Been awhile since I've done one of these posts recommending some of the best stuff I've found, so I figure it's about time. Here's a guide to ten nifty things I've found recently that you really ought to discover as well, if you already haven't. Think of me as your personal Director of Fun, and these items as my recommendations to you to break the ennui while you sit indoors in the air conditioning trying to escape the sweltering heat. You're welcome.
Radio Free Steve - Last month, Boston radio personality Steve LeVeille retired from the airwaves after a 35-year career. I've been a fan of Steve's for many years. His overnight broadcast was one of the last live, local overnight radio shows left on the commercial airwaves - you can read more about it in this piece I wrote in 2009 when he was temporarily taken off the air as result of a poor station management decision. Steve has retired to Maine, the lucky bum, and already refers to himself as a part-time writer. Among the things he is writing part-time is this blog, Radio Free Steve. His semi-regular posts maintain his folksy, conversational style and wonderful sense of humor, and it's a good thing for those of us who miss his nightly program to read these reports from Up North. Bookmark it.
In My Hummel Opinion - I treasure writing that makes me laugh out loud, and the posts that my friend Janine Hummel writes over at her blog, In My Hummel Opinion, often make me do just that. When she started out a couple years ago, her blog focused mainly on how-to posts for DIY home decoration; she still occasionally shares project ideas and other informational posts, written in a way that makes it sound like someone as un-handy and unmotivated as I could actually complete such projects successfully (I haven't tried yet. Remember: unmotivated.) Along the way, though, she found her voice in posts that simply share her wickedly funny observations about her life. Whether she's bemoaning the oddities of her town (Vernon, NJ) or sharing the gory details of ocular surgery, she has a point of view that is both sarcastic and incredulous, and a sharp sense of the absurd. Also to be bookmarked.
Heather The Vampire - After a seven-month hiatus, my Absolute Favorite Thing Ever On YouTube has returned! Megahn Perry and Michael Cornacchia are simply brilliant as Heather Campbell (Kelly's best friend who happens to be a vampire in Liam Kyle Sullivan's Kelly videos) and her father, Lou, in this video series presented as Heather's video blog, or vlog (or possibly, vjournal). Heather tries to answer viewers' questions about vampire life, only to be regularly embarrassed by her vodka-loving father's insane malapropisms and usually hysterically crude interjections. Cornacchia is a gifted comic who is often laugh-out-loud funny in his spot-on performance as that person we all know who seems to have neither the filter to censor his words before speaking nor the ability to grasp how others are reacting, but it's Perry who regularly steals the scene with her reaction takes to the camera, shifting from stunned disbelief to horrified embarrassment in a flash. The chemistry between the two is perfect, and especially evident in those instances when they seem to surprise themselves by momentarily dropping character. The Harry Potter episode, below, is one of my favorites and a fine example of their work. (Be aware: NSFW language.)
For the record, I am not a big fan of the Kelly videos from which Heather The Vampire was spun off, but it is worth your time to search for Liam Sullivan's clips as anachronistic radio pitchman Bob Tulap, especially the video in which he's advertising limes.
The Flog - speaking of nifty things you can find on YouTube...my inner geek leapt with joy over the launch of the Geek And Sundry channel this past April, particularly their every-Monday entry, The Flog, which is Felicia Day's video blog (...er, vlog? flog? fjournal?) Gamers out there will know Felicia from her work with The Guild; others might recognize her from the viral "Do You Wanna Date My Avatar?" video from a couple years ago. Her weekly format begins with her sharing her Fave Five things of the moment - websites, games, shows, music, whatever, that she recommends you discover. (Hey...wait a minute...that idea sounds awfully familiar! Well, nyah nyah Felicia! My list is ten, not just five, so I win!) *Ahem.* Anyway...from there she takes part in learning some skill, such as chainsawing swans out of ice, crocheting, or blacksmithing, and then she wraps it all up by answering a viewer question on her typewriter. It's fun; it's entertaining; it's goofy and geeky and should go on your regular viewing schedule. See sample episode below:
Munchkin - I discovered the wonderful game Munchkin from another program on the Geek And Sundry channel, Wil Wheaton's TableTop. (The link is handily set up to show you the specific episode. You're welcome.) Not long after, I had the chance to actually participate in a game, and quickly became hooked. Munchkin both celebrates and mocks traditional role-playing and card deck games like Dungeons & Dragons and Magic The Gathering. Munchkin sets the proper mood for play with its own game play instructions, including a brief summary of the object of the game ("Go down into the dungeon. Kill everything you meet. Backstab your friends and steal their stuff. Grab the treasure and run.") and rules for determining who goes first ("Decide who goes first by rolling the dice and arguing about the results and the meaning of this sentence and whether the fact that a word seems to be missing any effect."). Fight monsters like Shrieking Geeks and Tongue Demons; use nifty weapons like a Rat On A Stick or a Rapier Of Unfairness; beg your friends to help and pray they don't turn around and curse you or, worse yet, help the monsters; and be the first to reach Level 10. Or 20. Or 22. Depends on how you're playing. Gawd it's fun!
Bibliodiscoteque - The first of three podcasts to make this list of very neat things is a monthly entry dedicated to "those who worship the Dewey Decibel System." Bibliodiscoteque bases each podcast on a particular book, and then builds an hour-long (give or take) mix of music inspired by that work. Rather then describe the music you're hearing during the set breaks as a radio DJ would, our host synopsizes the plot of the story at hand (don't worry - no spoilers). The effect is a sonic journey that will keep you hooked for the hour and leave you wanting more: both more of the story and more of the music. More than one episode has sent me scurrying to find new reading and listening material. Genres covered include Sci Fi, Cult, Comics, and Mystery; the musical choices run the gammut from Blues to Punk to Rock to Country. The associated blog adds the occasional album or book review. Great concept and a good choice for your iPod.
How Did This Get Made? - Have you ever found yourself watching a movie that was so awful, so poorly written, so horrendously acted, that you found yourself wondering who on Earth thought the project was worth greenlighting in the first place? Not the "so bad it's good" type of movies, but the ones that leave you wondering "what in the blue hell did I just watch?!?" Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas watch a lot of those movies. A lot of them. Then about ever other week, they bring a guest into the fold and spend an hour or so hysterically dissecting them. Recent episodes have found the crew waxing incredulous over films like Speed 2, The Adventures Of Pluto Nash, Birdemic, and Tiptoes. Their takes on how these films came to be and what must have been going through the minds of the cast and crew almost - almost - make the films watchable. Unlike the myriad of programs in which questionable "celebrities" make snarky comments on pop culture while failing to be funny on any level (e.g.; just about any program on VH1 these days), Paul, June, and Jason's podcast hits the mark consistently with informed, funny commentary and an obvious desire to truly try to figure out how these movies got made.
Movies About Girls - I could go on for hours about the Movies About Girls Podcast, which is only fair given that the Movies About Girls Podcast itself often clocks in as a 4 - 6 hour marathon. It takes some doing to make a podcast that long consistently entertaining, but the MAG crew is up to the task, creating far and away my favorite podcast going these days. Described on its iTunes subscription page as "Your weekly guide to lowball pop-culture and teen sex comedies from the 70's, 80's and beyond, plus Songs About Girls, weird humor, hijinks, and saucy talk from a your favorite gang of writers, musicians, artists and creeps," Movies About Girls and its associated podcasts (Advanced Demonology, MAG Follies, MAG Lite) consist of a revolving cast of characters who use the kind of movies that used to be found airing overnight on cable channels like USA in the early-to-mid 1980s (think Meatballs, Valley Girl, Blue Velvet) only as a jumping off point to riff on pop culture, current events, and each other. Regular bits like That's Not A Real Band Name Is It? and Crazy News provide the illusion of structure, but insanity and hilarity rule the roost here. Ken McIntyre serves as your Master of Ceremonies and Ringleader (although it is often Stacey, Ken's wife and the show's producer, who serves as the Voice of Quiet Reason amidst the chaos). Other regulars include Cherrybomb, BoDuley, Siobhan and Alistair (all the way from Australia!), Kent Shelton, and Jeff Crazy; others come and go from the proceedings, sometimes in the middle of episodes. A Wiki page, MAGpedia, is in the process of being created which attempts to explain it all, but it's better to just close your eyes and dive into the pool. This is exactly the type of podcast I would have created had I ever created a podcast, and I still might. But until I do, you must subscribe to Movies About Girls. I give it a "Rumspringa, WOOOOO!" (Be aware: NSFW language.)
Gemma Ray - British artist Gemma Ray is among my favorite musical discoveries of the past few months. I am admittedly late to the party, as her discography already includes four albums. Her unusual sound has been described as "Norah Jones on Amy Winehouse's drugs," and as what it would sound like "if Audrey from Twin Peaks made a record." With the smokiest voice this side of Fiona Apple and a modern-retro flair, Gemma Ray has not only shown a vast and eclectic taste in choices of songs to cover (her through-a-fan vocals on "Hey Big Spender" are other-worldly; her work with Sparks to cover a pair of their songs on a recent single is how I was introduced to her), but has demonstrated that her original compositions can be simultaneously seductive and unsettling. Listen to "100 MPH In 2nd Gear" below, then go hit up iTunes for more:
Brokeass Gourmet - the self-described "premier food and lifestyle blog for folks who want to live the high life on the cheap," Brokeass Gourmet has become a regular source of kitchen inspiration for me these days as I struggle to piece together a liveable income through freelance work. Gabi Moskowitz presents easy to follow, healthy, and, most importantly, tasty recipes that can be prepared with relative ease for under $20 worth of ingredients. Many recipes actually clock in under $10, yet are surprisingly filling. She also offers suggestions for accompanying wines or beers, keeping budget-consciousness in mind. Her blog has been successful enough to spur her on to writing her first cookbook. The Brokeass Gourmet Cookbook is available through Amazon.com, and collects some of her best recipes along with tips on stocking your kitchen, pantry and bar without leaving your wallet completely empty. Pick up a copy and start cooking!
OK, so there's my current list of neat items that I think are worth sharing with you. If you've missed any of the previous times I've recommended blogs, books, podcasts, etc., click on "Recommended" link at the top of the page. Also, please check out the sites listed on my blogroll on the left-hand side of the page (keep scrolling, you'll find it). I share these items with you because I think they are worth your time and attention - I'm not receiving any compensation from any of these folks for pointing you towards them. Heck, most of them have no freaking clue who I am! Still, if you find something you like, let me know in the comments below. Similarly, if you have some recommendations to add, feel free to list them in the comments, or contact me through the blog's Facebook Page to talk about a guest post. Let me hear from you!