Category Archives: comedy

Jordan and the Dream of Rogen

The other night I dreamed I was going into a coffeeshop and Seth Rogen was sitting at an outside table eating a salad.  He was wearing a jeans jacket and his skin was sort of bad.  I have always admired Rogen’s work so I screwed up my courage, went up to his table and said

“Are you…”

And he said, “Yes, I am… having the chef’s salad.  You should try it, it’s great.”

And I sort of stood there and goggled and then he was like, “Yeah, no, yes, I’m Seth Rogen.”

I feel proud of my unconscious mind for producing what I actually consider a reasonably Seth Rogen-style gag!

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Life, friends, was boring. xkcd says so.

From a recent xkcd:

But kids, it’s not true! I was here before there was Internet, and I can tell you, people were not bored more often than they are now, and the boredom was not of a finer and more concentrated quality. The mouse-over text says, in an incredulous tone, “We watched DAYTIME TV. Do you realize how soul-crushing it was? But people still watch daytime TV! Even though there’s the internet! People like daytime TV.

xkcd used to take a slightly different stance on this:

Actually, it’s not clear what stance is being taken here — maybe xkcd really does think nature is of interest only insofar as as it generates ideas for status updates.

The right answer is that xkcd doesn’t think anything at all, because xkcd is a comic strip, whose job is to be funny, not to have consistent principled stances concerning how we have lived and what we should do.  There’s a post I never get around to making about how much I disagree with something in one of Louis CK’s famous bits, and one reason I never make this post is that it’s kind of dumb to argue with a comedy routine, because comedy routines are not arguments.

In conclusion, boredom is a land of contrasts.  John Berryman’s “Dream Song 14″:


 

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.


 

God I love this.

 

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Scientists aren’t experts on what makes jokes funny

Ben Lillie:

This week I finally realized what bugged me about the talk I was hearing about the science of science communication: Nothing. The issue is what I wasn’t hearing.

This was catalyzed by a short news item Lauren Rugani linked on twitter. A scientist had run a study where they discovered that sometimes a punchline is funnier if words from the punchline had been mentioned several minutes earlier. From the abstract:

“These findings also show that pre-exposing a punchline, which in common knowledge should spoil a joke, can actually increase funniness under certain conditions.”

This is shocking. Not the conclusion, which is clearly correct. The problem is that the conclusion has been known to comedians for at least the last several thousand years. When I trained in improv comedy the third class was on callbacks, the jargon term for that technique. The entire structure of an improv comedy set is based around variations on the idea that things are funnier if they’re repeated. And yet to the authors it was “common knowledge” that this will spoil a joke. There is a long tradition of people who know, from experience, how this works, and yet the idea of asking them is not evident anywhere in the paper. This is the problem — the sense that the only valid answers come from inside science and the research world.

Yes!  Everybody knows by now that when mathematicians try to do mathematical biology alone, without people with domain knowledge of biology in the room, they do crappy mathematical biology.  “Digital humanities” or “neuroaesthetics” or “culturomics” &c are just the same.  New techniques drawn from science and mathematics are fantastic research tools now, and they’re only getting better, but it seems like a terrible idea to study cultural objects from scratch, without domain experts in the room.

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More transitivity

I don’t really know anything about Amanda Palmer, but if there’s a picture of her hugging Robyn Hitchcock and Eugene Mirman, I guess that means I must like her?

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RIP Paul Fussell

The Great War and Modern Memory is one of the finest books of literary criticism I’ve read, though I can’t say I’ve read many.  It was probably only when I read that book that I started to get a sense of literary criticism as a literary form in itself.  I took lots of English courses in college, but the kind where you read novels and poems, not books about novels and poems.

The copyright status here is questionable, but on the day of the man’s death it’s surely OK to link to a scanned copy of Fussell’s very funny essay on the ABM, or “Author’s Big Mistake” — the angry response to an uncomplimentary review.  It’s been years since I read this, and reading it again just now I think about 60% of the paragraphs demanded to be read aloud to Mrs. Q.

E.G.:

Imagine what mortification it is for an author to pass through crummy discount bookstores and see great piles of his masterpiece stacked up on the remainder tables, marked down from $14.95 to $1.95, and moving sluggishly even then.

This is lovely — the high style of “pass through” swooping down to “crummy,” the syntactic insult of using “his masterpiece” as a mass noun, and of course the quiet suggestion of feces provided by the phrase “great piles.”  Fussell was a g–d— pro, is what I’m trying to say, and I’m lucky to have come across him when I was learning to write.

Update:  But I will say that changing “sluggishly” to “slowly” would sacrifice only a little vividness, and would make the end of that sentence scan much more cleanly.  That’s the choice I would have made.

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Martinus

I was going to write a post about Baryshnikov’s homotopy-theoretic proof of Arrow’s theorem — and I will!  Because it is cool! — but it’s gotten very late, so instead here’s a nerdy joke I heard on Marc Maron’s podcast.

Guy walks into a bar, says “Gimme a martinus.”

Bartender says, “You mean martini?”

Guy says, “If I wanted two, I would have ordered two!”

I highly recommend Maron’s podcast, by the way, as long as you’re interested in hearing stand-up comics talk about their anguish, the terrible mistakes they’ve made, and the weird alcoves and deformations of their inner lives.  Also, there are jokes.

 

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Moleeds

A clip of  Charles Fleischer,  a stand-up comic, wearing an endigitted blazer and performing a routine with a lot of numerology in it:

I think the very first joke in this is funny and concise, but it quickly degenerates into a kind of sub-Robin-Williams “I talk loudly and quickly and change accents a lot and am kind of manic, is it funny yet?  No?  LOUDER, QUICKER, MORE ACCENTS!” schtick.

But the joke is on us, because Fleischer’s not kidding about his theory of “moleeds.”  In 2005 he gave a TED talk about it.  This is a weird and in some ways uncomfortable thing to watch — the audience still thinks they’re watching a comedy routine, and just keeps chuckling while Fleischer argues, with ever-increasing fervor,  that the equation 27 x 37 = 999 somehow explains mirror symmetry and the theory of Calabi-Yau manifolds.

The talk doesn’t cast TED in the best light, to be honest.  Don’t they have someone on staff who can do some minimal vetting of talks that claim to be about math?

(Note:  there is always the possibility that Fleischer’s whole act is an extravagantly thorough Kaufmannesque send-up of people’s tendency to attach themselves to meaningless patterns and theories.  But it doesn’t read that way to me.)

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A useful slogan from Steve Martin

“…there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.”

(From his surprisingly interesting memoir, Born Standing Up.)

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