Recommendation Dump September 2017

Oh, Hello On Broadway — Oh, Hello is a comedy act created by Nick Kroll and John Mulaney—two comedians who are terrific on their own, and dynamite together. Kroll plays the child-like Gil Faizon, and Mulaney plays the near-psychotic George St. Geegland—two seventy-something New Yorkers who are tantalizingly delusional, pretentious, and mean-spirited. The two have a terrific dynamic that doesn’t smack of the usual straight-man funny-man schtick, since they’re both ludicrous caricatures of elderly Upper West Side residents. Mulaney and Kroll have been refining these characters for over a decade, on Kroll Show, on podcasts, at live shows, and countless other places. Don’t take my word for it—you can watch them on youtube here here here and here, and actually a bunch more places if you like, but those are just a primer.

So, the show itself. The show is part stand-up routine, part parody, and part variety show. The conceit is that Gil and George are performing one of the many plays that George has written, though there is constant fourth-wall breaking throughout, including a long opening segment in which the two introduce themselves, and send-up various Broadway tropes. The play within the play is essentially autobiographical for George and Gil, although the characters in it are much more successful versions of themselves. In the middle of the show is a segment where, embedded as a prank show within the play-within-the-play, the two interview some celebrity—during the run of the show, it was a different person each night, but for the Netflix special it’s Steve Martin. It’s a nice little breather in the middle of the non-stop barrage of jokes and gaffes, where Kroll and Mulaney get to exercise their (practiced) improv chops, and the audience gets to see a different person making jokes on stage.Read More »

Recommendation Dump, September 2016

Jurymore –  Another podcast from the great Justin Robert Young, though unlike my previous recommendation of Politics Politics Politics (which I’m recommending again right now because it is continually terrific and it’s now going up three times a week) this one is not a one man podcast. It’s also not ongoing—it ended awhile ago, at about 30 episodes long. It ended because Justin got married—that’s the premise of the podcast. Justin Robert Young and his then fiancée Ashley Paramore recorded a regular podcast for the better part of a year leading up to their wedding, and document the process of planning the ceremony.

Terrific. The two have great rapport, and most episodes focus on an interesting topic—often something to do with the wedding planning, sometimes just something to do with relationships. Their honesty and ability to speak (and sometimes argue) freely while streaming the podcast live is refreshing, and some of the greatest moments of the podcast are when they get into fights. Because the two really are a terrific couple, and their fights aren’t abusive nonsense, they’re genuine arguments. And the whole show has an energetic, comedic tone, because it’s JuRY after all.

Also, they had the wedding ceremony at DragonCon, so once you’ve finished the podcast you can watch it, like a finale.Read More »

Recommendation Dump, May 2016

Here are things I like.

Skeleton Gardens – Just a simple Ludum Dare game, but one with a really unique look and feel. You play as some sort of reaper, planting trees which grow skeletons warriors, as well as seeds to plant more trees. To ensure that the trees grow to maturity, you have to protect them from waves of knights attacking you. All of the trees appear to be randomly generated, as do the walls you can build and the special, massively destructive attack, all of them forming gnarly fractal patterns. Another fun thing about the game is that it always ends overwhelmingly—either you become overwhelmingly powerful, with hundreds of trees begetting hundreds more (and you get bored and close the game or let yourself die), or you’re crushed under an enormous onslaught of knights. I guess there’s something cathartic in that. There’s no cheap or meaningless death. The music is real fun too.

Politics Politics Politics – Of all the podcasts I listen to, this is the only one that’s pretty much a one-man show. Justin Robert Young, the host of Politicsx3, occasionally has on guests, but for the most part it’s just him—and he does a fantastic job. The content of the show is evident in the title. Politics, man. Specifically the 2016 US presidential elections. But it’s not a podcast about ideology, or policy, or anything like that. In Justin’s own words, from Episode 0 of the podcast,

“I was the only motherfucker in South Plantation High School who rolled in with the Kenneth Star report … this story perfectly encapsulates why I’m doing this show, why I love politics … I was not reading it because I thought Bill Clinton should be exonerated. I was not reading it because I thought Bill Clinton should be thrown out of the White House. I was reading it because they printed a bunch of shit about a dude getting his dick sucked, in the newspaper! … It is only politics … that has that carte blanche.”

And that’s what makes the show fantastic. Justin is incredibly energetic, and his love of the political game is always on full display. He’s also quite knowledgable about politics, and does a great job of analyzing the strategies of each candidate. The most recent episode came out yesterday, covering the recent dropouts from the election, and the campaign to come. With the primaries (pretty much) over, now’s a great time to start listening. The show is fantastic, and I’m sure it’s only going to get better as we move into the general election.

“How a fluke video game called the Eternal War became a cultural phenomenon—and changed its creator” – I’d heard about The Eternal War awhile ago in a Kotaku article, and I went and looked it up again recently. That’s how I came across this article, which does a really good job describing the whole story of the game. If you’re a normal person and you don’t know what I mean when I say The Eternal War, it’s a Civilization II game that someone played on and off for ten years—well past the time when the game is supposed to end.

Normally, the Civilization games simulate the rise of civilizations, from 4000 BC to the current time—and one of the civilizations will reach a victory condition, and win by the year 2020. But the player can continue playing after this, and one player, James Moore, did—for ten years. In his game, the world became locked in an endless, bloody stalemate between three superpowers, thus giving it it’s name, The Eternal War. That should be enough to intrigue you to read the article, which has plenty more interesting details, about the life of James Moore, and about the community that grew around the game when he posted about it on Reddit. It’s a really cool story about the convergence of history, culture, and technology. Check it out.

Lonely and Horny – If you’ve never watched Jake and Amir, or listened to If I Were You, you should probably go do those things. If you have, it should come as no surprise that Lonely and Horny, the first creative work (that’s been released) from Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfeld since their webseries, Jake and Amir, ended a year or so ago, is hilarious.

The show, consisting of ten eight-to-ten-minute episodes, follows Ruby Jade, played by Amir Blumenfeld, who is enrolled in a hooking up class taught by Josh Rice, played by Jake Hurwitz. The episodes focus on this class and Ruby’s various attempts (and failures) to “close” with a girl. The show doesn’t have much of a story arc, though each episode does add more to the whole. The series feels like a thesis on being lonely and horny and pathetically desperate, and each episode fleshes out more of that, and more of Ruby Jade’s life and personality.

Amir’s performance is captivating. He walks a line between a crazy, exaggerated caricature and a real person with recognizable ticks and behaviors. That’s what makes the character, and the show, so funny. Underneath the over-the-top pick-up lines and sexism is a current of real insecurity—which makes the absurdity of the scenes even funnier. And of course, the scenes between Jake and Amir are dynamite.

The show is now available in its entirety on Vimeo, for $15—and you can watch the first episode free here.

Those were things I like, and hopefully you’ll like them too.

Recommendation: The Accidental Terrorist

If you submit to enough short fiction markets and read the guidelines, you’ll see the phrase “Standard Manuscript Format” over and over again, and almost as often you’ll see the name “Shunn.” This is because the science fiction author William Shunn has done an excellent job over at his website, Shunn.net, explaining and giving clear examples of what Standard Manuscript Format looks like, as well as some of the finer details of it. SMF may as well stand for Shunn Manuscript Format, because probably half the submission guidelines I see provide a link to his website as an example.

So when I was first getting the hang of submission, and didn’t have SMF memorized as I do now, I was constantly checking Shunn’s website. I went there so frequently, I eventually started to stray from just the formatting stuff, and I found a podcast with a strange title, The Accidental Terrorist. The title was especially strange because I didn’t know the reference. I gave it a listen, and was instantly hooked. The podcast is an autobiographical account of WIlliam Shunn’s time as a mormon missionary in Canada. It’s completely immersive, giving an inside look at mormon practices and beliefs, the typical lives of missionaries, and rural Canada. That’s what I love most about the podcast, but it also provides a cast of characters who showcase various aspects of the faith and mission work. The fact that it’s about a young sci-fi writer also hooked me—and it does develop to a pretty compelling narrative thread, eventually. The whole “Accidental Terrorist” thing isn’t just a goofy pun.

If this review sounds lacking in details, it’s because it isn’t really a review. I was going to listen to the podcast for a third time, but I decided against it when I saw that William Shunn would be putting out a hardcover, much-revised edition of the memoir this fall. Instead of relistening to it, I’m going to wait until fall to experience the story once again through a completely different medium. I’ve enjoyed the podcast for free so far, so I figure the $27.95 to pre-order and get a signed copy is well worth it. I’d recommend you do the same—though you don’t have to take my word for it. That podcast is still up, completely free. You can see how wonderfully humorous and enthralling the story is for yourself, and then support a terrific writer with a unique and fascinating story.