The New Yorkerator

McSweeney’s Fun(ny) Facts

Ever wondered about Lou Pearlman’s insider secrets to making a muscle-ripped boy band? Curious about the various reasons to despise the musical Rent? How about some tips on defeating a 500-pound sumo wrestler?

Those erudite fellas from publishing prodigy McSweeney’s will address these urgent queries and more at The World, Explained, a night of “fact-based entertainment” and “extreme PowerPoint presentations,” according to its creator, Will Reiser, a television producer who has worked on Best Week Ever and Da Ali G Show. In September 2005, Mr. Reiser and his McSweeney’s cohort Joshuah Bearman debuted the Los Angeles–based regular comedy night, where comedians and writers present slides, charts, videos and other primary aides to share hilarious stories. “We just sort of wanted to do something with a multimedia element to it that was a little bit smarter,” Mr. Reiser told The Observer.

On April 10 at Symphony Space, Daily Show regular John Oliver, This American Life contributor David Rakoff and author Joshua Davis will perform at The World, Explained’s East Coast debut. Memoirist Rodney Rothman will also be on hand to ruminate on creating a fake boy band called Fresh Step while working as head writer for The Late Show with David Letterman. Along with his Letterman crew, he recruited the real dance choreographer for the Backstreet Boys and wrote songs for the faux band like “You Gotta Be Fresh to Fresh with the Fresh Step” and “Don’t Talk to the Hand, Girl, Talk to the Heart.” But nobody seemed to get the joke. “MTV’s TRL [Total Request Live] brought [Fresh Step] out and didn’t say they were a joke. They kind of blew up, with real fans.” Screaming girls? “Yeah, for real. And, technically, they didn’t exist.”

So fresh, so mean, so funny.

—Gillian Reagan

Cocktails & Dreams

Passing the bar just got a whole lot easier. The Columbia University School of Mixology has made it possible to booze through an entire post-graduate education—at an Ivy League institution—in just 10 hours! And you can forget about the oppressive student loans and endless hours of nail-biting that come along with applications to other schools, because getting into Columbia Mix only takes a phone call and $180. (That might seem like a lot of cash, but willing students make and drink at least four libations at every session. Where else in Manhattan can $9 buy a cocktail and a bartending certificate?)

But this is an accelerated course at Columbia, so things move along at a very heady pace. There are just five two-hour classes. By the end of the first one, on Thursday, April 5, “blinded” students will have learned to feel their way around the speed rack of well drinks and the named bottles along the back bar. And on the same night, trained mixology professors will explain the oh-so-subtle differences between highball cocktails like a plain old screwdriver and the “sloe comfortable screw up against the wall”—a lethal concoction involving sloe gin, Southern Comfort and a splash of Galliano.

To be sure, alumni of the three-week course will never be able to look at a gin and tonic the same way again. “Someone who is about to graduate will be able to do frozen drinks, shaken drinks—pretty much every drink you’ve ever heard of, plus 80 more,” said Brian Jump, the manager of Columbia’s School of Mixology. “There’s a written test and then a practical, which involves making a drink of the judges’ choice while telling a joke, singing a song or telling a story. And you have to be poised in front of your clients, so we’ll pass things out in the middle of class that are thrown at them. You have to keep your head up and address the audience while dodging projectiles.”

—David Foxley

Picturing the Roaring 30’s

Fred Astaire romping through the air. Snap! WASP-y girls with bee-stung lips and swimsuits to die for, lounging in the sand. Snap! Long before Patrick McMullan began capturing the who’s who and what’s what of New York society, Martin Munkacsi was busy snapping the 1930’s glamourati. Currently, the Hungarian master’s works are featured in Martin Munkacsi: Think While You Shoot, on display at the International Center of Photography through April 29.

Munkacsi’s snaps are luxe black-and-whites featuring real lookers—Garbo-esque women and beachcombers galore. He documented the changing times and became world-famous for his fashion photography. His prints also give us a reason to live for the dog days of summer: If we could just switch on the black-and-white, wouldn’t we all look great lounging in the sand?

The exhibit shows how Munkacsi’s eye magically captured those hidden in-between moments of our lives, when the action happens so fast that we all but miss it. “What makes his photographs so energetic is his ability to capture movement in a photograph,” wrote Carol Squiers, ICP’s curator, in an e-mail to The Observer. “Munkacsi was a lifelong sportsman, so he was able to anticipate the precise moment to press the shutter or capture the most beautiful gesture of a dancer such as Fred Astaire.”

—Ana Callahan

Cherry Bomb

Finicky Mother Nature has finally given us spring, with light-sweater weather, Tasti-D Lite cravings—and, of course, the cherry blossoms have arrived! There’s something about velvety pink petals raining down on your shoulders that make all those petty city-life worries float away. So escape the concrete grind, grab a picnic blanket, and head to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for opening day of cherry-blossom season on April 7. You can stroll under hundreds of double-flowering Kanzan cherry trees staggered between scarlet oaks in the Cherry Esplanade. Or check out the weeping Higan cherries in the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, the country’s first Japanese-style public garden, which was designed by Takeo Shiota in the 1920’s.

Patrick Cullina, vice president of horticulture and operations, gave The Observer a little cultural lesson to help us understand Hanami, the Eastern tradition of admiring the cherry trees. “For the Japanese, the cherry trees are a symbol of life,” Mr. Cullina said. “In the city culture of Japan, you’ll see people literally stopping what they’re doing and sit under the cherry trees to look at and appreciate them.” He explained the profound significance of the cherry-tree flowers budding, blooming, then releasing their petals. “The birth, maturity and death cycle is represented right before your eyes. It’s a hallmark to remind us that beauty is fleeting, and we need to take the time to take it in when it’s around us.”

—Gillian Reagan

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