Hey folks! Happy Tuesday to you, as I switch things up a bit here.
This weekend I had the lovely confluence of having both a “Summer Friday” and the Monday off due to the holiday, so I said to myself “Self, you’ve been working a lot lately. Why not give your hobby writing some time off this week?” And frankly, it was the right idea, as I was really excited to dig into Ulysses and write away for you fine folks.
I hope you had a great weekend, and the week has started well enough for you.
Me? I’ve been very busy. Both with the real job AND with the hobbies-which-are-also-businesses.
Super Art Fight is firing on all cylinders again, as last weekend we had our first official “live show” back, in of all situations, a house party.
Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better situation. An audience of 10-15 people, all of whom knew who we were, what we did, and were excited to see us. This was something we started planning with the party host way back in January 2020, so it was nice to finally have it pay off. The timing could not be more perfect, either, as the Summer has brought us some convention show opportunities, and it’s all leading to our first “proper” live event in the Fall, back at our home, Baltimore’s own Ottobar.
I have to say, I’ve run the gamut of emotions about returning to performing. When you’re not just a performer, but also one of the team planning the event, and ultimately responsible for both other performers and attendees, you weigh things like “social distancing” and “mask wearing” far more than the standard…say, stand-up playing a show at their local club. But last weekend, once we kicked into it, just as it has the past decade plus, all those worries went away, and I was able to focus on finding the funny, and boy did it do my soul something good to be back at it, making people laugh again.
Hopefully, the same good things come of our shows in the Summer, and our “proper” return in the Fall can be the massive celebration we hope it to be.
Now, onto the things…
As you can probably figure from the above anecdote, I’m a big comedy guy. And a person I’ve always considered one of the funniest, not to mention a personal influence, is Conan O’Brien.
I was rather young for his debut on NBC with Late Night, but between things like the Fifth Anniversary DVD, clips on Talk Soup, and reruns on Comedy Central, I quickly became a massive fan of Conan’s work, both from his surreal sense of humor, to the amazing comedians and musical guests he’d feature. I was one of those who said #ImWithCoco when they kicked him off of The Tonight Show, and while I didn’t make a nightly habit of watching his TBS show, I certainly have spent hours watching clips from it on YouTube, not to mention checking out his podcast, Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend every single week. This doesn’t even mention the Saturday Night Live skits and episodes of The Simpsons he had his hand in, melting my mind from a very impressionable age.
Late in June, the titular TBS series Conan wrapped up, ending 28 years of O’Brien’s late night legacy. He will be moving to a variety show format on HBO Max in the near future, but to say goodbye to this era, Vulture’s Josef Adalian caught up with Conan, as he did in 1993, as he did when he took over The Tonight Show, and when he launched the TBS series to take in this era. It’s a hell of a read.
How do you view the time from the start of Late Night in 1993 until now? Is it one long continuum of shows, just with different formats? Or are there more distinct eras in your late-night career? The first three years of Late Night was one experience, which felt like being in a street fight just to stay alive. The first three years of Late Night felt like that sequence in Indiana Jones when he’s on the truck and he climbs in the window and punches the bad guy out, but then the bad guy punches him out the window and he goes completely under the truck, climbs over the back side, climbs on top of the truck and then comes back through the windshield and punches that guy off a cliff. That’s the best visual representation I have for the first three years of the Late Night show.
Then you switch into this other era, the last 16 years of Late Night. Then you get to the Tonight Show period, which is brief — shockingly brief. And then you get into the tour that we took, which was very intense, and then into the TBS show. What is interesting is that, all along, there are different feelings as you go and different looks. But the approach and the comedy philosophy are always the same, which is trying to make things that are silly. The comedy I really like is evergreen. My favorite comedy is not topical; my favorite comedy is making stuff where you don’t need to know, Wait, who’s Joe Manchin, and how does West Virginia play into it? I appreciate that comedy, and I think it can be very brilliantly done. But it’s not what I do.
So I look at the whole thing as this hobbitlike quest where I have my little band of other hobbits, and we’re on this journey to find funny, silly things — images, characters, moments, remotes, travel pieces, puppets, papier-mâché birds, animation. It is a 28-year journey to find silly things that we hope amuse other people. So if you really think about it … whether it’s Late Night or The Tonight Show or Conan, it’s all the same idea.
20 years ago this week, master filmmaker Steven Spielberg tried to conjure up the ghost of one of his fellow artists, the legendary Stanley Kubrick, bringing the long-lost idea of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence to life.
The movie was not beloved in its time, but now, two decades later, Tim Greiving for The Ringer looks back at a movie which should definitely be reconsidered.
When A.I. Artificial Intelligence came out on June 29, 2001, that strange creative “crash” baffled audiences and divided critics. Expecting something like E.T. II, Spielberg fans were instead met by sex robots, an android holocaust, and the bleakest boyhood story line in the director’s career, in which the “boy” is abandoned by his “mother” and cursed to roam the earth for 2,000 years, trying desperately to win her love. The film earned $236 million worldwide, which sounds respectable until you realize it’s the 19th-highest-grossing film that Spielberg’s directed.
In one of the positive reviews, The New York Times’ A.O. Scott called it “the best fairy tale—the most disturbing, complex, and intellectually challenging boy’s adventure story—Mr. Spielberg has made. … He seems to be attempting the improbable feat of melding Kubrick’s chilly, analytical style with his own warmer, needier sensibility.” On the flip side, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that “A.I. exhibits all its creators’ bad traits and none of the good. So we end up with the structureless, meandering, slow-motion endlessness of Kubrick combined with the fuzzy, cuddly mindlessness of Spielberg. It’s a coupling from hell.”
Spielberg’s eyes were wide open to the fact that a film originally conceptualized by Kubrick but completed by him would confuse people, Curtis says. But she also remembers him saying, “I don’t care what anyone ever says: I just made a good movie.” Twenty years of hindsight have proved the director right, and fans of both directors have come to appreciate just how deeply devoted Spielberg was to his friend’s long-gestating, obsessive vision for the film.
I have an incredibly fond memory of seeing this movie, 17 years old then, and while I didn’t entirely get my head around all of it’s concepts, I knew that I had seen something unlike any other movie I’d seen before. I never understood the derision, and I’m glad to see A.I. getting a second chance now. I think it’s time for a rewatch.
Our dear pal the Internet has been around for nearly thirty years, in its “World Wide Web” format, and so much has been created since.
We’ve gone from list servs to Geocities to MySpace to Facebook with dozens of steps in-between. But now, we’re realizing that even with so much created, just as much is being lost. Jonathan Zittrain investigates for The Atlantic.
Enterprising students designed web crawlers to automatically follow and record every single link they could find, and then follow every link at the end of that link, and then build a concordance that would allow people to search across a seamless whole, creating search engines returning the top 10 hits for a word or phrase among, today, more than 100 trillion possible pages. As Google puts it, “The web is like an ever-growing library with billions of books and no central filing system.”
Now, I just quoted from Google’s corporate website, and I used a hyperlink so you can see my source. Sourcing is the glue that holds humanity’s knowledge together. It’s what allows you to learn more about what’s only briefly mentioned in an article like this one, and for others to double-check the facts as I represent them to be. The link I used points to https://www.google.com/search/howsearchworks/crawling-indexing/. Suppose Google were to change what’s on that page, or reorganize its website anytime between when I’m writing this article and when you’re reading it, eliminating it entirely. Changing what’s there would be an example of content drift; eliminating it entirely is known as link rot.
It turns out that link rot and content drift are endemic to the web, which is both unsurprising and shockingly risky for a library that has “billions of books and no central filing system.” Imagine if libraries didn’t exist and there was only a “sharing economy” for physical books: People could register what books they happened to have at home, and then others who wanted them could visit and peruse them. It’s no surprise that such a system could fall out of date, with books no longer where they were advertised to be—especially if someone reported a book being in someone else’s home in 2015, and then an interested reader saw that 2015 report in 2021 and tried to visit the original home mentioned as holding it. That’s what we have right now on the web.
Stay cool out there, my friends! It’s a warm week ahead, pretty much everywhere. I’ll keep browsing the web to find cool things to hit your inbox. That much you can trust.
See you next week.