Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I Think I'm in Love: Podcasts

In the midst of stress and worry, can come something new and wonderful.

Back when I was mired in law school misery, I listened to music constantly.  Because I was hungry for new tunes in my ears to relieve the darkness in my heart, I accepted any and all suggestions from friends, and discovered The Postal Service, Death Cab for Cutie, The Shins, and the Broadway brilliance that is Avenue Q.  (Because I have yet to meet an individual whose day ISN'T automatically brightened upon hearing "It Sucks to Be Me.")  I clutched my iPod lifeline and learned all the words, and eventually things got better.

Right now, I'm still in a funk.

And I have discovered podcasts.

Late to the party, I know.  I'd previously rejected podcasts as being waaaaay too "This American Life."

Unpro's Sidebar re: "This American Life"
I do not enjoy "This American Life."  Though I was never a big O.C. fan, I think Summer said it all with the following: "Is that where a bunch of pretentious hipsters talk about how fascinating ordinary people are?  God!"

I always figured: why listen to talk talk talk when I can groove on the sidewalk?  But then I opened my closed little mind, and discovered podcasts provide a different kind of groove.  A slow burn, a calm voice, a giggle.  A just-what-I-need-right-now buzz.  And they're FREE.

When I asked my friends to share their faves, getting through the day got just the tiniest bit easier.  And every little step helps, right?

Below are some podcasts I now heart, in chronological order of when I discovered them.  Better late than never, right?

1.  YogaDownloads.com
I first discovered yoga podcasts shortly before embarking on my writing residency.  The small town I would call home for two whole weeks wasn't exactly bursting with yoga studios, and I'm not yet at the point where I can comfortably practice on my own.  Behold: YogaDownloads, which provides 25-minute yoga sessions, gentle voices, and user-friendly poses.  In my little writer's studio, I could take breaks and get my namaste on.  Awesome.

2.  The Nerdist
Nothing is more fun than listening to Jon Hamm goof on pubic-hair beards.  I totally hated Singled Out in high school, but host Chris Hardwick's come a long way: dude is genuinely funny, and appreciative of the funny in everyone else.  Where else can you hear Joel McHale's best Transformers impersonation, Weird Al geeking out over Malcolm McDowell, and the Muppets dish on social media?  Comedy is both an art and a science, and listening to The Nerdist provides one hell of an education on the form.

3.  The Moth
For those of you who are unaware (like, ahem, me), The Moth is a storytelling slam taking place in New York, L.A., Chicago, and any city that can get a grant.  It's essentially an open mic with a different theme each time, and performers cannot use notes.  Improv was never my strong point, and I'm sure I'd be floundering were I given a turn at the mic.  However, the ones who are good at this, are really, really good.  Listen to author Meg Wolitzer recount her first experience with love, and her camp boyfriend's dogged attempts to get to "first base."  You'll be laughing all the way to work.

4.  Doug Loves Movies
Comedian Doug Benson presents a sort of Nerdist on celluloid: instead of comedy being the main topic, it's movies.  Stand-ups and stars like Steve Agee and Ellen Page, respectively, join Doug in live shows to dish on what they've been watching lately.  However, the highlight of every podcast is when everyone plays "Leonard Maltin," a "Name That Tune" for movie geeks.  I'm sad to admit I correctly guessed that a movie from 1993 featuring a bunch of random people was To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.

5.  Savage Love
I'd been a fan of Dan Savage's explicitly frank writing for years (try his weekly print/online column or his book on relationships, Committed).  He's bitchy, biting and most importantly, nonjudgmental.  Name a kink, a fetish, a problem in the bedroom, and he'll give it to you straight (pun intended), with a wicked sense of humor.  But as fantastic as reading Savage Love is, there's something about hearing this dude school people over the phone.  He's the best kind of call-in show host there is, Sleepless in Seattle if Meg Ryan had a foot fetish.

Know any more good 'uns?  Leave a comment!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Don't Worry, Be Happy: Top 5 Video Pick-Me-Ups

So I've been a little sad of late.

This is hard for me to admit.  I mean, most aspects of my life are fabulous, and a vast improvement over several years ago, when I was in law school and battling depression and anxiety.  And with the vast amount of suffering going on in the world, I always feel guilty whining about myself.

Still, some personal things in the last few weeks have me feeling down.  And I don't like it at all.

Besides the usual coping mechanisms--exercise, healthy food, reading, talking to friends--I've found some sanctuary in silly TV and videos.  Whatever works, right?  Below are five visual stimulants that can make me laugh, even when I feel like crying.

1.  Hellcats
Even if the words "CW" and "Bring It On goes to college" didn't sell me, the involvement of Ashley Tisdale (whose Sharpay in the High School Musical films reminded me a bit too much of teenage Unpro) and Aly Michalka (who was excellent in the cute-teen-movie-that-nobody-saw Bandslam) would get me to watch in a heartbeat.  And true, it's not a completely flawless show: at times the heroine, a prelaw student who reluctantly joins her school's competitive cheer squad to replace her lost scholarship, comes off a little TOO snarky.  Also, the "adult" plots are completely boring: more locker room and pom pom shenanigans, please.  That said, there's a lot of things I like: I like how the show's set in Memphis and not L.A.  I like the diverse cast, and how the potential love interest for the blonde white girl is African American.  (Yes, you see that more than you used to.  Still not a lot.)  And I'm a sucker for a good dance number.  Hellcats is mind candy at its sweetest.  I can't complain when Sharpay is gracing my TV.

2.  Joel McHale and a surprise guest on Countdown With Keith Olbermann
You thought my pick-me-up list wouldn't include my #1 celeb crush?  Think again.  When I commented on a Jezebel post regarding celeb fidelity a while back, a fellow Jez alerted me to what is possibly the most adorable video ever.  Anyone who's heard Joel's stand-up comedy knows all about his older son Eddie, but second child Isaac doesn't get as much spotlight (then again, Isaac's only two).  Not the case in this clip from Keith Olbermann's Countdown, filmed shortly after President Obama's election in 2008.  In what was probably a last-minute decision, Joel rattles off political commentary and banters with Keith, while simultaneously wrangling his giraffe sleeper-clad younger son.  Yeah, I don't even want kids and this clip had my ovaries in overdrive.  Four letters: D.I.L.F.

3.  "Two Worlds Collide" (Saturday Night Live)
From the category of Comedy Shorts That Shouldn't Work But Inexplicably Do comes this little gem, in which the adorable Andy Samberg raps about his love for "America's Sweetheart" Reba McEntire (Kenan Thompson).  Yes, Kenan Thompson plays Reba McEntire.  I remember when the short first aired, as part of the Saturday Night Live hosted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (celeb crush #3).  I spent the first half shaking my head in confusion, and the second half cracking up.  And it holds up on near-daily repeat viewings.  Just trust me and click Play. I'm Reba!

4.  "New Senator" (Saturday Night Live)
As you've probably guessed, I'm not one of those SNL purists who constantly goes on about how the show's sucked since Joe Piscopo left to concentrate on his burgeoning movie career.  Yes, some sketches are better than others.  But if you've got a genuinely funny host who really commits to the material, there are belly laughs to be had.  Case in point: Jon Hamm (celeb crush #2), whose two hosting gigs in as many years have yielded some new classics.  In this sketch, Hamm dons a pretty impressive Massachusetts accent to play Senator Scott Brown, who goes from party enemy to object of lust for the Democratic contingent.  Oh, and he's in skimpy outfits.  YES.

5.  Burlesque trailer
Recently, my best friend Bob announced his decision to move back to Chicago.  I can't lie: the fact that I won't have to travel 2,000 miles to hang out with him come November is part of what's getting me through the day.  Upon seeing the trailer for Burlesque, I immediately informed Bob that he will be my date to what is sure to be a glittery train wreck.  Cher advising Christina Aguilera on make-up application!  Kristen Bell goes from Veronica Mars to dance club diva!  Stanley Tucci with his hot bald head and requisite one-liners!  Vocal riffs!  Costumes!  Did I mention CHER?  Oh yes.  There will be cocktails.  And then there will be Burlesque.

Hope you enjoyed my rundown of tele-giggles.  What are your favorite pick-me-ups?  Leave a comment!