Book – Calvin and Hobbes meets A Short History of Nearly Everything in this hilariously quirky anthology from webcomic artist Kate Beaton. Beaton’s comics draw their themes heavily from history and literature, with subjects ranging from Sherlock Holmes (and the Case of the Two Watsons) to the French Revolution (traitor baby!) to St. Francis of Assisi (the birds are his brothers). While that may not sound like a recipe for comedic brilliance, Beaton has a keen eye for history’s absurdities and a playful sense of humor that has spawned many an internet meme. Her art style–charmingly boneless and wide-eyed people abound–is instantly recognizable and easy to love.
Fortunately for those of us who may not be as well-informed on Canadian History, Ancient Rome or the Bronte Sisters as Beaton herself, she provides brief notes along with most strips that offer background knowledge and further information (and the occasional wisecrack). Between these and the comics themselves, it’s easy to come for the humor and learn a little something by accident. As a bonus, parents who fall under the spell of Hark! A Vagrant can look forward to Beaton’s first picture book, The Princess and the Pony, due to arrive at the end of June. And, of course, fans can always find more Hark! A Vagrant at http://www.harkavagrant.com/.
Book – Yes Please boldly presents personal stories and thoughts from the star of Parks and Recreation, Saturday Night Live, and Baby Mama. Rather than proceeding strictly chronologically, this autobiography humorously weaves through short chapters on topics such as being a teenager in the eighties, personal beauty, and her bond with her sons. Her passion for improvisational comedy is evident from several anecdotes relating to her starving artist days spent learning from “gurus” of the craft, co-founding The Upright Citizens Brigade, and working part-time at Chicago’s Second City.
It was refreshing to listen to this memoir narrated by a quick-to-laugh author and her assorted celebrity-friends that included: Patrick Stewart, Kathleen Turner, Seth Meyers, and Poehler’s parents. Poehler’s levity obviously infected them as well. Utilizing humor she effectively communicates deeper emotions when describing the difficulties of divorce, traveling in a third-world country, and dealing with guilt. Another advantage of the audiobook is the final chapter, which is recorded in front of a live audience at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater.
Movie – After last year’s extended winter freeze I’m skeptical that the famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, will have mercy and cast no shadow on February 2nd. Regardless of prognostications I can make the most of inclement weather by enjoying an old favorite, Groundhog Day, which was filmed not so far away in Woodstock, Illinois.
Woodstock annually celebrates the holiday and their brush with movie-making fame. Past festivities have included the director/writer Harold Ramis as well as other cast and crew. (Ramis is featured in And here’s the kicker : conversations with 21 top humor writers on their craft by Mike Sacks.) Punxsutawney Pennsylvania celebrations, which the film depicts, have also garnered participation from the film’s celebrities and boast crowds of 20,000+.
This film about a self-centered news announcer stranded in small-town limbo appears to be an ordinary comedy, filled with Ramis and Murray’s witty brand of humor; but like other classics such as It’s a Wonderful Life, it contains deeper themes that resonate with many people. For example, the importance of community and connecting with others, especially during bleak days, appears in both classics. How one uses the time one is given is also a shared theme. So is the idea of receiving a second chance to learn life lessons.This film resonates with so many filmgoers that it has made numerous top movie lists and was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress. Despite the weather outside being dreadful, this film has inspired folks around Woodstock to emerge from their homes and celebrate.
Book – After living happily in the city as a newly married couple, Mark Falanga and his wife relocate to the suburbs to raise their young family. The Suburban You: Reports from the Home Front is a compilation of stories about suburban life in the North Shore of Chicago. I laughed out loud at Falanga’s descriptions of neighborhood block parties, Halloween costumes, family Christmas cards and father-son outings. His stories gently poke fun at the hierarchies and unwritten rules governing life in the suburbs. He also tackles issues in commuting to work and being married with kids with deadpan humor. Although this book was written in 2004, it’s still a relevant and entertaining trip into the suburbs, even if you live in the city.
TV Series – When I was exploring the library collection for Halloween related material, I came across the comedy series Reaper. Reaper was a funny television series lasting two seasons, and after flying through it on DVD, I was disappointed to reach the end. The show’s main character Sam learned his parents had sold his soul to the Devil (played fabulously by Ray Wise), and Sam was forced to work as the Devil’s bounty hunter. Sam’s friends helped him out, and his sidekick Sock often stole the scene with idiosyncratic humor. Part of the fun of the series were the creative antics of Sam and his friends while they were at their day jobs at a big-box home store. The comedy also had romantic story-lines, and engaging mysteries threaded through the series. The show ended before all of these loose ends were tied up. This was due to the stalling of syndication talks, during which time the show’s stars were recruited to other projects. In a 2010 interview with CliqueClack TV, creators Fazekas and Butters revealed many of the unresolved plots from the series: How Reaper would have ended.