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Interview: Mary Van Note, Comedian

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An old friend of The Sound of Young America, Mary Van Note, has been on a tear lately. She's landed her own IFC.com web series, and is touring the nation with her acclaimed (and bizarre) standup comedy. Chris Bowman talked with Mary about the turns her burgeoning career has taken.

You teamed up with IFC.com this summer to release the web series Gavin Really Wants Me. How did IFC initially discover you?

I had some videos posted on Nerve.com, a sex magazine, which was a perfect fit for my weird and sexually themed videos. Nerve.com and IFC.com partnered up to put together these top 50 lists like Top 50 Greatest Sex Scenes in Cinema, and the popular Top 50 Comedy Sketches of All Time. I guess when they partnered up, the Nerve people showed the IFC people their video content and BAM! my series and the Nerve series “Young American Bodies” got connected with IFC.com.

Have you always had a raunchy sense of humor? Where did it come from?

No, I haven't. I'm just your average girl who was raised Catholic and has issues about sex. I was pretty obsessed with it for awhile, and by "it" I mean talking about sex, but lately I've been writing about everyday things like roommates and internet dating.

What do you find more rewarding, performing live or producing the online comedy shorts. Why?

That’s pretty hard to say. I love doing both and they’re both so rewarding in different ways. I will always enjoy performing live. The feedback is immediate and there is always the feeling that anything can happen when you perform live. It is such a thrill to make a room laugh. Producing online content is a thrill as well. Probably my favorite aspect of producing and directing online comedy shorts is the ability to collaborate and work with others. That’s something you don’t get with traditional stand-up comedy.

What is the most valuable thing you have learned from collaborating with others?

Being a director was entirely new for me. The most valuable learning experience was simply communication. Communicating as a director working with a cast and crew was challenging and new for me, but became hugely rewarding.

When did you decide you wanted to go beyond the standard set-up/punch line style of comedy and embrace a more challenging performance art style?

I never consciously decided to embrace a certain style. The first time I ever performed I was really nervous and my material was more storytelling than “club comic” jokes. That first set went really, really well and my mentor told me to keep that nervous energy. Since then I’ve developed into a more mainstream form of a who I was when I first started. I’m still weird and quirky, and can perform at the most alt-y of rooms and theaters, but I can also perform at Blank Comedy Club with the best of the road comics and hold my place.

What is coming up next for MVN?

Jan 24—Feb 17, 2009 I’ll be a part of Belles and Whistles: the indie music and comedy tour of ladies making noise from San Francisco. Uni and her Ukelele, Foxtails Brigade and I will be touring the Pacific Northwest hitting cities like Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Salt Lake City, and more.

2009 will be full of fun and excitement: traveling and performing, recording my debut comedy album, and shooting videos.

Mary's online at MaryVanNote.com or myspace.com/maryvannote. She also hosts the regular San Francisco comedy & performance series Comedy Darling.

Podcast: Jordan, Jesse GO!: Ep. 78: The Big Easy

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Jesse and Jordan discuss the great city of New Orleans, the impending election, and are visited by Jesse Thorne, British Sports Reporter.

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Our theme music: "Love You" by The Free Design, courtesy of The Free Design and Light in the Attic Records

Big Train - Wanking

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Graham Linehan is the next guest on TSOYA, and I thought I'd post this hilarious sketch from a show he worked on, the late-90s British sketch series Big Train. That this is like the sixth point on his resume is pretty remarkable.

Podcast Coyle & Sharpe Episode 42: Antique Smashing

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Welcome to season two of Coyle & Sharpe: The Imposters! In the early 1960s, James P. Coyle and Mal Sharpe roamed the streets of San Francisco, microphone in hand, roping strangers into bizarre schemes and surreal stunts. These original recordings are from the Sharpe family archive, which is tended by Mal's daughter, Jennifer Sharpe. You can learn more about Coyle & Sharpe on their website or on MySpace. Their recent box set is These 2 Men Are Imposters.

On this episode: Coyle and Sharpe innocently ask an antique dealer if they can smash all of his antiques.

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Podcast: The College Years: Outcasts

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The College Years is a look deep into the vaults of The Sound of Young America. Take a journey with us every week as we post a new program or two from our salad days.

In this lonely episode of The College Years, Jordan and Jesse are joined by author of Masters of Doom, David Kushner. Also, comedy from and interview with a Emily Plum of Anne Francisco & Her Cable Car Casualties. Also, Jim Real's Would You Rather and Running The Numbers.

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Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: "The Math Factor"

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Given the number of them he hears on a weekly basis, your Podthinker is always delighted when a particular podcast is grounded in the geographic location of its recording. What cooler way to convey all the internet has allowed us than to play a variety of podcasts from all over the place, all displaying their own local color? Your podthinker is always delighted when he comes across math-centric podcasts, as well — or at least The Math Factor [iTunes link], the sole math-centric podcast he's ever found and one straight out of Arkansas at that, has done more than its fair share of Podthinker-delighting.

While it stands perfectly well alone as its own mini-program, the podcast is actually a weekly segment of Ozarks at Large, the local news magazine from KUAF. (Note to certain smugger Euro-Max Funsters: for the last time, yes, that part of the United States has electricity.) In it, regular host Kyle Kellams is joined in the studio by mathematician — specifically, geometer — Chaim Goodman-Strauss to work out a math puzzle, interview a math person or just marvel at some neato math concept.

Having picked one of the oldest disciplines in the book, Kellams and Goodman-Strauss are guaranteed never, ever, ever to run out of material. (And if by some quirk of fate they find themselves nearing the barrel's bottom, they could just start discussing infinity — word on the street says there are infinity kinds of infinity.) Some of mathematics' many corners they've already explored together include numbers you can't Google [MP3], math education in America [MP3], mathematical questions that can't be computed [MP3], the ultimate mathematician's toy [MP3] and, of course, Graham's number [MP3]. They've also sat down and chatted with a biographer of M.C. Escher [MP3], a math consultant on TV's Numb3rs MP3] and an actual "mathemagician" (yes, they exist) [MP3]. Truly, these guys come at math from a new angle every week — no pun intended. Sort of.

Unfortunately, many readers who might very much enjoy The Math Factor probably won't make it this far into the review. Why? Because, upon identifying the word "math", their brains immediately flashed back to the crushing tedium of mathematics as taught in, oh, grades one through twelve, roughly, and maybe into college and/or grad school. Alas, generations and generations of kids have grown up to associate math with laboriously ground-through worksheets, desperate flips to the back of the book for the answers and the crib sheets of formulae taped onto the underside of their baseball caps' bills. This is not how it should be, and Kellams and Goodman-Strauss appear to know it. On their show, math is broken down to its most basic, most fun elements: quantities and logic, approached with curiosity. Amazing how many amusing tricks, games and stumpers you can get from those.

(For a more eloquent treatment of the woeful state of schools' approach to math, see Paul Lockhart's "A Mathematician's Lament".)

Vital stats:
Format: math talk
Running since: show since 2004, podcast since October 2005
Duration: 5m-15m
Frequency: weekly
Archive available on iTunes: all since they started podcasting

[Podthinker Colin Marshall would've been a math major, but university bureaucracy got in his way, man. Get him at colinjmarshall at gmail, suggest podcasts for Podthoughts here or submit your own podcast for the next by-Max-Funsters column here.]

Administrative note on donating

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If you give to MaxFun on a monthly basis, and change credit cards, PayPal will automatically cancel your subscription. We can't start it back up, so just sign up for the same level again. Also: it's great if you could drop us a line to make sure we know it isn't a new subscription. Thanks!

Solo in New York City

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BIG NEWS.

Two of TSOYA's top pals have solo shows running in New York, and if you miss them, YOU'RE A FOOL.

Our pal Mike Birbiglia has his first solo stage show, called Sleepwalk with Me, running at the Bleeker Theater. Mike has always been fantastically hilarious as a standup, but this show is also receiving acclaim for its emotional depth. WE VOUCH FOR MIKE. If that's not good enough for you, listen to Mike on TAL and TRY not to laugh uncontrollably. FURTHERMORE: you can get discount tickets with this link.

ADDITIONALLY: our pal Mike Daisey (above) has his new solo performance, If You See Something, Say Something, running at the Public Theater. It's about the resonances of the cold war in contemporary America, and in Mike's own life. If it's like his other work, it's fantastic. The Times certainly seems to have enjoyed it. So have others. Tickets are available here. Mike has generously offered TSOYA fans a big ticket discount -- $35 tix can be had with the code SSMKTG. It is offered with the proviso that tickets are selling out fast and that code might stop working at some point.

OK, New York: GET OUT THERE.

Comedy Podcast: Jordan Morris' "Swing State," Simon Rich's "Hey, Look," and Elephant Larry's "El Pollo Loco"

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Show: 
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All kinds of comedy on this Sound of Young America podcast.

First, we hear a sketch from our own Jordan Morris. What is it really like to live in a swing state?

Then Simon Rich shares his essay Hey Look, from his new book Free-Range Chickens.

Also: Elephant Larry (above) give us the SPOOKTACULAR "El Pollo Loco."

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If you enjoyed this show, try these:
Comedy by the Numbers
Comedy: Morgan Murphy and Andy Kindler
Comedy: Help Me Help Me

Wow. Just wow.

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Sunday's New York Times Magazine featured a largely slobbering portrayal of Lauren Zalaznick, the programming chief of Bravo. Zalaznick is the woman who masterminded the network's transformation from an arts network to the reality show network for rich jerks. She took over the channel during the Queer Eye boom and spun that into the panoply of brand-marketing aspirational douchebaggery that it is today. Mostly the article just made me upset, but this paragraph truly left me agog. The author concludes the article asking what the Bravo brand might be in the context of an economic downturn:

One answer, said Zalaznick, might be a nightly show in which a host would interview characters from the various other shows, about the relation between events on their shows and current events. “We know we just showed you an episode about someone buying $1,500 shoes,” she said. “Here’s what’s important about that, or here’s what’s funny about that, here’s this person sitting on my couch to talk about that, given what’s going on in the world. It’s providing a little context, less inference — it’s not a time for subtlety.”

Yeah fucking right. That'll make it allllll better.

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