Scott Aukerman is an undeniable master of “The Harold,” a term for long-form improv comedy, which relies on word-associations and “and then—” prompts to keep a joke going. For instance, in one episode of his Comedy Bang Bang podcast, a game of “Would You Rather” between Weird Al and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber (played by comedian Paul F. Tompkins) culminated in Webber shooting down Virgin-millionaire Richard Branson’s hot-air balloon. Don’t ask me how it got there, but it’s an example of how Aukerman’s straight-man encouragement can ground the most absurd joke-runs to create comedic brilliance.
In the new Comedy Bang Bang TV show on IFC, Aukerman and ultratalented co-host Reggie Watts subvert the late-night talkshow formula with the same absurdity of the podcast. “Interviews” with celebrities (Amy Poehler, Michael Cera) become derailed by dream sequences or faux-movie trailers (“Get a Womb”: A lawyer who, with It’s a Wonderful Life-sentimentality, wishes he were never born. Wakes up the next day as a grown man still living in the womb, overturns Roe v. Wade). Better catch this while it’s on, because TV this funny rarely lasts.
Books: Memories of Jeffrey
Graphic novelist John “Derf” Backderf’s teenage years in the wooded suburbs of Richfield, Ohio, were happy, carefree, totally Richie Cunningham. He had a close-knit circle of friends, a supportive family and a bright future. Then there was his classmate, Jeffrey Dahmer. Whereas most true-crime treatments of the legendary serial killer emphasize the depravity of Dahmer’s murders, in My Friend Dahmer, Backderf reexamines his personal memories, scours the archives and re-interviews the hometown population to present a sensitive portrait of a deeply troubled young man who could’ve been saved if anyone gave a shit, Backderf included. Dahmer was a recurring character in Backderf’s life, like a creepy Urkel whose catchphrase, “BAAAA!,” was a sick impersonation of his ill mother’s spasms. Dahmer was the awkward mascot of the author’s crew, all the while binge-drinking to subdue his secret homonecrophiliac urges. Backderf’s cartoon The City has been entertaining alt-weekly readers across the country for years, but this graphic novel will please not only the pop-literary nerds (who will see similarities with David B.’s memoir Epileptic and Charles Burns’ dark coming-of-age tale Black Hole) but also the TV-special-devouring masses who just can’t get enough of cannibal killers.
Podcast: The weekly show
You know John Oliver, right? That British correspondent from Comedy Central’s The Daily Show? No? Perhaps you might know him as psychology professor Ian Duncan on NBC’s Community? No? How about the voice of Vanity Smurf in the historical thriller The Smurfs? Yeah, that’s the one. Before he was an obscure comedian in New York, Oliver was an obscure comedian in the U.K., and, in fact, he still is, though he is quite literally phoning it in. For several years now, Oliver has telecommuted with London-based fellow satirist (and criminal punstermind) Andy Zalztman to record The Bugle, a free, weekly podcast breaking down the top stories in American, British and rest-of-the-planet politics. They crack the offensive political jokes that no one else would dare, or even bother to write down, and are likely owed several slaps in the face from the Queen, a judo flip from Vladimir Putin and the tank-pancake treatment from Bashar “Sexy and I know it” Al- Assad. The podcast is nearing its 200th episode, so you can either download the latest on Fridays or work back through recent history Merlin-style.
Books: Mom-and-pop trash trade
With the rising popularity of news aggregators and so-called “citizen journalists,” some overlook the importance of investigative reporting and narrative-style writing. To experience the incredible power of old-school “New Journalism,” get yourself a copy of Behind the Beautiful Forevers, the groundbreaking debut book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Katherine Boo. The product of three-and-ahalf years of painstaking, onthe-ground reporting, the book centers around a family in a Mumbai slum that runs a business selling trash. Capturing scenes with indelible detail, Boo—a staff writer at The New Yorker—draws an intimate, moving portrait of life in one of the world’s poorest, most neglected communities (Boo calls India’s slums “undercities”) while simultaneously providing invaluable analysis of the way these communities are affected by global market capitalism. In the bleak struggle for upward mobility, human relationships become defined by profit motive, corruption serves as a business opportunity and even the cost of garbage is affected by the global economic downturn. Don’t expect any of Slumdog Millionaire’s fantasy narratives here, and don’t expect stuffy armchair economics, either. What you get with this book is reality—brutal and complex.
Website: The Etsy alternative
In 2005, Rob Kalin created what’s now the world’s largest DIY marketplace, Etsy. While an unquestionable success, with its more than 800,000 “shops,” entering Etsy can be like going down the rabbit hole. Enter Folksy. Based in the U.K., Folksy’s been around since 2009 but retains a sort-of fresh-faced charm (or, maybe that’s simply because it’s British). Unlike Etsy, where plenty of shops are vintage re-sale, Folksy’s straight-up handmade crafts, from Star Wars finger puppets to artisan wedding bands to a shop called “Wife of Brian” that sells knitted beards. There’s plenty here for Anglophiles, and a great little craft-supply marketplace. Sure the shipping costs might be a little more—but, surprisingly, not that much more. Folksy also has its own online magazine, called Frankly, which includes profiles of DIYers (“Meet the Maker”) and a feature called “Essential Kit,” in which Folksy folks offer a peak behind the creative curtain and discuss the materials and instruments they use to make their goods.