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9 Odd Demands on the Riders of Comedians

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Comedians are an eccentric bunch, and they need some strange things to get in the performing mood. Over the years, The Smoking Gun has collected riders that include examples of unorthodox items or requests that might not make sense to those of us that stick to sitting in the audience; here are 11 of them.

1. CARROT TOP — “PLEASE NO CARROT CAKE”

Carrot Top, a.k.a. Scott Thompson, knows that he is perceived as a hack to many people. Carrot Top’s self-awareness and self-deprecation appeared in a 2002 rider, where he began his stipulations for dinner with: “PLEASE NO CARROT CAKE - IT’S STILL NOT FUNNY!” The remainder of the supper stipulations are crossed out, but it’s easy to see that at some point Carrot Top and his crew enjoyed a Spaghetti Night on Wednesdays, an Omaha Steak Night on Saturdays and a Taco Night to end the weekend on a delicious note.

2. ZACH GALIFIANAKIS — PERFECT OFFICE PRODUCTS

All things considered, Zach Galifianakis doesn’t come off as high-maintenance as the other celebrities with multi-page riders. For example, instead of a wide variety of beverages, he only desires one bottle of Syrah and one large bottle of flat water. When it comes to those big flip charts that he sometimes uses in his act, however, Galifianakis gets very specific:

“Two (2) large flip charts (plain white, 50 pages each, 27" X 34"). Office Depot item #597862 "Recycled easel pads" or Staples item #572867 MUST be used, no exceptions. They sell them two to a pack, so one pack is fine.“

Zach also requires three Sharpie magnum permanent markers, with “no exceptions or substitutes.” His management claim they’re hard to find and may need to be ordered, with a link to the relevant Sharpie URL.

3. LARRY THE CABLE GUY — HOOTERS STYLE WINGS

Dan Whitney is best—or only—known for his Larry the Cable Guy persona. According to his rider, Whitney tries to keep up with the blue-collar character dietarily. According to a leaked rider of the successful comedian (Whitney is guaranteed $155,000 per gig), Whitney insists on “50 ‘Hooters Style’ chicken wings (medium), blue cheese dressing,” and “4 cans of Skoal/Berry Blend Long Cut Tobacco (purple can).”

Whitney also requests a box of Multi-Grain Wheat Thins and no processed meats. He contains multitudes.

4. JERRY LEWIS — PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT MY CHARITY

Jerry Lewis made his mark on the world with his slapstick comedy, but some only associate him with the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethons that he hosted every Labor Day weekend from 1966 until 2011. Possibly because of this, Lewis and/or his representation make it very clear (ALL CAPS) that his charity work is not to be mentioned in promoting his shows:

“REFERENCE TO JERRY LEWIS AND THE MUSCULAR DYSTROPHY ASSOCIATION TO PROMOTE A CONCERT OR PERSONAL APPEARANCE WILL RESULT IN THE CANCELLATION OF THE AGREEMENT BETWEEN THAT PARTICULAR VENUE AND JERRY LEWIS.”

Other little quirks from the seven-page rider include the fact that while Lewis and one guest fly first class, the other four members of his party have to fly business class; the stage floor must be suitable for tap dancing; and two long-stemmed carnations must be delivered backstage no later than one hour prior to showtime.

5. PENN & TELLER — “MR. JILLETTE EATS FIRE.”

There is a lot of technical talk in Penn & Teller’s 2001 rider, but the dangers behind the group’s tricks have become so commonplace for them that there are some unintended fun juxtapositions. The catering section reads—in all capital letters—that someone in the group or crew is allergic to eggplant, and it should therefore be avoided. Also, the boys and their crew really like their coffee and water: “COFFEE AND BOTTLED WATER MUST BE PROVIDED FOR THE ENTIRE TIME WE ARE PRESENT BEGINNING WITH OUR LOAD IN. NO KIDDING!!!” Conversely, on the final page that is dedicated to the fire safety precautions, it is casually written in normal, understated lettering that “Mr. Jillette also eats fire. For this he uses small torches which fit into his mouth.”

6. JOAN RIVERS — 65 DEGREES OR ELSE

Joan Rivers has been performing for a long time, and she knows what she wants, down to the most specific of details. According to a 1998 rider, her stool must be a “30-inch black, standard wooden, backless stool with a seat covered in black Duvatin,” and it must be “extremely sturdy” due to Rivers’ propensity to stand on it during shows. The temperature at the venue cannot exceed 65 degrees. It is clearly stated that the toilet seat must have a lid. One 19-inch television in perfect working order is required in the dressing room, as well as a demand for one oxygen mask.

7. BOB SAGET — CLEAN OPENING ACT

According to a 2005 document, Bob Saget and his management provide copy for how Saget’s stand-up shows should be advertised, emphasizing the entertainment value of seeing the “clean cut, boyishly charming” man who played Danny Tanner performing dirty material. Since the audience knew what to expect, Saget’s restrictions on his opening act were strange:

“Opening act subject to Artist's approval. Artist approved opener must not have dirty material and must not use a guitar or any other musical instrument as part of their act.”

8. DAVID SPADE — NERF

As far as the food and beverages requested by David Spade on his rider, nothing seems out of the ordinary. The one item on the rider that does seem a little out of place would have to be the Nerf football.

9. DANIEL TOSH — READING MATERIAL

A 2010 Daniel Tosh rider stipulates that the comedian’s dressing room should contain “four bottles of Smart Water, an assortment of decaffeinated teas, hot water for the iced tea, a bottle or jar of honey and several fresh lemons.” That’s pretty reasonable and not out of the ordinary, outside of the fact that usually celebrities request more items. It’s the one seemingly tossed-off sentence that is its own paragraph under the Miscellaneous section that’s a bit strange:

For college dates, please provide a book you think Daniel might like to read.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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