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Don Pham

Well, I've been busy lately. This is my first post since PAX. A friend of mine recommended that I watch the above video, and I have to say, it's probably one of the most greatest youtube clips that I have ever seen. It's a "literal parody" of "Take On Me" by "Aha," in the sense that it literally describes what's going on within the music video, shot for shot.

This is a fantastic example of pure observational humor. There is no need for outlandish interpretation, or even subtext -- it simply goes with what we see on frame. The lines that seem to have the biggest response are lines like "Band montage" and "Show this guy, then cut back to these two." Lines that aren't funny in themselves, but hilarious on screen.
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PAX_2008_59

So I attended PAX last weekend, using a media pass that doesn't go as far as it did in years past (Apparently, there were 500 media badges distributed this year, rendering the perks almost non-existent.). I did have fun, however. I got to stalk Felicia Day, and I met one of the world's foremost experts on the Commodore 64. Also, the photo above is pretty badass.

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Brilliant. Bloody brilliant.

I've always been a huge Norm MacDonald fan, and his recent appearance at the Bob Saget Roast cements the reason why. Where as most of the comics relied on shock value regarding gay jokes and molesting the Olsen twins, Norm basically ran a google on the phrase "roast jokes" and made a routine entirely out of out-dated material. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if Norm didn't tell his fellow comedians that he was doing that in advance, only to have them assume that he was only kidding.

So why is that brilliant? Simple. Because good humor works on multiple levels, and in Norm's case, his humor wasn't on the level of the jokes at all. The jokes were only incidental. It was about the intention. Norm didn't roast individual, he roasted the roast itself. He exposed the tactic of hiding tired cliches under the guise of shock value, by presenting tired cliches of his own, but in plain sight. Rather than relying on shock value, he attempted to breathe new life into tired jokes using perfect timing and delivery, which is exactly what a good comedian should be doing anyway.

The act was courageous, and it was refreshing. The fact that so many people still don't "get it" shows just how daring it really was. Genius isn't always readily apparent, sometimes you really have to think about it. Most importantly, he managed to remember the main reason that the roast was held in the first place: Not for the sake of being "shocking," but for the sake of honoring a man. Regardless of what the audience thought, Bob Saget still found the act to be hilarious, which means that Norm accomplished his main goal. By the end, Bob was willing to return the favor, by keeping his jabs at Norm in the same good natured manner as Norm's jabs at Bob. "Norm, you're the funniest man I know. Because these are the other people I know."

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So recently my good friend Jessica introduced me to a brand new hobby: Standup comedy. I always enjoyed doing public speaking in HS and college, and I have a natural sense of humor, so it seemed like a good match for me. I started doing open mics three weeks ago, but last night was my first time doing a show with an actual audience who paid to see it. So far, the hardest part is working within the time constraints. You only get five minutes.

I think that I originally honed my sense of humor back in high school, when I started making wise cracks in the classroom. I had to dance a fine line between showing the teacher that I understood the material, while keeping the rest of the class entertained. If you go too far in one direction, you get accused of being disruptive. Too far in the other direction, and you get beat up. So that's how I built up my comedic chops. The only reason why my teachers tolerated me was tolerated because I showed that the material didn't have to be boring once you actually understood it. A lot of people have told me how terrifying it is to perform in front of a crowd, but I think that my college professors were good preparation for that, because they aren't supposed to laugh at your jokes. Also, I used to have speech and debate judges who would write down formal critiques after every speech. Also, Asian parents. I have a pretty thick skin.

I think that my style of humor can best be described as "sober comedy," as opposed to "drunken comedy" that seems popular at this age. I can't consume alcohol or illicit drugs for medical reasons, so instead I try to find humor in the mundane, every day things. It's not an issue of being "high brow," it's a just a matter of perspective. Having faith that there is humor in everything, even if it isn't readily apparent. In class, my teacher would provide the setup, and I would provide the punchline, which means that My debate training certainly helps, since a lot of my humor comes from formal analysis. One of my primary inspirations came from a William Golding essay I read in high school, where he noted that the Grade Two thinker uses "What is Truth?" to end a conversation, where as the Grade Three thinker uses "What is Truth?" to start one. To me, that means to keep digging, rather than relying on the obvious jokes and punch-lines to end a routine. Hence, I try not to rely too much on "shock value" to tell the joke.

All in all, I doubt that I'll ever find work as a professional comic, or even a road comic. For one thing, I don't think my voice is strong enough. But it's a good skill to have, and hopefully, it'll help me out if I ever apply to law school.

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Apparently, an information architect by the name of Sean Tevis is currently running for office of Kansas State Representative. Why am I writing about this? Because Sean Tevis has decided to take a new direction in politics, by marketing himself in the form of an XKCD inspired comic strip. Brilliant! Where as most politicians can't don't even know how to manage a website, Sean Tevis goes so far as to place easter eggs in the source code. Observe:
Hello person who cares enough to read source code.

Please donate $8.88 to my campaign. Any amount with 88 cents at the end is flagged for me to let me know that it came from someone who I guess is a lot like me. You'll also be entered into a drawing to win a prize and it will help save the world. Thank you.

I also admire the guys attitude. He seems to be taking advantage of the idealistic, light-hearted wing of the internet, rather than the egocentric asshole wing that the Ron Paul campaign was known for. While the comic shows that he strongly disagrees with his opponent, it's treated as merely that, a disagreement.
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So over the past week or so, I've been catching up on the first two seasons scifi series "Eureka." Eureka is a series about a US Marshall of average intelligence who gets appointed as the Sheriff of the smartest town on Earth, where the smartest brains on Earth carry their research in secret. Jack Carter represents the law in a town where the laws of physics are regularly broken. Most new scifi shows such as "The Dresden Files," "Painkiller Jane," and "Flash Gordon," have all resulted in failure, but Eureka is still ticking around, and their third season is scheduled to begin at the end of the month. So how is it?

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So I starting digging through my archive recently, and decided to catch up on a few random movies. How random? Pretty darn. Here's a partial list:

1) Cars: Wait, so it's a movie where Cars take the place of humans, rather than a world where cars act on their own accord in parallel to the human world? Weird. I can see why this movie didn't get the same acclaim as the previous movies.

2) Enigma: 2001 movie about the WWII code breakers. Similar to the subject of "A Beautiful Mind," but nowhere near as exciting. Apparently, it was based on a highly fictionalized re-imagining of historical events, relying more on psychological trauma and not so much on the code breaking. Meh.

3) Robocop 2: Yeah, it was pretty bad. OCP attempts to create a new version of Robocop, but every time they try, the subject ends up killing himself after he realizes what he's become. They conclude that the first Robocop only persevered because of his strong sense of duty, and conclude that they need an equally strong will in the next version of Robocop. So who do they use? A formal criminal mastermind. Not surprisingly, things don't go very well.

4) Big Fish: Good movie, but very different from the sort of movie I was expecting from the trailers (Or what I remembered from the trailers).

5) Recount: HBO special. It opened a lot of old wounds. Most of us remember being sick of the Bush/Gore recount, but that's because we were in the thick of it, where we heard a lot of noise but without any clear idea of what was going on. What this movie offers is perspective. A lot of people blame Nader for Gore losing, but Nader wasn't the reason why Gore lost. The reason that Gore lost was a concerted effort from the GOP at various levels of power to undermine our democracy. This is something that every American should see, and it's a shame that it isn't available to watch online for free.

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Will Smith as an unconventional super-hero. The reviews have been pretty dismal, but the box office revenues have been really good. So how is it? Well, it's pretty mediocre.

For the sake of comparison, I thought that the movie had more to say about the superhero genre than the highly overrated "Unbreakable," which suffered from a terrible ending and tacked on Dead Zone abilities that didn't really fit within the context of the premise. Both "Hancock" and "Unbreakable" make a point on "superhero is the new mythology," but "Unbreakable" expected that this lone observation in itself could provide intellectual credence to the entire movie, where as "Hancock" actually tries to take the observation a step further and do something with it. Another comparison comes from a similar character of "Captain Invincible," a 1980's musical about a drunken WWII superhero who is forced leave the country due to McCarthy hysteria and finds himself in Australia. Of course, "Captain Invincible" was an incredibly cheap and campy movie, and it's hard to provide any further comparisons.

Hancock has a few things that it does right, and a few hints of promise here and there. Unfortunately, it suffers from not carrying ideas and themes through to their entirety, and generally not knowing what the underlying message is beyond the standard cliches.

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So I finally bought a new DVD player, a $60 Philips 5960 from Frys. What's great about this machine is that it plays AVI files, while means that I can download videos off the internet, burn 'em, and play them on the machine directly, rather than having to play them on my computer or going through XBMC. It's pretty sweet. The only downside is that it only displays 12 characters per file, which often isn't enough for show name + episode number + episode name. But hey, it was $60.

Yes, I realize that DVD players are outdated technology, but Blu-Ray still has a long way to go before it's within my price range, so it's no big deal.

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After years and years of watching the Food Network, I've recently come to the conclusion that the vast majority of what goes on there is crap. Not "crap" in the sense of vomit inducing, but "crap" in the sense of being mind numbing, catering only to the lowest common denominator. They would never say anything that would risk challenging or offending their viewers, nor would they ever say something that doesn't appeal to their corporate masters. Do you ever hear someone besides Alton Brown say anything critical about the food industry? Do you ever see Rachael Ray enter a restaurant and complain about the food? Of course not. The "Food Network" is the mental equivalent of very mass produced pre-packaged junk food that their TV shows love to promote.

But it doesn't have to be like that. From across the Atlantic, Gordon Ramsay's "The F-Word" serves as a model for what how it should be. Infamous for his foul mouth and his three-star Michelin restaurants, Ramsay has both the credibility and the balls that the Food Network seems to lack. The "F" stands for "Food," and each episode covers the subject from a number of different angles. There really is no direct equivalent that I can compare it to. The closest I can come up with is Michael Moore's long cancelled cult classic "TV Nation." Thanks to youtube, you can now watch the series online, although I don't know for how long before the studio decides to take it down.

The beautiful thing about Gordon Ramsay is that he's a man with a mission. He's not just looking to sell a few cookbooks, nor is he simply looking for some cheap entertainment for the sake of ratings. No, he is a man who is trying hard to re-ignite his nation's passion for food.

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