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Rafael Casal is a poet, rapper, producer, writer, and actor. Over the last ten years, he and his longtime friend and collaborator, Daveed Diggs, wrote, produced, and starred in their first film, Blindspotting. The story revolves around best friends Collin (Diggs) and Miles (Casal) during the last three days of Collin’s probation. As the days progress, their friendship is strained by Oakland’s gentrification and the community’s perception of Collin after his conviction for a violent crime. Throughout the film, heightened verse is infused to showcase Oakland, the city’s natural facility for language, and Casal and Digg’s background in poetry and music. I had the opportunity to speak with Casal about comedy as a vehicle to tell stories about trauma, toxic masculinity, unconscious bias, and the stories missing from Hollywood’s mainstream. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… “In Plain Sight”

Byshera Williams is a Senior English Major at Drexel University and the current Associate Editor for The Smart Set.

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There’s a scene in Uzumaki, Junji Ito’s much-lauded horror series, that I think best exemplifies his particular style. The overarching story involves a secluded village in Japan whose residents become obsessed with spirals and usually meet grotesque and destructive ends as a result. In the third chapter, a scar on a teen girl’s forehead turns into a spiral black hole of sorts, eventually consuming her entire body. A horrific reveal shows the spiral hole extending back into her head, her right eye sitting gruesomely on the edge of her face. Then, in a series of smaller panels, the eye starts to roll back towards the vanishing point in the back of her skull.

It is, obviously, pretty horrific. It’s also very, very funny: a rimshot as we literally stare into the abyss, acknowledging the absurdity of the image while underscoring the gore. More… “Death by Balloon”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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The film The Interview starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, is the latest expression of a genre which, given the nature of its conventions, was bound to spark an “incident” eventually. Another example of this genre, where the fallout has been more horrific, is the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

What the film and the magazine have in common is that they conform — one directly, the other more obliquely — to the buddy comedy.
More… “Buddy Up”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.

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I never thought I’d watch it after Joan was gone. I’m talking Fashion Police — a show on E! whose raison d’etre is to extol and goof on gowns at red carpet events — after the death of its presiding spirit, Joan Rivers. Truly, a profoundly shallow and frivolous entertainment, but one that I acknowledge I became modestly addicted to.

   

I hereby confess that I like looking at gowns. The only thing that gets me to go to the supermarket is the chance to peruse In Style magazine for the line-up of Gwyneth, Julia, and Jennifer (several of them) in gowns split up from or down to the navel, and to study the comparative pix of Kim Kardashian and Gwen Stefani in the same outfit, accompanied by reader-response percentages as to who wore it best. This interests me… More…

Want to see a corpse dance? Just ask someone to write an article about the state of women in comedy. Before you know it, the author will have slid his hand into that sack of bones known as the Christopher Hitchens “Why Women Aren’t Funny” article and have it shimmying around like Kermit the Frog on stage at the El Sleezo Cafe in The Muppet Movie, his skinny little legs obviously not strong enough to support his body. At over three years old, and argued against countless times already, the Hitchens article is still trotted out as A Thing to Mention.

I know this because someone suggested last week that I write about it. The e-mail I received can be paraphrased as: “There are a lot of prominent female comedians right now. Maybe you can give some thoughts on women in comedy? Oh, BTW, remember that Christopher Hitchens… More…

They show farces in the Königstädter Theatre. The people who gather there are thus naturally very diverse. He who would study the pathology of laughter in a variety of estates and temperaments, ought not to lose the opportunity offered by the performance of a farce. The shouts and shrill laughter from the gallery and the second balcony are something completely different from the applause of a sophisticated and critical audience. It is a constant accompaniment without which farce could not be performed. Farce is associated, for the most part, with the baser aspects of life and thus those in the gallery and the second balcony recognize themselves immediately. Their noise and shouts of “bravo” are not judgments of the esthetic approval of individual actors, but purely lyrical outbursts of their own wellbeing. They are not even conscious of themselves as an audience, but would like to be down with the… More…

 

Don’t you feel bad that you made fun of Michael Jackson after hearing the tragic news of his death? — TCP

To say that I “made fun of Michael Jackson” ignores some of the complexities of my response to that query a couple of months ago. I quoted poet Mary Jo Bang, and if Michael Jackson had read that column, I bet he would have been thrilled, so no, I don’t feel bad for the response I gave.

Now, do I feel bad about his death? Yes, very much so. I wasn’t a follower of his really, but he’s been an icon throughout my youth and adulthood — the news shook me up and saddened my heart, as I know it did for many around the world. One of my students in Uzbekistan admired Michael Jackson so… More…

On a recent Friday night, in a 100-seat club in the hotbed of comedy known as New Brunswick, New Jersey, wild applause rose from the from the audience. The clapping mingled with the clank of bottles, the muted sizzle of the fryer from the kitchen in back, and something else — a rustling noise. It sounded like a chipmunk caught in a garbage can. But it wasn’t. It was the sound of adult men and women wearing ponchos and Hefty bags, sweating and grinning. In a comedy club called the Stress Factory, this could only mean one thing — that the man preparing to take the stage was Gallagher, the bald-headed smasher of fruit, the mustachioed owner of the Sledge-o-Matic.

Yes, in 2008, Gallagher is still touring. And tucked in the back corner of the club, against my better judgment, I was watching him.

I read a lot of comedy… More…