In New York in the mid-'80s, before the ascent of cheeky mock news sources like The Onion and The Daily Show, editorial wunderkinder Kurt Andersen and Graydon Carter unleashed their savage wits in the parody-packed Spy magazine. Spy: The Funny Years, a time capsule in book form, takes us back to when snarkiness became an art.
The irresistible Schultze Gets the Blues, now on DVD, is the story of an accordion-playing German retiree whose monotonous, dead-end life is suddenly doused with three-alarm hot sauce when he hears Zydeco music on the radio. It's love at first listen, and his liberating journey to Louisiana to immerse himself in its percolating rhythms is funny and heart-tugging.
The Japanese love robots. A new book, Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots, traces the nation's affection for automatons from its earliest roots in Edo-Period, wooden puppetlike robots to the contemporary Repilee, an eerily lifelike android modeled after a popular Japanese newscaster. Paro, a fuzzy replica of a baby harp seal created as a companion for elderly Japanese, is an adorable symbol of the widespread embrace of the robotic 'friend.'
Professor Peter Schikele, classical music's own "Weird Al" Yankovic, has dedicated his life to championing the work of P.D.Q. Bach, an unknown composer (principal instrument: the kazoo). On the DVD P.D.Q. Bach in Houston: We Have a Problem, Schikele conducts pieces such as "The Unbegun Symphony" and "Schleptet in E-flat Major." Result: cadenzas of laughter.