I heard it through the grapevine.

Vine, the six second video streaming service, is ending. Twitter is killing it.

I WAS going to post a round-up of my favorite Vines next week BUT I GUESS THAT IS MOOT NOW. (On second though, I’ll pepper this post with the vines and this post will look weird and broken in a couple months. JUST LIKE MY FEELINGS ABOUT ENDING VINE.)

Sorry. I haven’t had a chance yet to really process my feelings. I’m at the first stage of grief: eating.

I guess Vine was important to me for a few reasons. For one: it was just really impressive to me that people could get in a solid joke or sketch in six seconds.

 

 

There were a lot of puns.

 

I like puns. But there was some high concept stuff too, that probably had a TON of effort put into it even though it was silly. I’ll post one such video, but describe it below for future generations.

 

A man in glasses says, “Think fast!” and throws a wiffleball. “Think fast…” another man ponders, as intense violin music ramps up. His thoughts are flooded with facts about mitochondria, square roots, and the fact that Leonardo Dicaprio has never won an oscar. The wiffleball hits him in the face. A ton of production for something that lasted six seconds. Special effects, a soundtrack, slow-mo… Props to Daniel Gonzalez, who is one of the big names on Vine. Well. Was.

Vine also had this great internet comedy feedback loop quality. Someone would post a six second video of something silly and ridiculous. Maybe a kid running into the back of a car or a girl dancing by herself before falling off her bed. One thing that always got attention was the various awkward animal-like robots from Boston Dynamics, because they were just so ridiculous looking.

 

People took the original video and remixed it. Added a joke to the joke. Made fun of the original joke. Took that joke and morphed it together with a totally different reference. On and on. Humor on the internet is a lot of this looping in on itself stuff. It’s immediately an inside joke you only “get” if you knew the original. This humor is what I grew up with, so I felt very at home with Vine.

There was, of course, non-humor related videos too. Sometimes people would shoot something cool or artsy. And cute animal videos. Can’t forget those. (Non-Vine link in hopes future generations can watch this corgi hopping down stairs.)

 

I loved it. I would come home after a hard day of work and just veg and watch Vine videos. I didn’t have to care or be invested. It was a “brain shutting down” activity that usually made me laugh.

I only ever posted one Vine. It was a video of me saying, “…Am I doing this right?” while filming a literal Vine. I deleted it out of sheer embarrassment. It sort of lives on in this Instagram picture.

HEY GUYS HOPE YOU ENJOY THIS VINE LMAO #NAILEDIT

A post shared by Lauren Church (@lauren.church.pics) on

 

I’m glad we had Vine, if only for a moment. I’ve got a lot of young comedians to follow on their other social media accounts now. I was listening to an NPR Marketplace interview about Vine ending. Ben Johnson from Marketplace Tech said, “Every artist needs contraints, right?” When Vine first started I was like, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of. How can someone do ANYTHING in six seconds?”

Viners proved me wrong over and over. Here’s one video that disproves my theory, quite handily, in six seconds.(Here’s the YouTube of the slightly longer video for after Vine takes these down.)

 

We go from killing a spider to outer space in six seconds.

I’m really happy I was wrong. RIP Vine.

My “Must Listen” Podcasts

I love podcasts. I used to bike to and from work for years, listening to podcasts with one earbud in. I started with NPR – a ton of NPR – but then comedy podcasting started taking off. Comedians I loved were putting out content for free. What they lost in time they gained in notoriety and new fans. Then there were shows diving into weird, niche topics that only I really cared about and I couldn’t imagine why they existed… except to entertain me. The bike has been replaced with a car, but I still fill my commute with podcasts. They fall into two categories: serious, interesting stuff and dumb, silly comedy stuff. Folks are always asking me what I’m listening to, so here’s a list of my go to podcasts.

Oh, and if you have a show to recommend, let me know! I am always looking for new stuff to listen to.

Here’s the interesting ones!

 

Oh No Ross and Carrie: Ross and Carrie investigate different religions and spiritual/pseudo-science experiences… and they do it from as neutral a place as they can. I was introduced to them when episode one of their series on Scientology dropped. They’re nice people and not looking to expose – just experience and report. Which is why I think this show is so good. Episode to try: Going Preclear (Part 1)

Criminal: This show profiles different crimes and the criminals that commit them. While the topic seems like it would be very narrow, just a rehash of those true crime TV shows you see on all the time, the podcast is fresh and intriguing. Episode to try: Episode 40 – Pappy

Reply All: This show is still all about the internet and still one of my favorites! I’ve talked about them before, but this is a reminder that you should be listening to them. Episode to try: #47 – Quit Already!

 

If you’re a big dumb comedy nerd like I am, try these out!

 

Comedy Bang Bang: CBB is my must listen to podcast every week. Comedians come on and become silly characters and have an improvised conversation. It is often weird and raunchy and is sort of the quintessential improv comedy experience through your ears. It has introduced me to characters I love. It has a TV show now. It is not 100% Grade A every time, but it makes me laugh. If you’re a serious comedy nerd, I’d recommend it wholeheartedly. Everyone else will probably just find this weird and judge me a lot. Episode to try: #338 – Be My Guest, Literally! They usually don’t just have regular people in the studio but their special guest plays along really well. If you like this, I’d listen to the “Best of” episodes to see if you’re in.

Spontaneanation: Comedian Paul F. Tompkins didn’t start out as a king of comedy podcasts, but he is now. Prolific and a great improviser, he’s a frequent guest on other shows. But did you know he has his own?! Yes! It’s a funny improv podcast of a different sort. Paul has on a guest, that guest has a conversation with him and then he and his “improviser friends” make up a scene based on the chat. I am especially fond of improv and PFT so, again, if you’re not a deep comedy nerd maybe not your thing. Episode to try:  #4 Savannah, Georgia. It’s just a silly time with silly voices and gives you a good idea of what this show is all about. BONUS RECOMMENDATION: Watch PFT and puppets on ‘No You Shut Up!’ on YouTube.

How Did This Get Made?: Paul Scheer from “The League” sits down with his wife June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas (one of my favorites) to review terrible movies. Comedy and terrible movies are two of my favorite things, so this is just a natural win. Fun fact! This podcast is the reason why I went back and watched all of the Fast and the Furious movies! Episode to try: If you see a movie on their episode list you’ve watched, go for that, but otherwise try #53 Anaconda. You can listen to this without having watched the movie because they do a good job talking about it, but… you also pretty much know what you’re getting into.

Another Great Show Just Ended: Your moment of zen.

Yesterday, we said goodbye to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. As I’ve been thinking about it this week, I’ve been reminded of a conversation I had with a friend some years ago that was really an ‘a-ha’ moment for me.

We were talking about podcasts and comedy and when speaking in reference to me, he said, “…as someone who cares a lot about comedy-”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean you clearly care a lot about comedy.”

“Yeah… I mean, I guess. You say that like not everyone loves to laugh. Or that it’s a BAD thing.”

“I don’t mean it like that. Not everyone cares about comedy. You follow comedians’ careers?”

“Yeah!”

“Go to their movie’s opening weekend? Read their books? Watch sitcoms every week and not just the stuff that happens to be on when you turn on the TV?”

“Of course!”

“Lauren. Not everyone is like that.”

Which was crazy to me. I understand maybe not having your top 5 comedians at the ready to talk about at a moment’s notice, or a dissertation about how the film Wet Hot American Summer contains almost every genre of comedy… but I just sort of assumed everyone cared about comedy like I did. In my adult life, I have come to understand that it isn’t a universal truth. But I feel like people of my generation really do understand and care a lot about comedy. Jon Stewart has everything to do with this.

Jon Stewart took over the desk at The Daily Show in 1999. I was in my teens. He was fresh faced, sharp, and, even in those early shows, polished with solid jokes. Comedy Central’s website has been playing a “Month of Zen”, marathoning every episode he’s ever done, and I’ve found myself just letting it play in the background while I do housework or make dinner. “SOLID JOKE!” I’ve been yelling back at the TV, whenever he lands something particularly silly or punny.

The Daily Show’s comedy ushered us into the new millennium and reported on truly monumental moments in our lives. National tragedies, historic changes, technology and the evolution of the internet, politics, journalism itself… Jon has spoken about everything under the sun.

He’s done all this through the lens of comedy, which has helped my generation be more informed and connected to the world around us. That’s because his comedy, and his wonderful writers, have made these complicated topics approachable. He has been a reliable and knowledgeable voice. And he has been a constant. Other news venues have changed, folded, or cycled through their talking heads faster than we could keep up with. For 16 years, Stew Beef has been there for us.

Not only has the show developed this trust with his viewers, his correspondents have always been very talented people who have gone on to be some of our comedy elite. We looked to them to laugh and kept following them even after they left.

The Daily Show has so closely blended comedy with our day-to-day lives, I don’t see how someone who has watched this show over the years couldn’t care about comedy. Jon taught us to look at a situation and see what was funny about it. What was absurd. What was crazy. Sometimes we laughed so we wouldn’t cry. Sometimes we laughed and cried anyway. We learned, too, about what makes us human. What connects us to something greater than ourselves.

That’s a lot of the reason why I kept coming back to The Daily Show. It would be easy to just watch the news, including Stewart’s reporting, and be really, really jaded. The difference between the ‘just the facts’ of “real news” and The Daily Show is that Jon helps us believe things are going to be okay. That at the end of the day, while things are scary or tumultuous or just wacky, it’s alright. Because we still have fart jokes. And we still have each other. To tell the fart jokes to.

I’m going to miss Jon. At least the Republican primary field has been a wonderful parting gift for him.

Jon. I can call you Jon, right? After all these years, I think we’d be on a first name basis. You know what I always fantasized about? My interview on The Daily Show. In my head, THAT was my measure of success. I’d save a dozen puppies from a burning building, film my stand-up special “I’m Part of the Problem”, write a book about pizza, and THEN I’d go on The Daily Show to pitch it… and get to talk to you. I’m bummed that’ll never happen. But we had 16 years of you. I guess we can give you back to your loved ones. Or whatever.

But thanks. Thanks for making us laugh. Thanks for the best news team ever. Thanks for introducing a whole generation to the finer points of comedy.

Now, here it is, Jon. Your moment of zen.

WTF, POTUS, and podcasting.

Okay, let’s get this out of the way: this post isn’t about politics. There’s no blue state/red state, republican/democrat, duck season/rabbit season stuff in here. Can we all agree to take a step back from that? Cool? Cool.

As you know, I am a podcast consumer. One of the most popular podcasts out there is WTF, a one-on-one interview show with comedian Marc Maron. Maron’s show has been increasingly popular, producing 600+ episodes at this point and resulting in him getting his own TV show. Guests are generally involved in the world of comedy. They span from household names like Mike Birbiglia and Jim Gaffigan to comedic staples like Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon, and the great Mel Brooks.

As the show’s audience has grown, Maron has been able to get some exclusive guests and really riveting interviews. Both Jon Hamm and Bryan Cranston have been interviewed. Larry King and Terry Gross came on, which is pretty meta. Comedian Todd Glass came out as gay on WTF. If you want to hear something really awkward, listen to the Gallagher interview. Spoilers, he doesn’t handle a question well!

But all of these good gets don’t compare to this week’s guest: President Obama. Yes, the leader of the free world sat in a comedian’s garage for an interview. And as interviews go, it’s very good! You can listen to it here. They do get into politics, but there’s a lot about Obama as a person. It’s not Meet the Press or anything, but I enjoyed it. “I was seeking to connect in an emotional way.” Maron says, looking back on the interview – and, really, that’s his style with every person he’s interviewed, president or no.

That approach is what makes Marc such a remarkable interviewer. He is a very raw and honest performer, often describing himself as “heady” and sort of orally wallowing in his anxiety and perceived inadequacies. He’s struggled with his career, addiction, relationships… and it’s all out there. It’s really impossible to be intimidated or guarded with someone like that.

A coworker recently recommended writer Charles Bukowski to me. My only knowledge of Bukowski and his style is that he is open and crass and really leaves no topic off the table. “You’ll like him because he’s saying things we’re all thinking or experiencing. They’re ugly things, but we can all connect with them.” my coworker said. I think Marc is a lot like that. Marc doesn’t come off as crass to me, but there have definitely been people I’ve recommended the show to who have come back and let me know they do not care for him. And that’s fine. I suppose I might have just outed myself as crass. Ah well.

My point is these are the kind of people worth listening to. Even in the interview, Obama explains that his communications folks thought the interview with Maron was a good idea. The podcast is “new” media and draws an audience that is younger, maybe people who haven’t “made up their mind” about Obama and politics yet. Maybe. But I think it goes beyond that. Obama could have gone on Meet the Press or PBS NewsHour. But instead he did WTF – a podcast. Which for being “new” media, is actually old media dressed up and digital.

Podcasts are all about storytelling. Like a radio address from a president or an old timey superhero story with a guy in a soundbooth beating on a rump roast for punching sound effects. We’re listening to something that lasts longer than three minutes. It’s not an aggregator website where the person responsible for the original content can be hidden behind fourteen layers of links and ads and people “reporting” on someone else’s efforts. It’s not someone else giving a five minute summary of how they see or understand it, with their opinion laced throughout so you never get your own chance to decide or use critical thinking skills. We end up devoid of context. It’s hard to hear the full story or get the whole conversation anymore.

Podcasts lets us hear all of it, sometimes captured from the people as it happened, sometimes recounted by a reporter or storyteller. It is real genuine moments and stories. Sure, there’s editing. But the format just lends itself to naturally letting something breathe and getting the whole story out there. I think this is, too, why comedy itself has thrived in podcasting. Comedy comes from stories and real moments. Capturing spontaneity. Recorded audio can’t be taken back, just like a joke you make about your ex-wife in a room of strangers.

To circle back to Obama, the interview is a long conversation. They talk back and forth and there’s no breaks, no strict agenda. For those who are comfortable operating in sound clips and treating information “a friend heard from a friend” as gospel, it’s probably a bit jarring if not boring. But there’s more truth in there. More honesty. I think that’s why I appreciated this so much. It’s not just because Obama got interviewed by a comedian. It’s that Obama allowed us to see him this closely. That he chose an honest medium.

That authenticity is why I enjoy podcasts so much. Maybe I’ll get tired of typing my words and start one. I picked the name “First Time Long Time” for my never to be released podcast some years ago. When I think about it, I start getting anxious about it… But then I listen to Marc and I feel better. Because if he can handle it, I can get it together.

In Memoriam

Like millions of others, I watched the SNL 40th anniversary show on Sunday night. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed SNL and how influential it was to me as a young person who did stand-up sets on my parents fireplace and was sure I’d find a life in comedy. For years I wasn’t allowed to watch SNL or it’s slightly hipper cousin In Living Color. I’d sneak away and watch as much as I could, but it wasn’t until my last few years in high school where I really was able to enjoy it. SNL inspired a whole generation of sketch comedy shows for kids in the 90s like Roundhouse and All That. These were proving grounds for young funny people, there by the grace of older, more powerful individuals who saw what SNL could do and knew it could be done for kids as well. But to steal a phrase, there ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.

I devoured SNL. I had the “Best of” DVDs. I stayed up late so I could watch live, the way God intended. I saw Superstar in theaters. No one saw Superstar in theaters. I was committed.

So on Sunday night, I was giddy like that teenage kid as they did new versions of old favorites and revisited sketches and catchphrases that are so iconic and classic, I’d be able to recite them off the top of my head. But the part that really caught me? The ‘in memoriam’ section. I don’t tend to get upset when celebrities die. While people can do great things and contribute to something larger than themselves in a notable way, it’s hard to have true sorrow and remorse when you don’t know someone. Like, know them. But I have genuine remorse that Phil Hartman and Chris Farley have passed on. It probably has some to do with how they died and that I knew them during my formative years. There was just such a genuine enthusiasm for life and comedy that thrived in them that made anything seem possible if you could get someone to crack a smile. That was my default position for so much of my youth. It protected me. If there’s laughter, everything will be okay. The movie ‘Tommy Boy’ speaks to this pretty directly. Tommy doesn’t have any luck with sales for the family business until he embraces just being himself, an earnest and loveable goofball. His humor endears him to people and earns their trust. Phil Hartman did this, too, with an air of authority. Always professional, always the straight man with a wink and a smile, even if he was talking about Colon Blow.

In their characters and in their lives, these two men taught me that I could be taken seriously, even if I was being funny. Humor had an important place and value in our lives and how we communicate. Laughter was essential. In a selfish way, when they passed away I felt robbed, as anyone may when they lose someone they care about. I was also so disappointed because they would no longer be allowed to enjoy the craft they so clearly loved. While we’ve lost a lot of funny people over the years, we haven’t had anyone quite like those two. It was a shame then and it’s a shame now. At least we were able to enjoy what they were able to share with us.

You should watch Love is a Dream, which features Phil Hartman as well as Jan Hooks, who passed away in 2014. It isn’t a comedy piece, and I know I just spent ten minutes talking about comedy, but the short film will undoubtedly bring a smile to your face. You can view it at hulu.com.

UPDATE: I normally don’t amend posts like this, but after I wrote this up, the comedy community lost another great talent. Harris Wittels died earlier this week. He was a writer who worked on a lot of wonderful projects and always made me laugh. He showed up on a lot of podcasts I listened to and managed to throw out even the dumbest jokes and get a chuckle, even if it was uncomfortable. There has been a lot of sharing of grief and memories of Harris over the last few days. Like the two men above, he was willing to be brave (though I doubt he would give it that term) and just give everything to comedy. He’ll be missed for sure. You can see his twitter account, with a lot of great Harris silliness, here: https://twitter.com/twittels