What Has the Internet Done to Comedy? A Pretty Much Pop Culture Podcast Discussion (#74)

Does removing gatekeepers mean a more distributed comic landscape, or does it inevitably end with a small number of comics dominating the world? The Internet means that people can and do judge comics based on very short clips, but also makes it easy to follow the activities of someone you discover that you like.

Tiffany comes not from stand-up but from music theater, and is active in creating character-based comedy and novelty songs for Instagram, YouTube, etc. She joins your hosts Erica Spyres, Mark Linsenmayer, and Brian Hirt to explore the types of short-form humor and viewing habits that grow out of video created for TikTok, Snapchat, and other platforms. What’s the creator’s relation to the audience? Social media blurs the line between constructed bits and extemporized commentary. It’s often reacting to current events, yet stays posted long after. “Going viral” is not typically the result of mere organic sharing or chance, and some comics (and their consultants) have really studied the medium to find out what appeals and how to get the word out.

We touch on Carmen Lynch, Sarah Cooper, Eva Victor, Bowen Yang, Coincidance, Miranda Sings, LockPickingLawyer, Jimmy Slonina, AskChickie, and more.

Watch Tiffany’s Fragile White Sadness. And her ode to Disney Plus. Our Long November has passed, thank goodness.

Tiffany also recommends Jen Tullock, Josh Ruben, Jordan Firstman, Megan Stalter, Cole Escola, Crawford Millham Horton, Benito Skinner, Inappropriate Patti, Advent Carolendar, and Marc Rebillet.

Read: “These Comedians Are Using TikTok to Create Some of the Internet’s Funniest (And Wokest) Content)” by Kat Curtis.

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Why David Sedaris Hates “The Santaland Diaries,” the NPR Piece that Made Him Famous

This past fall David Sedaris published his first full-fledged anthology, The Best of Me. It includes “Six to Eight Black Men,” his story about bewildering encounters with European Christmas folktales, but not “The Santaland Diaries,” which launched him straight into popular culture when he read it aloud on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition in 1992. True to its title, that piece is drawn from entries in his diary (the rigorous keeping of which is the core of his writing process) made while employed as one of Santa’s elves at Macy’s Herald Square in New York. Not only was the subject seasonally appropriate, Sedaris captured the varieties of seething resentment felt at one time or another — not least around Christmas — by customer-service workers in America.

According to a Macy’s executive who worked at Herald Square at the time, Sedaris made an “outstanding elf.” (So the New Republic‘s Alex Heard discovered when attempting to fact-check Sedaris’ work.) Whether or not he has fond memories of his time in “green velvet knickers, a forest-green velvet smock and a perky little hat decorated with spangles,” he holds “The Santaland Diaries” itself in no regard whatsoever. “I’m grateful that I wrote something that people enjoyed, but because it was my choice what went into this book, I was so happy to exclude it,” he says in an interview with WBUR about The Best of Me. “I wanted its feelings to be hurt.”

Over the past 28 years he has seized numerous opportunities to disparage the piece that made him  famous.”I have no idea why that went over the way that it did,” Sedaris once admitted to Publisher’s Weekly. “There are about two early things I’ve written that I could go back and read again, and that’s not one of them.” And by the time of that first Morning Edition broadcast, he had already been keeping his diary every day for fifteen years. “When you first start writing, you’re going to suck,” he says in the Atlantic video just below. In his first years writing, he says, “I was sitting at the International House of Pancakes in Raleigh, North Carolina with a beret screwed to my head,” and the result was “the writing you would expect from that person.”

Since then Sedaris’ dress has become more eccentric, but his writing has improved immeasurably. “I want to be better at what I do,” said Sedaris in a recent interview with the Colorado Springs Independent. “It’s just something that I personally strive for. Which is silly, because most people can’t even recognize that. People will say, ‘Oh, I loved that Santaland thing.’ And that thing is so clunkily written. I mean, it’s just horribly written, and people can’t even see it.” Much of the audience may be “listening to the story, but they’re not paying attention to how it’s constructed, or they’re not paying attention to the words that you used. They’re not hearing the craft of it.” But if you listen to “The Santaland Diaries” today, you may well hear what Ira Glass did when he and Sedaris originally recorded it.

As a young freelance radio producer who had yet to create This American Life, Glass first saw the thoroughly non-famous Sedaris when he read from his diary onstage at a Chicago club. Glass knew instinctively that Sedaris’ distinctive voice as both writer and reader would play well on the radio, as would his even more distinctive sense of humor. But it wasn’t until a few years later, when he called on Sedaris to record a holiday-themed segment for Morning Edition, that Glass understood just what kind of talent he’d discovered. “I remember we got to the part where you sing like Billie Holiday,” Glass told Sedaris in an interview marking the 25th anniversary of “The Santaland Diaries.” “I was a pretty experienced radio producer at that point, and I was like, ‘This is a good one.'”

Related Content:

20 Free Essays & Stories by David Sedaris: A Sampling of His Inimitable Humor

David Sedaris Breaks Down His Writing Process: Keep a Diary, Carry a Notebook, Read Out Loud, Abandon Hope

David Sedaris Creates a List of His 10 Favorite Jazz Tracks: Stream Them Online

Why David Sedaris Hates America’s Favorite Word, “Awesome”

David Sedaris Spends 3-8 Hours Per Day Picking Up Trash in the UK; Testifies on the Litter Problem

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

An Introduction to Rap Battles: Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #71

Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are rejoined by our audio editor and resident rapper Tyler Hislop (rap name: “Sacrifice”) to discuss a form of entertainment close to his heart: Two people staring each other in the face in front of a crowd and taking lengthy turns insulting each other in a loud voice using intricate rhymes, references, jokes and even some cultural commentary and philosophical spit-balling.

So what are the rules? How does modern battle rap compare to free-styling, the beefs aired on rap albums, and classic insult comedy? What’s the appeal of this art form? Is it because of or despite the aggression involved? Battle rap is regarded as a free speech zone, where anything’s fair game, but does that really make sense?

A few relevant films came up in the discussion:

  • Bodied (2017), a film written by Alex Larsen (aka Kid Twist) and produced by Eminem, featuring several current battle rappers doing their thing along with discussion by the characters of the ethical issues involved
  • 8 Mile (2002), a semi-autobiographical film starring Eminem, which displays the older, free-styling over a beat type of battle rapping
  • Roxanne Roxanne (2017) a biopic about Roxanne Shante depicting hip-hop rivalries of the 1980s.

Here are some matches Tyler recommended that also get mentioned:

More resources:

Hear Tyler talk about his many rap albums on Nakedly Examined Music #24.

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Kevin Allison (The State, RISK!) Discusses Confessional Comedy on Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #70

Kevin was in the infamous, NYU-based sketch comedy group The State which had a show for a season on MTV and seemed like it was going to get picked up by CBS, but no. After several years getting over this disappointment, Kevin discovered a new outlet for his energies: He delivers, curates, and coaches personal stories (bordering on too personal, thus the “risk”) for his stage show and podcast RISK!

Kevin joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to discuss this idiosyncratic form: Do the stories have to be funny? Can you change things? What’s the relation to autobiographical, humorous essays a la David Sedaris? What might be too personal or actually indicating trauma to actually share on RISK? This seems like something anyone can do, so what’s the role of craft and story-telling history?

Listen to RISK at risk-show.com, and watch many stories on the RISK! YouTube channel. Also: kevinallison.net, thestorystudio.org, and @thekevinallison. Kevin’s story about prostituting himself is about 14 minutes into this episode. Hear Kevin on Marc Maron’s WTF! Listen to that audio guide Kevin mentions, “What Every RISK! Storyteller Should Know.” Read about the four lies of storytelling.

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This time, the hosts tell (or at least outline) their own RISK!-like stories, and the result is predictably too personal for our public feed.

This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Watch Sassy Justice, the New Deepfake Satire Show Created by the Makers of South Park

If any cultural, political, or technological phenomenon of the past couple of decades hasn’t been lampooned by South Park, it probably didn’t happen. But the 21st century has brought forth so much nonsense that even Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of that at once crude and multidimensionally satirical cartoon show, have had to expand into feature films and even onto Broadway to ridicule it all. The latest project takes the humbler but undeniably more relevant form of a Youtube series, and one modeled on the form of ultra-local television news. Sassy Justice comes hosted by anchor Fred Sassy, a flamboyant “consumer advocate” for the people of Cheyenne, Wyoming — and one possessed, come to think of it, of an oddly familiar face.

Fred Sassy is based on Sassy Trump, a creation of voice actor Peter Serafinowicz. Despite his formidable skills as an impressionist, the trouble Serafinowicz had nailing the sound and manner of the current U.S. President gave him the idea of dubbing over real footage of the man with deliberately invented character voices. This led to an interest in deepfakes, videos created using digital likenesses of real people without their actual participation.

The increasingly convincing look of these productions once had a lot of people spooked, as you’ll recall if you can cast your mind back to 2019. Deepfakes thus made perfect subject matter for a Parker-Stone project, but not long after they began collaborating with Serafinowicz on a deepfake-saturated Fred Sassy movie, the coronavirus pandemic put an end to production. From the ashes of that project rises Sassy Justice, which premiered last month.

This first episode (with a clip playlist here) also provides a glimpse of the surely enormous all-deepfake cast to come. Uncanny versions of Al Gore, Mark Zuckerberg (now a dialysis-center magnate), and Julie Andrews (as computer technician “Lou Xiang,” a reference that if you get, you get) all make appearances, as do those of White House regulars Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and even Donald Trump, on whose voice Serafinowicz seems to have made progress. But “it’s impossible for a human to accurately mimic someone else’s voice to 100 percent,” as Sassy is assured by a Zoom interviewee, the oft-imitated actor Michael Caine — or is it? Less able than ever to tell real from the fake, let alone the deepfake, “we’re all going to have to trust our gut, that inner voice,” as Sassy advises in the episode’s final segment. “It’s all we have now.” But then, all effective satire is a little frightening.

via MIT Technology Review

Related Content:

The Zen Wisdom of Alan Watts Animated by the Creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone

American History: An Off-Kilter 1992 Student Film from South Park Creator Trey Parker

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Artificial Intelligence Creates Realistic Photos of People, None of Whom Actually Exist

Long Before Photoshop, the Soviets Mastered the Art of Erasing People from Photographs — and History Too

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Five Minute Museum: A Stop Motion Animation Shows the History of Civilization at Breakneck Speed

Experimental director and animator Paul Bush‘s 2015 short film The Five-Minute Museum, above, is the dizzying antidote to standing, footsore, in front of a vitrine crowded with Ancient Greek amphoras or exquisitely crafted pocket watches and wondering, not about history, culture or the nature of time, but whether you can justify spending $15 for an underwhelming cheese and tomato sandwich in the museum cafe.

It’s a breakneck stop motion journey through the history of civilization via six museum collections—three in London and three in Switzerland.

Presented primarily as stills that flash by at a rate of 24 per second, Bush groups like objects together, “thereby allowing the triumphs of human endeavor to be seen even in far corners of the land, by the bedridden, the infirm and the lazy.”

His sense of humor asserts itself the minute an assortment of ancient shards appear to render themselves into not just a state of wholeness, but an entire up close society in close-up. It doesn’t take long for these vessels’ clashing of warriors to give way to a composite portrait of idle youth, whose flirtations are stoked by a number of manic pipers in rapid succession, and Andy Cowton’s original music and sound design.

It’s a shock when Bush slows down and pulls back to show the source objects in their museum cases, quiet as a tomb, the sort of display most visitors blow past en route to something sexier, like a dinosaur or a blockbuster exhibit requiring timed entry tickets.

Other highlights include a lively assortments of guns, hats, chairs, and plastic toys.

If you start feeling overwhelmed by the visual intensity, don’t worry. Bush builds in a bit of a breather once you hit the clocks, the bulk of which presumably hail from the Beyer Clock and Watch Museum in Zurich.

The ingenious animated short was 10 years in the making, a fact the artist modestly downplays:

It’s very simple. Simple story, a simple technique and that’s what I like. Poetry should be a little bit stupid. This is what Pushkin says, and I try and make my films a little bit stupid as well.

In addition to the Beyer Clock and Watch Museum, you’ll find the featured artifacts housed in the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London’s Museum of the Home (formerly known as the Geffrye Museum) as well as the Lucerne Historical Museum and the Bern Historical Museum.

Expect a much slower experience.

via Aeon

Related Content: 

A Virtual Tour Inside the Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli Museum

Watch Art on Ancient Greek Vases Come to Life with 21st Century Animation

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Where to Find Free Art Images & Books from Great Museums, and Free Books from University Presses

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Help yourself to her free downloadable poster series, encouraging citizens to wear masks. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Spinal Tap Stonehenge Debacle

This has to share some comedic DNA with a presidential press conference held at the Four Seasons–Four Seasons Total Landscaping, that is. Classic.

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The Origins of Spinal Tap: Watch the 20 Minute Short Film Created to Pitch the Classic Mockumentary

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“Borat” on Politics and Embarrassment–Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast Discussion #67

Let’s stop obsessing about election matters and consider instead a clown who brings out racism in rubes. Your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, Brian Hirt, and our guest musician/actor Aaron David Gleason consider the comedy of Sacha Baron Cohen, in particular the new Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, which you should definitely go watch before listening, unless it’s the kind of thing that so repulses you that you’ll never watch it, in which case this is the podcast to tell you what the fuss is about.

A few questions we explore: Is it unethical to use unwitting people who signed your release form as your supporting cast? Is it OK to use racism to expose racism? Are cameras now so ubiquitous that many people feel perfectly comfortable letting their true colors show on film? How dehumanizing is the nature of retail in America that all these shop keepers would go along with Borat’s bizarre and/or racist requests? Cohen claims that this new film was about demonstrating the humanity of his subjects; how evident was that purpose on screen? How does this film differ from Cohen’s other work? Was the film actually funny, or did it transcend (or fall short of) comedy in its politics and its king-size servings of embarrassment?

Watch Cohen and Maria Bakalova on Good Morning America explaining the film. Look at the Wikipedia article for info on how and when sequences were shot. You can browse through the critical reactions yourself.

After we recorded this, Cohen provided financial help to his very sympathetic victim, Jeanise Jones (the babysitter). And to settle one issue that came up in our conversation, Judith Dim Evans (the nice old lady in the temple who subsequently passed away) didn’t know the gag during filming, but Cohen revealed it right afterwards.

Hear Aaron’s music on Nakedly Examined Music #71. Listen to Aaron, Erica, Mark, and others including Lucy Lawless and Emily Perkins on the Partially Examined Life Players’ reading of Lysistrata. Learn more about Aaron at aarondavidgleason.com, and you can follow him on Instagram @aarondavidgleason.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.