Rebecca OMalley's blog

Movie version of "Sleepwalk With Me" to Premiere at Sundance

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Some stories have such great charm and relevance that they can be told over and over again in many formats - and still win your heart. Certainly that's true of your traditional fairy tales or the Shakespeare classics; but there are also a few sweet modern tales that hold up well in multiple formats. One such story, in my view, is Mike Birbiglia's delightful "Sleepwalk with Me". It's a timeless story of one man's fear of love and maturity; but it is told - with terrific humor and stark honesty - through a chronicle of his struggle with a strange and dangerous sleepwalking condition.

I first heard Birbiglia tell the story on a 2008 episode of This American Life called "Fear of Sleep." If you haven't yet heard that episode, you must obtain it immediately. It will do nothing less than restore your faith in the power of solid storytelling.

The story later become so beloved that Birbiglia adapted it to a one-man show and then into a book. Now, with help from Ira Glass and This American Life producer Alissa Shipp, Mike is bringing the story to film.

Birbiglia directed the movie, and wrote it with Seth Barrish (who directed the stage version), Joe Birbiglia and Ira Glass. The film stars Mike, Lauren Ambrose, Jim Rebhorn and Carol Kane and was produced by Jacob Jaffke.

I've never been to Sundance - and probably won't make it this year - but I've never been more jealous of those who will be there. This film is going to be terrific.

The Fugazi Live Series

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Between 1987 and 2003, Fugazi played over 1000 concerts and more than 800 of them were recorded by the band's sound engineers. Now, for a small fee, you can download many of these recordings for your own library. Adding to the fun for discerning and nostalgic fans, the archive will also list available photos, flyers and miscellaneous show info associated with each performance. Only 130 shows are available now, but they will continue to release more monthly until the archive is complete.

The process is also a collaboration with the band's fans. They are actively welcoming the contribution of photos, recordings, corrections, and any additional info that may be missing from the record of specific shows.

This is a fascinating way for the band to take control of both its legacy and its body of work. I'm really curious to see what fans think of it.

Psychedelic Sunshine: Interview With The Free Design

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Check out this terrific Red Bull Music Academy interview with legendary joy creators, The Free Design. As most of you know, the band wrote and performed the delightful JJGO! opening song, "Love You". And while I'm certainly partial to that classic (we played it at our wedding), I also recommend nearly all of the songs on "Kites are Fun", especially the other popular wedding tune "I Found Love".

Their story is an engaging read. Apparently, they not only appeared on the Tonight Show and Merv Griffin - but also on Captain Kangaroo! Perfect match!

It also features this clip of "Umbrellas" which I had never heard before. Friend, if this doesn't start your morning with a smile, then your bliss button is in need of repair.

Additional "Bleh!" in Pop Culture

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Sometimes, folks go above and beyond what is asked of them. Listener Jamie McCormick, in addition to submitting her theories as to when the first Dracula spoke the first "Bleh!", also generously provided a list of more recent cultural references to that odd vampire parody sound. This was a tremendously kind gesture given that it will (probably) have no impact on whether she wins the coveted prize.

McCormick noted that "Bleh!" was chanted repeatedly by a vampire character in the "Pink Plasma" episode of "The Pink Panther" (episode 78, from 1975); spouted by Count Drakeula in the "Ducky Horror Picture Show" episode of Duck Tales (episode 32 from 1988); and uttered nearly continuously by Count Blah, a friend of Greg the Bunny.

I’ve included all of them here to bring some animated levity to your otherwise-predictably-gory Halloween viewing.


"Blehs!" start around 3:16.



First “bleh!” around 4:17.


Editor's note: Language NSFW, despite featuring a bunny.

On a related cartoon note, Anna Brawley wrote in to say that she thought there was an old Bugs Bunny short with the same plot as “Pink Plasma” that was made in the 1940s; but I think she is referring to “Transylvania 6-5000” which does feature Bugs getting chased by Dracula, but which was actually made in 1963. It isn’t the winner, and it isn’t big on “bleh!”, but you should absolutely watch it anyway. It’s truly a classic.

On the History and Origin of Dracula's Use of the Bizarre Expletive "Bleh!"

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On this week’s episode of Judge John Hodgman, His Honor set a task for devoted listeners. As your Halloween homework, he asked you to research the origin of Dracula’s use of the term “Bleh!”

Since you are a wonderful, loyal and intellectually curious audience, many listeners wrote in promoting a variety of interesting theories. The first, and likely the most commonly held, suggests that the "word" slowly seeped into our lexicon whilst we absorbed countless indistinguishable impressions of legendary Dracula performer Bela Lugosi. Nathaniel Reha promoted this theory, lifting a quote from the Straight Dope boards: “Actually, thinking about it a sec, I’m hearing a hundred-odd bad impersonations of Bela Lugosi in my head, doing the “I vant to suck your blood!” line. Blood, in the bad accent, becomes ‘bluh’ (with a shortened, almost silent, d or t sound at the end of the word), which just becomes the one readily identifiable word when you think of someone’s bad Hungarian/Transylvanian vampire-speak.” Though listener John McGlothlin notes “[I]f your letter-writer-inner was convinced that ‘bluh’ did not originate in strict canon, that would rule out it stemming directly from Lugosi’s accent in the 1930’s Dracula film.”

Which leads to our second theory. Several listeners suggested that the phrase first appeared in a 1952 Bela Lugosi film called "My Son the Vampire". Jamie McCormick wrote: “The earliest occurrence I can find of a Dracula character making the sound is from 'My Son, The Vampire', a 1953 musical satire starring Lugosi in essence mocking the franchise he himself created. Nosferatu, in company with the other early silent Dracula films, makes no reference to the sound, nor does Lugosi make the sound in his early and serious-minded Dracula films. Note especially the last line of the film's title track – “He wants Bluuuuuuuuuuud!”

Jamie also provided links to the film for those who want to verify this theory. You can find the full film on You Tube or on Netflix; but Jamie also astutely notes that only the Netflix version has the song "My Son, the Vampire" rolling over the credits. Why?

I did some further research. Actually, that title song provides a rather interesting clue. As listener John McGlothlin noted, “[A]round . . . 1964, Allan Sherman put out a comedy song titled “My Son, the Vampire” which opens with “blood!” being screamed in a strange way that sounds rather ‘bluh’ like.” This Allan Sherman tune is the title song of the movie in some (but not all) versions of the film. According to IMDB , the film's original title was “Vampire Over London”, (this is the version available on You Tube), but it was apparently retitled "My Son, the Vampire" for its 1963 American re-release (six years after Bela Lugosi's death) to cash in on the success of Allan Sherman's album, "My Son, the Folksinger". Indeed, there is an American trailer for the film that prominently features Mr. Sherman:

I also discovered that Rhino released an EP of Sherman’s work in 2005 that includes “My Son, The Vampire”. So for 99 cents you can nab the song from itunes and consider the audio evidence yourself. (Although, truthfully, you hear him utter the critical word during the few seconds of the song's free preview).

A third theory, promoted by multiple listeners, claims that the sound was first uttered by comedian Gabe Dell. Kevin Harris first advanced this theory without any video or audio evidence; but listener Cayman Unterborn did all of the heavy lifting for him by providing an extensive defense of Dell as the source of the original parody. First, he provided this explanation from Svenghoolie (who he identifies as a venerable Chicago Horror Icon): “. . . Bela, as Dracula, never said ‘Bleh!’ It was indeed an imitator – back in the days of the old Steve Allen TV show; one of his stock players, Gabriel Dell (who had, at one time, been a ‘Dead End Kid’ in movies – and may have even worked with Bela in a cut-rate Monogram movie) was playing Dracula – and did the ‘bleh!’ thing (or, do you spell it ‘blah!’) From there on, it was history. So many Drac and/or Bela impersonators have done that now that most people assume that Bela actually did that . . .” Unterborn also found a CD that appears to feature a 1963 recording of Gabriel Dell doing his Dracula character (not on the Steve Allen show) and he also points out that you can download audio of the relevant Steve Allen Show episodes where Dell performs as Dracula, but it's going to cost. In terms of putting these performances on the correct spot in our "bleh!" timeline, I discovered that, according to IMDB, Dell performed this character on Steve Allen's Plymouth Show in 1957 (episode 2.35) and again in 1959 (episode 5.3). So that puts it after the original release of "Vampire Over London", but before the re-release of that film with the Allan Sherman title song.

Finally, two listeners suggested a connection to comedian Lenny Bruce. John McGlothin (who, along with Adam Pracht, tried to maximize his chances of winning by providing support for three of these theories) notes that “[I]n the 1960s, Lenny Bruce did a parody of Dracula as a Yiddish man, and the Eastern European accent may have made blood sound a bit like “bluh.” But McGlothin did not provide links to any video or audio which verifies Bruce’s performance or its place in this timeline. This theory does, however, have the backing of reference librarian Emily Menchal who states that there is support for the Lenny Bruce theory in David Skal’s book The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror.

That concludes my dutiful summary of the wonderful answers you uncovered.

So who's right? Only one man can judge the true winner of this contest! And we await his verdict.

They Might Be Giants: Marty Beller Mask

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Fun new video from They Might Be Giants - just in time for Halloween!

TMBG also has a terrific new rarities release available called "Album Raises New and Troubling Questions". It contains loads of unreleased tracks and is therefore required listening for the devoted fan. You can grab it here.

Kathleen Madigan on The Tonight Show

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Kathleen Madigan delivered a sharp political set on The Tonight Show Wednesday night.

The Ecstasy of Defeat: Sports Reporting at Its Finest by the Editors of the Onion

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Do yourself a favor. The moment you grab a copy of the new The Ecstasy of Defeat: Sports Reporting at Its Finest by the Editors of the Onion – a collection of the best articles Onion Sports has to offer – flip immediately to the Forward, and then the Acknowledgements.

You’ll have plenty of time for fantastic Onion Sports pieces like “Brett Favre Demands Trade to 1996 Packers,” and “Barry Bonds Took Steroids, Reports Everyone Who Has Ever Watched Baseball” – just make sure you stretch out first with the Forward by Anabolic Steroids. Follow the exhilarating journey of this little performance-enhancer as it conquers the World Series, horse races and little league championships. “They say my time has come and gone, a brief violent explosion of human potential and shattered records, of strained connective tissue and ever-thicker necks, of towering home runs and unstoppable defense linemen,” explains Steroids. “Not a bad career for a simple synthetic hormone with relatively humble aspirations.”

The Ecstasy of Defeat is the first book presented by Onion Sports – and it has been a long time coming explains head writer and associate editor, Seth Reiss. “We’ve been working hard at it for a while,” Reiss says. “And it’s kind of cool to see the content that the editors like – and want to put in – all in one package.”

Reiss actually got his start at The Onion as a writer for Onion Sports. Now, aside from editing riffs on current events, Reiss contributes to McSweeney's, and performs in his sketch comedy group Pangea 3000. (FYI, Pangea 3000 are Sound of Young America alums and Reiss is a loyal donor). As far as The Ecstasy of Defeat goes, Reiss has few qualms about kicking the pedestal out from under major sports figures. “They’re so larger than life that it’s already so silly anyway, so its kind of funny to just bring them down a little bit,” Reiss says. “Even if a sports figure is known for being really nice, it’s funny to make him do really awful things.”

Reiss says he is a sports fan, “[b]ut I feel like my in-depth knowledge ends at about 1998.” Reiss grew up in Connellsville, Pennsylvania – a sports heavy environment just 45 minutes south of Pittsburgh – where football, hockey and high school wrestling were all huge. When asked if he was ever an athlete, Reiss answers, “I played basketball in 9th grade, and I played golf throughout high school, but overall no,” he says with a laugh.

Speaking of back home – Reiss contemplates what Ecstasy of Defeat story his mom might like best, or rather, what he might show off to convince mom her son is a funny human being. Reiss settles on “Kobe Bryant Scores 25 In Holy Shit We Elected A Black President” and maybe “Mr. Met Having Trouble Sleeping in New Home.” With Dad? “It’s even worse – he thinks I’m less funny than my mom,” Reiss says. “Anything that has to do with Pittsburgh or the Steelers he’ll probably like.” Reiss decides upon “Michael Vick Fails To Inspire Team With ‘Great’ Dogfighting Story.”

The sports world is always a whirring beehive of events and scandals, and now Ecstasy of Defeat has been added to the mix. “People are so passionate about their teams and their favorite players that it really is always a good time for sports,” Reiss says. “Because to some people sports is one of the most important things in the world.”

Well said.

This review and interview was created by intrepid MaxFun reporter Lauren Cusimano.

Keep RISK! Running

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Lauren Cusimano contributed this story.

Kevin Allison might be best known as a cast member of The State – the 90s MTV sketch show that needs no introduction even though we just gave it one. However, "Kevin Allison presents RISK!" might be catching up to some of that State fame.

Since 2009, RISK! has served as a podcast and live show – playing host to the tagline: “True Tales, Boldly Told”. Allison says the object of RISK! is simple. He asks guests to “try to step outside of your comfort zone,” he explains. “Drop the act, don’t do something you would do every night on stage, and try come clean about some stuff in the way you would with very close friends.” Perhaps the biggest difference between RISK! and other storytelling podcasts is the fact these stories are not rehearsed, and can range from the “super emotional to flat out X-rated,” Allison says before bursting into laughter. Guests of the show have included Patton Oswalt, Janeane Garofalo, and our very own Jesse Thorn.

Now, RISK! is in the middle of a critical campaign: Keep RISK! Running. Between now and November 16th, Allison and his staff – a crew of 18 talented people – are hoping to raise $50,000 to keep the RISK! podcast alive. Donation levels range from $10 to $10,000, but the real story is in the prizes.

Donate $20 to be considered RISK!’s childhood friend, $75 to be RISK!'s secret fetish, $1,000 to be RISK!’s hero. But the reward isn’t just in the name. Allison has some one-of-a-kind prizes ready for his supporters. Donate $250 and Janeane Garofalo will make you a friendship necklace, $300 and Margaret Cho will give you relationship advice, $500 and Lisa Lampanelli will insult you on Twitter for a full day. Other prizes include autographed posters of Marc Maron, fantasy football lessons from the Sklar Brothers, and autographed, doodled-on State scripts.

Allison says he’s been apprehensive of putting on the fundraiser since the idea of asking for money is no one’s favorite, but he understands that it’s necessary. “This whole podcasting phenomena is still so new that it’s very difficult to gauge exactly how to stay afloat doing it,” say Allison.

However, a successful fundraiser means more RISK!, more Story Studio – Allison’s over-Skype storytelling workshop – and even brand new projects. “Eventually I would also love to create a show that was family friendly,” Allison says. “A show people could play in the car with their kids, because God knows they cannot play ‘Kevin goes to Kink Camp.’”

“We want this to last forever,” says Allison. “There’s no limitation on people sharing personal stories – it’s the original art form and if it’s done well, it’s just riveting.”

Allison says the real question is what format RISK! might try next.

Alumni Newsletter: September 26, 2011

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  • Tig Notaro was on Conan last week. Missed it? We've got your back.
  • Over at the AV Club, Louis C.K. is rewarding devoted fans with with an amazingly detailed summary of how he went about making each episode in the second season of Louie.
  • Chris Hardwick is all over your television. Last weekend was the premiere of his show The Nerdist on BBC America. His guests were a geeky dream team of Jonah Ray, Matt Mira, Mike Phirman, Craig Ferguson and even Doctor Who’s Matt Smith! If you missed it, you can grab the first episode from itunes. And starting October 16, Hardwick will be hosting a new show for AMC called Talking Dead. It will be a live show that airs immediately after episodes of The Walking Dead. Hardwick will recap the most recent Walking Dead episode while talking to fans, actors and producers.
  • I’m excited to check out the first episode of The Dead Authors Podcast. It features time-traveling writer H.G. Wells (portrayed by alum Paul F. Tompkins) as he welcomes long-lost literary heroes to his show at L.A.’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater. Sounds smart and funny, right? Not sold yet? How about this: the first episode features Andy Richter as Emily Dickinson. Boom. Can’t miss.
  • Ira Glass will be touring Australia in January with a show called "Reinventing Radio: An Evening with Ira Glass." He will be performing in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne. You can find the dates and ticket information here. Unrelated: there are some rather delightful stories circulating about Ira's recent performance in The Drunk Show at the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival. Here he is talking about the experience with Marc Maron.

If you want to see highlights from the show that Ira doesn't remember, Brooklyn Vegan has some terrific photos of the evening (taken by David Andrako) that feature Mr. Glass arm wrestling on the floor with Leo Allen and forming a human pyramid with John Hodgman, Eugene Mirman and others.
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