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On the Shelf: Three Podcasts You Should Know, Comedic Memoirs, and Lots o’ Interviews

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Marc Maron has been a standup comic for half his life. He’s performed on stage at many notable clubs but it’s in his Los Angeles garage that he’s truly found his voice. In 2009 Marc began his WTF podcast and since then has broadcast two interviews a week. More than a talk show, WTF is a living, breathing cultural history of the comedic industry through the stories of those who’ve made their careers from it.

For those unfamiliar with the inner workings of the comedy circuit, it’s forgivable to think these performers are cheery all the time. As these in-depth, often personal, interviews show, all is not rosy. In fact, comedians might just be the most tortured people on earth.The Slate Culture Gabfest has endorsed WTF a few times and when Dana Stevens suggested that new listeners skip the first 10 or 20 minutes, the time allotted to Marc’s notorious monologue, the two got into a Twitter fight. Out of character, The Culture Gabfest invited Marc on their show and it was incredible. You can listen to his segment here. Marc comes in around the 25 minute mark. I highly recommend Marc’s keynote speech at the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal.

The Nerdist, hosted by Chris Hardwick, a man who might be familiar to Generation Xers as the host of MTV’s Singled Out, a dating show that ran in the mid-90s, is another source of great interviews with entertainment industry people–but much lighter in tone. Chris has serious nerd-cred. He’s a contributing writer for WIRED magazine, hosts Web Soup, a show on the G4 network that comments on viral videos, and hosted the Interactive Award show at this year’s SXSW festival. The A.V. Club named The Nerdist the best podcast of 2010. Now if that doesn’t sell you, I’m not sure what will. Oh and, Chris has a book coming out in November, The Nerdist Way.

The Sound of Young America might air on proper radio through Public Radio International but host Jesse Thorn has a podcaster’s sensibility. Starting out on college radio, Thorn brings with him an unshakable indie feel. His weekly half hour show features some of the greatest known and lesser-known people in the entertainment industry. From musicians, to filmmakers, to authors, and comedians, Jesse is one of the best prepared and most knowledgeable hosts to-date.

What are your favorite podcasts?

What’s on the Shelf? Books by Funny People Edition

Nerd Do Well: A Small Boy’s Journey to Becoming a Big Kid by Simon Pegg
Simon is best known as the writer and star of zombie-parody film Shaun of the Dead but his British TV sitcom from the late 90s, Spaced, is really cute and worth adding to the Netflix queue. In all his work, Simon draws from his own sci-fi and comic book fandom to create endearing comedies that any nerd will love. Word on the street is, he’s a really nice guy in person.Here’s an interview with Simon on The Sound of Young America and one from The Nerdist. If you still haven’t had enough of this adorable nerd-boy, here’s an interview with WIREDmagazine.

Mr. Funny Pants by Michael Showalter
For those of us who grew up in the 90s, Michael Showalter is probably best known as “Doug,” the angsty teen with the cool dad from the MTV sketch comedy show The State. He recently came out with a memoir. Here he is on WTF for the release of the book, and here he is with his sketch buddy, Michael Ian Black, on The Sound of Young Americain 2009.

What’s Not to Love?: The Adventures of a Mildly Perverted Young Writer by Jonathan Ames
While Jonathan Ames has done a ton of stuff since his tell-all essay collections, they are still what I love most about him. His other collection of essays, My Less Than Secret Life, is equally amusing. Ames changed the way I wrote—sometimes to my own detriment. Luckily, this was before the internet really took off and the only proof from those years are photocopied zines. His bare-all stories about his subversive lifestyle are engrossing, hilarious, and horrifying—who wouldn’t want to follow in his footsteps? If you want to know what it was like to be a struggling writer living on the Lower East Side before the NYU students moved in, check out Ames’ early work.Listen to Jonathan on WTF and then listen to him again on The Sound of Young America where he tells a funny story about the premier of his HBO sitcom, Bored to Death.

Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People by Amy Sedaris
Simple Times is Amy’s follow up to her first bestselling craft book, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. Her love of crafting is genuine but her brilliance for over-the-top earnestness shines through; that is to say, she pulls of sincere-snark very well. Before Stephen Colbert was a household name, him and Amy were co-comics, co-writing the underground comedic success Strangers with Candy. Listen to Amyon The Sound of Young America’s live show in New York.

I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee
Samantha is a cast member on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Her book of personal essays, which came out in paperback earlier this year, featured quotes from her parents on the hardcover edition. Here’s a bit from the publisher:

Critics have called her “sweet, adorable, and vicious.” But there is so much more to be said about Samantha Bee. For one, she’s Canadian. Whatever that means. And now, she opens up for the very first time about her checkered Canadian past. With charming candor, she admits to her Lennie from Of Mice and Men–style love of baby animals, her teenage crime spree as one-half of a car-thieving couple (Bonnie and Clyde in Bermuda shorts and braces), and the fact that strangers seem compelled to show her their genitals. She also details her intriguing career history, which includes stints working in a frame store, at a penis clinic, and as a Japanese anime character in a touring children’s show.

You can listen to Samantha on The Sound of Young America

The Ask by Sam Lipsyte
I was surprised to hear that Marc Maron and Sam Lipsyte are friends. It was when I saw Sam in person, interviewing fellow writer Geoff Dyer, that I realized how funny was funny but for some reason, I never guessed he would run around with comics. It turns out Marc and Sam go way back. Marc endorsed Sam’s books on the Slate Culture Gabfest and recently had him on one of his live shows. You can listen to it here. Sam’s latest book, one that’s been getting a ton of praise, is The Ask, so, I’ll suggest that one.

Neil Gaiman on The Nerdist
I’ve pushed Neil’s book enough and god knows he doesn’t need my help but his interview on The Nerdist was incredible and over an hour long. Not nearly enough time for my liking but it will do.

What’s on your shelf this week?

Written by Gabrielle

August 4, 2011 at 8:54 am

cultivating your geek cred :: sci-fi classics (II)

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those who are unfamiliar with the science fiction genre could be quick to discount it as frivolous escapism for boys. while some books certainly fit that description, i’d argue that there are a few titles capable of going head to head with the greatest works of literature. many of the themes literary classics grapple with, which is one reason for their cultural endurance, are grafted onto the landscapes of faraway lands and played out between fantastical characters.

ray bradbury is one such author who uses stories set in the future to speak to the political and moral questions of his time—and ours. born in illinois during the summer of 1920, bradbury is a true american writer; while growing up he was taken with the country’s burgeoning science fiction culture. his fascination with buck rogers, a fictional space explorer who appeared in newspaper comic strips, serialized films, and on television, offers an interesting anecdote. bradbury was teased by a group of boys at school for reading buck rogers comic books. embarrassed, bradbury caved to peer pressure, ripped up the comics and disposed of them in the trash. days later he realized he’d become depressed. why? buck rogers of course. so young bradbury, deciding that the boys werent his friends and that buck rogers was a more valuable presence in his life, went out and replenished his collection, vowing never to care about the teasing again—which is quite fortunate for the millions of high school English teachers who assign Fahrenheit 451 each year.

drawn to the craft from an early age, bradbury became a full-time writer in his twenties, publishing short stories in the 1940s and then full-length novels in the 1950s. it was at this time that the world was reeling from its second major war of the century; fear of all-out destruction at the hands of the atom bomb weighed heavy on people’s minds: hiroshima and nagasaki had been bombed 5 years earlier. the martian chronicles, bradbury’s first short novel about human attempts to colonize mars, explores this anxiety. inhabitants of earth, noticing the degeneration of society and increased possibility of death at the hands of aggressive nations, opt to move to mars despite not knowing what they might face. anyplace is better than here is the message.

but utopia is not in store for the adventurous humans—americans to be exact since, in bradbury’s story, the US is the only country to have developed the technology to make space travel possible. in the world of anti-colonial literature sartre, camus, and foucault come to mind but i believe bradbury has a place in that circle as well. his observations, poignant yet subtle, have the effect of a zen koan rather than a political science lesson.

from the time of the first arrivals, mars is outfitted with neighborhoods similar, if not identical, to the ones the explorers just left. the Midwestern feel is intentional; aside from bradbury having spent his early years in illinois, he cites sherwood anderson’s classic winesberg, ohio as an influence. the places where the astronauts land carry the same, or similar, names of american towns, landmarks, and public heroes. one could say that mars has experienced hegemony: the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group. just in case the reader misses the point, bradbury sends an enlightened explorer with the second expedition who ends up sounding a lot like an anarchist from the Pacific Northwest:

“Ask me, then, if I believe in the spirit of the things as they were used, and i’ll say yes. They’re all here. All the things which had uses. All the mountains which had names. And we’ll never be able to use them without feeling uncomfortable. And somehow the mountains will never sound right to us; we’ll give them new names, but the old names are there, somewhere in time, and the mountains were shaped and seen under those names. . . .No matter how we touch Mars, we’ll never touch it. And then we’ll get mad at it, and you know what we’ll do? We’ll rip it up, rip the skin off, and change it to fit ourselves.”

“We won’t ruin Mars,” said the captain. “It’s too big and too good.”

“You think not? We Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things. . . .A few men like us against all the commercial interests. . . .They know we’re here tonight, to spit in their wine, and I imagine they hate us.”

bradbury, writing a few years prior to the official start of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, includes a sort of slave narrative. back on earth, somewhere in the deep south, a group of white men, playing their stereotypical roles, are spending an afternoon on the porch when, suddenly, it becomes apparent that all the black people in town have orchestrated a great exodus to mars. on this one day, with a brief window of opportunity, all the black people have gathered their things and march down to the launching field. although some of the language falls uneasily on my 2010 ears, the scene is set using the poetry i’ve come to associate with bradbury and what i think makes him a literary giant:

Far up the street the levee seemed to have broken. The black warm waters descended and engulfed the town. Between the blazing white banks of the town stores, among the tree silences, a black tide flowed. Like a kind of summer molasses, it poured turgidly forth upon the cinnamon-dusty road. It surged slow, slow, and it was men and women and horses and barking dogs, and it was little boys and girls. And from the mouths of the people partaking of this tide came the sound of a river. A summer-day river going somewhere, murmuring and irrevocable. And in that slow, steady channel of darkness that cut across the white glare of day were touches of alert white, the eyes, the ivory eyes staring ahead, glancing aside, as the river, the long and endless river, took itself from old channels into a new one.

bradbury goes on to inject what must have been the common mood coursing through the south at that time. one of the white men on the porch, realizing the conspiracy unfolding before his eyes:

“I can’t figure why they left now. With things lookin’ up. I mean, every day they got more rights. What they want, anyway? Here’s the poll tax is gone, and more and more states passin’ anti-lynching bills, and all kinds of equal rights. What more they want? They make almost as good money as a white man, but there they go.”

the martian chronicles packs in many timeless themes, including a question for expatriates: when your home country is at war do you go back to fight? the big questions are as intentional as anderson’s influence on place. in his inspiring nonfiction title, zen in the art of writing, bradbury describes a time before science fiction was taken seriously by teachers and librarians, when in the 1930s and 40s students could not have found l. frank baum in their school library and in the 6os when there was no issac asimov on the shelves. it took children to spark the revolution. they did it by passing along their favorite novels to the gatekeepers. it was only then, as bradbury puts it:

. . .the bomb exploded.
They not only read the first but the second paragraph, the second and third pages, the fourth and fifth chapters.
“My God!” they cried, almost in unison, “these damned books are about something!”
“Good Lord!” they cried, reading a second book, “there are Ideas here!”

and so, if it’s Ideas you’re looking for, bradbury is an excellent guide.

Written by Gabrielle

December 2, 2010 at 5:53 am

Posted in books

Tagged with ,

technologic

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  • cognition (n.): 1. the mental process of knowing, including aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment.  2. that which comes to be known, as through perception, reasoning, or intuition; knowledge.
  • cognitivism [psychology] (n.): 1. basic - a theoretical approach to understanding the mind, which argues that mental function can be understood by quantitative, positivist, and scientific methods, and that such functions can be described as information processing models. 2. little harder – the view that cognition consists in the operations of mental items which are symbols for the real entities. it is usually assumed that these mental symbols are identifiable with neural states. these states, and the neural processes, can be understood by analogy with computers.

best known for his work in economics, tyler cowen of marginalrevolution.com came out with a book in 2009 about technology, which in paperback is called the age of the infovore: succeeding in the information economy.

tyler’s main argument is that autism will show us where our world is headed, and how we can get the most out of it.

Whatever  the tragedies of autism may be, we can learn a great deal from autistics and from their cognitive strengths.

before we get into the cognitive strengths of autistics—a group of people often seen as socially and mentally deficient—let’s look at why we might require some life lessons.  we’ve heard it all before: our society, in the grip of rapid technological change, is simultaneously in the midst of a cultural and intellectual death-spiral. Our gadgets are giving us all ADD by way of rewiring our neurons—or, more colloquially: we’re unknowingly destroying our brains and bringing our species down with it. personally, i’m optimistic about technological advancement; with that bias in mind,  tyler’s book is a welcome read. yes, he thinks our culture is changing, and yes, he’s say it’s happening quickly, as he makes clear in economic terms right here:

Fundamentally the relationship between human minds and human cultures is changing. Today culture is not just about buying and selling straightforward commodities such as books or compact discs. Each day more fun, more enjoyment, more social connection, and indeed more contemplation is produced on Facebook, blogs, You-Tube, iPods, eBay, Flickr, Wikipedia, and Amazon.com—among other services—than had been imagined twenty or even ten years ago.. . .More and more, “production”. . .has become interior to the human mind rather than set on a factory floor.

but he’s not worried; how can you be when your species, in the course of a generation, moved a factory inside its head? but the reason why tyler’s bullish is because he believes humans can harness, organize, and categorize their gadgetry and excel with technology by their sides. for example, self-education increases as information becomes more readily available. think back 20 years when you needed an encyclopedia to look up statistics of  far-flung countries, and even then the information was bound to be outdated. now we have the CIA world factbook along with each country’s official homepage; we have iTunes university, hard-to-find books ready for purchase at the click of a button, and an endless stream of educational videos available on various sites, all found by entering a keyword into a search box. but what do we do with this information? how do keep from being overwhelmed? and probably most importantly, how do we not waste our time?

this last question brings to mind something that clay shirky, a thinker on social and economic effects of internet technologies, said: it’s not information overload. it’s filter failure. what we need to learn is how to filter.

it’s safe to say that cowen agrees.  regarding organization in our time of technological progress, he says:

There is quite literally a new plane for organizing human thoughts and feelings and we are jumping on these opportunities at an unprecedented pace.

and this is where he loops in autism’s cognitive strengths. he goes on to name two:

First, many autistics are very good at perceiving, processing, and ordering information, especially in specialized or preferred areas of interest. . .Second, autistics have a bias toward “local” processing” or “local perception.” For instance an autistic person may be more likely to notice a particular sound of a particular piece of a pattern, or an autistic may have an especially good knowledge of detail or fact. . .

my takeaway from the first part of the age of the infovore, which i must admit is really just a reinforcement of my own leanings, is that our technology can either distract and overwhelm us: stealing our time and productivity, or, it can move us along on the path of progress: becoming a powerful extension of our bodies and minds. there will be people on opposite ends of the spectrum with the majority spanning the places in between—also something common in autism. but unlike autistics, we have a fair amount of control where we end up.

[inspiration] :: the age of the infovore by tyler cowen // fora.tv: christopher dye :: are humans still evolving? (opens with sound) // radio open source: kevin kelly on ‘the technium’ // fora.tv: nicholas carr :: is google making us stupid? // william powers, author of hamlet’s blackberry, on taking control of our technology //

[tools] :: lifehacker // mashable //

[soundtrack] :: daft punk / technologic

Written by Gabrielle

November 4, 2010 at 5:19 am

Posted in books

Tagged with , ,

where you @?

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The glamour preposition of the last two decades, without question, is not a word but a symbol—specifically, the @ sign. It is the one common component of every e-mail address on earth. . .Of course, @ predates e-mail.. . .It eventually became a commonly understood symbol meaning “at the price of”—so common that it was included on the first typewriter keyboard in the late 1800s.

Fast-forward a hundred years or so, to 1972. Ray Tomlinson, an engineer at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, consulting firm of Bolt, Beranek, and Newman, was working on a project in which staff members at the company would transfer files and send messages among a series of networked computers around the country: in other words, e-mail. To indicate where the sender was “at,” Tomlinson decided to use the @ sign to precede the name of the host computer.

In an interview not long ago, he said the decision was pretty much a no-brainer.

“If you look at the keyboard, there really aren’t a whole lot of choices. the one that really stands out is the at sign, because it indicates where a user might be. It’s the only preposition on the keyboard.”

—ben yagoda, when you catch an adjective, kill it (2007)

Written by Gabrielle

October 31, 2010 at 9:37 am

Posted in grammar

Tagged with , ,

shift+7

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Something about and—probably its utter indispensability—has made it prone to being expressed by other means than just the standard three letters. The plus sign is a favorite of instant messengers, note takers, hip hop songwriters, conglomerates (Gulf + Western), and people demonstrating eternal love by carving their initials into trees. A little more elegant is the ampersand (&), which dates from the first century and is a ligature, or combination, of the letters e and t (and in Latin) into a single symbol. It was included in systems of typography starting in the fifteenth century, and ever since has been the character into which a type designer can inject the most artistic flair. the word “ampersand” didn’t come into being until the nineteenth century. At that time & was customarily taught as the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet and pronounced “and.” When school children recited their ABCs, they concluded with the words, “and, per se [i.e., by itself], ‘and.’ ” This eventually became corrupted to “ampersand.”

—ben yagoda, when you catch an adjective, kill it (2007)

[soundtrack] :: matmos // exciter lamp and variable band // supreme balloon (2008)

Written by Gabrielle

October 24, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Posted in grammar

Tagged with , ,

(e)reading

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books: i’m a junkie, a stockpiler, a fanatic. i have more books than i’ll ever be able to read and there appears to be no end to my weekly acquisitions. it was inevitable that i would get an ereader but as a notorious late-adopter, the question was never ‘if’ but ‘when’.

the other day i was pleasantly surprised with a free Sony ereader. “do you have one of these?” i was asked. “no.” i said and was promptly handed a small cardboard box. two days later, a sunny Sunday morning, i downloaded my first ebook: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which turned out to be more appropriate than i couldve imagined, but more about that in a later post.

there’s way too much talk out there about the demise of the publishing industry and how it’s largely the fault of ebooks and their most popular peddler, Amazon.com. i will spare you more of this type of talk simply because we’ve all heard enough and in the end, it sounds a whole lot like speculation rather than cold, hard fact.

as a heavy user i believe there is room in my heart for both physical and electronic books and anyone who sees the subject in black and white is, in my opinion, not a true fan. Kant on a Kindle? Nietzsche on a Nook? no way. not for me. those guys deserve notes in the margins made with real ink. Sci-Fi, first novels, books normally bought in mass market format…sure, you were most likely going to toss them onto a take shelf at your local community hang out anyway–or at least that’s what i do with them; so why clutter up your apartment with the tangible form?

as mentioned, i’ve stepped into the realm of ereading with the classic Douglas Adams Sci-Fi novel, the omnibus to be exact—all 6 novels in the series equaling 832 pages; something i would not like to cart around in my bag. luckily, i don’t have to. nope. the full collection fits onto my 7 x 4 inch, 10 oz. electronic device–a little smaller than my moleskin notebook, a little lighter than my digital camera.

but all is not roses and rainbows. i’m mildly disturbed by the presentation of the text—the generic font against a generic computer screen. it has no soul. no smell. no texture. it’s cold, heartless, without a pulse. how am i to interact with this thing? this thing that doesnt breathe, doesnt feel, is without history. as i hold the stainless steel story in my hand i long for yellow pages and a fragile spine: one that cracks with every opening and threatens to spit out its contents with every flip of a page.

real booknerds will never turn away from the physical: we know the value of the spirit.

Written by Gabrielle

October 13, 2010 at 7:49 am

Posted in books

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the drama that is the em dash

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emily dickinson: poet, em dash lover


when you understand something, it becomes less frightening: less esoteric. grammar illustrates this point perfectly.

my first active encounter with grammar was Strunk & White’s Elements of Style–the widely-read, much-loved, and sometimes contested style and grammar guide. i flipped through the slim 4th edition a few times but didnt have enough experience to know how to use it, or reason enough to use it for that matter. when i first picked it up, i felt i should read it cover to cover–like a novel. i was writing at the time but was only in the early stages; i hadn’t developed a “bigger picture,” a sophisticated understanding of the art, and was trying to cram years-worth of information that i should’ve learned in grade school into a few sittings. while i wasn’t quite ready to use the guide for tips, tricks, and inspiration,  i knew i was missing an important piece of information indispensable to an educated class.

zadie smith: em dash user

as early as 10th grade i came across writers who used punctuation–or refused to–boldly. The Beats, mainly jack kerouac, were my informal introduction to these grammatical demarcations. kerouac’s experimental approach to fiction, memoir, travel writing, and journalism was exactly what i needed in my anarchic and angsty teen years. milan kundera, possibly to be placed on the opposite end of the spectrum, used grammar elegantly–like a school boy fearing a ruler across the knuckles–and through him, i viewed punctuation as precise, as if it were a road map–guiding readers through a terrain of words.

when it comes down to it, regardless of how the masters use it–or don’t use it–punctuation is an art: commas, colons, periods, and dashes. they all mean different things; they all set the tone, pace, and beauty of a work.

i asked around to some literary friends what their favorite punctuation mark was and was surprised by how many of them, without pause, mentioned the em dash. it’s one of my favorites too, especially when writing informal emails.

Here is what a few of my fellow grammar-nerds had to say about this versatile mark:

[rebecca discusses her affinity for the em dash, how she uses it, and the way emily dickinson did]

[mariam talks about her use of the em dash and zadie smith's perfect placement]

in the spirit of my favorite grammarian, Roy Peter Clark, who always gives his readers great exercises at the ends of the chapters in his books, i offer some of my own for em dash usage:
1. find examples in your daily paper and see why the journalist chose that mark of punctuation as opposed to a comma or a colon.
2. find an example of comma usage that could be more effective if an em dash were used.
3. write a sentence where an em dash at the end is used for dramatic effect.

Written by Gabrielle

October 5, 2010 at 5:06 am

Posted in grammar, podcasts

Tagged with , , ,

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