Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘humor’

13 JUNE, 2011

John Lithgow Reads Mark Twain, Live-Illustrated

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What a chronically sleepy man has to do with litmus tests of literary success.

LIVE from NYPL is a fantastic live event series from the New York Public Library, featuring readings and discussions by, with and about cultural icons and luminaries ranging from Jennifer Egan to Lemony Snicket to Jay Z. (A Brain Pickings favorite from a few years ago: The excellent panel on remix culture with Lawrence Lessig, Shepard Fairey and Steven Johnson.) In the spring of 2009, NYPL put on an event titled How to Live Dada: Andrei Codrescu, Henry Alford & Mark Twain Interview Each Other!, as a teaser for Codrescu’s then-new book, The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess. Part of the program featured never-before-published works by Mark Twain, read by John Lithgow and live-illustrated by NYPL artist in residence Flash Rosenberg, in a style reminiscent of the RSA‘s.

This segment is based on Chapter 2 of Twain’s Who Is Mark Twain, titled Whenever I am about to publish a book…. In it, Twain outlines the fourteen types of people, who he believes are archetypes representative of the general public in sum — including an intensely practical person, a sentimental person, a hypercritical person, and a man who inevitably falls asleep — and concludes:

But the man whom I most depend upon is the man who always goes to sleep. If he drops off within 15 minutes, I burn the book. If he keeps awake three quarters of an hour, I publish, and I publish with the greatest confidence, too. For the intent of my books is to entertain and by making this man confortable on a sofa and timing him, I can tell, within a shade or two, what degrees of success I’m going to achieve.” ~ Mark Twain

Who Is Mark Twain features 24 priceless pieces by the iconic author, culled by by Robert Hirst, General Editor of The Mark Twain Project at UC Berkeley.

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03 MAY, 2011

Old Jews Telling Jokes

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What Milton Glaser has to do with a Rotweiler and your mother.

We’ve previously had our fun with some painfully hilarious politically incorrect books, most of which began as blog projects. But we’d be remiss not to add the apologetically titled, apologetically funny Old Jews Telling Jokes. Available as both a book (Old Jews Telling Jokes: 5,000 Years of Funny Bits and Not-So-Kosher Laughs) and a DVD, it’s an absolute string of comedic gems that don’t fail to tickle the funny bone of people of all faiths.

The joke-tellers range from mere mortals — doctors, lawyers, wine salesmen, garment workers — to icons like Milton Glaser, for a vibe that’s part Larry David without the painful awkwardness, part Seinfeld without the painful laughtrack, part something completely authentic altogether.

And just in time for Mother’s Day, why not warm up with six jokes about mothers?

via Coudal

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24 MARCH, 2011

The Atomic Cafe: Lampooning America’s Nuclear Obsession

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What vintage bomb survival suits have to do with Dr. Stragelove and Richard Nixon.

The recent tragedy in Japan has triggered a tsunami of terror, founded and unfounded, about the potential risks of nuclear reactors. While there are people better equipped than us to explain the precise implications of the situation, we thought we’d put things in perspective by examining the flipside of these dystopian fears: The exuberant optimism about nuclear power in mid-century America.

The Atomic Cafe (1982) offers clever satire of America’s atomic culture through a mashup of old newsreels and archival footage from military training films, government propaganda, presidential speeches and pop songs — remix culture long before it became a buzzword. From congressmen pushing for nuclear attacks on China to mind-boggling inventions like the “bomb survival suit,” the darkly humorous film revolves around the newly built atomic bomb and pokes fun at the false optimism of the 1950s, showing how nuclear warfare made its way into American homes and seeped into the collective conscience from the inside out.

Though the collector’s edition DVD is a winner, the film — which became a cult classic often referred to as the “nuclear Reefer Madness” and compared to Kubrick’s Dr. Stragelove — is also available for free online in its entirety:

The Atomic Cafe is a poignant reminder that all social reactions, whatever their polarity, are always a complex function of the era’s cultural concerns, political propaganda and media mongering, rather than an accurate reflection of the actual risks and opportunities at hand.

Please note that none of this is meant as commentary on or an effort to invalidate the debilitating human tragedy in Japan. In fact, we’re diverting Brain Pickings donations this month to the American Red Cross in support of the relief efforts there. Our thoughts remain with the people of Japan as they piece their lives back together.

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04 FEBRUARY, 2011

5 Painfully Hilarious Politically Incorrect Books

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What pedicured pets have to do with Hitler and the supremacy of Y chromosomes.

There’s just too much political correctness in the world these days, stiffening up society like the sun does roadkill. So, today, we turn to five books that flip political correctness on its head and help us loosen up with irony, mockery and sarcasm aimed at the very pillars of PC. Unabashedly offensive and outrageously absurd, they let us, as we laugh through our tears, engage in timely and relevant social commentary through the lens of humor.

STUFF WHITE PEOPLE LIKE

We’ve been fans of Christian Lander’s Stuff White People Like since it first launched nearly 3 years ago. In fact, it was so excellent that it wasn’t long until it joined the ranks of blog-turned-book success stories and Stuff White People Like: A Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions was born: An ingenious portrait of today’s “white” person as a psychographic subset, not an ethnic one — you know, the troops of organic, iconic, iPhone-slinging, Prius-driving educated liberal twenty- and thirtysomethings — that will make you feel distinctly less unique than you think you are.

Browse the full list of stuff and you’ll see what we mean.

PETS WHO WANT TO KILL THEMSELVES

People love their pets. Some just love them a tad too much. Pet pedicures, doggie gyms and an entire thriving mini-fashion industry of pet apparel all speak to a frighteningly frivolous obsession, never mind how its objects might actually feel about it. Pets Who Want to Kill Themselves: Featuring Over 150 Suicidal Pets! is a collection of photos depicting miserable-looking pets, paired with laugh-out-funny captions that capture the most absurd extreme of this domestication abuse epidemic — a tragicomic encapsulation of today’s most outrageous petkeeping.

120 FUNNY SWASTIKA CARTOONS

From acclaimed New Yorker cartoonist Sam Gross comes We Have Ways of Making You Laugh: 120 Funny Swastika Cartoons, which we’ve featured before — a collection of outrageous and poignant visual reflections on the reactions, emotions and controversy the notorious symbol has been triggering for more than half a century. Part exercise in purging some of humanity’s heaviest burdens through humor, part witty meditation on one of history’s darkest episodes, the book lives up to the promise of its title: It will make you laugh.

MEN ARE BETTER THAN WOMEN

This is where things start to get really hairy: The unequivocally titled Men Are Better Than Women by the appropriately named Dick Masterson (surely, a pseudonym) is a practical handbook for the art of chauvinism. The magnum-sized volume offers a plethora of affirmations of man’s greatness, backed by solid man-logic and offering “an immediate payoff.”

If Sacha-Cohen-type humor is your thing, let Masterson — let’s just call him Dick, shall we? — take you for a dance along the line between outrageous offensiveness and amusing absurdity.

LOOK AT THIS F*CKING HIPSTER

Another blog-turned-book deal, based on the popular Tumblr of the same name, Joe Mande’s Look at This F*cking Hipster is belly-achingly hilarious collection of photos, paired with appropriately snarky captions, alongside short essays poking witty fun at the cultural phenomenon that is the hipster.

From a taxonomy of hipster types to a brief history of the hipster through the ages to celebrity hipsters, the book is a kind of fascinating remote people-watching that, finally, lets you stare, point and judge like you always wanted to in The Burg.

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