Tag Archives: humor

Science theater begins at home

… for me, anyway. If you aren’t married to one of the world’s foremost science comedians, it might be different for you. Here is Mr. Improbable’s TEDMed talk, and it’s a gem:

And then, this happened. Florence Henderson of “The Brady Bunch” was a contestant on NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” and to answer questions about the Ig Nobel Prizes. From the show’s transcript:

SAGAL: And we always know Mrs. Brady always had a happy ending, so here we go. A special prize was given in Arctic Science and that was given to an international team of scientists who explored what question? A, if ice cubes taken from the polar ice cap can improve a cocktail; B, if putting up big fans on the poles to blow on the Arctic ice can help reverse global warming; or C, how reindeer behave when they are approached by humans dressed as polar bears.

HENDERSON: Oh, jeez. What was A again?

SAGAL: A was if ice cubes taken from the ancient polar ice cap will actually make your cocktail taste better.

HENDERSON: I think I have to go with that.

People often say, “It was a dream come true” when what they really mean is that something they hoped very much would happen happened. But having Florence Henderson answer questions about your husband’s business on a game show? Now that really is like a dream–a post-pizza-and-Netflix-binge dream–come true.

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So, my husband wrote a book

Mr. Improbable, aka Marc Abrahams, has not one but two bouncing baby books to brag about–This Is Improbable, Too, a collection of Marc’s essays and columns from the Guardian (exploring such questions as why it is so impossible to estimate the number of stupid people in circulation and who is the Einstein of pork carcasses), and The Ig Nobel Prize Cookbook, a “science humor cookbook filled with delicious and other recipes invented, inherited, devised, and/or improvised by winners of the Ig Nobel Prize, Nobel laureates, and organizers of the Ig Nobel Ceremony.”

Speaking of the Ig Nobel Prizes, they’re next Thursday, and sold out, but you can watch them online. Here’s a promo!

You can also join us at the Informal Lectures on Saturday, September 20 at 1pm at MIT Building 26, room 100. Come early, it’s free and always jammed. (If you like strange science and/or strange people, the Informal Lectures are even more fun than the ceremony proper, since the speakers get five whole minutes to explain what they did, and audience members can ask them questions.)

And because that’s not enough, he’s also doing a talk at TEDMED in Washington, D.C., this week. I’m joining him there, so posting may be light for the rest of the week.

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Exile, fandom, acne, hair, dance

And I’m back, everyone! The break was nice, although I never had any sort of great Passover-y moment of revelation. One thing I found myself thinking of a lot was the people who were born and died during those 40 years in the wilderness, who had no memory of Egypt and didn’t live long enough to see the Promised Land. I’ve never greatly identified with Moses — the Lord is always sayething unto him, for one thing, and the Lord doesn’t sayeth unto me very often, if at all. But those cynical Gen-Xers of Exodus, tired of the Greatest Generation’s war stories, wondering if they’re anything to hope for, really … them, I get.

Some good reading from last week: this article in the Globe about fandom. It focuses on sports fans, but many of the dynamics are true of fans of anything else (a celebrity, a television show, a band) as well. Are you a “fan” of anything, to the point of buying a t-shirt, following someone on Twitter, or joining a group (online or off) for the purposes of discussing that thing? I’ve become a fairly avid fan of several television shows, most notably “Deadwood,” to the point of writing fan fiction and buying a “Star & Bullock Hardware” shirt.

A piece in Slate on why humans are the only animals to have acne, and also the only ones that would be psychologically bothered by it. (Evolution is a cruel trickster.) New treatments have made acne rarer among teens, but that very fact might increase the suffering of those who can’t afford treatment, or for whom nothing has been successful.

I was fascinated to read that blogger S.E. Smith recently cut her long hair very short, and found that she was darned near considered antisocial for wanting to keep it her business what she did with the ponytail. Specifically, she faced a lot of pressure to donate her hair, a practice which has gone from being a nifty option for people suddenly in possession of a braid no longer attached to their head, to becoming near-mandatory, the default option. The thing you have to explain if you don’t do it.

This bothers me. A great deal. Two years ago, I wrote about a New Yorker article on people who donate kidneys to strangers. My reaction to it then was strong and visceral, and has since become more focused. This notion of one’s body as a resource that may be owed to strangers is deeply problematic. As I wrote two years ago:

I would not donate a kidney to a stranger, nor do I feel any sense of a moral call to do so merely on the grounds that I could. My body and its functions are not some form of wealth that I am hoarding like Scrooge McDuck: they are constitutive of my identity. They are ME. And no one has an a priori right to my blood, my organs, my womb. I may choose to share, but that is my choice. Having two kidneys when others have none is not the same has having two loaves of bread when others have none. The body is different. I do not owe anyone access to my body.

As an etiquette matter, let’s all take note that “Did you donate your hair?” is a question better left unasked.

Finally, on a less existential note, let this hilarious pantomime/interpretive dance by David Armand brighten your Monday. I love this guy’s work! Am I the only one who finds brilliantly talented physical comedians way sexy? (See also: Danny Pudi.)

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My friend Molly again

Molly was visiting Merrimack College last week and photographed its famously awkward three-quarters sculpture of Robert Frost:

She annotated her photograph with the following homage:

Some say my statue will end in thighs,
Some say in feet.
From what I’ve come to realize,
I hold with those who favor thighs.
But if they sculpted me complete
I think I know enough of art
To say that for completion, feet
Are also nice,
And would be neat.

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Amanda Palmer sings the year’s best Tweets

This is too great: Amanda Palmer singing some of the year’s best tweets.

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A much-needed intervention

Have you seen Second City’s “Sassy Gay Friend” series, in which a sassy gay friend talks some sense into famously self-destructive female characters from literature? They’re hilarious — I mean, yada yada yada gay stereotypes and all that, but it’s very funny, very pointed, and most of my gay friends laugh hysterically at them and then go back to working for important things like marriage equality.

In this episode, Sassy Gay Friend takes on one of the most horrifying tales of all time: Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree”:


Seriously, how awesome is that? And how much do I hate “The Giving Tree”? The Tree gives, and gives, eventually allowing herself to be mutilated into a stump, by a boy/man who abandons her and returns only when he has exhausted her resources and his own. It’s like a kids’ primer on domestic violence; it should have been titled “He Hit Me and It Felt Like a Kiss, Charlie Brown!”

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… and on the topic of pregnant women

What is with all this Shakespearean nonsense about Macduff not having been “of woman born”? McSweeney’s puts that lie to the test:

MACDUFF: I was extracted surgically, in an operation.

MACBETH: Okay, but thou wast still born, right?

MACDUFF: No. Untimely ripped.

MACBETH: Okay, but after thou wast ripped, thou wast of woman born.

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April, fools

How can you do an April Fools’ Day prank when every day, reality surpasses satire? “Vice President Dubs Health Care Reform ‘A Big Fucking Deal.'” “Oscar Winner for Heartwarming Film about Inter-Racial Friendship Dumped for Neo-Nazi Mistress.” “Thousands of American Refuse to Answer ‘Invasive’ Census Questions While Posting Drunken Pictures of Selves on Facebook.” “Rod Blagojevich to Be Contestant on ‘The Apprentice.'”

As they say, you couldn’t make this stuff up. So I’m sympathetic, overall, to people who fall for hoaxes or rumors at first. (No sympathy for those who run to e-mail everyone they know about it without first checking on snopes.com.)

But today, I thought I’d share my favorite with you, and this, I promise, is not made up. I’m not messing with you.

Back in 2000, The Onion — a satirical newspaper parody — published an article entitled “Harry Potter Books Spark Rise In Satanism Among Children.”

Shortly after, Readers’ Digest published an article about J.K. Rowling. Reader response was positive, except for one woman who wrote:

“I am shocked that Reader’s Digest would put someone like J.K. Rowling on the cover without more investigation about what she really believes. Harry Potter is doing much to further the evil in this world through spells and incantations. It saddens me that parents prefer to look the other way when something is ‘popular.'”

This is where it gets awesome, though. Because a few months later, this same woman — Laurie Rice of Athens, Georgia — wrote back to Readers’ Digest with this gem:

I was angered you did not print my entire comments on Harry Potter (“You Said It”, February) and left important points out. I made these comments because I read an article from theonion.com quoting J.K. Rowling. These concerns need to be publicized. She is an admitted Satan worshipper. There has been an increase in 14 million children into the church of Satan as a result of these books.

The editors responded:

We hope you’ll be relieved to learn theonion.com is actually the website for a satirical newspaper, with a readership of five million. The article you read was a spoof — unfortunately passed along as a fact by countless people. Even Christianity Today calls the Harry Potter series “a Book of Virtues with a pre-adolescent funny bone,” containing “wonderful examples of compassion, loyalty, courage, friendship, and self-sacrifice.” — Eds.

I hope you agree with me that the editors’ response was a perfect blend of snark and politesse. Because you know perfectly well that Ms. Rice would not be relieved to learn this. It’s not as though you or I thought that our laptops were being recalled, and then found out that in fact, they weren’t. Ms. Rice wanted to believe that Harry Potter is evil, and I’m sure she was very, very disappointed to have her “evidence” debunked.

What do you think the odds are that she found some brand new “evidence” right quick-like to support that which she wanted to believe anyway?

Happy April! Fool the day!

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Dangling modifiers

Teabag tag du jour:

“Without realizing who you are, happiness cannot come to you.”

Okay, happiness. I’ll be at the Rialto at 7pm Friday night. At the end of the bar, sipping a Manhattan and wearing a pink rose pinned to the collar of my dress.

For the history of the teabag-tag wars, go here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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… and yet another letter

So many interesting responses to the links, and about last names! Anyway, as I’d mentioned earlier, there were also some letters in the last issue in response to my column with the grandmother who was upset over her granddaughter’s amputation. Most were positive and all were very thoughtful. I also received a letter from a friend of mine who has a family member who lost an arm in an accident. This is the same friend who has such a wicked, prankish sense of humor that I didn’t believe her when she told me Tori Spelling would be the guest host on the “Today Show.”

She certainly wasn’t pranking me in this letter, but as you can see, her sense of humor is a family trait:

One year ago, my 18-year old niece lost the majority of her right arm following a car accident. My niece (and her whole family) couldn’t possibly have a better attitude about it, given that moping won’t make the thing grow back. Some folks in their little Iowa town were somewhat taken aback about their sense of humor, but screw them — it’s not their problem! If having a laugh about it and not dwelling on “the sadness” helps them through, then have at it!

For example:

(1) Four days after the amputation, my niece came home from the hospital in the shirt she insisted that my brother bring for her: an “It’s only a flesh wound” Black Knight shirt.

(2) She sent Valentine’s e-cards to everyone (one month after injury!) with a picture of her waving her pink-wrapped stump and the sentiment: “I nub you!”

(3) Here is a list of “Stump Stories” that she and her family came up with, to make the story more interesting than just a car accident:

* College costs an arm and a leg these days, but some grants pay for half.
* An airline lost it
* Iowa Corn Shark
* You know when that guy says “Keep your hands and arms inside the ride at all times.”…
* Magicians assistant for a really bad magician
* I was a carny
* I just can’t have nice things
* Coyote ugly incident
* Police should have shackled both my arms
* My new (car, tv, etc) cost an arm and a leg but I got half off.
* A type of mating ritual
* Train hopping when I was a hobo
* Zombies
* Bad paper cut
* My arm? Oh, ARGGGHHHH!!(acting surprised)
* That mosh pit at Fall Out Boy was scary!
* Maybe a horse bit it off.(from BtVS)
* A new weight loss program. “Ask me how I lost 10lbs. FAST!”
* Mexican Standoff
* Well I’m definitely never gonna say, “I would give anything for a hamburger right now!” again…
* Taking candy from a baby is harder than it sounds

So this is the kind of girl who can lose an arm in January of her senior year, graduate on time and start college in the fall as expected, have lots of friends and not crawl into herself. I think the important factor here is that before the accident, she already had an incredible sense of self — she truly didn’t care what others thought about her, but not in a surly teen way. Instead, she just liked herself and her friends, and if you didn’t like her, that was OK. I’ve yet to meet a teen girl who is as well adjusted as she was and is, and I’m getting teary-eyed thinking about how proud I am of her.

What an inspirational — and hilarious — letter. I was laughing and crying as I read it. I’m certainly not saying that there is only one way to respond to a life-changing event such as this, or that it’s the job of people with disabilities to make others comfortable around them. (Although that is a very intriguing topic, and one I’d like to go into sometime.) But I simply had to share this with all of you.

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A handy visual distinction

“The Lion in Winter”:


The terrier in winter:


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I have been schooled

… in the matter of prematurely declaring anything the “Most X Ever.” Because something else will surely come along that’s even X-ier, sometimes sooner than you think. You liked Igor, the coroner’s assistant? Check out the Demon Sheep!

(Also, do watch Rachel Maddow’s commentary. She’s so much more polite than I am — I can think of a lot of ways to pronounce the acronym “FCINO” besides the refined “fa-SEE-no” that she chose!)



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Relax NOW, comrade

So last night I was having a nice cup herbal tea before bed, and the teabag tag read, “Never utter a wrong word, think a wrong thought or wish a wrong wish.”

What was particularly odd about this was not that they omitted the all-important Oxford comma, but that this was from a box of “Kava Stress Relief Tea.”

Because nothing relieves my stress quite like being pre-emptively accused of thoughtcrime.

(For the history of the teabag-tag wars, go here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, and here. Yes, someday I will collect these all into one big post! Today is not that day, however.)

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A childhood memory drifts up …

Sunday’s column dealt with the rude questions and comments addressed to parents of only children. I got a letter today from the mother of another only child, who suggested this answer to the “When are you having another” question: “We’re waiting to see how this one turns out first. Ask us when he’s 18.”

I suppose the ConductMom has more or less decided how I’ve turned out, and it’s not as though anyone is pushing her to give me a little brother or sister at this point, finally. But it did remind me of another thing she used to say — when I was a child, people often asked, “But aren’t you afraid she’ll be spoiled?” upon learning I had no siblings. To which my mother would reply, “We were afraid she was, but it turns out she always smells that way.”

You know I had to get it from somewhere.

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The conundrum of the witty retort

I wanted to hold up a comment made by occhiblu in response to my Sunday column, in which I suggested “confessing” to one’s barista that you’ve been seeing other coffee shops. occhiblu wrote:

I think most people think of “witty retort” as one that puts down the other person; it’s nice to see one suggested that lets the other person in on the joke.

Yes! This is exactly it. Long-time readers know my frustration with the request for a “witty retort” to shut someone down. (You know who was really good at witty comebacks? Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde. Check out how life ended up for them sometime.) But of course I do recommend humor, and often. Thanks, occhiblu, for finally putting that distinction into words for me.

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