Comedy Central Is Leading A Humor Revolution

By Frank Ahrens
Sunday, April 9, 2006

Launched on cable in 1991, Comedy Central was, for most of that decade, a small-viewership niche channel that was probably best known for the cult show "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and being the first home of Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect."

That all changed in 1997 when "South Park" debuted, boosting the channel's audience and transforming it into a mainstream success -- and, indeed, must-see viewing for many now, with "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report."

Similarly, over the past few years, the channel -- which, like MTV, VH1 and Nickelodeon, is owned by Viacom Inc. -- has developed a broad and deep Web site full of repurposed content seen on television and added Web-only material.

The Web gives distribution to comedy far beyond what has been possible in the past, as it has done for music by indie bands and short films by unknowns. For instance, is a collection of bits from dozens of comedians, many you've probably never heard of who are nevertheless worth your time, and interviews with them, as well.

On Comedy Central's site, your first stop might be "The Daily Show" to see clips of the previous night's program so you can be in on all the office jokes the following day.

I've found the video clips of stand-up comedians to be among the more enjoyable parts of the site. It's a great way to check out new comics without having to pay $15 for their CDs or more for comedy club tickets. It's the same reason I like the comedy channel on XM Satellite Radio -- it's a constant rotation of comedy bits, typically lasting a few minutes each. If a comedian comes on I don't like, I change the channel and come back after a couple of minutes, knowing he or she will be gone.

Comedy Central's Web-only shows include film shorts, the cult cartoon "Odd Todd" and some fun spoofs on celebrity shows. For instance, "All Access: The Middle Ages" uses Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn in its "Awesomely Bad Break-Ups" segment to spoof Brad Pitt's split with Jennifer Aniston to be with Angelina Jolie.

And for those of you who still lament the demise of the wickedly funny "Upright Citizens Brigade" sketch show, you can find clips here.

One thing: As Comedy Central appears on cable, rather than over-the-air television, its content is outside the enforcement of FCC decency regulations. So parents should know that some of the content on Comedy Central's Web site is as potentially offensive as Comedy Central television shows, such as "South Park."

Popularized Science

Until the Internet, only a few people knew of the supreme coolness of science.

Basically, you had a) your scientists and b) your occasional high school class that scored a field trip to a lab and got to see a classmate with long hair put his or her hand on a Van de Graaff generator ( ).

But now, thanks to the Internet and QuickTime video software, everyone can see the groovy stuff the white coats are up to.

For instance, European researchers recently cracked one of the many puzzles of liquids.

The behavior of liquids is still not fully understood. A rivulet of water running down your windshield in a car wash is a staggeringly complex collection of eddies, currents, shears and other dynamic forces that requires elegant mathematics to explain. One of the more fantastical phenomena is the "bouncing" of liquid: When a narrow stream of thick liquid, like shampoo, is being poured into a puddle, sometimes a jet of it will shoot back out. Freaky! It occurs all the time but is rarely seen: It usually happens in about 300 milliseconds.

Which is where super-slow-mo cameras, the Internet and QuickTime come in. Check out the artful, cool video -- and equally cool explanation -- here: .

Listen to Frank Ahrens talk about blogs on Washington Post Radio (1500 AM) at 3:50 p.m. Wednesdays.

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