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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: Unpopular Opinions, Hidden Upsides, Deleted Context, Specialized Pitching

Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison makes a bold statement, Jonda Robinson fails greatly, Amanda Hahn needs a mind break, and Ryan Callahan goes to the bullpen. imgresSometimes I really hate popular opinion. There’s a collective hive mind that we all participate in and often times cinema is significantly affected by it’s whims. You’ll hear about this amazing movie that “everyone” loves, set plans to see it opening night, and then realize within five minutes that Benjamin Button is terrible. But you can’t say anything about how much you hated it because it gets nominated for Oscars and stuff. The opposite happens too and it’s even more disappointing. There are so many movies that our pop culture group mind simply rejects and we’re not supposed to give them a chance. Then, like an idiot, I see one of these flicks, love it, and can’t talk about my adoration for it in fear of receiving palpable judgement in return. The current film I feel self conscious about really enjoying is something that was released on DVD this past week: Muppets Most Wanted. AND IT’S WHAT I’M LOVING THIS WEEK. There, I said it.

Where are you going?

Don’t run away yet!

Hear me out on this. Yes this commercial failure that you didn’t hear anything good about is not a great film. With that said, there are numerous factors that make it highly enjoyable to watch. First, you’ve got solid performances from Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais and Ty Burrell. See, that’s not so bad! You liked them in that other thing you liked, so that’s gotta count for something. Also, it’s basically a musical and contains about ten full length songs, most of which were written by Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords). Flight of the Conchords was your favorite show! Plus, McKenzie won an Oscar for the tunes he wrote for the previous Muppets film, so that helps. Oh and it’s the Muppets! You remember how much you loved them as a kid? You would’ve killed another child, straight up murdered a newborn, to go to Muppet Treasure Island with the gang.

So give this movie a shot. Even if it means sneaking it home in a pizza box and watching it under the cover of darkness so that your friends don’t judge you. - David Allison 9780345472328_p0_v2_s260x420

Lately I’ve been trying to look at the positive side of failing. For example, last week I was visiting a friend and we decided to go eat at a certain restaurant. We got a cab and made the trek across town during rush hour, only to find out that they were closed. Sigh. Trying to look on the bright side, I told her that it wasn’t a total waste because it was a mistake we’d learn from. She appropriately rolled her eyes at me.

In an effort to prepare for another year of teaching middle school, I’ve been learning more about the concept of learning through failure from the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck. Dweck’s theory is that there are two kinds of mindsets that you can have: the fixed mindset, in which you believe that your intelligence and talents are fixed and do not change, and the growth mindset, in which you believe that your abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. For the fixed mindset, failure is a terrifying thing that says, “You’re not enough.” But for the growth mindset, failure is a perfect opportunity to learn and become better than you were before. According to Dweck, you get to choose which mindset you approach life with. If you’d like to see which mindset you currently lean toward, there’s a quiz for that! And if you’d like to attempt to change your mindset, there are steps for that!

Some of the most fun things I have done in the past year, from taking a sketch writing class to wakesurfing, were scary things that I at first said no to because I was afraid of failing. If there’s something you’ve been wanting to try, I highly suggest that you go for it, even if you’re afraid you’ll fail at it. It’ll help you become a cooler, better version of yourself. And if you need something to help you get motivated, check out Dweck’s book to give you that little push that you need. - Jonda Robinson

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The end of each semester is typically unusually busy. This summer’s semester has been no exception. Sometimes you just need a mind break from everything. I found the perfect one: Ads Without Context . The name is misleading because it’s more like “ads re-contextualized” than ads with no context. And thank goodness it is. This entire feed is just .gifs from infomercials with captions giving new context to the melodramatic ads. The mix of the silent overacting overlaid with the captions is endlessly silly and delightful.

Some are simple.

Some are gross.

Some make me laugh out loud.

Some are weirdly sad.

And many more are endlessly re-watchable.

So turn off the TV and tune into No Context Ads. The infomercials are way better on there. - Amanda Hahn

51fbRsn29aL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_You ever find a book and feel like it was written just for you? That's how I feel about The Setup Man: A Novel, the debut thriller by T.T. Monday. The book introduces Johnny Adcock, a 35-year-old lefty relief specialist for the fictional San Jose Bay Dogs. Johnny only pitches when the Bay Dogs have a lead, and only against left-handed hitters. He works about ten minutes a night. Most guys in his position would be content to chew on sunflower seeds and let the money roll in. Not Johnny Adcock. He's the restless sort. He needs something to fill the rest of the day. That's why he works as a private detective. Worried your wife is cheating on you with the pool boy? Someone from your time in the minors trying to blackmail you? Johnny Adcock is your man.

The Setup Man combines my two favorite things: Private detectives, and private detectives who are also other things. Private detectives are my favorite fictional characters. As a child I loved them all: Encyclopedia Brown, Thomas Magnum, Rick and A.J. Simon. The A-Team was essentially a private eye super team. In high schoool I discovered Humphrey Bogart's Phillip Marlowe, still the greatest onscreen P.I. ever. After college I devoured the Continental Op stories of Dashiell Hammett, such as Red Harvest, for my money the best P.I. novel ever. I've spent many an afternoon or evening binge watching reruns of Psych or Monk. Private detectives are the best.

But the private detective who is also something else is even better. How can something be better that the best? Here's how: What would be better than a private detective who investigates the paranormal? Oh, I don't know, maybe a  private detective who investigates the paranormal and has a day job as a lifeguard. What could be better than a private detective played by Andy Richter? A private detective / accountant played by Andy Richter! And what could be better than a private eye who investigates the seedy underbelly of Major League Baseball? A private eye who investigates that seedy underbelly while having to pitch to lefties every couple of days.

I started reading The Setup Man late Tuesday night and finished on Wednesday. Once I started, I had to keep reading. That's about the highest praise you can give a P.I. novel. I needed to know what happened next, and I wanted to see how Johnny Adcock would solve the case. The book isn't perfect. There are a couple thudding moments of authorial intrudsion that feel like an after-school special, and the book jacket inexplicably features a right-handed pitcher, but the plot moves, the tone is charming, there is a vivid cast of characters, and the details about day to day life in the majors seem authentic. I can't wait for Johnny Adcock's next adventure. - Ryan Callahan