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

Ever been taken aback by a vintage photo of a Facebook friend? "Look how young he was! An infant!" If you're a member of comedian Louis CK’s generation, it's likely that at some point, the person in the photo was you.

Louis model 1987, above, is close to unrecognizable, with a full head of red hair and a trim belly. His joke-based routine isn't howlingly funny, but neither is it shameful. He's confident, at his ease with the audience, but the life experience that would inform his later work was not yet a thing.

A few years further along, above, one can see that comic persona coming into focus. The sad sack physicality that gives it weight came later. Suffice to say, that hairbrush joke is no longer a present tense proposition.

What struck me were the familiar back walls of those little comedy club stages. Louis has been working those crummy little stages for such a long time. No wonder he's on familiar terms with the door guys at the Comedy Cellar, the club he's most often shown frequenting in his character-driven, self-produced, largely autobiographical TV show.

As he generously advised an 18-year-old aspirant on the Google newsgroup “alt.comedy.standup":

Go on stage as often as possible.  Any stage anywhere.  Don't listen to anyone about anything.  Just keep getting up there and try to be funny, honest and original.

Know that it's not going to be easy.  Know that it's going to take a long time to be good or great. Don't focus on the career climbing.  Focus on the getting funnier.  The second you are bitching about what another comic is getting you are going in the completely wrong direction.  No one is getting your gig or your money.

Keep in mind that you are in for a looooong haul of ups and downs and nothing and something.  It takes at least 15 years, usually more, to make a great comic.  Most flame out before they get there.

And yes, be polite and courteous to every single person you deal with. Not because that will make you a better comedian, but because you're supposed to do that.

- Ayun Halliday is the author of seven books, including No Touch Monkey! And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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How British Codebreakers Built the First Electronic Computer

It was only a matter of time before the folks at Google Cultural Institute wandered down the road in Mountain View to visit the Computer History Museum. Together they’ve taken on a slim little subject, Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing

Unlike the best Cultural Institute exhibits (the fall of the Iron Curtain and the dazzling array of other art and history collections come to mind) this one doesn’t do enough to leverage video to bring the material to life. It’s a breezy little tour from the humble (but effective) abacus to punched cards, magnetic discs and the dawn of miniaturization and networking.

But nothing about how the Internet developed, leading to the Web and, now, the Internet of Everything?

I’ll admit that I learned a few things. I hadn’t heard of the design-forward Cray 1 supercomputer with its round tower (to minimize wire lengths) and bench to discretely hide power supplies. The Xerox Alto came with consumer friendly features including a mouse, email and the capacity to print exactly what was on the screen. The unfortunate acronym for this asset wasWYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get).

I had also never heard about the Utah teapot, a picture of a gleaming white ceramic urn used for 20 years as the benchmark for realistic light, shade and color in computer-generated images.


More interesting, and up to the Cultural Institute’s standards, is the exhibit built in partnership with the National Museum of Computing in Buckinghamshire, England. It’s a fascinating piece of history, focusing on Hitler’s efforts to encrypt messages during the war and stump the Allied forces. He commissioned construction of a super-sophisticated machine (not Enigma, if you’re thinking of that). The machine was called Lorenz and it took encryption to an entirely new level.


British linguists and others labored to manually decipher the messages. Attempts to speed the process led to development of Colossus, the world’s first electronic comuter. The project was kept secret by the British government until 1975.

Kate Rix writes about education and digital media. Follow her on Twitter.

The Origins of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk: Vintage Footage of Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis Jr., Fred Astaire & More

Michael Jackson took one giant leap for pop history on March 25, 1983 when he gave an adoring public their first taste of his signature moonwalk in honor of Motown Records' 25th birthday. (See below)

Novelty-wise, it wasn't quite a Neil Armstrong moment. Like many artists, Jackson had many precedents from which he could and did draw. He can be credited with bringing a certain attitude to the proceedings. The expert practitioners in the video above are more ebullient, tapping, sliding and proto-moonwalking themselves into a state of rapture that feeds off the audience's pleasure.

The line-up includes artists lucky enough to have left lasting footprints---Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis Jr., Fred Astaire, as well as those we'd do well to rediscover: Rubberneck Holmes, Earl "Snakehips" Tucker, Buck and Bubbles....

Lacking the Internet, however, it does seem unlikely that Jackson would've spent much time poring over the footwork of these masters. (He may have taken a sartorial cue from their socks.)

Instead, he invested a lot of time breaking down the street moves, what he referred to in his autobiography as "a 'popping' type of thing that black kids had created dancing on the street corners in the ghetto."

Jackson's sister, LaToya, identified former Soul Train and Solid Gold dancer Jeffrey Daniel, below, as her brother's primary tutor in this endeavor. (He went on to co-choreograph Jackson's videos for "Bad" and "Smooth Criminal".) As to the story behind his moonwalk, or backslide as he called it before Jackson's version obliterated the possibility of any other name, Daniel gave props to the same kids Jackson did.

For those of you who mentioned it on Twitter and in our comments, we've added Charlie Chaplin's scene in Modern Times.

via Metafilter

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Ayun Halliday is the author of seven books, and creator of the award winning East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Vintage Films Revisits Literary Scene of 1920s New York, with Clips of Sinclair Lewis, Willa Cather, H.L. Mencken & Other Icons

When young artists, be they writers, painters, or musicians, aim to strike it big, they invariably choose to move to New York. Brooklyn lofts, hopes of finding a likeminded smart set, and the promise of good times beckon countless young men and women to develop their creative careers in a city whose history teems with outsized aspirations and even larger personalities. New York has, after all, been a hub for artistic luminaries since the early 20th century.

In the 1961 documentary entitled New York In The Twenties, above, Walter Cronkite gives a snapshot of the talented crowd that was once drawn in by the city’s cultural riptide during the 1920s. The short video consists of interviews with the publisher Alfred KnopfNew York Herald Tribune editor Stanley Walker; and Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Green PasturesMarc Connelly. Walker plays the part of the consummate New York newspaperman, pining for the days when decent citizens weren't forced to rub shoulders with the boors now infesting the Westchester and Connecticut trains. Connelly, in more affable fashion, describes the fabled 1920s group of creative minds known as the Algonquin Round Table:

Alexander Woollcott was searing, acid, rude; I used to feel sometimes his only exercise was rancour. But, he was engaging, was compelling, and amusing… Edna Ferber, young, industrious, she used to scare us all to death by her habit of industry. George Kaufman was certainly one of the wittiest of that group. George’s wit… had the sharpness of a silver point etching… There was… Harold Ross, founder of the New Yorker. There was speculation about Ross, his curious head of hair; it was very high, very thick. Somebody once said that that jungle picture Chang had been filmed in it. I think it was George Kaufmann that once said he looked like a dishonest Lincoln. 

A lot of people who knew nothing about the personal lives or the attitudes … of the people at the round table… thought that it was a mutual admiration society and a logrolling organization. It was anything but that because I promise you, the worst pannings ever received for our books or our plays came from the critical friends who were members of that group.

Alfred Knopf, in turn, discusses the glory days of publishers and writers, as well as the genius of H. L. Mencken, whom he describes as “the greatest editor… that I’ve ever known.”

Viewing the halcyon days of New York’s creative scene, with its jazz clubs and speakeasies, it’s no wonder that Knopf, Walker, and Connelly’s accounts leave one with an ineluctable sense of nostalgia. Of course, with its unceasing influx of artists, the city’s substance remains the same today. It's just that its Bloomberg-era sterility has led to a change in style.

Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman.

Musical Comedian Reggie Watts Reinvents Van Halen’s Classic, “Panama”

Jump back, what's that sound? Oh, it's just Reggie Watts covering Van Halen's 1984 cock rock anthem, Panama, in a crazy-ass golf sweater. Carry on.

On the invitation of The Onion's AV Club, the musical comedian procured an early demo from the band, and used it as the inspiration for this performance, an unrecognizable fugue of live looped vocals.

Um, it's still about a car, right?

The unlikely pairing came about as part of the AV Club's Undercover series, a delightful parlor game wherein each act to play in the tiny round office at Onion HQ gets to pick a tune from a dwindling annual list of 25. The last act to visit gets stuck with the cut nobody else wanted. (Reggie arrived close to the middle of this clambake, and was ranked a respectable 5th by readers who went on to award self-proclaimed sickest band in metal history GWAR top honors for their twist on Kansas' classic "Carry On Wayward Son.")

For comparison's sake, here's Panama in its original form:

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Ayun Halliday came of age surrounded by Van Halen concert t-shirts. Follow her @AyunHalliday

The History of Typography Told in Five Animated Minutes

Caslon, Baskerville, Helvetica... these names have graced many a pull down menu, but what do they signify, exactly?

Graphic designer Ben Barrett-Forrest spent 140 hours animating the 291 paper letters on display in the History of Typography, an introduction to the ways in which language has been expressed visually over time.

From Gutenberg's inky, monk-inspired Blacklister font to the ever-controversial Comic Sans, Barrett-Forrest employs stop motion to spell out the quantifiable reasons that certain serifs and stroke types are easy on the eye. Let's not tell the creators of Llama Font or Mr. Twiggy, but legibility is the mother of survival in this arena.

via @coudal

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Ayun Halliday has devoted the last 15 years to  producing The East Village Inky, an entirely handwritten zine whose aging readers complain that they can no long make out the tiny print.

Watch Them Watch Us: A History of Breaking the “Fourth Wall” in Film

Remember that scene in Nashville, when Keith Carradine sings "I'm Easy," and every woman in the club thinks he's speaking directly to her?

Breaking the fourth wall---also known as direct address---can have the same effect on a filmgoing audience. The compilation video above makes it clear that actors love it too. Breaking from convention can telegraph an unimpeachable cool, à la John Cusack in High Fidelity, or afford a veteran scenery chewer like Samuel L. Jackson the opportunity to turn the hog loose. It's most often deployed in the service of comedy, but a stone-cold killer can make the audience complicit with a wink.

Screenwriter and journalist Leigh Singer pulled footage from 54 films for this mash up, and freely admits that time constraints left some favorites on the cutting room floor. What would you add, if you happened to have Marshall McLuhan right here?

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Ayun Halliday is that rare Generation X-er who didn't see Ferris Bueller's Day Off until 2013. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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