Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘humor’

06 DECEMBER, 2010

The Snark Handbook, Insult Edition: Verbal Sparring Lessons from Literary Greats


A year ago, The Snark Handbook: A Reference Guide to Verbal Sparring became an instant favorite with its enlightening and entertaining compendium of history’s greatest masterpieces in the art of mockery, contextualizing today’s era of snark-humor and equipping us with the shiniest verbal armor to thrive as victor knights in it. This month, author Lawrence Dorfman is back with a necessary sequel, this time providing the sword: The Snark Handbook: Insult Edition: Comebacks, Taunts, and Effronteries, complete with 50 delightful black-and-white illustrations.

Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” ~ Mark Twain on Jane Austen

It’s a new low for actresses when you have to wonder what’s between her ears instead of her legs.” ~ Katherine Hepburn on Sharon Stone

From strategic instructions on how and when to throw your peers the jabs of well-timed snark to a well-curated collection of history’s most skilled literary insult-maestros, the book is the yellow brick road to what, deep down, you know you always knew you were: Better than everybody else.

I am reading Henry James… and feel myself as one entombed in a block of smooth amber.” ~ Virginia Woolf on Henry James

He was a great friend of mine. Well, as much as you could be a friend of his, unless you were a fourteen-year-old nymphet.” ~ Capote on Faulkner

Sure, The Snark Handbook is the anti-Zen approach to life’s confrontations. Still, it walks the fine line between potent wit and tongue-in-cheek lightheartedness in a way that makes it not just a toolkit but a treat as well. That, or at least a handy 200-pager with which to smack the next fool that crosses you.

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03 NOVEMBER, 2010

Smigly: Jazzy Tales of Misfortune


What giant logos have to do with the digestive difficulties of the Twitter bird.

We’ve been longtime admirers of writer, director and animator Allen Mezquida‘s Smigly series — the animated tales of a lovable misfit (or, to reach into our bag of cross-cultural linguistic treats, a Shlemazl — that’s Yiddish for “unlucky person”) who, despite his smarts, somehow always manages to have his dreams crushed for your comedic benefit. It’s Droopy with getting the girl, Dilbert without the office supplies, Frasier without the pompous dialogue and laugh track.

If you pay attention, life’s a soul-crushing shit storm. Smigly pays attention.”

Mezquida, whose work has previously graced Disney, Warner Bros., Sony and Nickelodeon, happens to also be a talented saxophonist, so he scores most of the films himself.

Today, we’ve curated five of our favorite Smigly episodes – enjoy.


Smigly spins in the existential hamster wheel and we hope you aren’t. (If you are, see this.)


Timely, in light of this week’s U.S. elections, a time when economic and political fluff phrases are being tossed around like giant balls of toxic cotton candy.


So many phones, so little talking.


Somewhere between Big Brother, Uncle Sam and The Man, Smigly is on the brink of pushing daisies.


If you happen to have a bit of a social media…problem (and we should know), you’ll no doubt reluctantly relate to this one.

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08 OCTOBER, 2010

What Is Procrastination: 5 Perspectives


We meant to publish this last Friday.

What exactly is procrastination, this seemingly universal source of everyday vexation? And what can we really do about it? How did it evolve as an adaptive mechanism and does it serve any creative purpose? Today, we look at the infamous phenomenon from five different angles, from the scientific to the philosophical to the playful, and hope to emerge with some insight for tomorrow or, at the very least, a smile for today.


A long, long time ago we raved about this fantastic animated exploration of the nature of procratination by artist Johnny Kelly, created as his Royal College of Art graduation film in 2007 — an investigative study of putting things off that is as thoughtful as it is creatively outstanding.

(You may recall more of Kelly’s work from pickings past.)


Behaviroal economist Dan Ariely, author of the excellent Predictably Irrational and its fantastic sequel, The Upside of Irrationality, is easily the world’s most compelling researcher on the relationship between emotionality, rationality, morality and decision-making. In this BigThink interview, he breaks down the psychological underpinning of procrastination and what we can do about it.

We say we’re not designed to care about the future. We just can’t change that. We just can’t change the fact that we’ll think every day: what I do now will translate to 30 years from now. So instead of what we can do, is we can create other benefits that will be more in the present; kind of import new benefits for the present.”


Episode 3 of the 2006 season of Lev Yilmaz‘s YouTube sensation Tales of Mere Existence tackles the issue of procrastination with pen, paper and Lev’s characteristically humble humor.

For more of Lev’s genius, we highly recommend his book, Sunny Side Down — a charming adaptation of his video tales to the printed page with original comics on various stages and circumstances of everyday life, from childhood to twentysomething uncertainty.


We heart Ellen. And this bit about procrastination from her excellent 2003 HBO special, Here & Now, reveals every brilliant, hilarious, intelligently funny reason why.

For what it’s worth, we think Ellen is one of the great entertainers of our time, the ones who manage to sidestep today’s easy weapons of quasi-humor — insults, stereotyping, pointless profanity — to deliver a kind of comedic genius that is timeless, universal and built on poking honest fun in tender human truths without drawing blood. Here & Now is that genius at its pinnacle and we highly recommend it.


The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination is an absorbing anthology featuring essays by a wide range of scholars and writers spanning the entire spectrum of theoretical and empirical.

From the morality of it (is procrastination a vice?) to its possible antidotes (what are the best coping strategies?), the book is an essential piece of psychosocial insight. That is, if you get around to reading it.

For a closer look at the book and what insights from it can tell us about ourselves, do read this excellent inaugural New Yorker article by James Surowiecki, which offers both a fascinating historical perspective and a practical takeaway from decades of research on the subject.

This is the perplexing thing about procrastination: although it seems to involve avoiding unpleasant tasks, indulging in it generally doesn’t make people happy.” ~ James Surowiecki

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