Six months ago, I was living in Boston. My wife had left me, which was very painful. Then she came back to me, which was excruciating. On top of that, my practice had grown stagnant, and my social life consisted of…hanging around a bar night after night. You see, I was clinging to a life that wasn't working anymore, and I knew I had to do something, anything. So, I ended the marriage once and for all, packed up my things, and moved back here to my hometown of Seattle. Go Seahawks! [laughs] I took action, Russell. And you can, too. Move, change, do something; if it's a mistake, do something else. Will you do that, Russell? Will you?
Frasier Crane provides this monologue to a distressed caller at the top of ‘The Good Son,’ the pilot episode of Frasier. It gives the audience everything they need to know; we’ve left Cheers far behind, and there are some big changes coming. It was a risk that paid off. Frasier went on to become one of the most successful spin-off’s in television history, winning a total of 37 Emmys over its eleven year run. But I’m not content to call this a happy ending. READ MORE
In 1993, Al Jean and Mike Reiss left their position as showrunners of The Simpsons. Over four seasons, they helped transform the cartoon from a strange fad into the beloved show we know today. With that accomplishment behind them, the two headed to ABC to create their own series. Considering The Simpsons found its comedy and heart in the typical American family, it seems strange that Jean and Reiss decided to base their new show on the world of movie criticism. But The Critic, which debuted in 1994, has retained a dedicated fanbase since it first aired. The success of a show so small in scope may seem strange now, but considering one of Jean and Reiss’ influences, it makes perfect sense. Jay Sherman owes his baldness to Gene Siskel and his gut to Roger Ebert, and Critic fans may very well owe their favorite show to the unlikely comedy stylings of the famous duo.
Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert’s first televised review aired in 1975, and over the next twenty-four years they graced the airwaves with their unique brand of criticism. “I was a devoted fan,” recalls Mike Reiss, “My friends and I would deconstruct every episode on Monday morning like it was Lost.” They’re compelling critics, and their grasp of the medium helped make them the unofficial face of film criticism. Chicago comedian and music blogger Sean Rose is an outspoken fan of their work. “[T]hey manage to make their criticisms as entertaining as any movie they're reviewing, which is so, so hard to do,” Rose says, “They love movies so much. They live and bleed it. They're great critics because they let that love seep into every review.” But Siskel and Ebert needed to be more than skilled critics in order to win the hearts of the American public. By being so passionate about their love of movies, Siskel and Ebert ended up being quite funny. READ MORE
C.J. Toledano is a familiar face in the Chicago comedy community. He’s a stand-up comedian, and has a natural ease that sets him apart from many other stand-ups his age. At 25, he’s already written for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and is currently a consulting writer for the O.N.N. He takes his craft seriously, and is hard working, imaginative, and focused. But that wasn’t always the case. “I was a punk,” Toledano recalls of his college years, and his academic record can verify that. His GPA was a rocky 1.8, and he had dropped out of film school only to enroll in a university right next to his old High School (“It was known as the '13th grade,” he dismally remembers). Still, he had comedy. “I had been driving around Pittsburgh doing stand-up as an 18-year-old kid, winning college contests and emceeing for D-list celebrities at comedy clubs, so I thought I knew everything.” It was around this time that he applied to a program in Chicago called Comedy Studies. “When I got to Comedy Studies,” says Toledano, “I found out I knew next to nothing about anything.” Over the course of a semester, Toledanos’ experience in Comedy Studies helped shape his talents and instill the skills needed to become a successful comedian.
There are many others out there like C.J. To a college student seriously interested in comedy, learning more about it and getting hands-on experience is often difficult. Outside of a few major metropolitan areas, one would have to learn what they could second hand, and hopefully find a short-form comedy group on campus to play with. Like C.J., they would have to slum it in whatever small venues they could find. Before Comedy Studies was founded in 2007, there was no real destination for college comedy nerds. This need did not go unnoticed. “The Second City Training Center had long had the goal of being ‘the Julliard of Comedy,” says Anne Libera, Director of the Comedy Studies program, “Andrew [Alexander, owner of The Second City] challenged us to see if we could make that an actuality.” Eventually, Anne teamed up with Chicago’s Columbia College, “offering the Chicago comedy version of a "semester abroad" — students would be immersed in all aspects of the study of comedy and improvisation taking classes at [The] Second City.” Comedy Studies was born. READ MORE
Dear Mr. Watterson is a documentary project that explores cartoonist Bill Watterson, his timeless comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, and their impact on culture. Celebrities like Seth Green and Bill Amend are interviewed, as are appreciative fans, many of whom have grown up with a deep admiration for Calvin and Hobbes. And while the film's synopsis promises that it is “not a quest to find Watterson, who prefers his privacy,” I find that assurance unlikely. After all, the project is named Dear Mr. Watterson, not A Film Where We Talk About How Great Calvin and Hobbes Is. But I can’t blame the filmmakers for hoping to reach Watterson on a personal level. That promise helped earn their Kickstarter campaign over $85,000. It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the idea of getting his attention after almost twenty years of silence.
Calvin and Hobbes ended in 1995 and Watterson, then still in his thirties, vanished into retirement. He had been tight-lipped about his personal life while the strip was still running, and he sequestered himself even further when it ended. That decision has given him a reputation as some kind of cranky recluse, a Salinger-esque weirdo who shuns his fans and finds joy only in solitude. It makes for an intriguing story, and many fans have taken it as a challenge to get to Bill first. Like Dear Mr. Watterson, Nevin Martell’s 2009 book Looking for Calvin and Hobbes discusses the cultural significance of Watterson’s work but with a clearer intention to land an impossible interview with the cartoonist. Both Looking for Calvin and Hobbes and Dear Mr. Watterson are helmed by die-hard C&H fans, both of whom openly acknowledge Watterson's decision to keep to himself. But if they’re such devotees, why do they ignore his reluctance and try for his attention anyway? READ MORE
Daniel O’Brien is very much like a lot of us. In his mid-twenties, he’s a big Simpsons fan and spends a lot of time reading, watching TV, and listening to podcasts. O’Brien is also a writer. He is, in fact, the Senior Writer for a website that gets over 300 million pageviews a month. For the last two years, O’Brien has been handling those responsibilities and more while working for Cracked.
First launched in 2005, Cracked began its life as an online extension of Cracked magazine, a long running Mad competitor. But as its print-media predecessor closed up shop in 2007, the Cracked that we know today began to take shape. Readers can expect regularly updated content that including lists, articles and videos that range in topic from pop culture to science and history. Yes, these kinds of features can be found in other places online, like Buzzfeed or Huffington Post. But like a kind of weird older cousin, Cracked always has the know-how to back up their often colorful content.
Daniel O’Brien is clear about the website's goal. “[W]e’ve always been fond of saying that we teach you the stuff you didn’t know about the stuff you know,” he says, and you can see that philosophy in every update. While we all know a thing or two about the animal kingdom or the economy, most of us aren’t familiar with 5 Terrifying Serial Killers Who Happened to Be Animals, or 7 Bizarre Trends That Predict an Economic Collapse. And while this particular kind of content is important to Cracked’s success, so too is its voice. “Cracked articles strive to come from the mouth of a smartass with distinctly nerdy sensibilities,” O’Brien continues. (You can see this firsthand in articles like ‘5 Dumb Hobbies You Won’t Believe Have World Championships’). “The ideal Cracked article lives in that intersection of ‘informative’ and ‘accessible,’ where we’re teaching you something and making you laugh at the same time.” READ MORE
When I was younger, there was no greater pairing than the holiday season and Garfield. I’d watch wide-eyed as he'd float down 5th Avenue in the Thanksgiving Parade; I’d pop in our VHS recording of A Garfield Christmas, and I’d adorn our tree with Keepsake ornaments of that lovable fat cat dishing out Christmas cheer. But this love affair with Garfield was over as quickly as it began, and soon I was off to bigger things like Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, and Webelos. But I never forgot about Jim Davis’ cartoon cat, and considering the rise of strange, dark, and incredibly funny material the internet has created about Garfield, neither have many talented artists and comedians.
At the drop of a hat, I could name the entire staff of Hogwarts, give you full biographies of every Captain of the Enterprise, and tell you which bounty hunters Darth Vader called to track down the Millennium Falcon and why. I’d easily call myself a nerd. There’s a certain exhaustive joy to nerdom that’s not unlike my love for comedy. I like to keep a tidy house, though, so I rarely talk about nerd-nerd stuff to comedy-nerds. But in late 2009, when a 70-minute review of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace made the rounds on YouTube, I found myself torn between worlds. My brain was telling me this was for my nerdy side, but my heart knew the truth. This was a comedy.
That review, and dozens of other short films like it, is the work of Milwaukee-based filmmakers Red Letter Media. The group consists of Mike Stoklasa, Jay Bauman, and Rich Evans, who have been making films together for about ten years. Currently, they produce a web series called Half in the Bag, a movie review show hosted by Mike and Jay set in the home of Harry S. Plinket, an elderly murderer with a taste for prostitutes, merkins, and pizza rolls. The premise offers Mike and Jay plenty of time to dissect and examine movies, but gives them ample opportunity for ridiculous off-beat humor. READ MORE
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