Who Remembers When There Were Shared Comedy Bits?

There is a lot of concern these days about intellectual property rights. Artists don’t want their work copied, sampled, superficially reproduced, etc., and have someone else profit off it.

But that wasn’t always the case, even within the last 100 years or so. A memory of old reruns I watched as a kid bubbled up this weekend where I recalled seeing an old vaudeville bit performed by a number of comedians. It is called by different names, but the line common to all the bits is “Slowly I turned,” as someone is set off into a homicidal rage upon hearing a key word.

I most clearly remember it from I Love Lucy, but I saw other comedians do it as well:

Abbott and Costello did it

The Three Stooges did it

According to Wikipedia, a lot of other folks did it or referenced it as well.

I started to wonder when the dynamic changed. I would guess it was when increasing mass media made entertainment more lucrative. When you go from having everyone making a passable living using a shared bit on the vaudeville circuit in front of a relatively limited audience to a limited number of people making a lot more money doing a bit that far larger audiences can view and go on to associate more exclusively with a single artist or comedy team, people may start to get a little protective.

I am not sure if that is actually the case of what happened. It is just a theory I had. I would be interested in learn more if anyone knows.

In the context of today where everyone is replicating the same dance or challenge for their Tiktok video, I wonder if there might be a shift back toward shared entertainment content. Though that is much more simple in theory than reality given that there have been controversies of white influencers getting credit and monetary rewards from copying the dance moves of black creators.

Creativity Isn’t Locked Away In This Shed

Rochester Institute of Technology (RTI) has a new building that puts creative spaces right next to each other. The Student Hall for Exploration and Development (SHED) has acting and and dance studios with transparent walls as featured spaces in the building next to maker spaces with equally transparent walls and garage style doors which open to a common space embracing the philosophy that arts and STEM practices can inform each other.

“Placing performing arts facilities so close to tech-project spaces encourages a unique kind of cross-fertilization. For a play presented in the Glass Box Theater called Ada and the Engine, fourth-year mechanical engineering major Catherine Hampp used the SHED’s 3D printing technology to build a stage version of Charles Babbage’s 1832 calculating device, a precursor of today’s computers. The textile lab can aid costumers of theatrical productions, then turn to the task of crafting headgear that can comfortably support devices that allow facial and eye movements to control a wheelchair. These are refined by student researchers in the co-located electronics lab.”

These spaces open on to an atrium with tables and chairs where students can socialize. The building connects the library and student union which results in about 15,000 students passing by all this creative activity and displays on a daily basis.

Right from the start of the article, I immediately thought of the way Steve Jobs designed Pixar Studios building with the restroom and mail room at a central hub so that people from different parts of the company would bump into each other and talk about what they are working on. His goal was to spur innovation with cross-pollination of ideas. The story I linked to in my 2014 post on the topic isn’t available any longer, but my recollection was that employees at the outskirts rebelled at having to walk so far to use the restroom and Jobs eventually relented and installed some in other parts of the complex.

Interestingly in that same 2014 post, I wrote about the segregation of the creative class from the rest of the community in many cities, especially in college towns. This sort of dynamic manifests in a cultural divide because there isn’t intermixing between the general community and the creatives who gather near the campuses. One of the places where the divide is least present are places in the Midwest and Sunbelt. In 2014, Rochester, NY was the second least segregated community behind Minneapolis-St. Paul.  RTI’s approach with the SHED isn’t new to the institution so I wouldn’t be surprised if they contributed to the overall culture of of the city in this respect.



Art Is Everywhere When You Look At The World Through A Creative Lens

Sort of dovetailing with my post yesterday about art and science nourishing each other, you may have seen that scientists have named a new species of gecko after Vincent Van Gogh.

Yes, everyone reporting on this is calling it Vincent Van Gecko.

The scientists were inspired by the markings on the lizard which reminded them of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

This is one of those instances when having a smidge of artistic exposure allows you to create an engaging story around a scientific advancement which may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

In the conversation between the Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts and Director of the Census Bureau I posted about yesterday, they talk about the importance of good data collection methodology to decision making and reporting about the impact of arts and creativity on society. But they also discussed how creativity and artistic expression facilitates effective storytelling and communication about the relevance of  scientific discoveries and achievement in our lives.

How Important Is Creativity? Let The Census Director Count The Ways

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) posted a slightly longer than usual podcast episode a few weeks back with a conversation between NEA Chair Maria Rosario Jackson and US Census Bureau Director Robert Santos.

If you missed the introductions at the art, you might be forgiven for thinking Santos was the NEA Chair the way he went on about the importance and value of creative practice in one’s life. He talked at some length about being a live music photographer at the SXSW festivals in Austin, TX for eight years and the different perspectives he received while watching all the creatives present their work. He talked about how innovation doesn’t just emerge from scientific hypothesis and data, but by creativity fueled by an artful life.

Later, he discusses the use of art and creativity in healing, relating it to his time as President of American Statistical Association during the pandemic and using his monthly newsletter to depart from the usual messages about checking out webinars about statistic practice, but rather

“…send personal messages and reflections that would help folks understand that we’re all in this together and that we need to help each other out and we can do so virtually. So I would tell stories about of resilience and how we need to tap into them and I told stories of creativity and mentoring and it was specifically focused on thinking as creatively as I could to help the folks that were suffering so much because they were stuck in their homes.”

At another point, he mentioned the way the Census Bureau had used familiar cultural touchstones to engage with people to navigate the challenges Covid presented during the 2020 Census:

…we had artistic reincarnations of things like the Loteria, — there are cards that have little icons, very colorful, of different types of characters, and birds, and skeletons, and scorpions, and things of that sort. And because of the pandemic, we could not use our usual face-to-face methods, or community organizations couldn’t do that. So rather than having a table in a grocery store saying, “Come fill out a census,” they were going out and distributing in community centers that were giving out water, and talking about best practices for vaccines and things. They were handing out these Loteria cards that, instead of the usual icons, they had different census characters on them, like an enumerator, or a little graph, or things of that sort. So it was reinforcing the necessity and the importance of civic participation, but doing it in an artistic way that was very pleasing to the eye, and got you to think, “Oh, this is really interesting.”

The example of Albert Einstein playing violin is often used as an example of a scientist who embraced his creative side, but I am thinking it is time to find new examples to amplify this concept, starting with Santos and anyone else he might identify. Not to relieve the NEA and other creative entities from doing the same, but Santos seems really adept at identifying the bridges between creative and science based approaches and is a vocal advocate.  I mean, there was a point where he was saying, credit where credit is due, the NEA inspired me to think all federal departments should have artist-in-residence programs.