Funny or Die: Sketch Comedy for the Masses

Funny or Die started as a small operation built on the name recognition of Will Ferrell. When the site launched with “The Landlord” as one of its debut videos, its success was assured (it now has over 91M views). The site has had its ups and downs, but a steady diet of celeb-fronted videos has kept the site visible, including Paris Hilton’s memorable “campaign ad” response to a bitchy John McCain commercial. It’s no-frills, low-budget aesthetic has nurtured comedic talents like Billy Eichner and Derek Waters (of Drunk History fame). Wired takes a look back at the site’s first 10 years.

Funny or Die at 10: An Oral History

Wired.com, 4.2.17

Freaknik: Black Woodstock

Although Freaknik started as a barbecue amongst Atlanta’s black colleges, by the early 90s it had the rep of the ultimate off-the-hook party. Anything goes. Every year it got bigger, ultimately taking over the city with gridlock and insanity. It was unsustainable and Atlanta’s attempts to rein in the madness failed, ultimately causing the party to end. Complex takes a fond look back.

The Oral History of Freaknik

Complex.com, 4.12.13

Austin Helps Invent the Breakfast Taco

Austin, Texas has been home to a vibrant Mexican community for over 100 years. Popular Mexican restaurants that still exist today started being established in the 40s and 50s, but it is the breakfast taco of the 80s that has seen the widest influence, now being sold by national fast food chains. Called “a mini home-cooked meal in a tortilla,” by one restaurateur, the phenomenon remains a cherished tradition in Austin today. Texas Monthly provides the history in an excerpt from Austin Breakfast Tacos.

The Most Important Taco of the Day

TexasMonthly.com, 7.30.13

L.A.’s Paisley Underground Music Scene

L.A.’s  punk explosion of 1977/78 faded quickly and one of the scenes to take its place was the Paisley Underground, a group of psychedelia-influenced bands in the same social circle. Originally referring to the triumvirate of the Bangles, Dream Syndicate, and Rain Parade, the term grew to encompass a wider range of bands, including ones outside L.A. Characterized by rough, droning guitars with sunshine vocals, the sound found a sizable audience in the early 80s.

The Paisley Underground: Los Angeles’s 1980s psychedelic explosion

TheGuardian.com, 5.16.13

“O.J.: Made in America”: Eight-Plus Hours In One Sitting and It Works!?!?

On December 8, 2008 O.J. Simpson was sentenced to 33 years in prison and America hoped they’d never hear about him again. Enough, right? However, in 2016 two massive reappraisals of the O.J. saga appeared and surprisingly found both critical and popular success. The first was Ryan Murphy’s dramatic adaptation American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson and the second was ESPN’s O.J.: Made in America. The latter used a unique contextual approach that covered all of O.J.’s life, but also told the story through the lens of L.A.’s history of race relations, as well as America’s. The eight-hour epic was released on a variety of platforms, including in theaters (!), and shocked an American audience who thought they knew everything there was to know about this story. Wired digs into the two-year production process behind the successful documentary.

The Epic Story of O.J.: Made in America’s Creation

Wired.com, 1.9.17

Ms. Pac Man Becomes the Most Popular Arcade Game of All Time

It was a pattern that would repeat itself throughout the computer age, but the guys behind Ms. Pac Man were among the first: They were too financially successful to finish their degrees at M.I.T., dropping out to work full time. They started with enhancement packages that arcade owners could be to make their games more difficult, first with Missile Command, and then with Asteroids. They started to pull in serious cash and incorporated as General Computer Corporation in Massachusetts. They made their big move with an improved version of video game phenomenon Pac Man, signing an agreement with Midway to market their “mod” as a true sequel, another groundbreaking moment that would be repeated many times in software development. The development of Ms. Pac Man incorporated proto-game theory and the result, a more varied and stimulating experience than its predecessor, changed the course of game development forever.

The MIT Dropouts Who Created Ms. Pac-Man: A 35th-Anniversary Oral History

FastCompany.com, 2.3.17

The One and Only James Brown

If there was one thing that people agreed upon regarding James Brown it was that he could bring it. Night after night the “Hardest Working Man In Show Business” would bring the funk and show his audience a good time. Off the stage things get more complicated with contentious professional relationships and a rocky personal life. Unsurprisingly, Creative Loafing‘s oral history has lots of juice.

James Brown: Soul Brother No. 1 (1933-2006)

CreativeLoafing.com, 1.10.07

Coverage of the Kennedy Assassination

The Columbia Journalism Review provides a gripping chronological account by reporters on the scene of President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963. There was the expected confusion and communication difficulties, but on the whole they got things about as factually correct as we do in the internet age. Their dedication to substantiated truth amidst a national tragedy is an honor to the profession.

The Assassination: The Reporters’ Story

archives.cjr.org, Winter 1964

“Mr. Show”: 90’s Incubator of 21st-Century Comedic Giants

Mr. Show never had a big audience and the creators never gave much of a shit about that. HBO gave Bob Odenkirk and David Cross a platform to do stuff that wouldn’t fly on networks, or even at mainstream comedy clubs, including a slacker messiah sketch that would help launch Jack Black’s career. Many other talents worked on camera and off: 30 Rock‘s Scott Adsit, 24‘s Mary Lynn Rajskub, Sarah Silverman, Patton Oswalt, and Tom Kenny (voice of SpongeBob SquarePants). Spin takes a look back at a uncompromising comedic incubator.

Mr. Show: The Oral History

Spin.com, 3.13.11

Soundgarden’s “Superunkown”

Soundgarden formed in 1984 and Superunknown was their fourth studio release. They knew what they were doing and they knew they were ready to go big. Superunkown would deliver with such 90’s rock classics as “Black Hole Sun,” “Spoonman,” and “Fell on Black Days.” Spin collects anecdotes about the volatile creation and effect of this grunge masterpiece.

Get Yourself Control: The Oral History of Soundgarden’s ‘Superunknown’

Spin.com, 6.5.14

 

The First Modern Cop Show: “Hill Street Blues”

Hill Street Blues changed television forever when it debuted in 1981. A gritty, dark cop series that humanized cops with in-depth storylines was something that hadn’t been done before and now they’re a dime a dozen. Created by Steven Bochco, who would go on to also create L.A. Law and NYPD Blue, the series won eight Emmy Awards in its first season and was essentially prestige television 20 years before that became a thing. The series also broke boundaries in subject matter, covering PTSD, suicide, and rape. IndieWire rounds up the cast and crew for an insightful look back at a groundbreaking show.

‘I Just Got My Ass Broke All the Time’: An Oral History of ‘Hill Street Blues’

IndieWire.com, 5.9.14

Obama and Hoops

The smoothest president in American history was also known as a baller. During his eight years in office, basketball was the official sport of the White House. A number of members of his staff were ex-collegiate or pro players, most famously his right-hand man, Reggie Love, who played with Shane Battier at Duke. The press was never allowed at the games, and it was a time for Obama to let loose a bit with competition and a bit of trash talking. GQ goes deep to uncover some great anecdotes about the games and the traditions behind them, including the poor staffer that bloodied Obama’s lip, or the time Obama left Chris Paul holding the laundry.

The Oral History of President Barack Obama Playing Pickup Basketball

GQ.com, 1.19.17

 

Rei Kawakubo’s “Not Making Clothes” Collection

Rei Kawakubo, the subject of this year’s Met Ball, has always been one of the most innovative and iconoclastic designers in the world, but her “Not Making Clothes” collection stands out for being truly esoteric. This collection was truly art as clothing, including a tire supported by chains. The collection came at a time when Kawakubo was feeling trapped and confined by her craft and the result was one of the most memorable fashion collections of recent years. In honor of the Met exhibit in her honor, the New York Times collects anecdotes from colleagues and attendees.

Remembering One of Rei Kawakubo’s Most Boundary-Breaking Shows

NYTimes.com, 5.4.17

New York’s Photographer, Bill Cunningham

Bill Cunningham’s 38-year career with the New York Times will stand as one of the most unique and influential in photojournalism. Informally called the NYT‘s “artist in residence,” Cunningham quite literally told stories with images. Famed for catching the heart of both high fashion and the common man, he was a tireless worker and his bike and him were a cherished part of the city. The Times collected some insightful anecdotes from coworkers of what it was like to work with Cunningham, who comes across as a control freak who nevertheless enjoyed collaboration.

Working With Bill Cunningham

NYTimes.com, 7.2.16

“Scandal”: Shonda Rhimes Does D.C.

Shonda Rhimes, now television royalty, had to be talked into creating Scandal. She met with vaunted D.C. “fixer” Judy Smith, and after ten minutes could see how the series would percolate and progress at the intersection of power and greed. Actress Kerry Washington, who got the lead by blowing everyone away with the depth of her political knowledge, would be the first black women to head an American drama in 37 years (what?!?!). The show would be one of the first social media darlings and was a true trendsetter (cavernous wine goblets, anyone?). The Hollywood Reporter provides a typically awesome oral history of one of the great television dramas of the 21st century.

‘Scandal’ Hits 100 Episodes: Casting Secrets, Trump and a Battle Over Abortion Revealed in Dishy Oral History

HollywoodReporter.com, 4.11.17

The Enduring Aftermath of the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill

In January of 1969 a fraudulently installed oil platform off of Santa Barbara, California, experienced a catastrophic failure that ruptured the sea floor and caused the largest American oil spill to that time. This was an era without regulation, oversight, or contingency planning, and Union Oil’s pathetic and patronizing response enraged conservationists around the globe, thus helping galvanize the fledgling environmental movement. The Pacific Standard provides an outstanding oral history of the disaster, including many images of the disaster and the response.

‘The Ocean Is Boiling’: The Complete Oral History of the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill

PSMag.com, 4.18.17

Dubstep’s Uniquely Long Reign

Dubstep arose out of the ashes of garage and jungle in London around the turn of the century. Still going strong in many clubs around the world, it has enjoyed a uniquely long reign in a genre where subgenres come and go in a flash. What is dubstep? Frenetically paced bass-driven dance beats with liberal overdubbing. Vice chronicles the rise of dubstep out of working-class Croydon, a London suburb.

The VICE Oral History of Dubstep

Vice.com, 6.23.15

 

Griese and Woodson Carry Wolverines to ’97 National Title

The Michigan Wolverines opened the 1997 season with a revenge whipping of #14 Colorado, 27-3, and three weeks later they sounded a cleghorn by marching into Happy Valley and destroying #2 Penn State, 34-8. This team was on their way, and it would be led by their defense, and specifically Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson. The win over the Nittany Lions pushed Michigan to #1, where they would stay until The Game, the annual showdown with arch rivals Ohio State. Woodson would nail down the Heisman with a game for the ages, including a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown, an end zone interception, and a key 37-yard catch into the red zone that set up another TD. Images of Woodson with roses between his teeth would become iconic. Michigan would squeak past Washington State and Ryan Leaf to end the year undefeated. The Detroit Free Press relives a magical season.

Michigan football’s 1997 national championship: An oral history

Freep.com, 5.4.17