Smothers Brothers

What We're Loving: Long Descriptions, Short Descriptions, Pre-Teen Interests, Teen Interests, Our Lying Brains

Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison shares his inspirations, Jonda Robinson rules middle school, Sarah Wyatt is mesmerized, Amanda Hahn reignites her passion, and Ryan Callahan plows ahead.  P1-AT967_RADIO_F_20100224175520Terry Catlett and myself have been hard at work for a while trying to figure out what sort of written show we wanted to bring to the DCH stage. This week, we’ll finally be putting up the fruit of that labor with the show David and Terry: Portrait of a Crime. It’s a radio play, complete with live sound effects provided by Colten Winburn and Daniel Matthews. In honor of that upcoming show, I wanted to share a couple of clips that inspired the production.

The first idea for the show came about when I randomly heard WC Fields’ “The Day I Drank a Glass of Water” and played it for Terry. It’s super dumb and terrible, but you can check out the ten minute piece here. Favorite part would be the long, drawn out description when he finally goes to take a drink. The sheer absurdity of how they over explain it really spoke to us. After listening to this, and similar radio plays, we realized the sort of show that we wanted to do.

Our primary inspiration for the style of humor would be everything The Smothers Brothers did. If you’re not familiar with them, The Smothers Brothers were a comic singing duo that hosted a variety show in the 1960s. They created these happy, upbeat, clean, folk songs that still hold up today (Especially if you liked my piece on A Mighty Wind.). I love the dynamic between the straight and absurd players, something that is especially evident in “Boil That Cabbage Down.” Check it out here.

So if either of those billion year old clips, or my normal shows with Terry, are to your liking, we’d love to have you join us on 8/31 at 8:30 as we debut the radio play! - David Allison

Middle SchoolIt’s been a big week for students, parents, and teachers around these parts, as school started back this past Monday. Because of this, the thing I’m loving this week is hanging out with middle school kids. No, it’s not a creepy thing--I’m a “highly qualified” teacher by Texas standards, so it’s not only something I enjoy, but it’s something I get paid to do.

The first week is filled with lots of emotion. Crying, complaining, wondering if you’ll make any friends--and it’s pretty rough on the students, too. I teach both 6th grade and 8th grade, so I get to see both sides of the spectrum, all the way from the eleven-year-old on the verge of tears because she can’t get her locker open to the smooth 8th grader who has gotten as good at this middle school game as he did at [insert title of popular video game all the kids are playing these days]  over the summer. I’m only three days in, and I’ve already had had one sixth grader ask me if she could read Milton’s Paradise Lost, another tell me that when he grows up he wants to be “a problem, so people throw money at me,” and a group of 8th graders who have declared an “anti-spork” movement in our classroom, proclaiming the superiority of the spoon and hoping to get #antispork2014 trending.

If you get ever get the chance to hang out, work with, or mentor some middle school students, go for it. It will open up the door for some memorable conversations, you’ll get to make a (hopefully) positive impact, and you’ll also be reminded that even on your worst day, you can be thankful for the fact that you never have to be that awkward thirteen-year-old version of yourself again. - Jonda Robinson

nicki-anaconda-previewOh. If I could sum up Nicki Minaj’s music video for her latest single, “Anaconda”, in one word, it would be “Oh”. It’s a non-stop barrage of ass, sex, glistening skin, and Sir Mix-a-lot doing more work than Miss Minaj. And I kind of love it.

I thought I’d check it out while I was writing, foolishly thinking that it would just be background chatter. I was mesmerized from the first image. Oh. “What is this?? No! Why can’t I turn away??” It’s so much writhing, so much skin, so much Nicki. I mean, there’s no way everyone on set didn’t see her sorganz (my new slang for sex organs, try it out) well enough for a police sketch artist to use in court.

There’s such a build up in this video to her actually dancing but she never really does. Her back up dancers kill some moves while she pats their asses and twerks a little on a chair. Oh. There’s a section of the video that consists of cuts between her suggestively eating a banana and spraying herself with whipped cream and lots and lots of butt.

I’m not feeling it. But I could hear the sound of thousands of young boys closing their bedroom doors while I was watching it. And if that wasn’t enough, the bridge (???) is a scene of Nicki giving Drake a lap dance so good it seems to be a religious experience. I think we sometimes forget that he started as an actor because that lap dance looked weak as hell to me. This whole thing probably sounds like I hated the video. I did. I love that I hate it. I hate that I love it. I love it. Oh. - Sarah Wyatt

pomerantzThe new school year started up again this week. That doesn’t make much of a difference for grad students since our schooling is year round, but this marks the beginning of my third year in grad school, with about two or three more to go. This summer, for the first time since I started doing research almost 5 years ago, I started getting bored with what I do. I cared a little less about my ongoing studies and results. I spent less time playing with my data (usually a favorite hobby of mine). I stopped reading the RSS feeds of science journals I follow. I just wanted to lay in the sunshine all day and do comedy all night. I needed a kick in the pants. You guys. I got it. I got my kick in the form of this video by Dr. James Pomerantz.

Even if you’re not interested in neuroscience, I highly recommend watching it. Dr. Pomerantz was the PI of the lab I volunteered in after college, and he always demonstrated an amazing ability to explain such a vast array of different topics so simply, clearly, and interestingly. In this 8 minute long video taken at colloquia at Rice University, he does just that. He describes how we perceive, and essentially recreate, the world around us. As Dr. Pomerantz puts it, “when our neurons and the external world disagree with one another, the neurons win every time as for as our experience is concerned. We are all prisoners of our neural architecture.”

That applies to everything we experience. If you have vertigo and your neurons are firing in a way that says the world is spinning, then to you, the world is spinning. If you’re depressed, it doesn’t matter how many people tell you cheer up and that they love you. You’re going to be depressed until your body corrects itself or you seek help. Knowing why our brains don’t always mirror reality can help inform solutions. It can change lives. In the meantime, it’s just really, really cool to learn about. To all of you who are going back to school too: let’s learn the crap out of this weird little world we live in, shall we? Bring it on, year three. - Amanda Hahn

urlOver the past few weeks I have been working my way through the novels, stories, and other writings of Raymond Chandler. Okay, I haven’t read any of the stories yet, or the other writings, but I have finished the first two novels, The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely.

Both of these novels, in fact all of Chandler’s novels, star world-weary, hard-boiled, heavy-drinking, quip-ready private detective Phillip Marlowe. Chandler writes in the first person, allowing the reader to see the people and places of pre-war Los Angeles through Marlowe’s point of view, alternately sardonic and empathetic.

It is this point of view that makes the books great. The plots are nothing special; they’re often needlessly complicated. The mysteries are either incredibly obvious or impossible to sort out. It is the words, the tone, those descriptions – "She was thinking. I could see, even on that short acquaintance, that thinking was always going to be a bother to her.” “Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.” – which will keep you turning the pages.

I enjoyed Farewell, My Lovely more than The Big Sleep, likely due with my familiarity with the plot of the latter thanks to the Humphrey Bogart film version. Farewell, My Lovely also benefits from a virtuoso chapter in which Marlowe wakes up in a locked room, having been drugged, and struggles to regain his senses. It’s a terrifying flirtation with madness, made all the more effective by how grounded the character is the rest of the time.

My adventure through the Chandler bibliography shall continue. There are only dozens of stories and four more novels to go. After that, I can rest easy. Until I move on to the complete works of Ross MacDonald. - Ryan Callahan

What We're Loving: Exclusive Meals, Old TV Formats, Illusions

Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week Ashley Bright eats well, David Allison puts up with dancing, and Amanda Hahn visits the world of illusion. 1357889532_franklogotranspFood really resonated with me this week. I had one of the best meals of my life and now I'm going to tell you about it, mostly so that I can re-live it as I type.  In fact, I was so detailed in my re-living of the meal that my first draft of this piece was almost 400 words and I had only made it through the amuse-bouche and the first course.  How can I only hit the highlights if the whole meal was so bright? I'll try.  FRANK Underground is a private dining experience where you sign up to be on the invite list, get invited, sign up again, get on a lottery for that week's meal, and hope to be chosen.  We've been signing up for the past few months and finally got picked.  (By we, I mean good pals and fellow DCHers, Rob and Mariam.)   Days before our dinnertime, they emailed us the secret(ish) location and revealed the menu: "con gusto."  So, I had about four days to periodically look at the menu and drool over it.  Cut to  evening.  That night's location was in a loft at Adam Hat's.  Walking into the loft, there was a giant window giving a perfect view of Dallas Comedy House.  I'd never seen its roof before.  The chefs were plugging away at the meal in the homey kitchen.  All fourteen or so of the diners were asked to sit at the long table built by one of the chef's from salvaged barn wood. The chefs told us the story of the table and FRANK's conception; and they also explained that this Mexican inspired menu is one they've been wanting to do since they started two years ago.  Our first course included huitlacoche or as Americans call it 'corn smut.'  Don't google it, it is very unappetizing.  But it is so very delicious when stuffed inside of a squash blossom.  In our third course, there was an egg cooked at 63.5 degrees for an hour.  It was like no egg I've ever had before.  The yolk was the same texture as the white.  Absolutely incredible.  Okay, I could easily write a novella on this meal.  Please come ask me about it, so I can describe every bite and sip to you with insane detail.  Please.  I haven't even told you about the dessert yet. - Ashley Bright

The Maya Rudolph ShowThe variety show is back! This past week, The Maya Rudolph Show debuted on NBC, finally ushering in the return of one of my favorite television show formats. I love variety shows, their combination of comedy, music, dance, and overall show polish makes for a really enjoyable viewing experience. Now I understand that some of you aren’t dorks and may not be as familiar with what the general structure of such a special is, but fret not, I’m gonna help introduce you to what a variety show looks like. Also, I’ll let you know how The Maya Rudolph Show did in regards to each of these tropes, just in case you weren’t part of the 2.2 they pulled.

Trope 1- Tone I’m sure there was some bullshit Greecian theatre example of a dramatic variety show, but any successful one nowadays is going to be light, upbeat, and fun. Also, the humor is very specific, many times arising from quick banter back and forth between the players or audience interaction. Check out this clip of The Smothers Brothers on The Judy Garland Show to see what I’m talking about. The Maya Rudolph Show did pretty well with this in general, but she could really use a full time sidekick to bounce dialogue off of.

Trope 2- Dancing Ugh. So much dancing. Honestly, this is the part that I care the least about because dancing is boring. Generally speaking, it’s part of a variety show because old people find it graceful. In fact, I can only think of two examples of funny dancing, one is the classic bit “Fat guy is fat but watch out, he can get down!” and the other being the would be the way Rudolph danced on her program this past week. With that said, it’s become so ingrained in what a variety show is that it can’t be eliminated. The Maya Rudolph Show featured some dancing, but that was mostly because of the talents of Sean Hayes who, by the way, should be on every episode.

Trope 3- Celebrity Special Guests The only thing better than watching a famous person host an hour of television is watching a famous person host an hour of television with their famous friends! Mostly, these other celebrities come in the form of featured players that guest star in the sketches. It’s much like Saturday Night Live except it’s almost always self deprecating or physical (Example: “Ha ha, look at this oversized hat I’m wearing!”). Occasionally you’ll see a musical guest like The Maya Rudolph Show did in Janelle Monae’s performance, but most of the time the special guest either acts in the sketches or does stand up. You gotta keep the funny train moving. Fred Armisen, Andy Samberg, Sean Hayes, Chris Parnell, Kristen Bell, and Craig Robinson dropped by the set on the Maya Rudolph show, so they more than filled the celebrity quotient.

Trope 4- Music Any variety show worth it’s salt must have a few musical numbers. There has to be an upbeat opener featuring lots of singing, which The Maya Rudolph Show definitely included with the opening number and a closing number that is more somber and heart felt. My favorite play on the closer comes from Paul F. Tompkins’ variety show, with his stirring rendition of “Skyfall.” On The Maya Rudolph Show this week, they ended with this great lullabye featuring her and Chris Parnell.

At the end of the day, not only did The Maya Rudolph Show nail pretty much every trope, it did so in a refreshing way. I really hope this gets ordered to series, but I’d take any variety show at this point. Except this one. - David Allison

HahnI spent the beginning of this week at a Vision Sciences Society conference. It’s an annual meeting where a bunch of graduate students, professors, and researchers get to together by a beach in Florida. We mainly go to get tan, but we also present and discuss research relating to all things vision. As part of the conference, there is a Best Illusion of the Year Contest. It’s a one-night event where contestants present their illusions, and the audience votes for the best one. It was personally special to me this year because my lovely friend and former lab-mate at Rice University, Kimberley Orsten, was presenting an illusion of her own (and won 3rd place!). Kim’s is a simple one, but it’s also one of the more fun ones to watch. I’ve watched the little roads move back and forth for what feels like hours now. Plus, hers and the rest of the illusions in the contest come with short explanations of why they are able to fool you (fair warning: some descriptions are better than others). The explanations are my favorite part because illusions can teach you so much about how the visual system works. That’s what I love about seeing these illusions presented live, right in my face, by vision scientists at the contest. They present the illusions, induce “oohs” and “ahhs” from the crowd, and then tell you why you saw what you saw. It makes learning about your visual system even more interesting (take notes, Miss Frizzle). Even if you aren’t a vision nerd, they’re just fun to look at. So if you want to see research’s latest mind tricks and learn a little something about why you see what you see in everyday life, pop on over to the Best Illusion of the Year website and view the top ten illusions. (Kim’s is the road one). Have fun, and find me later to let me know if any of them made you say “whoaaa.”- Amanda Hahn