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Watch Hilarious Spoofs of Classic Film Genres: Film Noir, Spaghetti Westerns, Scandinavian Crime Dramas, Time Travel Films & More

Comedian Alasdair Beckett-King has a keen ear for entertainment tropes and subscribes to the belief that “putting too much effort into things makes them funnier.”

The result is a series of one-minute videos in which he spoofs the conventions of a particular genre or long running series, with perfect visuals, meta dialogue, and faithfully rendered performance styles.

Beckett-King put his London Film School training to use with this project during lockdown, spending “absolutely ages putting together something very tiny.”


Witness his take on every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generationin which the captain of the ship, a Patrick Stewart doppelgänger and “vegetarian space socialist who is always right” negotiates with a “representative of a kind of iffy alien race not necessarily based on a specific human ethnicity.” As Beckett-King told Eric Johnson, host of Follow Friday podcast:

That one was very, very hard work because I had to do a CGI bald cap for myself because I have long, long flowing hair. I had to try and do an impression of Captain Picard of the Starship Enterprise… it’s not that good. There’s so much work that went into it.

Before I posted it, I was convinced I’d wasted my time. Then luckily it did quite well and people really liked it. People kept saying, “When are you doing Captain Picard again?” I’m like, “I’m not! because it took ages to do the bald head, and you’ve seen it now.” I think what’s nice about it though, is you get to try something, commit to it and then see if it’s funny afterwards. It’s quite like doing live standup.

(Beckett-King’s partner Rachel Anne Smith gets credits for the non-CGI costumes.)

Some other favorites:

Every Single Scandinavian Crime Drama: The killer could be anyone in Helgasund. That’s over seven people.

Every Single Spooky Podcast: The frozen soil was littered with what appeared to be discarded Casper mattresses and Bombas socks.

Every Single Spaghetti Western: Yeah, well your lips don’t synch…

Every Haunted House Movie: It’s the perfect place for me to quit drinking, finish my novel, and really come to terms with that deer we hit on the way over.

Every Episode of Popular Time Travel Show: Help us, Doctor. The intransigent Implacablons are poised to destroy us.

How Every Film Noir Ends: Talk your way out of a snub nosed pistol held at waist height.

Should you find yourself at loose ends, waiting for the next Beckett-King “every single…” episode to drop, try  biding your time with his Art House Movie Spoilers and North East of England spin on Jaws.

Buy a Coffee for Alasdair Beckett-King here.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primaologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch 30+ Exceptional Short Films for Free in The New Yorker’s Online Screening Room

For short films, finding an audience is an often uphill battle. Even major award winners struggle to reach viewers outside of the festival circuit.

Thank goodness for The Screening Room, The New Yorker’s online platform for sharing short films.

It’s a magnificent free buffet for those of us who’d like nothing better than to gorge ourselves on these little gems.


If you’re not yet a fan of the form, allow us to suggest that any one of the 30 fictional shorts posted in The Screening Room could function as a superb palate cleanser between binge watches of more regular fare.

Take co-directors Amina Sutton and Maya Tanaka’s hilarious The Price of Cheap Rent, clocking in at 6 1/2 minutes, above.

A community-supported project, starring Sutton and shot in Tanaka’s Brooklyn apartment, it’s a comedy of manners that brings fresh meaning to the semi-controversial phrase “Bed Stuy, Do or Die.”

Sutton plays a young Black artist with a masters from Yale, a gig behind the bar at Applebee’s, and a keen interest in positioning herself as an influencer, an ambition the filmmakers lampoon with glee.

When she discovers that her new apartment is haunted, she is “so freaked the f&ck out,” she spends a week sleeping in the park, before venturing back:

And it’s a studio, so it’s like living in a clown car of hell.

But once she discovers (or possibly just decides) that the majority of the ghosts are Black, she begins planning a podcast and makes her peace with staying put.

Pros: the rent’s a lot less than the 1-bathroom dump she shared with five roommates, there’s laundry in the basement, and the ghosts, whom she now conceives of as ancestors, share many of her interests — history, the arts, and the 1995 live action/CGI adaptation of Casper the Friendly Ghost. (They give Ghostbusters a thumbs down.)

Cons: the ghost of an 18th-century Dutch Protestant settler whose white fragility manifests in irritating, but manageable ways.

Those with 18 minutes to spare should check out Joy Joy Nails, another very funny film hinging on identity.

Every day a group of salty, young Korean women await the van that will transport them from their cramped quarters in Flushing, Queens, to a nail salon in a ritzier — and, judging by the customers, far whiter — neighborhood.

Writer-director Joey Ally contrasts the salon’s aggressively pink decor and the employees’ chummy deference to their regular customers with the grubbiness of the break room and the transactional nature of the exchange.

“Anyone not fired with enthusiasm… will be!” threatens a yellowed notice taped in the employees only area.

Behind the register, the veil is lifted a bit, narrowing the upstairs/downstairs divide with realistically homemade signs:

“CASH! FOR TIP ONLY”

Like Sutton and Tanaka, Ally is versed in horror tropes, inspiring dread with close ups of pumice stones, emory boards, and cuticle trimmers at work.

When a more objective view is needed, she cuts to the black-and-white security feed under the reception counter.

When one of the customers calls to ask if her missing earring was left in the waxing room, the story takes a tragic turn, though for reasons more complex than one might assume.

Ally’s script punctures the all-too-common perception of nail salon employees as a monolithic immigrant mass to explore themes of dominance and bias between representatives of varied cultures, a point driven home by the subtitles, or absence thereof.

The 2017 film also tapped into its release year zeitgeist with a plot point involving the boss’ son.

On a tight schedule? You can still squeeze in Undiscovered, director Sara Litzenberger’s 3-minute animation from 2014.

Identity factors in here, too, as a Sasquatch-like creature terrifies a string of camera wielding humans in its attempt to get a photograph that will show it as it wishes to be perceived.

It’s an easily digested delight, suitable for all ages.

Explore all 30+ fictional shorts in the Screening Room for free here or on The New Yorker’s YouTube playlist. You can find them all embedded and streamable below.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

John Cleese Presents His 5-Step Plan for Shorter, More Productive Meetings (1976)

Let’s face it, meetings are boring at best and at worst, chaotic, volatile, and potentially violent. And let’s also face it: to get through life as functioning adults, we’re going to have to sit through one or two of them — or even one or two of them a week.

Maybe we’re the one who calls the meetings, and maybe they all feel like a waste of time. One solution is to have more informal meetings. This can be especially tempting in the age of work-from-home, when it’s impossible to know how many meeting attendees are wearing pants. Fewer rules can raise the spontaneity quotient, but allowing for the unexpected can invite disaster as well as epiphany.


On the other end of the scale, we have the formality of parliamentary rules of order, such as those introduced by U.S. Army officer Henry Martyn Robert in 1876. Robert, whose father was the first president of Morehouse College, gained a wealth of experience with unproductive meetings as he traveled around the country with the Army. One particular meeting became a defining experience, as one account has it:

While in San Francisco, the local leader of his community didn’t show up for a church meeting. Henry Robert was asked to preside over the town hall (without any prior notice). Let’s just say that on this particular evening in 1876, he did a bad job. An hour into the meeting, people were screaming and the church actually erupted into open conflict.

Sadly, this sort of thing has become almost routine at town halls and school board meetings. But it needn’t be so at the office. Nor, says John Cleese in the brief video above, do meetings need to follow the formality of parliamentary procedure.

Cleese’s rules are simpler even than the simplified Roberts or Rosenberg’s Rules of Order, an even more simplified version of Robert’s Rules. Furthermore, Cleese avoids using words like “Rules” which can be a turn-off in our egalitarian times. Instead, he presents us with a “5-Step Plan” for holding better and shorter meetings.

1. Plan — Clear your mind about the precise objectives of the meeting. Be clear why you need it and list the subjects.
2. Inform — Make sure everyone knows exactly what is being discussed, why, and what you want from the discussion. Anticipate what information and people may be needed and make sure they’re there.
3. Prepare — Prepare the logical sequence items. Prepare the time allocation to each item on the basis of its importance not its urgency.
4. Structure and Control — Take the evidence stage before the interpretation stage and that before the action stage and stop people jumping ahead or going back over ground.
5. Summarize all decision and record them straight away with the name of the person responsible for any action

Easy, right? Well, maybe not so easy in practice, but these steps can, at the very least, illuminate what’s wrong with your meetings, which may currently resemble one of Cleese’s many parodies of business culture. Nobody videophoned it in at the time, but trying to figure out who’s supposed to be doing what can still take up an afternoon. Let Cleese’s five steps bring order to the chaos.

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

Richard Pryor & George Carlin Appear Together on a Classic Episode of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

George Carlin and Richard Pryor never got to star in a film together, so this appearance of the two on this 1981 Tonight Show clip is a great, rare chance to see two giants together. Actually, make that three, because host Johnny Carson shows why he set the standard in that very American genre, the late night talk show. It’s also an opportunity to see how much has changed in the world of late night.

Late night talk shows are almost exclusively a political affair these days. For many Americans, this is the place to get their satirical take on the news in the opening monologue, possibly their only take. Some nights you can watch the three main networks and several premium cable/streaming channels and find the same news item, riffed on a dozen different ways.


The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson wasn’t a “simpler time,” but it was very different. More casual, definitely, and more personable. I think that’s what comes across in this clip. Carson knows both Carlin and Pryor and their particular talents.

Carlin’s routine is purely observational. Currently he is a meme on many a boomer’s feed, but always late-stage Carlin, the angry, nihilistic political comedian. (That’s not a bad thing, and interesting that he’s being claimed these days by both the Left and the Right). Here he’s still Class Clown Carlin, with an elastic face, delivering a version of his “stuff vs. crap” routine, capped off with an out-of-nowhere abortion joke. It’s political in the vaguest sense.

His sit down with Carson is more of a chance to riff on charity organization names, and Carson lets him at it.

Pryor is on to promote Bustin’ Loose, his oddly sentimental 1981 comedy. But all that’s on Carson’s and the audience’s mind is the aftermath of the freebasing incident, where he doused himself with rum and set himself on fire while high on cocaine. He nearly died.

The delicate interchange between Carson—who legitimately wants to know how Pryor is doing—and Pryor, who both mocks himself, admits too much, and retreats behind a wall of humor, makes this essential viewing. Pryor reminisces about his father and his time coming up through standup with Carlin at Greenwich Village’s Cafe au Go-Go. He even admits, because why not, to lifting his early jokes as a comic from Bill Cosby and Dick Gregory. The latter “used to have stuff in Jet Magazine, you know, and that’s how I started, reading his material. I’d do it on stage. And that was my first breakthrough. I got a lot of laughs with his material.”

Pryor rides that line between telling on yourself and telling a fib.

And that last fascinating shot: credits rolling over Carson, the guests, and Ed McMahon, standing around, having a chat, as if they’re waiting for the coat check attendant in the lobby.

Ramsey Ess, who wrote about the whole episode—including Carson’s decidedly non-political monologue— on Vulture in 2012, noted about the Pryor interview:

When Johnny asks Richard about his dreams, you forget about the audience, you forget about George Carlin sitting over there and you suddenly are brought into a place where this is an important question and you need to hear that answer, even though you never would have thought to wonder about such a thing on your own. This intimacy, for me, is what made Carson different.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks!

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Stand-Up Comedy in the Internet Age — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #106

 

Your host Mark Linsenmayer discusses how Internet culture has changed stand-up with three comedians: past Pretty Much Pop guests Rodney Ramsey (who co-owns the Unknown Comedy Club) and Daniel Lobell (host of Modern Day Philosophers and author of the Fair Enough comic), plus Dena Jackson (also a speaker on yoga and mindfulness and host of The Ego Podcast).

How does the existence of YouTube, social media, and virtual spaces changed the way comedians construct a set, relate to their fans, and make a living? We talk about story-telling vs. one-liners, repping your hometown, comedy cliques, surviving negativity, and more.

Some articles that go into these issues further include:

Follow @TheUnknownVenue, @Denatalks, and @DanielLobell.

This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop or by choosing a paid subscription through Apple Podcasts. 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 Prince Appear on the Muppets Tonight Show & Reveal His Humble, Down-to-Earth Side (1997)

From Frog to Prince: We will always love your music and you. Our hearts are yours. Thanks for being a friend.
 Kermit the Frog, April 21, 2016

There was a time when sharing the screen with the Muppets was the ultimate celebrity status symbol.

Prince never appeared on The Muppet Show — 1999, the 1982 album that made him a household name, was released the year after the series concluded its run – but he got his chance fifteen years later, with an appearance on the shorter lived Muppets Tonight.

In a tribute written shortly after Prince’s death, Muppets Tonight writer Kirk Thatcher recalled:

We were very excited that Prince had agreed to do our Muppet comedy and variety show but had been told by his managers and support staff before we met with him that we must never look at him directly or call him anything but, “The Artist” or just, “Artist”. As the writers of the show, we were wondering how we were going to work or collaborate with someone you can’t even look at, especially while trying to create comedy with puppets!

His staff sent an advance team to make sure the working environment would be to his liking, special food and drink was laid in at his request, and the scripts of sketches that had been written for him were sent ahead for his approval. 

The Muppets’ crew grew even more nervous when Prince asked for a meeting the night before the scheduled shoot day. Thatcher had “visions of him trashing everything and forcing us to start over,” adding that it would not have been the first time a guest star would have insisted on a total overhaul at zero hour.


Instead of the monster they’d been bracing for, Prince — who Thatcher described as “only half again bigger than most of the Muppets” —  proved a game if somewhat “bemused” and “quiet” collaborator:

He had fun additions and improvs and loved playing and ad-libbing with the puppets and was very easy to talk to and work with. The whole situation with his advance team and management reminded me of the relationship I had created between Kermit and Sam the Eagle in Muppet Treasure Island. Sam had convinced everyone that Kermit, playing Captain Smollet, was a furious and angry tyrant, beset by inner demons and outer tirades. But when we meet him, he was just good, old, sweet-natured Kermit the Frog… just in a captains outfit. The same for Prince. He was just a nice, fun, creative guy who had built this persona around himself, and had a team there to reinforce it, probably to protect his art, his personal life and even his sanity.

The episode riffed on his established image, shoehorning Muppets into a “leather and lace” look that Prince himself had moved on from, and cracking jokes related to the unpronounceable “Love Symbol” to which he’d changed his name four years earlier.

Naturally, they plumbed his catalogue for musical numbers, having particular fun with “Starfish and Coffee,” which features a proto-Prince Muppet and an alternate origin story.

(The actual origin story is pretty great, and provides another tiny glimpse of this mysterious artist’s true nature.)

The show also afforded Prince the opportunity to chart some unexpected territory with Hoo Haw, a spoof of the countrified TV variety show Hee Haw.

If you’ve ever wondered how The Purple One would look in overalls and a plaid button down, here’s your chance to find out.

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Prince’s First Television Interview (1985)

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

Philosophy vs. Improv: A New Podcast from The Partially Examined Life and Chicago Improv Studio

The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast has been sharing reading-group discussions on classic philosophy texts for well over a decade, with over 40 million downloads to date.

However, interactive conversations about texts you probably haven’t read can be difficult to follow no matter how much we try to make them accessible, and a decade of history means that many names that might be dropped that those newly checking in may or may not be familiar with.

I’m one of the hosts of that podcast, and while I’m very happy with the format and thrilled to have reached so many people with it, I also appreciate the dynamic of a one-on-one tutoring interchange, and I stand firmly behind one of the original rules of The Partially Examined Life: No name-dropping.

As we read more complicated texts, our interest becomes figuring out what the philosopher meant, and only secondarily whether that meaning actually relates to something in people’s actual lives. Yes, we are critical (some say too critical) of the subject-matter, but we’re also big fans; we could bask in the literary glow of Hegel or Plato or Simone de Beauvoir or Hannah Arendt all day, and have often done so.

My newest podcast, Philosophy vs. Improv, is reciprocal tutoring realized as comedy (or at least performance art?). As someone who studied philosophy for many years in school and has then been hosting The Partially Examined Life for so long, I’m in a good position to come up with particular philosophical points worth teaching to a new learner.

My Philosophy vs. Improv co-host is Bill Arnett, founder of the Chicago Improv Studio, author of The Complete Improviser, and the former training director at Chicago’s famed iO Theater. He has appeared repeatedly on the Hello From the Magic Tavern improv comedy podcast as a character named Metamore who leads the show’s hosts (who are all fantasy characters a la Tolkein or Narnia) in a table-top role-playing game called Offices and Bosses. This and other shows ignited in me an urge to learn the fundamentals of improv comedy, and so each Philosophy vs. Improv episode, Bill comes up with some trick of the trade to try to teach me.

There are two rules of engagement: First, we can’t just state up front what the lesson is. We can ask each other questions, go through exercises, and otherwise discuss the material, but the lesson should emerge naturally. Second, we don’t take turns in trying to teach each other. As he’s making me act out scenes, I’m trying to set up those scenes or have my character react in such a way to exemplify my philosophical point. As we’re discussing philosophy, Bill is relating it to comparable points about improv. Of course, we’re both interested in learning as well as teaching, so the “vs.” in the show’s title is not so much competition between us as between which lesson ends up more nearly producing its intended effect in the other person.

It is surprising how smoothly these dueling lessons often fit together, as lessens about ethics in particular, about the art of living, are very much relevant to the improvisational skills of being present, presenting yourself, discovering the reality of a situation, and exploring truths of character. Fiction is often a very effective vehicle for addressing philosophy, whether the characters themselves are talking philosophically (even if they’re animals, cave men, or otherwise in a non-typical situation for discussion), or perhaps we’re embodying some political situation or thought experiment that we’re subjecting to philosophical analysis.

Likewise, back to the days of Plato, a dose of irony in discussing philosophy can be useful, and this format allows us to not just be ourselves on a podcast discussing philosophy, but at any point to launch into some comedy bit, and in this way show the absurdity of views we’re arguing against or just play with the ideas in a manner that I think enhances mental flexibility, which is essential both for improvisation and for philosophical creativity.

Listen to the latest episode (#7), entitled “Meritocracy Now!”

Start listening with Philosophy vs. Improv episode 1.

For more information, see philosophyimprov.com.

Mark Linsenmayer is the host of four podcasts: Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast, Nakedly Examined Music, The Partially Examined Life, and Philosophy vs. Improv.

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