Posts tagged “comedy”

People Like Us

People Like Us was a mockumentary that ran on BBC radio in the late 90s before becoming a TV show. The radio shows are hilarious and a great illustration of what can and does go wrong in fieldwork. Each episode is essentially a total War Story.

The shows follow a hapless reporter, Roy Mallard, investigating the lives and work of ordinary people: a bank manager, an artist, a stay-at-home mom, an actor and so on. Things go awry: despite being married (Really? You?) he finds himself awkwardly attracted to an interviewee, only to realize that another interviewee is her bitter ex-boyfriend. He’s a passenger in a recklessly driven car. He’s witness to firings, incompetency, violence, relationship hassles. He trips, drops things, is sneezed upon, breaks a washing machine, and more.

At the same time, his attempts to interview people and get to the heart of what their lives are about are thwarted. If not by circumstances, then by the inarticulateness of his interviewees, or by their sheer misinterpretation of his questions (e.g., Q: You’ve been here for a long time. What kind of things have changed? A: My hair.)

People Like Us manages to be completely absurd yet with an eye-rolling kind of truth that any user researcher (and journalist, I imagine) will identify with.

The radio series has been posted to YouTube and I’m embedding all the episodes as a playlist below. Check ’em out and let me know what you think.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Patton Oswalt’s Letters to Both Sides: His keynote address at Montreal’s Just For Laughs 2012 [The Comic’s Comic] – We’re regularly exposed to wicked-problem discussions about complete upheaval in many industries: manufacturing, newspapers, music, books. Patton Oswalt addresses the upheaval in comedy, how he struggles with it, and how he thinks performers and producers can address it. Inspiring stuff.

You guys need to stop thinking like gatekeepers. You need to do it for the sake of your own survival…Our careers don’t hinge on somebody in a plush office deciding to aim a little luck in our direction. There are no gates. They’re gone…Comedians are getting more and more comfortable with the idea that if we’re not successful, it’s not because we haven’t gotten our foot in the door, or nobody’s given us a hand up. We can do that ourselves now. Every single day we can do more and more without you and depend on you less and less…I want you, all of the gatekeepers, to become fans. I want you to become true enthusiasts like me. I want you to become thrill-seekers. I want you to be as excited as I was when I first saw Maria Bamford’s stand-up, or attended The Paul F. Tompkins show, or listened to Sklarbro Country.

For More Pianos, Last Note Is Thud in the Dump [NYT] – Another example of the old slowly, gradually, and then finally being replaced by the new.

The value of used pianos, especially uprights, has plummeted in recent years. So instead of selling them to a neighbor, donating them to a church or just passing them along to a relative, owners are far more likely to discard them, technicians, movers and dealers say. Piano movers are making regular runs to the dump, becoming adept at dismantling instruments, selling parts to artists, even burning them for firewood…It is strange to think of them as disposable as tissues. Yet economic and cultural forces have made many used pianos, with the exception of Steinways and a few other high-end brands, prone to being jettisoned. With thousands of moving parts, pianos are expensive to repair, requiring long hours of labor by skilled technicians whose numbers are diminishing. Excellent digital pianos and portable keyboards can cost as little as several hundred dollars. Low-end imported pianos have improved remarkably in quality and can be had for under $3,000. “Instead of spending hundreds or thousands to repair an old piano, you can buy a new one made in China that’s just as good, or you can buy a digital one that doesn’t need tuning and has all kinds of bells and whistles,” said Larry Fine, the editor and publisher of Acoustic & Digital Piano Buyer, the industry bible.

Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare as Corporate Focus Groups [NYT] – A misleading headline; social media allows high quantities of shallow consumer input. In focus groups, the numbers are much smaller but there is the chance for a discussion.

Frito-Lay is developing a new potato chip flavor, which, in the old days, would have involved a series of focus groups, research and trend analysis. Now, it uses Facebook. Visitors to the new Lay’s Facebook app are asked to suggest new flavors and click an “I’d Eat That” button to register their preferences. So far, the results show that a beer-battered onion-ring flavor is popular in California and Ohio, while a churros flavor is a hit in New York. “It’s a new way of getting consumer research,” said Ann Mukherjee, chief marketing officer of Frito-Lay North America. “We’re going to get a ton of new ideas.” When Wal-Mart wanted to know whether to stock lollipop-shaped cake makers in its stores, it studied Twitter chatter. Estée Lauder’s MAC Cosmetics brand asked social media users to vote on which discontinued shades to bring back. The stuffed-animal brand Squishable solicited Facebook feedback before settling on the final version of a new toy. And Samuel Adams asked users to vote on yeast, hops, color and other qualities to create a crowdsourced beer, an American red ale called B’Austin Ale that got rave reviews. “It tells us exactly what customers are interested in,” said Elizabeth Francis, chief marketing officer of the Gilt Groupe. Gilt asks customers to vote on which products to include in a sale, and sets up Facebook chats between engineers and customers to help refine products. “It’s amazing that we can get that kind of real feedback, as opposed to speculating,” Ms. Francis said.

Women Outdoors [Metropolis] – A review of an interesting new book Why Loiter? Women & Risk on Mumbai Streets.

Mumbai’s public spaces belong to all of its 13 million inhabitants, but at any time of day or night the ratio of men to women is glaringly disproportionate. Men have no qualms about hanging around on street corners or at tea stalls, but women make a point of looking busy, striding with purpose, or talking on their cell phones. Thousands of women travel by trains or buses, but it’s not easy for them to find a toilet, a park bench, or any public place in which to linger. “If Mumbai is the best city for women in India,” says the sociologist Shilpa Phadke, “then the bar is set very low indeed.” Why Loiter? Women & Risk on Mumbai Streets, coauthored by Phadke, the architect Shilpa Ranade, and the journalist Sameera Khan, takes a close look at the public spaces of a city where women are said to live more independently than anywhere else in India. But over three years of “extensive, not intensive” research through ethnographies, mapping, interviews, and workshops, the authors found that the city doesn’t quite live up to its egalitarian reputation. And while the book is specific to Mumbai, the ideas in it apply to any metropolis – are public spaces anywhere truly gender neutral?

Can Geoengineering Solve Global Warming? [The New Yorker] – A discussion of innovation in the context of a wicked problem provides some delicious quotes.

“What is fascinating for me is the way the innovation process has changed,” Eisenberger said. “In the past, somebody would make a discovery in a laboratory and say, ‘What can I do with this?’ And now we ask, ‘What do we want to design?,’ because we believe there is powerful enough knowledge to do it. That is what my partner and I did”…”There is a strong history of the system refusing to accept something new,” Eisenberger said. “People say I am nuts. But it would be surprising if people didn’t call me crazy. Look at the history of innovation! If people don’t call you nuts, then you are doing something wrong.”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Second City Customizes a Show for Rochester [NYTimes.com] – [Successful experiment where a comedy troupe immerses in local culture, then creates a show that resonates locally but still holds true to their existing brand of humor. Playing in Peoria, indeed!] They arrived in October for a 4-day insider’s tour of Rochester, The 16-hour days (built around writing time) included dinners with politicians and radio personalities, a tour of the Genesee beer brewery, a meeting with students at Bishop Kearney High School and a foray to the public market. “We tried not to do too much tourist stuff,” Mr. Furman said. “Ideally we shop and eat and go where the residents do.”…Early table-reads of the script brought a promising sign: the director, Jim Carlson, who knew nothing of Rochester, didn’t get a lot of the jokes. “I knew, based on the rhythms, where the punch lines were, but I didn’t understand them."

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Woody Allen Records His Stories As Audiobooks [NYTimes.com] – The discovery I made was that any number of stories are really meant to work, and only work, in the mind’s ear and hearing them out loud diminishes their effectiveness. Some of course hold up amusingly, but it’s no fun hearing a story that’s really meant to be read, which brings me to your next question, and that is that there is no substitute for reading, and there never will be. Hearing something aloud is its own experience, but it’s hard to beat sitting in bed or in a comfortable chair turning the pages of a book, putting it down, and eagerly awaiting the chance to get back to it.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Everything's amazing, nobody's happy – Thanks to John Zapolski for this one. Louis CK on Conan ranting with disgusted amazement against the dissatisfaction that he sees with what are clearly amazing new behaviors enabled by technology. Once again standup comedy provides some articulate-as-hell cultural observation. I don't encourage producers to take on Louis' attitude (basically, get over it) themselves, but it does provide a provocative point of view
  • My latest column for interactions: Interacting with Advertising – There’s a famous saying (attributed to John Wanamaker, the retailing pioneer): “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” And while that’s still true, we propose this corollary: Half our encounters with advertising are dripping with evil; the trouble is, we don’t know which half.

Catch Your Dreams Before They Slip Away

Last weekend I went to an audition for a newly forming troupe from Blue Blanket Improv. I had done a full two hours of improv games for a really long time, and I was definitely rusty, but it was a lot of fun. I was hesitant to attend because there’s a pretty strong focus to the group – non-profit community events, and performances. I’m not sure I care that much about either. With that emphasis on performances comes a need to be funny for an audience. When I interviewed Chris Miller about improv and creativity, he noted the difference between improv and improv comedy, and this is definitely about improv comedy. But Chris also encouraged me to go to the audition, simply for a chance to play. I’m glad I did, because it was absolutely a chance to play, but it also clarified something for me: that I am fascinated by the problem-solving aspect of improv games…the need to follow the constraints of the game (i.e., a one-minute scene that is improvised, then repeated in 30-second, 15-second, 7.5-second and 3 second versions), be collaborative, and be creative. I love the laughter that comes from the participants in the activity (and even if you aren’t in the scene, you are going to get up and do it yourself next, so you share in that creative act) but I’m not so turned on by improv as a form of entertainment for those on the other side of the proscenium.

I got the call last night telling me that I passed the audition and was invited to join the troupe. I had to decline; I love the process and the way they’ve set up a structure for trust and creativity and collaboration, but I can’t go down the road of committing to performing for others right now.

It was sort of a stunning decision to make; I can imagine at various points in my life I would have given anything to be part of something like this, especially at this nascent stage (essentially they are building a new troupe from scratch in our community).

The day before that call I had seen a posting up at CCA for writing classes at
Killing My Lobster

This class is a six-week boot camp where the main requirement is for you to write funny and keep writing funny. If you’ve always had a curiousity [sic] for comedy writing, had funny ideas and have wondered “what would happen if I actually took this to the next level,” and enjoy learning and creating in a fun environment this may be the class for you. The class will culminate in a live reading of your favorite material.

I really enjoy sketch comedy as an audience and this class (sadly already in progress) sounds really cool. It’s another set of creative problem solving tools with some very different constraints and philosophies than improv, but perhaps a valuable exploration in expanding storytelling skills.

And finally, a piece about laughter and social context in the NYT today.

The women put in the underling position were a lot more likely to laugh at the muffin joke (and others almost as lame) than were women in the control group. But it wasn’t just because these underlings were trying to manipulate the boss, as was demonstrated in a follow-up experiment.

This time each of the women watched the muffin joke being told on videotape by a person who was ostensibly going to be working with her on a task. There was supposed to be a cash reward afterward to be allocated by a designated boss. In some cases the woman watching was designated the boss; in other cases she was the underling or a co-worker of the person on the videotape.

When the woman watching was the boss, she didn’t laugh much at the muffin joke. But when she was the underling or a co-worker, she laughed much more, even though the joke-teller wasn’t in the room to see her. When you’re low in the status hierarchy, you need all the allies you can find, so apparently you’re primed to chuckle at anything even if it doesn’t do you any immediate good.

“Laughter seems to be an automatic response to your situation rather than a conscious strategy,” says Tyler F. Stillman, who did the experiments along with Roy Baumeister and Nathan DeWall. “When I tell the muffin joke to my undergraduate classes, they laugh out loud.”

Mr. Stillman says he got so used to the laughs that he wasn’t quite prepared for the response at a conference in January, although he realizes he should have expected it.

“It was a small conference attended by some of the most senior researchers in the field,” he recalls. “When they heard me, a lowly graduate student, tell the muffin joke, there was a really uncomfortable silence. You could hear crickets.”

Trying to make the story about the story be the story

Laughs End With Bizarre Britney in Rehab

Britney Spears has been ridiculed for everything from her 55-hour first marriage to backup-dancer second husband and her recent pantyless partying escapades. Now that she’s entered rehab, though, the joke is over.

“This girl is out of control,” Joy Behar, a co-host on ABC’s “The View,” said Monday. “And, she’s in a lot of trouble. A lot of people feel this is self-mutilation.”

Craig Ferguson, host of CBS “The Late Late Show,” said that after seeing photos of Spears’ shaved head, he reconsidered making jokes at the expense of the “vulnerable.”

“For me, comedy should have a certain amount of joy in it,” he told viewers Monday. “It should be about attacking the powerful – the politicians, the Trumps, the blowhards – going after them. We shouldn’t be attacking the vulnerable.”

Oh, please. Where does this sanctimonious crap come from? Anna Nicole Smith was comedy fodder until her son died (and maybe after then, and maybe even after she died, for some), regardless of how much of a train wreck that was. We consume and mock and laugh and our celebs are rich and tragic because of our adulation. There’s a lot of stuff going on in our celeb culture and I don’t pretend to try and unpack it here in one paragraph, but the media can take their self-appointed respectable tone and screw off, because if Ferguson won’t make Britney jokes, someone else will. And should. Definitely should.

Authenticity and Comedy

Here’s what is supposedly Fox’s upcoming response to The Daily Show. Even filtering for the point of view, it just feels so incredibly forced, both the humor and the audience laughter. Is the lack of authenticity the problem here?

The Kids in the Hall at the Steve Allen Theater

Oh to be in Los Angeles! The Kids in the Hall at the Steve Allen Theater

Not having performed together in four years, The Kids are back to rediscover their theatrical roots in three rare performances. As in the early years at The Rivoli, The Kids will come to the table Monday morning, work out new sketches and characters, then put up a show on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It will be a unique opportunity for audiences to travel back in time to the day when The Kids in the Hall first discovered their gift for making strange things happen in normal places.

February 23, 24 & 25
8 p.m.
The Steve Allen Theater
4773 Hollywood Blvd.

They tell me you skipped school today

In an article in the SF Chronicle, describing how Indian call-center workers suffer abuse, comes mention of

a new sitcom called ‘The Call Center,’ scheduled to air this winter on the leading channel NDTV, depict Westerners as arrogant, immoral and comically rude.

The show’s villain, the Indian manager of a call center, is an India-bashing blowhard, a disposition he picked up at an Ivy League business school in the United States.

UGTV blog

My friend Alan has a blog that I’ve just been checking out. It’s kinda funny on several levels. Each post is a strange or disturbing comedic observation, most of them rather terse. You might compare to Steven Wright but I’m sure any serious student of late 20th Century comedy could explain why that presumption is incorrect.

What amuses me is that each entry is several days apart, and when one reads through the various entries it almost begs the question of how it took Alan so long to make yet another pithy observation.

Alan, of course, is much funnier than his blog. Even though he may make the same kind of comments, the flat tone of the blog is completely different than his intense delivery. And the minimalist tone of the blog isn’t as funny as his detailed storytelling.

Somehow I should also mention that he has a talking vagina animation on his website.

Human-robot standup comedy

Human-robot standup comedy (where else) in Japan. Zenjiro (human) and PaPaJiro (robot) will perform together. If the robot kills ’em out there, will that violate the First Law?

Series

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