Stephen Tobolowsky’s New York Times interview

John Williams, interviewing Stephen Tobolowsky, for The New York Times, about his new book, My Adventures with God:

When did you first get the idea to write this book?

The real genesis of the book, so to speak, was probably 2008. I had a terrible accident, and I broke my neck in five places riding a horse on the side of an active volcano in Iceland. What could possibly have gone wrong? So I got back to America, and the doctor told me I had a fatal injury. Which is disturbing on many levels, including a terrible misuse of the word fatal. There’s not a lot you can do with a broken neck. So I’m at home waiting to recover, and I know it’s going to be a few months. And I thought: What if what the doctor told me was true? What if I had died on that mountain in Iceland? What would I have wanted my sons to know about their father?

Those stories became the podcast “The Tobolowsky Files,” and some of those found their way onto national radio. And then Simon & Schuster said, “Can we do a book of some of these stories?” That became “The Dangerous Animals Club.” After that, my editor, Ben Loehnen, called me up and said: “Several of the stories have a kind of spiritual resonance that we’re getting feedback on from people. Is it possible you could write another book of stories that are held together by the idea of spirit or belief or faith or something?” And I said, “Sure, not a problem.” […]

Persuade someone to read it in less than 50 words.

These are true stories from my life. Most are funny. Some are not. They’re often unbelievable, occasionally creepy. Together they tell a bigger story of how we are shaped by the invisible. Something I call divine. Something I hope becomes wisdom.

I have a copy of My Adventures with God [Amazon link] and from what I’ve read so far, it exemplifies the best qualities of Stephen’s storytelling. It is moving, funny, and provocative. I’m so pleased to have been a tiny part of Stephen’s journey towards bringing his stories into the world.

Ian Abramson’s insane stand-up set on ‘Conan’

I hadn’t really heard of comedian Ian Abramson before, but he’s definitely on my radar now. On a recent episode of Conan, Abramson dramatically upped the stakes of his set by giving an audience member the trigger to a dog shock collar that he wore around his neck. Good jokes got a pass; bad jokes resulted in a body-jolting shock.

The result is a set of jokes that needed to be funny to avoid bodily harm. I felt more invested than I ever have in a comedian’s set being hilarious. For the most part, Abramson succeeded. Bravo for taking a chance and creating a really memorable late-night moment in the process.

(via Vulture)

Father on BBC interrupted by his children: an analysis

Ben Thompson (of the solid tech analysis blog Stratechery) has written a detailed breakdown of the most viral moment of the week: a father getting interrupted by his child while on live national television:

Here’s the deal with these TV spots: you don’t get paid a dime. Why, then, does the BBC, or CNN, or MSNBC, or all of the other channels have an endless array of experts on call willing to call-in from their home offices not just get guests, but also convince them to put on a suit-and-tie and arrange books just so? BECAUSE YOU’RE ON TV!

Here’s the deal: the male ego is both remarkably fragile and remarkably easy to satiate. Tell said ego he will be featured as an expert in front of a national or global audience and he will do whatever it takes — including 12 years of academia and wearing a suit at home—to ensure it is so.

The flipside of said ego-soothing, though, is a potential level of embarassment that is hard to fathom. In this case Kelly is fulfilling his self-selected destiny: he is appearing as an expert across the world on the BBC. But it’s not going well! His daughter has appeared, and while he certainly loves her, he must, MUST, keep up appearances. Thus the hand, and not the overt affection.

(via Rira)

Louis C.K. Defends Tracy Morgan

Slate has an interview with comedian Louis C.K., who took to Twitter recently to defend fellow comedian Tracy Morgan’s recent homophobic remarks. After much reflection, I have to side with C.K. on this one, based on the very limited information I have. C.K. himself routinely makes outrageous statements that provoke laughter from his audience (and me), so it did not surprise me to see him taking a stand for free speech on the comic stage.

The overarching question in this whole ordeal is: is there anything that is in such poor taste it should never be made a topic of comedy? C.K. thinks the answer is no, and I’m inclined to agree.

[Update: Ta-Nahesi Coates chimes in with a measured, even-handed take on C.K.’s defense. Coates does not agree with C.K. And he’s really convincing! (If you can’t tell, this is a topic I’m pretty torn about)]

Conan O’Brien’s Amazing Commencement Speech at Dartmouth

Conan O’Brien’s commencement address at Dartmouth College this year is a thing of beauty. Not only is it laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it also contains meaningful lessons from Conan’s (relatively) recent late night wars. Many of the topics that Conan discusses resonated with me deeply, such as the value of trying new things, ignoring the fear of failure, and understanding that even if our dreams change, they aren’t worse for it.

Highly recommended (via Sara):

Graduates, faculty, parents, relatives, undergraduates, and old people that just come to these things: Good morning and congratulations to the Dartmouth Class of 2011. Today, you have achieved something special, something only 92 percent of Americans your age will ever know: a college diploma. That’s right, with your college diploma you now have a crushing advantage over 8 percent of the workforce. I’m talking about dropout losers like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg. Incidentally, speaking of Mr. Zuckerberg, only at Harvard would someone have to invent a massive social network just to talk with someone in the next room.

The Death Star Doesn’t Make Economic Sense

The Death Star is pretty badass until you pause to reflect on its practical and economic implications (via John Gruber):

Doesn’t the Empire take a huge economic loss from the lost productivity of an entire planet? They were presumably paying taxes and providing resources to the rest of the Empire. Presumably the loss of that planet’s output would have to be made up by increased output from other planets that were either slacking in productivity due to rebellion or threatening to rebel and withdraw from the Empire altogether. It doesn’t seem to make good economic sense.

The Problem With Theater Concessions

Dustin Rowles drops some wisdom on the current debate over the healthiness of theater food:

The problem with theater concessions is not entirely healthy vs. death-by-heart-rupture — it’s about offering something substantive. How many people running late end up at the theater looking to substitute a meal with popcorn only to walk out of the movie 2200 calories heavier and still hungry? Is that gravel-tasting Odwalla bar really going to satiate that hunger? Theater chains have to stop limiting their options to things I can buy at 25 percent the cost at a gas-station convenience store. I’m not looking for a meal meal — a lot of these theater chains already offer crappy personal pan pizzas and chicken fingers, if you’re willing to stand at the concession stand and wait for 20 minutes and then ask the guy sitting next to you to hold your shitty pizza while you take off your jacket. If I’m going to pay $14 for a snack and a beverage, it’d be nice to have the option of something I want to eat, not something I choose because there’s nothing better available.

What It’s Like To Let Down Humanity

Legendary Jeopardy! contestant Ken Jennings writes on what it’s like to lose to a machine (via Linda Holmes):

Indeed, playing against Watson turned out to be a lot like any other Jeopardy! game, though out of the corner of my eye I could see that the middle player had a plasma screen for a face. Watson has lots in common with a top-ranked human Jeopardy! player: It’s very smart, very fast, speaks in an uneven monotone, and has never known the touch of a woman. But unlike us, Watson cannot be intimidated.