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This Week In Web Videos: 'Don't Walk '

I’m not going to say Don’t Walk is the Boyhood of web series, because that would be pretty pretentious. What I will say, in the interest of coming across as a bit less of a shithead, is Don’t Walk’s meandering narrative, inspired by one consummately relatable experience — waiting for a walk signal at a crosswalk — stems from a core thought just as shapeless as “boyhood” with a little b. But creator Kemp Baldwin and producers Baldwin, Gates Bradley, and Mike Laskasky were tenacious enough to follow the murky lead of inspiration, turning a thought unremarkable into a project memorable. It also helps that Max Silvestri was down. I sound like a fucking shithead. READ MORE

What Happens When 'The Simpsons' Becomes Dad Humor?

1. Hey-hey

Nothing lasts forever. Take me: I used to be a medium-funny guy. You could count on me to bring a reliable number of chuckles to social occasions. I wasn’t hilarious, but I made sure to get a few solid laughs at parties, galas, potlucks, and ad hoc social gatherings.

These days, I don’t know what’s going on. Every once in a while, when I crack wise or make a seemingly-sly reference, the oddest thing happens. A few people laugh, but others just look at me, their faces like ash. In those panicky moments when I wait for the bombed joke to pass, a fear grips my bowels. Perhaps the fear: 

I’m getting old.

The worst part is, I recognize the look I’m getting. It’s the same look I give my dad whenever he makes a joke that, despite having the contours of humor, doesn’t quite hit me in the gut. Even if it seems well made, it just doesn’t make me laugh. It’s too… foreign.

What’s weird about my current predicament is that I know fully well the lineage of my sense of humor. Everything that I think of as “funny” was filtered through years of loving, referencing, and digesting the comedy aesthetic of golden era Simpsons. READ MORE

Watch Adam McKay and Scott Adsit Perform in the 1995 Second City Show 'Piñata Full of Bees'

Welcome to The Second City Archives, in which we post an exclusive clip each week of some of comedy's biggest superstars performing early in their careers on the legendary Chicago stage. Second City has generously given us a glimpse into their extensive archive of live performances, and over the coming weeks we'll be sharing some rare and retro comedy never before seen on the web.

This week's unearthed Second City sketch comes from the famous 1995 revue Piñata Full of Bees. Widely regarded as the show that broke the traditional Second City revue mold, Piñata starred Adam McKay, Scott Adsit, Rachel Dratch, Scott Allman, Jenna Jolovitz, and Jon Glaser before they hit it big; it took place the same year McKay landed a writing job on SNL. In the above sketch "Gump," McKay plays a company's personnel manager who calls in the VP (Adsit) to give him the unfortunate results of his IQ test, only to get some unfortunate news from the VP in return.

Sketch Anatomy: Alex Blagg Explains the Genius of 'Key and Peele's "Insult Comic"

Welcome to our column Sketch Anatomy, where we ask some of our favorite television writers to choose any sketch — one they personally wrote or one from history they find particularly hilarious, notable, or underappreciated — to learn from a writer's perspective what separates a successful sketch from the rest.

For this week's installment of Sketch Anatomy we spoke with writer and comedian Alex Blagg, who currently serves as co-creator and executive producer of @midnight, which recently earned a whopping 40-week renewal from Comedy Central. Blagg chose the season 3 Key and Peele sketch "Insult Comic" that aired in October 2013 — six months before the comic duo made Time's list of the world's 100 most influential people — and works as a classic example of Key and Peele's humor and convincing argument that to not make fun of something is just another form of bullying. READ MORE

What's So Special About 'The Richard Pryor Special'?

There's a famous story about The Richard Pryor Show — as Richard Pryor's star was rising in Hollywood in the 1970s, NBC commissioned the man to make a 10-episode sketch program to be broadcast in prime time. Family-friendly viewing not being Pryor's first priority, he clashed with the censors again and again until finally they let him off with only four episodes. These four episodes are still credited with an enormous influence over the genre of TV sketch comedy — directly cited by future blockbusters such as In Living Color and Chapelle's Show — and launching the careers of several performers, including the late Robin Williams in one of his first-ever roles.

But in all the fuss people make about Pryor's show, no one ever talks about the 45-minute special Pryor produced for NBC as a pilot for his series. Everything unique that the show did was done better and more concisely in The Richard Pryor Special?, broadcast in May 1977. It says all you need to know about Pryor that this special features a heartbreaking monologue written and performed by Maya Angelou and it still gets overshadowed by his other work.

The Richard Pryor Special? deserves a more prominent place in the hearts and minds of fans of the man generally regarded as the greatest standup comedian of all time. Let's look at all of the reasons why. READ MORE

Write What You Know, by Jesse Porter

A 41-year-old customer care specialist from Des Moines falls in love with his free-spirited, unpredictable new co-worker, Amanda. She's smart, she's spunky, she's a single mom — and she might just be the girl of his dreams. Now, in order to win her heart, he'll need to overcome his crippling self-consciousness and insecurity if he ever hopes to start a conversation with her in the parking lot, but he also has to not seem all creepy about it. So it's really tricky.

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Wacky comic hijinks await a 41-year-old customer care specialist from Des Moines when he travels to the countryside for a week of boating, fishing, and quiet contemplation. Little does he know that his vacation is about to take a turn for the unexpected! On his second day there, he comes down with mono and is confined to his motel room for the remainder of the trip.

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In this coming-of-age teen drama, set during the hair metal days of the mid-eighties, an unassuming high school junior is forced to choose between pursuing his dreams of rock-and-roll stardom or making the more sensible decision of enrolling in business classes at the local community college and ultimately becoming a 41-year-old customer care specialist from Des Moines.

READ MORE

Talking About the End of Chicago's Upstairs Gallery

The Upstairs Gallery started in September of 2010 as a small performance space in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. It is now one of the city’s best known comedy theaters. After four years of putting up some of the most exciting and experimental theater in Chicago, it is closing at the end of this month. The Gallery is operated by Alex Honnet, Caitlin Stephan and Walt Delaney. I spoke with Alex and Caitlin about the Gallery’s shift from “performance space” to “comedy theater”, as well as the upcoming second installment of their independent comedy festival, A Jangleheart Circus. READ MORE

Comedy and Poetry Intersect in @MelissaBroder's Tweets

Melissa Broder (@MelissaBroder) is a poet living in LA. She is the author of three poetry collections, Scarecrone, Meat Heart, and When You Say One Thing But Meet Your Mother, and her work has been published in a variety of blogs and magazines. Outside of her poetry, Broder is very active on Twitter, and her feed is dark, existential, and very funny all at once. I recently got Broder to expand on three of her favorite tweets, and she talked to me about her tweet editor, her visit with a shaman, and being teen girls' hero.

Broder: I like this tweet, because other people liked it and when other people like my stuff it gives me a false sense of wholeness. I tweeted this impulsively, from the heart, rather than running it by my twitter editor first.

The tweet is based on an experience I had with an NYC shaman a few years ago when I realized that what I thought was anxiety my whole life actually had deep depression underneath. The shaman said the 'core passage' between my heart and neck was clogged with foreign beings. She guided me into my 'core passage' and I found bats. I'm not sure if they were real or if I was just trying to visualize something to make her feel like I was 'doing the work' and to validate how much she charged, but metaphorically it made deep sense. READ MORE

Examining the Marx Brothers' Television Appearances

When people describe the Marx Brothers as they walked, honked, quipped, and played on the silver screen, one word seems to come up over and over again: anarchic. Well, after a while, the Marx Brothers disappeared from the silver screen, but before long a new medium showed up for Groucho, Chico, and Harpo to jump on, and as you might imagine, they brought that same sense of anarchy to television. Today we look at a wide selection of the Marx Brothers appearances on television, sometimes in pairs, but usually solo, as seen in the new DVD set The Marx Brothers TV Collection.

Here's the thing about early television of the 50s and 60s: it's all over the place. There were sports shows, panel talk shows, sitcoms, hundreds of variety shows, and the Marx Brothers appeared on whatever they would throw at them. I don't know the best way to do dive into this because there's a lot of stuff in this set, and I have to imagine the majority of it has never been released, unless there's a box set of the TV show Championship Bridge with Charles Goren that I don't know about. (In 1960 there was an actual TV show that was just watching people play the card game bridge and Chico Marx lost badly on it. Now that I've typed that sentence, I realize that this show isn't all that different from the billion poker shows that were on TV a few years back.) Let's go brother by brother through the set and pick out the highlights, starting with the one, the only Groucho Marx. READ MORE

This Week in Comedy Podcasts: Remembering Robin Williams

The comedy podcast universe is ever expanding, not unlike the universe universe. We're here to make it a bit smaller, a bit more manageable. There are a lot of great shows and each has a lot of great episodes, so we want to highlight the exceptional, the noteworthy. Each week our crack team of podcast enthusiasts and specialists and especially enthusiastic people will pick their favorites. We hope to have your ears permanently plugged with the best in aural comedy.

WTF with Marc Maron – Remembering Robin Williams
LEIGH: Late Monday night after the news of Robin Williams's passing, WTF host Marc Maron pulled out an archived episode from April 2010 in which he sat down with the comedy legend. It was a conversation Maron says not only changed other people's perception of Williams, but one that changed his life. The episode, reposted with a new, extremely moving and heartfelt introduction, is an incredibly candid conversation, offering a glimpse into Williams' life at the time — both the successes and the struggles. He opens up about addiction, his family, and how he approached standup as therapy and a relief from celebrity. As Maron recalls, he was happy to talk, and in doing so Maron not only learned about Williams but also about just being there for other people. And, as he so perfectly puts it upfront, "there's nobody that wasn't touched by Robin Williams at one time." It goes without saying that this is a must-listen episode if there's ever been one. READ MORE

How Richard Linklater Uses Naturalism to Find Comedy

Richard Linklater is having what can probably be considered the most visible period of his career with the release of his highly anticipated and equally regarded Boyhood. This marks the first time that the box office success and critical success of one of his projects coalesced into a true major cultural moment, prompting numerous career retrospectives and think-pieces. Common take on Richard Linklater is that his filmography is defined by unpredictability, never bound to one particular label and always willing to try new things as a director. Just when you think you can track his Rohmer-influenced style through Slacker and the Before Trilogy, you realize his name is also on stylistically unique films like A Scanner Darkly or broader studio fare like Me and Orson Welles, and School of Rock.

For our purposes, Linklater has four films that could ostensibly be categorized as comedies — Dazed and Confused, School of Rock, Bad News Bears, and Bernie – and yet it is hard to track a structural or stylistic throughline between them in analyzing why this famously chameleon-like director was drawn to these stories or working on them within in the comedy genre. This could be because Linkater’s films of all genres are hardly ostentatious in their filmmaking. Of his contemporaries in the 90s independent film boom, Linklater is not an aesthete like Todd Haynes, nor is he as stylish as Soderbergh. Roger Ebert writes in his review of Dazed and Confused, “The film is art crossed with anthropology,” which aptly describes Linklater as a director as well. Known for lengthy and intense rehearsal periods, he is able to find a level of anthropological authenticity through a combination of his narrative and his actors’ lived experiences and present day worldviews. His works feel massively authentic and democratic, nostalgic without feeling glossy. The question then is: how does this unique skillset come into play when he has attempted comedy? READ MORE

Jake Weisman and the Love of the Struggle

Though it was only on for two years, Jake Weisman’s The Morning After Podcast, which he co-hosted with Eli Olsberg, was a must-listen and example of what a great podcast could be. Each week, Weisman and Olsberg would bring in a guest from the adult film industry to interview in a manner that humanized them and showed how porn stars are just as multi-dimensional as anyone else.

Weisman ended the podcast a couple years ago to focus on his budding comedy career, and though it was tough for listeners to say goodbye to such a fascinating show, that decision is starting to pay dividends for him.

Weisman has made a name for himself in the Los Angeles comedy scene with both his sketch group, WOMEN, and his standup, which brought him to Montreal last month to perform in the Just For Laughs Festival’s New Faces Showcase.

I caught up with Weisman recently to talk about Just For Laughs, his start in comedy, and how he came to be friends with so many porn stars. READ MORE

The 5 Best New Web Videos/Series You Almost Definitely Haven't Seen

We did it once. You guys seemed to dig it. So now, we're doing it again. Ladies and gentleman, Splitsider presents: The 5 Best New Web Videos/Series You Almost Definitely Haven't Seen, Part II. We clicked through pages and pages of Gmails to distill five of the funniest "This Week In Web Videos" submissions and then we grouped them all together here, in a neat little link we hope you'll post absolutely everywhere. Enjoy and, again, post it around, please. That's how this whole thing works. READ MORE

Saturday Night's Children: Tom Davis (1977-1980)

Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 38 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member every other week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.

Whether it's John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Mitch Hedberg, or this week's tragic loss of Robin Williams, the world of comedy has a long history of assigning instant legend status to beloved comedians who die too soon. Maybe it was because he was more of a writer than SNL cast member — or that he was the lesser-known half of recurring SNL duo Franken and Davis — but Tom Davis was never given the same amount of mythological hindsight as some of his contemporaries, even though he epitomized the show's reckless and famously drug-fueled first five seasons. But Davis was also behind some of SNL's earliest hit sketches, and he helped springboard the talents of Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and more into national stardom. "He was there from the beginning," said Lorne Michaels after Davis's death in 2012. "No one saw things the way that Tom did. He was funny, he was original and he was always there to help, no matter the hour. And I always trusted his laugh. I can still kinda hear it." READ MORE