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Portlandia Begins Tonight

Tonight, welcome to my world: Portlandia. I've lived in the real-life analogue of Portlandia for eleven years, and it's a place of dreams -- dreams of sleeping late, of opening a yarn store, of becoming a freegan, of getting rid of your car and becoming a bike commuter who only wears natural fibers while working quarter-time at a gluten-free bagel shop. It's a city where young people have come to get away from being in a city. As Fred Armisen (now famously) says in the first episode of Portlandia, "It's where young people go to retire."

Tonight on IFC (Independent Film Channel) at 10:30pm, you can see the first episode of Portlandia -- and see how us Portland residents have been living all this time, right under your noses. Yes, we put birds on things and call them art -- and we sell that art at stores devoted to selling handcrafted bird art. Yes, many of us don't seem to have proper jobs, and we often have four or five roommates -- and yes, most of them work at a co-op that sells bulk alfalfa on the cheap. Yes, we organize "sports" leagues that happen entirely indoors, because it's frickin' raining most of the time. Yes, we wear hoodies and jeans and layered shirts without irony -- because it's frickin' raining most of the time! And yes, this is completely nuts, and it's about time somebody noticed. FOR EXAMPLE:

Portlandia is a spectacular example of laughing with, not at. In Portland, the general consensus is that this show is hilarious and correct -- and this makes sense given that Brownstein is from Portland and Armisen (of Saturday night Live fame) hangs out here a lot. There was a screening of the premiere episode last week at a local brewpub theater (yes, we have lots of those -- drink a beer, eat pizza, and watch movies or TV on the big screen), and it was a smashing success. Carrie Brownstein's new band played at a sandwich shop/bar by the waterfront later on. Both Brownstein and Armisen have appeared on our local NPR affiliate, OPB. The message from Portland (and I, as a professional blogger somehow making a living in Portland, feel qualified to say this) is: welcome, and please buy some books from our many local bookstores, or some of our fine locally-made beers or spirits, or at least something with a bird on it.

The only fear we have as Portlanders is that our secret is finally, officially, out. There really is a weird paradise on the west coast, where public transit is excellent, bike lanes are everything, there's no sales tax, you're not allowed to pump your own gas (!), the library system is awesome (they'll mail books to you), and on and on. Now, it's true we have some of the highest unemployment in the country -- but that's partly because y'all have been moving here so much!

I grew up primarily in southwest Florida. Portland is about as far away from Florida as you can get, while still being in a major U.S. city: Seattle is the other option. In the past calendar year, eight friends of mine, all former Floridians, have moved to Portland. Eight. Of the few who haven't yet moved here, I know several who are thinking about it and perhaps secretly scheming -- constantly asking how much my mortgage is and getting really sad because it's half what their rent is in L.A. (I even know of one secret scheme to move here. That's how weird Portland is -- people SECRETLY MOVE HERE without announcing it. It's like moving to Brigadoon -- if you don't come, it might disappear. If you come, you might disappear.)

So tonight, if you have cable, please check out Portlandia. It's funny because it's true. If you don't have cable, come on, don't you have friends with jobs at health food stores? Go to their houses. Bring beer. MORE:

Secret tip: the second episode (airing next week) includes an extensive appearance by Kyle MacLachlan, who plays Portland's mayor. And Portland's real mayor, Sam Adams (yes, that really is his name), plays MacLachlan's assistant. It's getting real, people. Grab your favorite microbrew, put on your knit cap, and tune in. For more, check out the official site (with lots of clips) or check out some web-only clips on Hulu. See also: The Late Movies: Portlandia for early sketches, many of which make appearances (rewritten and shot much better) on the show.

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The Funniest Word in the English Language? 'Booty,' According to New Survey
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Some words, regardless of their meaning, are simply more chuckle-worthy than others. To determine which expressions in the English language are truly the most comical, Smithsonian reports that psychologists at the University of Warwick in the UK conducted a survey in which they asked people to rate the “humor value” of a sampling of chosen words. They recently published their findings in the journal Behavior Research Methods.

The researchers selected nearly 5000 words, and then used Amazon’s online crowdsourcing tool Mechanical Turk to ask more than 800 individuals to rank the humor value of 211 randomly chosen words from the list, on a scale from 1 (humorless) to 5 (humorous). Likely not surprising to anyone with younger siblings, the funniest word ended up being “booty,” with an average ranking of 4.32. In descending order, the remaining top 12 words—which all received a score of 3.9 or higher—were “tit,” “booby,” “hooter,” “nitwit,” “twit,” “waddle,” “tinkle,” “bebop,” “egghead,” “ass,” and “twerp.”

Why these words are so funny remains fuzzy. But when they analyzed their findings according to age and gender, the researchers did find that sexually suggestive words like “orgy” and “bondage” tended to tickle the funny bones of men, as did the words “birthmark,” “brand,” “chauffeur,” “doze,” “buzzard,” “czar,” “weld,” “prod,” “corn,” and “raccoon.”

Meanwhile, women tended to laugh at the words “giggle,” “beast,” “circus,” “grand,” “juju,” “humbug,” “slicker,” “sweat,” “ennui,” “holder,” “momma,” and “sod.” As for people under the age of 32, they were amused by “goatee,” “joint,” and “gangster,” while older participants liked “squint,” “jingle,” “burlesque,” and “pong.” Across the board, all parties were least amused by words like “rape,” “torture,” and “torment.”

Although humor is complex and dependent on elements like syntax and delivery, the study's researchers say that breaking comedy down to single-word units could demystify its essence.

“The research initially came about as a result of our curiosity,” said Tomas Engelthaler, the study’s lead author, in a press release. “We were wondering if certain words are perceived as funnier, even when read on their own. It turns out that indeed is the case. Humor is an everyday aspects of our lives and we hope this publicly available dataset allows future researchers to better understand its foundations.”

[h/t Smithsonian]

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Watch the Original Spinal Tap Short Film
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Chris Weeks // Staff // Getty Images

Spinal Tap formed in 1979, five years before the classic film This is Spinal Tap premiered. They performed on TV and began developing their personas as idiotic heavy metal monsters.

When the band, along with director Rob Reiner, went to pitch their mockumentary to production companies, nobody "got it." It wasn't clear what an unscripted comedy pseudo-documentary would feel like. So Reiner asked for the screenplay fee—$60,000—to be paid up front as a budget for a short proof-of-concept film.

That skimpy budget went a very long way, allowing the group to produce The Last Tour, a 20-minute Spinal Tap film exploring some of the plot (and many of the songs) that appeared in the later film This is Spinal Tap. There's a surprising amount of concert footage, as various bits that were repeated in Tap (some interview clips were even used in Tap unaltered).

The Last Tour is delightful because it shows a well-developed idea being implemented on the cheap. The wigs are terrible, the sound is spotty, but the vision is spot-on. The characters and the core story of the group (including a string of dead drummers) is already in place, and we get to see the guys improvise together. Tune in (and be aware there's plenty of salty language here):

(Note: Around 4:38 in the clip above, we see Ed Begley, Jr. as original drummer John "Stumpy" Pepys in the "Gimme Some Money" video. Stumpy died in a gardening accident, of course.)

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