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RIP to Gordon Parks

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The AV Club has the news. He was one of the first black director to helm a major studio feature, and one of the great news and feature photographers of the 20th century. Here's his Times obit.

Salon's Audiofile is hip to The Sound

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Ira Boudway of has a nice piece in the Audiofile today about our Wholphin episode (MP3 Link), which featured interviews with Wholphin editor Brent Hoff and Fred Armisen of SNL.

The soft-spoken and relentlessly positive Armisen keeps an attitude of grateful humility throughout. "It was like being asked to be the pope or the president," he says of getting an audition for "SNL." "It just seemed so ridiculously huge that, you know, you just think, 'I'll do my audition, but, man, this is really insane to even be in this room.'"

Ira previously wrote (effusively) about The Sound in this post.

Read the Salon Piece
Download "Wholphin" with Brent Hoff and Fred Armisen

A truly international phenomenon.

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Our Python post has been making the rounds in Bloggington (as I will heretofore refer to that which was formerly known as "the blogosphere"), and has made it into several languages. Here's one post, translated from German to English via robot:

In the year of the gentleman 1975 a strange troop landed in Dallas: four young men with long hair and a stuffed armadillo. No - not the Beatles, but Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Graham Chapman: Monty Python. Directly of the premiere of its film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" they had hurried from Los Angeles in the KERA TV kERA-TV-Studio, in order to introduce itself the being astonished Americans.

This interview was sent 1975, and since then it had disappeared. It was rediscovered on an old Videoreel (comes me admits forwards?), the Blog The sound OF Young America arranged a publication with the transmitter and the Pythons, for which Jesse Thorn and its people of infinite thanks are entitled. The file may be downloaded, but not spread further. The recording breaks off after 14 minutes, because someone overacted the remainder of the volume (’%!!?xx??#!&!!).

Ladies & Gentlemen: fourteen precious minutes with four young Pythons and an armadillo. That has tip for the reference goes at MacFrisbee.

And that's to say nothing of this one, which is in what language I dunno, and is titled, "You Smell Like Dead Papa!"

David #*(&%ing Rakoff


A Cowboy Hat and a Glass of Scotch


Great interview with Ron White over at Dead-Frog. You may know Ron as 1/4 of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. If you're having trouble placing him, he's the funny one.

Did I ever tell you about the time I tried to have a debate on The Sound between David Cross and Larry the Cable Guy? Cross, to his credit, was happy to do it. LtCG, not so much.

Here's a bit that I originally thought was about Cross, but I misread it in haste, turns out (per Todd Jackson, editor of dead-frog) that it's about Dane Cook, and we all dislike him, right?

If you’re going to start trashing another comedian, which there’s no call for in the first place, I know David Cross and Larry have a rift going too, but if you do, then we’re going to take a look at your material. And it better be great and it’s not. It’s punchline-less, he’s very very charming. My manager thinks he’s funny. If you are going to be throwing rocks, then we’re going to take a look, and it better be great. So if you’re not Bill Hicks, and he ain’t, then I would just shut-up. He also makes gillions of dollars.

oscars and jokes


This whole business is a symptom of a broader culture in which things that are funny can't possibly be good, and vice-versa. Think of this year's Oscars. "The Squid and the Whale," Noah Baumbach's wonderful serio-comic film, received the only comedy nomination in any of the major categories. The only one! Out of like 30! If you want to find any other comedy at all, you have to look at the animation category. I guess if it's funny, it isn't art.

Of course, this is self-reinforcing. If a funny prestige film gets no prestige, then why try to make funny prestige films? Even the best comedies of the last few years, films like "School of Rock," "Rushmore," and "High Fidelity" are ignored. "Sideways" slipped through, but it was about hoity-toity stuff, which pretyt much gives it a pass. I remember watching the good-but-not-great "In Good Company," and being shocked. Not because it was a shocking film, but simply because I realized I was watching a comedy that was trying to be a good film.

When no one's trying to make something good, the cream of the comedy barrel ends up being semi-improvised mish-mashes like "The Wedding Crashers." There's a place for movies like that, don't get me wrong, but the pile-of-jokes thing gets old after a while. I mean, I liked "Old School," too, but I feel like I've been watching it over and over for five years.

Why won't anyone teach actors to be funny?


Former Sound of Young America co-host Jordan Morris, Boy Detective, works in television production. I was chatting with him once about a show he was working on, and there was something he couldn't get over... the show was a sitcom, but a fair number of the actors couldn't say their jokes right. They said them wrong, over and over, take after take.

There's a right way to say a joke, and a wrong way. Jokes have a rhythm, and you have to "punch" the punchline. Being able to master this is the bedrock of being funny on stage or screen. Some people joke a lot in their lives, and they already know how. Other people have to learn. Obviously, these actors had never bothered to learn this most basic of skills. Outrageous!

Except for this: what do we expect?

Most succesful actors, especially the ones who aren't really, really beautiful, are very well trained. People go the Yale School of Drama, or to the Neighborhood Playhouse, or Julliard. They get BFAs and MFAs and sometimes even PhDs. But it's entirely possible to go to theater school for four years, or even six, and never take a class which seriously covers comic acting. The closest they'll come to comedy in anything that isn't self-selected is David Mamet. Or maybe Twelfth Night. Possibly a production of The Music Man. Maaaaaybe an improv class in which they are warned again and again not to try to be funny. Other than that, they're on their own -- maybe they've got it, maybe they don't.

That's the system, and because of it, we have a nation of actors who can find the emotional truth of a cereal box, but can't do a spit take to save their lives.

When you're in acting school (and I did theater in college and went to a very well respect arts high school, where I studied theater three hours a day for four years), what you're learning is about finding and representing the truth of a character. What's often called "method" acting is very internally oriented -- you are finding some essential quality in yourself. Of course, comedy is almost completely externally oriented -- you're getting laughs from the audience. And because of this apparent philosophical contradiction -- acting for the audiences benefit is so 19th century -- it doesn't get taught.

And there are most certainly comic acting techniques that can be taught. I was lucky enough to work with Jeff Raz, a professional clown and Commedia Dell'arte teacher and performer, and as much as I hated clowning, I was shocked at how techniques I learned were directly applicable to the getting of laughs. It turns out that the funnyness that some people have naturally has been refined for hundreds of years by comic performers who weren't against training. Even the most unfunny folks in my class could learn ways to use their bodies and voices to get a laugh on stage. I don't say this to diminish clowning, either... just to illustrate that technique works.

Of course, the nation is covered in improv schools, many of which are great. These schools are where most of our great comic actors come from -- Bill Murray, for example. But they're teaching improv, not comic acting. They're two complimentary but ultimately seperate skills. I'd say that most of the comedic acting skills learned at improv schools come the hard way -- from trial and error in hundreds of performances in front of audiences. These skills often have holes, though. When I see even great sketch shows at the UCB or a similar theater, I'm often dissapointed by the acting on display.

And where else do our comic performers come from? Standup, were we often get the total non-acting of folks like George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, who've also honed their comic chops in front of tough crowds -- though these guys have also each honed a single comic persona that compliments their material, a persona that's tough to break out of in other media. One day I'll learn to stop going to see Chris Rock movies.

It's all a function, I think, of the fact that our culture can't seem to take comedy seriously. More on this soon...

Found Magazine's Finds


One of The Sound of Young America's top pals is Davey Rothbart, editor of Found Magazine. Davey is a really awesome guy, and Found is a really spectacular magazine. It's made up entirely of things people have found -- notes, grocery lists, signs, diaries, letters. It's funny, sad, wonderful, whatever adjective you want.

The note above was the inspiration for the magazine. Davey found it on his windshield one day.

Anyway, they've got an RSS feed now, so you can see them in the big blogroll to your right, or check out their website. Highly reccomended.

Jordan Morris, Boy Detective, got a find in their book, I'll post it when I'm at my home computer.

Remeberances of Things Past


"Never Forgetting: My Personal Battle With Drug Addiction During the Holocaust" is H. Jon Benjamin's harrowing tale of a descent into addiction, and his eventual redemption, also it is during the Holocaust.

As a customer who enjoyed this post, you might also like:

H. Jon Benjamin on The Sound of Young America, Uncut

James Frey on The Sound of Young America

Thanks to Jason from The Human Giant

What if All Things Considered were on Satellite?


There is great dissent in the public radio world about what to do about satellite radio, and it speaks to a bigger question about the future of media.

As it stands, Sirius Satellite has three stations of US public radio. One is programmed by Public Radio International (who distribute shows like This American Life), and two by NPR (who distribute All Things Considered, Fresh Air, Car Talk, and so on). XM has one station, which produces a show of it's own (the Bob Edwards Show), and carries various other public radio content (I haven't had XM since pre-Edwards, so I'm not sure exactly what).

When NPR decided to get with the satellite revolution, it made a compromise with its member stations: they would give Sirius their programming, but would hold back their two flagship news programs, All Things Considered and Morning Edition. Local stations were understandably threatened by satellite, which doesn't have to ask for contributions (though it takes them, in the form of a $12/month subscription fee). This is more or less the same bargain they've struck when it comes to podcasting, where you can get portions of some very popular shows, all of other, less popular shows, and some shows you can't get at all.

Now, public radio consultant John Sutton, who as I understand it is a sort of the Dick Morris or Karl Rove of public radio (respected by all, reviled by some), is proposing that NPR consider offering ATC and Morning Edition to XM and Sirius. His proposal, in a nutshell, is that if NPR could get half of what Stern got, NPR could offer it's programs to member stations for free, and everybody would win. The stations might lose a bit of their audience, but by his calculations only about 5%, and they could use the revenue for local programming, the money for which often comes from the fundraising success of the big NPR news shows.

Of course, this presumes that NPR is interested in acting in the interests of the stations, and won't eventually just stick it to the satellite networks and the affiliates. It also presumes that Sirius or XM are interested enough in NPR programs to get up off big money without exclusivity.

What it means for local stations, though, is that they have to realize that the radio station business model, public or commercial, is gone. It's been replaced by the content provider and content aggregator/filter models. When you can get audio content from satellite, from the internet, or even on your Tivo, being the local NPR station means much less. Whereas they used to find shelter in NPR's overall brand ("You're listening to your NPR News station for Central Ohio..."), they now realize that if their own brand doesn't mean something, and they're not producing their own content, they're toast.

This is one of the big reasons I've tried to keep The Sound of Young America independent (though it's not like they're beating down the doors). One of the big lessons of the internet is that much more power goes to the content owner, rather than the content distributor.

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