literature

What We're Loving: Mertz Jigs, Trash-Talking Puppets, Incidental Comedy, Book Shelf Documentation

Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week Ashley Bright needs your help, Julia Cotton sets the hoop on fire, Tim Brewer leaves his preconceptions behind, and Ryan Callahan corrects a false assumption.  i-love-lucy-logoMy entry this week is a bit of a selfish plea for help, but I'll get to that the end. Because they say the end is typically the best place to put a call to action. And by they, I mean high school English teachers.

Years ago, I was with a really good friend of mine in a hotel room. I don't recall the context or location and that's unimportant. What is important is that we were watching I Love Lucy.

I am a huge fan of I Love Lucy. I grew up watching it on Nick at Night and I'd watch it early in the morning before I went to school. I even enjoyed the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, when the whole gang moved out to Connecticut. Of course, I was a huge fan of Lucy herself. But I am and was a huge Fred Mertz fan. I loved Fred's sass. I loved his switch between childlike giddiness to old man grump. And let's not forget that William Frawley had the voice of an angel.

Let's jump back to the night in the hotel room. I cannot for the life of me remember the episode that was playing. But Fred had a hat. He tipped his hat and did a jig. It was one of the best jigs I've ever witnessed. That 15 or so second scene has replayed repeatedly in my mind since that night.

But I haven't been able to re-watch it because I do not know what episode it's on. I suppose the diligent thing for me to do is to watch every single episode in order. Maybe I will do that.

But for now, I'm putting out a call to action: if you are ever watching I Love Lucy and Fred Mertz is standing near a fireplace, tips a bowler hat, and does a very funny jig, please note the episode and immediately let me know. Thank you. - Ashley Bright

timthumbSo, the Spurs won the NBA Championship this year...and I don’t care. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been more indifferent about an NBA season than this year. Perhaps this is just another sign of me getting old. I remember when I first fell in love with the NBA, though. It was around the time I fell in love with real boys (by “real” boys, I mean my older brother’s friends) who loved basketball. That time was the mid 90s. That was the best era of the NBA for me for many reasons: Hip hop became super influential (all the way down to the uniforms); My home town Rockets got to win a couple of championships while Jordan played baseball; NBA Jam allowed you to break the glass goals, set the nets on fire, and put Robert Horry and The Fresh Prince on the same team; Jordan made a triumphant return leading the Bulls to three-peat championships...and also Space Jam.

One of the best products of the NBA in the mid 90s, though...was Lil’ Penny.

Lil Penny was Anfernee ‘Penny’ Hardaway’s loud mouthed, wise cracking puppet side-kick voiced by one of the greatest stand ups during the mid 90s, Chris Rock fresh off of the success of his Bring the Pain HBO special .

Watching the YouTube replays of these commercials made me remember when I cared about the NBA and would actually tune in every season. I’ve only been disappointed by it more and more each year. Turned out “real” boys were still just boys. My kids play video games that are way more complicated and less fun than NBA Jam. Basketball goals aren’t even made of glass anymore. Will Smith makes movies like After Earth. And, NBA players try to manufacture three-peats by negotiating trades to get themselves on teams with other high profile players. It’s cool, though. It has left room for me to be more and more excited by comedy each year. While the Spurs were blowing out the Miami Heat in the finals this year, Chris Rock announced his next comedy tour, Black Plague, will begin later this fall. - Julia Cotton

Screen-Shot-2014-05-01-at-12.36.22-PMI am obsessed with ridiculous, offensive rap. I am also a comedy geek. That being the case, I cannot stop listening to Riff Raff’s debut album, Neon Icon. Riff Raff can be very confusing for many people - Is he a rapper? Certainly. Is he a comedian? Perhaps incidentally so. Regardless, with Riff Raff, it’s best to leave your preconceived notions aside.

If this article is your introduction to Riff Raff, AKA Jody High Roller, AKA Rap Game James Franco, you are either one of those fancy “adult” types, or have a particular aversion to Youtube. I highly suggest cutting your teeth on my favorite song of his - “Bird On a Wire” featuring another "underground" favorite, Action Bronson.

Riff Raff grew to fame circa 2007 starring on shows such as MTV’s From G’s to Gents, and being associated with Andy Milonakis and Aziz Ansari. These days, however, Riff Raff is probably most famous for being the most enigmatic, polarizing figure in music. Everything about him has the ability to make people turn away in disgust or become entranced and fascinated. His hair is often in corn rows (he’s white), his facial hair is almost always cut in the tackiest pattern imaginable, his voice makes most cringe upon an initial listen and he has an affinity for enormous Flava-Flav style chains that feature everything from a jewel encrusted Slimer from Ghostbusters to Tony the Tiger. His track titles only compound the confusion, divisiveness, and hilarity (see: “Versace Python”, “Kokayne”). Even his real, legal name, Horst Christian Simco, is unbelievable.

Riff Raff is often dismissed by most people as a joke, and has been accused of parodying rap culture as a whole. But what I love about him, is that even if he is a parody, he’s so unapologetically so. From a comedic perspective, what makes him great is that even if you wanted to make fun of him, you’d have to outdo him in ridiculousness, which is simply not something that can be done. A lot of people say they “can’t tell if he’s serious or not”, but fans of Riff Raff know that it’s exactly his blurring of so many lines which makes him magnetic. It’s best to appreciate Riff Raff in a state of suspended disbelief and just bob your head and laugh. - Tim Brewer

20121118-095356Do you ever have something in your life, something that you make part of your daily routine, something that is so ingrained in your life that you assume it is familiar to everyone else and you don’t have to bother talking about it because doing so would be redundant, akin to talking about how the day is brighter than the night or how we’re always breathing oxygen? For me, Biblioklept.org is that kind of thing. I assume everyone knows about it. It only occurred to me today that you might not.

Biblioklept is an art and literature blog created and curated by Edwin Turner. The site features curated short stories, poems, pieces of art, daily pictures or paintings of people reading, videos (sometimes whole movies), as well as original, non-fiction pieces. The curated work, most of which is new to me, offers endless inspiration throughout the day. A visit to Biblioklept and a scroll down the page feels like a visit to a quirky museum that I have all to myself. The original pieces appeal to the book lover in me. The “Books Acquired” feature, in which Turner writes about his recent purchases, always features some cool new book that I’ve never heard of but now need. His “Riffs,” basically stream of consciousness reviews of books, usually written as he’s working his way through them, offer idiosyncratic and personal takes on well-known and obscure literature. My favorite recurring feature of all was Turners fifty-three part book shelf series, which featured photographs off all the book shelf sections in his home, each accompanied by a short essay.

If you’re a fan of books, or words, or ideas, or art, you’ll probably find something on Biblioklept to enjoy. If you’re like me (and I pretty much assume you all are), you’ll find yourself visiting the site three or four times a day, dipping in whenever you need a break from all the noise and junk on the internet. - Ryan Callahan

What We're Loving: Returning Shows, Food in New Places, The Joys of Womanhood, The Dickens of Detroit

Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison makes bold predictions, Ashley Bright admits her bias, Julia Cotton feels like a natural woman, and Ryan Callahan works on his greatest goal in life. vibe-new-orange-is-the-new-black-season-2-shots

Time is crazy y’all! I am writing this in a world where season two of Orange is the New Black has not been released. But, dear friend, you are currently reading this article in a world where season two of Orange is the New Black is available on Netflix. Like right now! Currently, I’m watching another episode of it as you take in our picks for the week, but I already know everything that’s going to happen this season. How? Past tv tropes. Shows tend to follow patterns, so it’s easy to hazard a few guesses. Maybe ten? Yeah, I’ll go with ten. Here are ten things that will happen this season on Orange is the New Black:

1) New friends will be introduced, probably with an inspirational speech, a loud argument or intimidating silence. 2) We will learn more about old friends. Don’t worry, their past transgression(s) will be justified. 3) A character that was once trusted will no longer be able to be trusted 4) Said characters breach of trust will be explained in an intimate conversation, probably at the edge of a bed, a stroll in the yard, or in an arbitrary church. 5) People will totally do it. Like, woah, doin’ it. 6) Someone will attempt to murder someone else, a move that will change EVERYTHING 7) The murderee will survive, thus negating the potential change and keeping things as they were. 8) The recovery of the murderee will be slow at first and then within a week, he/she will back to 100%. 9) I will participate in about fifteen conversations with people who watch the show, the thesis of each will be “Yeah, that security guard is played by Lauren Lapkus, she’s a really great improviser, they should use her more.” 10) Prison will continue to take some getting used to.

Orange is the New Black is a consistently fun show to watch, even if it is a bit formulaic. So hurry up and finish reading what the lovely ladies, and lovely Ryan, are recommending this week so we can talk about this show over the weekend. - David Allison

595e5a2f-c809-48bc-9441-bf1680134724_800I may be biased because I'm a Tony Bourdain fan, (See? I called him Tony instead of Anthony. Fanship confirmed.) but I've really been enjoying his CNN show Parts Unknown, which you can find on Netflix. If you've watched his No Reservations then you pretty much know what to expect because Parts Unknown is not much different. It's Tony hanging out with people, eating food, and exploring cool places. He's going to a bit more dangerous places like Libya, the Congo, or Jerusalem. In the Libya episode, he visits the ruins of Qaddafi's palace and the danger was palpable. The rebels running that area were not fans of Westerners scooting around with video cameras. But even among the danger, he is graciously welcomed to share a meal. In Myanmar, he talks with people who openly share their feelings on the state of their nation; people who had spent many years in prison for talking about their government. He goes to the Gaza Strip and eats with both Jewish folk and Palestinians. He eats at a restaurant run by a Jewish woman and her Palestinian husband. She is the only Jewish person in her community. Amid the tension and seemingly unsolvable issues, people are just people. They just want to be happy, let their kids be happy, and be free to travel to whatever territory they want.

One of my favorite scenes was while he was eating with a table of elderly ex-pats who had been living in Tangier since the 50s and 60s, when beatniks, writers, musicians, and artists flocked to the city. He asked them, "who at this table smokes hashish?" and most, if not all, of them raised their hands. You have to see it to really appreciate it, but it was a table of Judy Dench and Ian McKellan lookalikes. I just found it cute that they all raised their hand to that question. But to be fair, I bet both Judy Dench and Sir Ian McKellan probably throw down on some hashish themselves.

This show is great for learning about history, culture, and even current events. But the thing I most enjoy is just watching human beings be human beings. Most of us are prettydamn cool. - Ashley Bright

A lady never kisses and tells.  But, a real woman forsakes being a lady in the name of good comedic storytelling ...and sisterhood.

9780810989023_p0_v1_s260x420Growing up a “lady” in a fairly conservative household, conversations of dealing with the opposite sex were very limited.  Many of my friends grew up the same way, so we seldom even talked about boys amongst each other.  This left us to fend for ourselves, rather ill equipped, into the wild of men that inhabit the world outside of our shielded upbringings.  Needless to say, we each have had some horror stories dealing with the men types… stories that none of us would ever tell each other, until I listened to this one interview with Allison Brie.  I forget which one...maybe a Nerdist podcast??  They were going on about how Brie often plays characters that seem so wholesome and refined (see Community and Mad Men), but then they came across a rather graphic tale that she contributed to the book Worst Laid Plans about a very awkward sexual experience.

Worst Laid Plans began as a comedy show performed at UCB L.A.  Women would do stage readings of sexual-encounters-gone-wrong, all of which are hilarious and terrifyingly relatable.  Guests have included the great Amy Poehler, Janeane Garofalo, Laraine Newman, and many other comedic writers/performers.  A few of these monologues have been published in book form.

Brie scoffed at the idea that she would a)not be capable of having a weird sexual experience and b)not be willing to tell about it.  After all, we tell stories so that we are able to relate to one another.  Why should stories of this nature be any different? Because we are ladies?

Listening to this audiobook made this lady feel more like a natural woman than I ever had before.  My friends and I have become much closer having shared delightfully awful casual hook-up stories of our own.  We bellow over in laughter not only at the tragic tales, but also understanding that many of them may have been avoided if we’d just been talking about it all along. - Julia Cotton 

Elmore LeonardElmore Leonard wrote over 40 novels in his lifetime and I’ve made it a goal in life to read every one. Each year I knock out two or three. Last week I finished Maximum Bob, his early 90’s novel about a human peacock in a judge’s robe and the oddballs, misfits, criminals and crime fighters he sends careening into each other like billiards balls with a few and arrogant and selfish decisions. Right now I’m reading LaBrava, his 1980 novel about a Secret Service agent turned photographer and the oddballs, misfits, and criminals who careen around him like billiards balls after one selfish and arrogant decision.

You might notice that Leonard’s novels have a certain formula to them. In addition to the plots, which are often so similar, you can count on a certain set of stock characters. There's the pair of mismatched lowlifes planning a crime, in over their heads and hating each other. The drugged out rich boy, usually confined to a house, who begins as a benefactor to the lowlifes and eventually becomes their target. There will be a young blonde who plays with men like G.I. Joes or an older brunette who’s struggling to earn respect in the male-dominated world of law enforcement. And there will be a charming, laconic, graying at the temples dud, sometimes a cop, sometimes a crook, who romances the heroine, knocks around the lowlifes and gets what he wants in the end. The ending will feel abrupt and end with a joke. And the whole thing will be so damn much fun that you’ll want to pick up another book right away.

Leonard wrote with a grace and clarity that you will not find anywhere else. He believed in leaving out the parts that readers tend to skip. His books are marvels of precision. He moved his stories along so fast, and moves in and out of all the different point of views so well, that it feels like you watched a movie in your head.

With so many books, knowing where to start can be overwhelming. My top two favorites are Swag, the story of a used car salesman and a car thief who team up to making a killing in the armed robbery business, or The Hot Kid, Leonard’s late-career masterpiece about a U.S. Marshall in the 1930’s. After that try something gritty, like Killshot, or witty, like Get Shorty. Really, you can’t go wrong with any of them. Just start reading. And let me know what you think. - Ryan Callahan

What We're Loving: Other People's Mix CDs, Dream Composing, Non-Educational Educational Shows, Failures of Language

image (1)Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison rescues dying media, Ashley Bright welcomes whimsy into the world, Amanda Hahn discovers comedy that speaks to her, and Ryan Callahan finds improv lessons in an unlikely place. 

Used-CDs When it comes to buying used media I always strive to be aware of the market.  I’m like the Jim Cramer of thrifted content.  For the longest time, the best value in this realm was, obviously, VHS tapes.  The medium had an eight year run of being the best bang for your buck if you wanted some cheap entertainment.  That’s no longer the case as the continued march of time has rendered many VHS players useless and many VHS tapes dated.  It’s the end of an era.  So what are you, as a consumer, supposed to do?  Where do we as a society go from here?  I’m here today to issue some direction; used CDs are a BUY BUY BUY.

Recently, I spent very little money on a handful of CDs from a local resale shop and have been reaping the benefits ever since.  But David, why?  To me, used CDs are an excellent opportunity for entertainment because you have a chance to listen to them everyday (In your car) and their availability litters the shelves of every thrift store.  Here are some tips:

  • Make sure the content isn’t streaming
    • You probably have a subscription to a service like Spotify or Slacker that allows you to stream most music on the go.  If you see something you like on the shelf, check to make sure it’s not streaming. I don’t want to see you waste your money!  I recently made this mistake with the soundtrack to Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.  I’m a dummy.
  • Soundtracks are a hidden goldmine
    • I went over this in detail last month herehere, and here.
  • Mix CDs are the best
    • I know we all loved a good mix cd (Or mix tape if you’re like a billion years old). You can find people’s personal CD-RWs at most thrift stores.  They are definitely hit or miss, but that’s why we buy stuff used, we’re all chasing the magical dragon of a good value.

Since I’ve gone on my recent CD buying spree (I’ve purchased five CDs in 2014 alone, which places me in the top 1% of CD purchasers) I’ve discovered that I really enjoy Taylor Hicks, Space Jam’s soundtrack belongs in the pantheon of all time greats, and that music producers in 2008 thought that autotune fixed EVERYTHING. They were wrong.  Learn these lessons and more by joining me in making 2014 the year of the CD! - David Allison

BluebearI don't get enough whimsy in my life. So, this week I finally started reading Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures by Walter Moers. Years ago, I read and immensely enjoyed Moers' The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear. I'm actually going to tell you more about Bluebear because I've yet to make a significant dent in the nearly 700-page Rumo. We first meet Bluebear when he's tiny and floating in a walnut shell precariously close to a whirlpool. He is saved by tiny Minipirates, but is left on his own when he outgrows their ship. He learns to the art of speech by some talking waves, the Babbling Billows. In one of my favorite of his 13 1/2 lives, Bluebear finds himself in the head of a giant and lands a job of a 'dream composer' to keep the giant's brain occupied. He makes his way out of the head and into Atlantis, where he makes his way to be the King of Lies and keeps his title for a year. The King of Lies is a Congladiator tournament in a colosseum, where instead of fighting, the congladiators much weave fictional stories to the audience and the audience crowns a winner. Bluebear encounters the character Rumo on his travels. Making Rumo the Mork to Bluebear's Happy Days. These books do ring of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but feel a little less sardonic. If you're a fan of Douglas Adams, fantasy, Vonnegut, or just good stories, I encourage you to give a world created by Moers a go. - Ashley Bright

BlastoffI love learning and school. I love it so much that being a professor is my #1 dream job. I also love comedy. Being a comedian is my #1.1 dream job. So what did my friend recently recommend to me that combines both learning and funny? Professor Blastoff! I’ve only listened to the first episode of this podcast so far, but I’m already hooked. It’s hosted by her-great-goddess-of-comedy-forever Tig Notaro, along with Kyle Dunnigan and David Huntsberger. The three of them talk science, philosophy, math, theology – whatever interests them, under the premise that a Professor R.L. Blastoff used to host a radio show in the 1940s in the basement of Kyle’s house. He got transported into another dimension (I don’t remember why, and it doesn’t matter). Now the three of them are filling in until Professor Blastoff comes back. I didn’t learn anything new from the episode I listened to, but I didn’t care. The three of them are friends (Tig and Kyle are BFFLs and writing partners), and it really comes through in their interactions. They ask each other questions, share what they know, and joke around (they’re just like us!). I felt like a fly on the wall of a funny person’s living room. If you like talking about stuff that interests you but don’t know much about with your friends, you will love this podcast. They have guests every week, and the next episode features Nick Offerman talking about bees. I doubt I’ll learn anything meaningful about bees, but I’m sure I’ll have a blast (get it?!) listening to the four of them muse and wonder about them. - Amanda Hahn

51xUIEAv0aLKate returns to her typewriter from time to time. She writes memories, anecdotes, observations. She makes and misses connections, struggles to remember and express her thoughts. She goes mad. She might be the last woman on Earth. This is the plot, in its entirety, of David Markson’s brilliant novel Wittgenstein’s Mistress.

Like all of Markson’s later works (Reader’s Block, This is Not a Novel, Vanishing Point, and The Last Novel) Wittgenstien’s Mistress is told entirely in a series of one to two sentence paragraphs, without chapter breaks or time stamps or any indication of where we are. Yet the story draws in the reader with its cyclical structure, looping around and around the same themes, the same stories, the same moments, each time adding an element or introducing a new detail.

The themes are the themes of humanity: disease, madness, and the consistent inability of language to communicate what we truly mean to say. This book is a must read for those who love literature, those interested in philosophy, and, most importantly, those who study improv.

Like a great long-form improv show, Wittgenstein’s Mistress relies on patterns, connection, callbacks to create a fully formed whole out of a series of seemingly disparate parts. Every statement is an opportunity for exploration. Simple anecdotes evolve into complex games. Scenes 100 pages apart mirror each other. The end is in the beginning. - Ryan Callahan