." In this dream, "the magazine has published a three-part essay by Jonathan Schell which proves that life on Earth is about to end. I am supposed to go to the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, where all the people are waiting, and say something wonderful — right before a hydrogen bomb is dropped on the Empire State Building."

It stands to reason that a such a vivid, frightening, and somehow funny scenario would unfold in the unconscious mind of a man who wrote such vivid, frightening, and somehow funny novels. (Vonnegut's own interpretation? "I consider myself an important writer, and I think The New Yorker should be ashamed that it has never published me.") As it happens, he did deliver these words in a cathedral, namely New York City's Cathedral of St. John the Divine in the spring of 1982.

This was just months after Schell's three-part essay "The Fate of the Earth" (all three parts of it still available online) really ran in The New Yorker, and Cold War fears about the probability of a hydrogen bomb really dropping on America ran high. Vonnegut's speech was one of a series of Sunday sermons the Cathedral had lined up on the subject of nuclear disarmament, assembling the rest of the roster from military, scientific, and activist fields. The author of Cat's CradleSlaughterhouse-Five, and Breakfast of Champions---fresh off a trip to the Galapagos Islands with the St. John the Divine's Bishop Paul Moore---presumably represented the realm of letters.

"At the time, NYPR Archives Director Andy Lanset covered the Vonnegut sermon as a volunteer for the WNYC News Department," wrote WNYC's William Rodney Allen in 2014 on the rediscovery and posting of Lanset's recording. (The same public radio station, incidentally, would fifteen or so years later commission Vonnegut for a series of reports from the afterlife.) Now we can not only read but also hear Vonnegut, in his own voice, trying to imagine aloud a series of "fates worse than death." Why? Not simply to indulge his famous sense of gallows humor, but in order to put the nuclear threat, and the anxieties it generated, into the proper context.

"I am sure you are sick and tired of hearing how all living things sizzle and pop inside a radioactive fireball," Vonnegut says, going on to assure his audience that "scientists, for all their creativity, will never discover a method for making people deader than dead. So if some of you are worried about being hydrogen-bombed, you are merely fearing death. There is nothing new in that. If there weren't any hydrogen bombs, death would still be after you."

In any event, despite having shuffled through several candidates ("Life without petroleum?"), Vonnegut can come up with no fate believably worse than death besides crucifixion. But given that non-crucified human beings nearly always and everywhere prefer life to death, perhaps "we might pray to be rescued from our inventiveness" which gave us the ability to destroy all life on Earth. But "the inventiveness which we so regret now may also be giving us, along with the rockets and warheads, the means to achieve what has hitherto been an impossibility, the unity of mankind."

Vonnegut sees this promise mainly in television, whose terribly realistic sounds and images ensure that "the people of every industrialized nation are nauseated by war by the time they are ten years old." A veteran of the Second World War, he himself remembers a very different time, back when "it used to be necessary for a young soldier to get into fighting before he became disillusioned about war," back when "it was unusual for an American, or a person of any nationality, for that matter, to know much about foreigners."

Even before the 1980s, "thanks to modern communications, we have seen sights and heard sounds from virtually every square mile of the land mass on this planet," and so "know for certain that there are no potential human enemies anywhere who are anything but human beings almost exactly like ourselves. They need food. How amazing. They love their children. How amazing. They obey their leaders. How amazing. They think like their neighbors. How amazing."

Modern communications have, of course, come astonishingly far in the 35 years since Vonnegut's Sunday sermon, but our fears about nuclear annihilation have had a way of resurfacing. In recent months, the American people have even heard talk of a reinvigorated nuclear arms race from their new president, a man whose rise detractors partly blame on modern communication technology — not a lack of it, but an excess.

"The global village that was once the internet has been replaced by digital islands of isolation that are drifting further apart each day," writes Mostafa M. El-Bermawy in a Wired piece on the threat social-media "filter bubbles" pose to democracy. "We need to remind ourselves that there are humans on the other side of the screen who want to be heard and can think and feel like us while at the same time reaching different conclusions." Recent developments would probably disappoint Vonnegut (not that they would surprise him), but he'd surely get a kick, as he always did, out of the irony of it all.

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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.

The Theater Dictionary: A Free Video Guide to Theatre Lingo

It's 11 o'clock. Do you know where your showstoppers are? Or, more to the point, do you know why a musical-comedy writing team seeks to orient its showstopping number at “eleven o’clock”?

The Theater Development Fund’s Theatre Dictionary is an ongoing attempt to define and document theater terms for both the rabble and any budding practitioners who’ve yet to master the lingo.

Each term is accompanied by a loopy slapdash skit. Not all of the performers exhibit the pedigree Veronica J. Kuehn and Nick Kohn of Avenue Q bring to “Eleven O'Clock Number,” above, but casting administrators and ticket booth reps in starring roles lend a homey egalitarianism, such as when students from the Yale School of Drama’s Department of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism are given free license to explore the origins of “vom.”

(This loosey goosey approach also allows for uncredited appearances by other theatrical tropes---the marathon rehearsals where popcorn constitutes lunch and one actor repeatedly complains that his work has been insufficiently acknowledged.)

A “What Does This Word Mean” tab for each term anchors the video silliness, providing historical and anecdotal context. It’s in keeping with the Dictionary’s greater goal of bringing theater to the people, letting everyone play with the toys.

Some of the definitions are practical shorthand…

Others are couched in longtime, possibly archaic theater lore…

I’d exercise caution with some of this lingo. Even though many of these terms are born of practicality, overusing them may cause others to view you as the most obnoxious of self-declared Triple Threats, the kid in the comedy-tragedy mask sweatshirt, prone to belting out the entire soundtrack of CATS at the slightest provocation. (“Thanks, 5!!!”)

Some of these terms have unexpected crossover appeal, most recently Ghost Light, above. Knowing the meaning of the term will help you better appreciate the power of the Ghostlight Project, a post-election coming together of theater artists and audiences in defense and support of vulnerable communities.

You can browse the Theater Dictionary complete glossary here or watch the videos on TDF’s Youtube channel.

The Theater Dictionary’s FAQ contains information on how professional theatre companies and organizations and college-level theatre programs can apply to contribute a video.

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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.

Tim Robbins’ Improv Classes Transform Prisoners’ Lives & Lower Recidivism Rates

If a 20-something, Yale-educated New Yorker reporter feels nervous stepping in to her first ever improv class, imagine the stakes for your average inmate, whose survival depends on a successfully monolithic projection of toughness and control.

Control is actually something the Actors' Gang Prison Project seeks to cultivate in its incarcerated participants. The Actors’ Gang’s Artistic Director, Tim Robbins, who founded the radically experimental ensemble fresh out of college, notes a well-documented connection between an inability to control one's emotions and criminal activity.

Unchecked rage may have put these players behind bars, but exploring a wide variety of emotions behind the safety of the Actors' Gang's mask-like white pancake make-up has proven liberating.

The dull prison routine leaves prisoners favorably inclined toward any diverting activity, particularly those that allow for creative expression. Shakespeare has made an impact on this population. Why not commedia dell’arte-influenced improv?

It’s a truly therapeutic fit, as Actors Gang ensemble member Sabra Williams, the founder of the Prison Project, explains in her TED Talk, below.

Participants are subjected and held to the rigorous physicality and emotional honesty at the core of this group's aesthetic. Personal connection to the visitors is limited to whatever may transpire in-the-moment, but within the prison population, relationships blossom. Both guards and prisoners speak of newfound empathy.

The emotional insights arising from these spontaneous explorations teach participants how to diffuse aggressive situations, present a more positive face to the world, and interact generously with others. In between classes, participants write in journals, with a goal of sharing aloud.

Gang signs, mimed weapons, and bodily contact are out of bounds. Wild invention often carries the day.

Participants have zero recidivism, and a waiting list in the hundreds attests to the program’s popularity.

You can learn more about the Actors' Gang ten-year-old Prison Project here.

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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.

A Whiskey-Fueled Lin-Manuel Miranda Reimagines Hamilton as a Girl on Drunk History

Back in July of 1804, when Vice President Aaron Burr fired a fatal round into the abdomen of former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, I wonder which scenario would have seemed more implausible: that these political rivals would one day be resurrected in the form of a black guy and a Nuyorican, or as two young women in revealingly snug breeches, above.

Time moves on. These days, your average Hamilton-obsessed pre-teen may have trouble accepting that there was a time---January 2015, to be exact---when most Americans couldn't say what the guy on the ten dollar bill was famous for.

I confess, until quite recently, I was far more confident in Arrested Developments fictional Bluth family's exploits than any involving Hamilton and Burr. This explains, in part, why I’m so drawn to the casting instincts of Derek Waters’, creator of Drunk History

The most recent episode features Alia Shawkat, one of my favorite Arrested Development players as a sardonic, potty mouthed Hamilton.

No worries that Drunk History, which bills itself as a “liquored-up narration of our nation's history,” is the latest in a long line of Johnny-Come-Latelys, eagerly bellying up to the Hamilton trough.

Before Shawkat imbued him with her trademark edge, Drunk History’s Hamilton exuded the befuddled sweetness of Shawkat’s besotted Arrested Development cousinMichael Cera, who originated the part in a video that gave rise to the series, below.

That one’s far sloppier, and not just in terms of production values. The inaugural narrator, Mark Gagliardi, was rendered a good deal more than three sheets to the wind by the bottle of scotch he downed on a sagging brown velour couch.

America would not want to see its current sweetheart, Hamilton’s playwright and original leading man, Lin-Manuel Miranda in such a condition.

Whereas Gagliardi seemed dangerously close to needing the bucket Waters thoughtfully positioned nearby, a whiskey-fuelled Miranda seems merely the tiniest bit buzzed, sitting cross legged in his parent’s living room, fleshing out Hamilton’s story with bits he didn’t manage to cram into his Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, such as a bewigged Tony Hale (aka Buster Bluth) as James Monroe.

On the other hand, he does describe the Reynolds Pamphlet as “Dick 101” (and failed to recall FaceTiming various friends post-recording) so…

You’ll need a Comedy Central subscription to view the complete episode online, but Shawkat’s earlier Drunk History turn as Grover Cleveland’s “It Girl” wife, Frances, is free for all, here.

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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.

We’re Gonna Build a Fourth Wall, and Make the Brechtians Pay for It


By now, you undoubtedly know what happened when Mike Pence went to see Hamilton on Friday night. And the brouhaha that unfolded from there, particularly on Twitter.

Tweets came and went throughout the weekend. But, if you're keeping score at home, none outfunnied this tweet from Jeremy Noel-Tod. We're suckers around here for Brechtian humor.

Find us on Twitter at @openculture.

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