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Your Brain On Facts podcast

Panto to Python – a history of British Comedy

“The story so far: In the beginning the Universe was created.  This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”  Thus begins Douglas Adams’ Restaurant at the End of the Universe, sequel to his culture touchstone The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  That’s the book that gave us the answer to life, the universe and everything, though not the question. Welcome to episode number 42, which I have decided to devote to [drumroll] the history of British comedy.  That means we’re going to try to cram hundreds of years, thousands of performers, and a dozen mediums into a half-hour show. But don’t panic. 

 

British comedy history is measured in centuries, from chase scenes and beatings into Shakespeare’s comedies to the misadventures of Mr. Bean.  Even as times, tastes, and technologies changes, some themes are eternal.  Innuendo, for example, has been a staple in the literature as far back as Beowulf and Chaucer, and is prevalent in many British folk songs.  King Charles II was such a fan of innuendo that he encouraged it to the point that Restoration comedy became not only its own genre, but an explicit one at that.  The repressive Victorian period gave us burlesque, though not in the same form as the shows you can see today – more vaudeville than striptease. Absurdism and the surreal had always been an undercurrent, which firmly took root in the 1950’s, leading Red Dwarf, The Mighty Boosh, and Count Duckula.  Though the British Empire successfully conquered ¼ of the globe, but its individual people struggled and suffered. Plagues, wars, poverty, class oppression, and filthy cities gave rise to, and a need for, black humor, in which topics and events that are usually treated seriously are treated in a humorous or satirical manner.  The class system, especially class tensions between characters, with pompous or dim-witted members of the upper/middle classes or embarrassingly blatant social climbers, has always provided ample material, which we can see in modern shows like Absolutely Fabulous, Keeping Up Appearances, and Blackadder. The British also value finding humor in everyday life, which we see in shows like Father Ted, The IT Crowd, and Spaced, which also incorporates a fair amount of absurdity.

Words You Can’t Say On TV Or Radio, with JoChristie

Hollywood in the 1920s was haunted by a number of scandals, like the murder of director William Desmond Taylor and alleged fatal sexual assault by movie star “Fatty” Arbuckle, which brought widespread condemnation from religious, civic, and political organizations.  Political pressure was increasing, with legislators in 37 states introducing almost one hundred movie censorship bills in 1921. Faced with the prospect of having to comply with hundreds of local decency laws in order to show their movies, the studios chose self-regulation by way of a single church official.  

The movie studios enlisted Presbyterian elder Will H. Hays to rehabilitate Hollywood’s image.  Hays, Postmaster General under Warren G. Harding and former head of the Republican National Committee, was paid a lavish sum equivalent to $1.4 million in today’s money inflation.  He served for 25 years as president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), where he “defended the industry from attacks, recited soothing nostrums, and negotiated treaties to cease hostilities.”  The move mimicked the decision Major League Baseball had made in hiring judge Kenesaw Landis as League Commissioner the previous year to quell questions about the integrity of baseball in the wake of the 1919 World Series gambling scandal.  That was the one you might have seen dramatized in the 1988 movie Eight Men Out.

Short-lived, Long-remembered, with Based On A True Story podcast

Special guest: Dan LeFebvre from Based On A True Story podcast.

There are some musicians that leave an enduring legacy through long and storied careers, like the Rolling Stones, who formed in 1962 and swear 2018 for be their final year touring, for real this time.  There are actors who are iconic because they have been on our TV’s or the silver screen for decades, like Sean Connery, James Earl Jones, and our beloved Betty White. But by the same token, there are musicians, actors, and shows that are like a stone dropped in a pond — their appearance was brief, but their ripples continue to this day.

For years and years, if a music journalist wanted to compliment a guitar player, they would do it by likening them to Jimi Hendrix.  That practice continues to this day, even though Hendrix only recorded from 1967 until his death in 1970. Jimi Hendrix was born Johnny Allen Hendrix (later changed by his father to James Marshall) on November 27, 1942, in Seattle, Washington.  He had a difficult childhood, sometimes living in the care of relatives or acquaintances. He and his brothers were estranged from their mother, who had had Jimi when she was seventeen and died at age thirty three. 

Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept 15 to Oct 15. Join us in celebrating cultural touchstones and famous people, as well as learning things like the distinction between Latino and Hispanic.

The first thing we need to do is to clear up some confusion on nomenclature, specifically the terms Latino and Hispanic. The first thing to get out of the way is that a Spanish person is a person from the country of Spain. Hispanic refers to people of Spanish-speaking descent. Latino refers to a person of Latin American descent. There are also terms specific to one country, such as Chicano for someone from Mexico, or those referring to a specific ancestry, such as Boricua, for the native people of Puerto Rico. While there are many people who are both Hispanic and Latin American, the terms are not interchangeable. For example, a Brazilian person is Latino, but not Hispanic, as Brazil is a Portuguese-speaking country.

Banned Books – The Classics, with Oh No! Lit Class podcast

This week’s special guest is Megan Dangerous from Oh No! Lit Class.


Walk into your local library this week and you’re likely to see a display of books that have been banned in different times and places for a variety of reasons.  Standard choices include
Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, Huckleberry Finn and maybe some more recent additions like The Kite Runner.  Most of us glance over it was we walk by, but not so for a group of pastors in Maine.  They want to ban the display of banned books.

The pastors don’t seem to mind the books banned for racist language, violence against women or drug use, just the ones that shine a positive light on LGBTQ characters.  The library refused to remove any books from its display and one can only hope opened a dictionary to the entry for ‘irony.’ Banned books fall into two major categories: those banned by specific institutions, such as a school district, and those banned by countries.  

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