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Talking to @Carl_Bnntt About Simple Tweets with Human Elements

Carl Bennett, known on Twitter as @Carl_Bnntt, uses the platform to address a lot of different topics. For instance, he shares his knowledge of fine art, opines about the world's obsession with sports, and never shies away from addressing mortality. When asked for information for a bio, Bennett simply responded he “has no family (deceased) to speak of and distributes Storage Wars revisionist literature.” Bennett also showed me three of his favorite tweets and told me a bit more about them, and we talked about the kinds of people he interacts with on Twitter and how tweeting can serve as a reminder of human error.

Bennett: It took almost 24 years to write this but I feel that it efficiently pays tribute to all the wonderful memories I have of my dead cousin. He was more than just an arm sticking out of a leaf pile; he was my cousin, and he had a name. READ MORE

Video Game Comedy Is Hard, But it's Getting Easier

Recently, I revisited one of my favorite games from last year, The Stanley Parable. Developed by Davey Wreden and released for Steam, it’s a bit difficult to describe the game in brief (particularly since half the fun is just diving into it), but basically, it’s structured like a choose-your-own-adventure story. You assume the role of Stanley, a faceless drone who leaves his office one day to discover all his co-workers have gone missing.

As you move through the office to investigate, the Narrator, brilliantly played by Kevan Brighting, comments on your actions and surroundings and, crucially, speculates on your next move. For instance, when you come to two open doors, he says you’ll move through the door on the left. You can choose to follow the narrator’s instructions, or you can choose to ignore him and go your own way — each of the several choices the game presents offers its own branching path, each with a different ending.

The Stanley Parable succeeds in accomplishing a lot of things, and one of those is to be frequently, uniquely hilarious. All dry, scathing wit, the Narrator becomes befuddled and combative when you disobey him, scrambling to lure you back into his story and play the game he’s so lovingly laid out for you. In other words, the game finds its humor by reacting to your choices and movements.

If that doesn’t sound so remarkable to you, it’s because it sounds so obvious. Of course a game would get laughs by reacting to what you do. After all, doing things and making choices is how games work. But that’s just it. Something like this is enormously difficult to pull off, since the thing that makes games such a difficult medium for comedy is also the thing that distinguishes it from other media: interactivity. READ MORE

Remembering Mike Nichols the Performer

As you no doubt already heard, yesterday marked the passing of a man the media has aptly named an “entertainment icon” by the name of Mike Nichols. Mike earned his icon status by performing just about every major task one can perform in the modern creative arts, working as a comedian, a director, a producer, and a writer. He will be best known as the director of such films as The Graduate, for which he won an Oscar, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Catch-22, Angels in America, Working Girl, and many others. But today, we dip into the archives and take a look at the first job Nichols performed that brought him to national attention: that of one half of the comedy duo Nichols & May. READ MORE

'High Maintenance' and the Art of the Audience Surrogate

With the release of three new episodes last week, High Maintenance went from the one web series you need to be watching to the one web series you still need to be watching. Long-trumpeted by critics of both traditional and new media as the pinnacle of what creators are accomplishing online, High Maintenance returned with three new episodes fully-financed by Vimeo and released under their new original content outfit, Vimeo On Demand.

And what they released was more of the same: character-driven, New York-quirky, sad/funny, length-agnostic short films drawn together by their cross-river view of Manhattan and “The Guy”, co-creator Ben Sinclair’s drug dealing vagabond who waltzes in and out of each episode at no regularly scheduled interval. Not that this is an issue, High Maintenance remains massively true to its form intended by Sinclair and his wife/co-creator Katja Blichfeld. The two, now famously, shirked a television deal in order to keep the same pace of production and creative control over their product.

The new episodes, which can be watched totally cold without an issue but does feature a few characters seen in previous episodes, tend more towards to melancholy than the comedic. High Maintenance is funny in the way life is funny; the characters are quiet, it is not filled with bits or jokes, and it is often deeply sad or affecting in the moment but funny with any perspective or outsider-empathy. Sinclair and Blichfeld are adept at mixing perspective in their direction so the viewer can experience both the inner anxieties and the outer peculiarities of the featured characters. READ MORE

Stephen Merchant's Undying Love for the Romantic Comedy

Despite all of its cringe-worthy moments, the original version of The Office was at its core a love story between the characters Tim and Dawn. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that series co-creator Stephen Merchant has a bit of a soft spot for romantic comedies.

That affinity is on display in Merchant’s latest project, Hello Ladies: The Movie, which premieres Sunday on HBO. Merchant stars in, co-wrote, and directed the TV movie, which concludes the series of the same name that aired for one season on HBO.

I recently had the chance to chat with Merchant about Hello Ladies, his first major project without long-time collaborator Ricky Gervais. We talked about that partnership, why he doesn’t get a buzz doing standup, and the desperation of living in Los Angeles. READ MORE

This Week In Web Videos: 'Gary Saves the Graveyard'

The first time I spoke with UCB Creative Director Todd Bieber was three and a half years ago and I had no idea what I was talking about. I was thinking of leaving my post-college job at Morgan Stanley and accepting a position at a small production company in New York. After completing UCB's Sketch 101 program, I figured I knew enough about digital comedy to call Todd and ask if he'd be interested in doing some web series collaborations. He was polite and he didn't want to. Flash forward to now. Years of working with UCB and its talent — including Todd — have passed and I get to speak to Mr. Bieber again about a fantastic series he created with the help of so many others I know and love. This time I felt like I knew what I was talking about, and a lot of that is due to the UCB community's tutelage, their acute understanding of comedy not just as a craft but as a commitment that takes a lot more than a phone call. READ MORE

Looking Back at the Nine 'SNL' Players Who Left Us Too Soon

When Jan Hooks — SNL cast member from 1986-1991 — died at the age of 57 last month, the show truly lost one of its stealthy greats. Like frequent sketch costar Phil Hartman, Hooks's incredible talent didn't need to call attention to itself, so it's only now, in hindsight and reruns, that the full measure of her brilliance is beginning to be calculated. Since SNL debuted in 1975, over 140 players have been in the cast, and nine have passed away from illness, drugs, or violence. Whether they leave us as beloved superstars with promising careers ahead of them or underappreciated and semi-forgotten talents with few recent onscreen credits, all nine of SNL's deceased alums have produced groundbreaking work that can make for some very bittersweet viewing. Before this column comes to an end, here's a look at those nine performers whose many comedy contributions continue to entertain and inspire fans both old and new. READ MORE

Watch Robin Williams Improvise at Second City Santa Monica in 1989

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 clip comes from Second City's short-lived Santa Monica location back in 1989, in which Chris Barnes takes a suggestion for a phrase from the audience — "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" — and transforms it into nearly ten minutes of electric improvised goodness, with the weight on Robin Williams (with some help from the audience) to guess the phrase by the end of the scene. Williams and Barnes are periodically joined by supporting players Richard Kind and Mike Hagerty, who make brief appearances to guide Williams to the right answer. Check out another performance from the same group (alongside Robin Duke, Ryan Stiles, and Andrea Martin) here.

A Thinkpiece About Bits (Not a Bit)

A bit is a joke, usually amongst a select group of people, played with some sincerity. A bit is a comedic take on a reality. An imaginary spin amongst individuals with a repetitive game between them. Bits can take a level of intelligence and quick thinking. They can be good and they can be bad. They can be used as a form of communication.

We start doing bits when we’re babies. I put a blanket over my niece’s head and say “Oh no, where’s Simone?” and she takes it off and cheeses a big smile and claps her hands and we do it over and over again. It’s a running bit we have that this blanket is making her magically disappear. So fun. People who keep doing these bits when they become adults are people who aren’t ready to give up on that sense of play.

When I came to New York City and became a part of the comedy community, I realized there was a much larger hive of people whose main form of communication was through bits. To me, the essence of a bit has deep implications about one’s outlook on the world. It’s part nihilistic and part optimistic. It’s saying none of this really means anything so why don’t we let our imaginations entangle and see the world for what it is: a hysterical, cruel joke. I had found these like-minded people who were fast and constantly joking, something I’d been looking for and didn’t even realize it. Though most my friendships had been rooted in a shared sense of humor, the NYC comedy community was some next level shit. READ MORE

Kale's Agent Convinces It To Do a Soup for Olive Garden, by Steven An

Listen Kale, I know you’re not gonna like this, but it’s a good opportunity, and it’s good pay, and if you do this one then the next one will be something just for you.

Don’t give me that look. Will you just hear me out? Okay, okay. So it’s just a supporting role; everyone knows that you can do a good salad. This is a little different, but it’s something I know you’d still be good in.

Geez, okay. It’s a soup. For Olive Garden.

Come on Kale, that’s nonsense. You gotta do this one! You have to do this one! No one’s gonna think you’re selling out, and the people that say those things don’t understand the business we’re in. I mean, look at Pineapple. Everyone, except for me, was telling her not to do the pizza thing and just look at how happy she is with Ham. Have you seen their beach house in Hawaii? Or look at Coconut. Do you think she went from scraping by on luau dancers’ tits to making millions off water by playing it safe?

You don’t wanna get typecast like Watermelon.


'SNL' Review: A Season High with Woody Harrelson

For the past two years, many viewers have described SNL as being in a "transitional phase." This phase began with the departures of Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg in 2012, followed by Jason Sudeikis, Bill Hader, and Fred Armisen in 2013, then by Seth Meyers in early 2014. The old guard was clearing out, and their replacements didn't seem up to the task of continuing that golden era. And while not all of the episodes in this interim period have been bad — in fact, many have been quite good, and the hit-to-miss ratio has remained roughly the same — SNL seemed lost in the woods, with almost weekly PR crises, a dependence on returning alums, sagging ratings, and a vagueness as to how this era would redefine itself.

After last weekend, SNL's transitional era may finally be over.

Woody Harrelson's triumphant episode wasn't just a win — it was a bellwether win for the show. While most episodes take on a tentpole structure, with strong pieces holding up weaker ones, this episode was a full 90 minutes of clever writing and assured performances, from cold open to Weekend Update to the 10-to-1, all without a desperate reliance on recurring bits and pre-taped videos, or the tendency for live sketches to fall flat, or a returning alum host to carry the night. While Bill Hader's dazzling return last month worked largely because of the host's made-for-SNL talent, Woody Harrelson presented less of a guarantee, with a more limited range of comedic personae and a 25-year gap since his last appearance on the show. And yet, the staff made it work, smartly casting Harrelson in a mix of gruff authority figures and loopy substance abusers, while giving the likable goofball freedom to enjoy himself.

But more importantly, for the first time in season 40, SNL looked confident. Will that confidence still be there next week, with Cameron Diaz hosting? We'll see. But for now, it seems Lorne Michaels and his team have finally figured out how to make this generation of SNL shine. READ MORE

What Horror and Comedy Have in Common

A funny thing about Americans: every year, crowds flock to the theatre and spend millions of dollars for the chance to see pretty people die on screen. The horror genre is popular for the same reason that people spend hundreds of dollars to go to a theme park to ride roller coasters — people love being scared. In fact, while sitting in a movie theater watching a horror movie, you’re likely to hear equal parts laughter and screams coming from the audience. Generally the cries of terror are heard first, followed almost immediately by a wave of chuckles, giggles, and knee slapping. In a paper on the functions of humor, Dr. Julia Wilkins calls this phenomenon “relief theory”. According to her article, we achieve such joy from being scared in certain situations because, while our bodies tell us that they’re dangerous, we still know deep down that we are safe, and this release of tension results in laughter. This is why comedy and horror go hand in hand both in literature and on film. Both genres have their own set of rules for achieving their intended goals, and by combining the “rules” of comedy and horror, one genre can greatly enhance the other.

When a Horror-Comedy wants to focus on humor, it focuses on what the audience already knows about horror movies as a setup, and then subverts it. The tension typically used to cause a scream results in a “punch line” that is either harmless, or so over the top in dark comedy that the audience can’t help but laugh. This tactic was used in the 1948 classic, Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The film, cashing in on the popularity of both the biggest comedy duo of the day and the wildly successful Universal Monster franchises, takes the atmosphere and slow tension of those classic films and the mile-a-minute back and forth dialogue of its’ two leads and creates a film that hasn’t lost a step in sixty-six years. READ MORE

Talking About Twitter with 'The Onion' Senior Editor Jason Roeder

Jason Roeder lives in Chicago and is the senior editor of The Onion, previously having worked as a staff/senior writer at The Onion and as a writer/producer for AdultSwim.com. Roeder has also written, edited, and co-written several books and contributed to places like The New Yorker, McSweeney's, and more. Recently I got the chance to ask Roeder about three of his favorite tweets, and he talked to me about introversion, cashiers, and remembering exactly where he's tweeted stuff before.

Roeder: I kind of envy people who know all their neighbors because I'm an introvert who will delay leaving my apartment if I hear someone across the hall leaving at the same time. You know, instead of just saying hello or introducing myself like a person that isn't instinctively terrified of other humans. READ MORE

Tim & Eric, PFFR and the Art of the Non-Interview

At a certain point in the recent WTF episode with Tim & Eric, Maron brings up how sometimes they fuck around in interviews and do bits and stuff. He keeps asking them what their strategy is and what they’re trying to say or how they prepare for them, and it gets to a point where you just want to say, dude, they’re just…being funny guys. That’s kind of what it all boils down to.

After that I started thinking about these kind of non-interviews, the ones where the subject isn’t totally cooperating with the interviewer — and sometimes they’re the most memorable ones. I like to think you can say just as much about yourself or your project by fucking around as you can by answering questions directly, just like in an improv scene where you can still say “yes” to an idea by saying “no” to another character. Like, fucking around when you’re promoting your Adult Swim show tells the audience that, hey, this show is made by people who fuck around in interviews. And it’s like, cool, yeah, so would I.

Of course, with anything where someone’s trying to be “weird,” there’s a huge risk of coming off as just annoying (See Letterman v. Phoenix). But when someone does pull it off, these non-interviews can be really great. Anyways, here are some really good ones, that I like and are cool as well. READ MORE