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The Late Movies: Rare Comedy from The State

Back in the mid-90s, the sketch comedy troupe The State was Kind of a Big Deal -- at least it was in my friend group, which quoted sketches like Taco Mailman and The Bearded Men of Space Station 11 absolutely to death. Anyone who felt like we did will be excited to learn that a treasure trove of new State videos have been unearthed, most of which seems to have been created before their much-acclaimed show on MTV. All the videos have the same format -- man-on-the-street interviews, mostly, it seems, with NYU students, who tell crazy stories which are then interpreted in comic fashion by members of the State. (BTW, you'll recognize members of The State from subsequent work, like Reno 911, Viva Variety and Wet Hot American Summer.) Here are some of my faves.

(Special thanks to Chris Higgins for letting me totally steal this blog idea from him.)

Naked Cousin from TheState on Vimeo.

If Lean On Me and Dead Poets' Society were about shop teachers.

Shop Class from TheState on Vimeo.

This one features Tom Lennon playing a cop, long before his years playing Lt. Jim Dangle on Reno 911.

Shooting Skeet from TheState on Vimeo.

A babysitting job winds up in The Twilight Zone.

Kid from TheState on Vimeo.

Eyewitnesses to an elicit kiss break it down like the Warren Commission did the JFK shooting.

JFK from TheState on Vimeo.

What if The Real World was set in Antarctica? (Slightly dated: remember when there was only one reality show?)

Cool World from TheState on Vimeo.

A cop who thinks DUIs are hilarious!

Courtroom Cop from TheState on Vimeo.

This guy was so nerdy, he didn't even wear hi-top sneakers!

Anything Goes from TheState on Vimeo.

The date from hell.

Bad Date from TheState on Vimeo.

Another version of hell: being followed everywhere by the guy from the B-52s.

B52s from TheState on Vimeo.

It's talk like a pirate day! Excellent jargon.

Boat Shoes from TheState on Vimeo.

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How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?
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Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

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Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
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TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]

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