Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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Better Update Site

March 30th, 2016 | Posted by Philip J Reed in Meta - (11 Comments)

Project: ALF

Just a quick post today to let you know that I’m not dead, haven’t lost interest in Better Call Saul, and will be live-streaming Project: ALF.

OKAY BYE

…so, anyway. No, I didn’t die or experience anything sad or tragic. I’ve been pretty busy, though, and my time has been limited by a few other projects and commitments. That’s why things are pretty quiet overall. Since we’re so close to the end, though, I figured I’d devote the time I do have to plowing through the remainder of ALF. That’s my priority, if only so I never have to watch the fucking thing again.

The Better Call Saul reviews will continue at some point fairly soon. If it makes you feel any better, I haven’t even had time to watch the show, so when I do pick the reviews back up they won’t be tempered by knowledge of what’s to come. In fact, you’ll be able to read them and see me as more of a dope than ever because you already know things pan out completely differently than I’m predicting. Go you! Thanks for your patience on those, by the way. I feel bad, because the show deserves attention that I just can’t give it right now. This will be rectified.

And, finally, the live stream of Project: ALF will happen after the season four bonus posts…which means it’ll be pretty soon. (The actual, written review of that film will post afterward.) Details to come, but get ready.

That will be the big finale to the ALF Reviews, so I hope you can join us for the stream. There will be live text chat, so you can make fun of it or make fun of me as you see fit.

In addition to Project: ALF I’ll stream a handful of episodes, just to warm up the crowd and give folks time to settle in. So, if you have any suggestions for what episodes to include, let me know! The sooner the better, because I’m going to edit this thing as far in advance as possible.

Thanks for sticking around. This site’s biggest project ever (past and future) is almost at an end. Thanks for giving me a reason to keep going.

And, seriously, suggest some ALF episodes you want to see in the stream. Because otherwise I’m just going to loop “You’re the One That’s Out of This World” for four hours.

What this site could look like

February 20th, 2016 | Posted by Philip J Reed in internet | Meta - (10 Comments)

Grand Theft Auto V

Running a website is its own reward. As you know, I just need to turn on my computer and lots of money and sexy ladies and respect come tumbling out of the screen and into my lap. It’s great and you should all feel pret-ty envious. Probably even suicidal.

But it has its…less rewarding aspects as well. Mainly the investment of time and money to keep it operational.

Time is not exactly a rigid requirement, I admit. Yes, it can take me several hours of work for an ALF review, or several days of work for a Fiction Into Film, but on the whole it doesn’t take too long to sit down and write something.

However, if I am sitting down to write something, that’s time I’m not spending writing other things…whether those are personal projects, freelance work, or just the emails I owe friends who at this point definitely assume I’ve died.

Then there’s also fresh air (whatever that is) and a social life, or reading, or watching movies or playing video games or, basically, experiencing all of the things other people have created. And so it can be difficult to balance. Sometimes I’ll go for weeks on end doing nothing but writing. Other times I want to spend that time catching up on things I’ve missed.

And I can do that. That’s the best thing about having my own website and not working for others anymore: I set my own deadlines.

That’s also the worst thing about having my own website and not working for others anymore: I set my own deadlines.

So while this means I can delay something (or many somethings) it also means that if I’m not posting anything, people will check back less and less often. And if they check back less and less often, finding very little to read when they do return, they might stop showing up. And while that’s okay, it’s not ideal. I don’t write for the sake of having an audience, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t value having an audience. And I value it deeply.

This audience. The one you’re a part of. The audience who is reading this right now, wondering why the heck I’m bringing any of this up. (I love you and you are handsome.)

Well, that’s because it ties into the other less-rewarding aspect: money.

Running a site like this isn’t free. There’s not an exceptional expense, but it’s significant for someone in my…ahem…modest income bracket. I pay for the domain and I pay for the bandwidth. The latter of which I had to upgrade about a year ago when my traffic increased, and which I’ll have to increase again before long.

And those things are fine; believe me, I’m not complaining, but I want to make it clear why I’m interested in defraying the cost as much as possible, and within reason. (We’ll define “within reason” before long.)

Frankly, Noiseless Chatter operates at a loss.

Big deal. I’m okay with that.

But I’d be foolish if I wasn’t at least a little interested in reducing the degree of that loss.

Fortunately, webmasters like me can pull in money hand over fist! Every day I get offers from people who want to throw money at this site. LOOK!

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I mainly just thought this one was funny…later emails were more in line with what you see below — I did ask for clarification — but anyone who comes to this site and thinks I’d be the kind of guy who wants to open crates with a crowbar can’t have read a word that I’ve ever written. And I don’t think any readers hang around here because they think they’re reading the ponderous thoughts of a man who blogs between crowbar sessions.

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I’m sure that a broad spectrum of international organizations would be touched to have their content featured between screengrabs of a masturbating puppet, but I had to decline. I know what the content looks like. It all looks the same. It’s without value or meaning, written for the express purpose of fooling search engines into associating one specific company with one specific keyword. In short, they’re writing to fool a robot. And they’re wondering if I could be bribed to let them do it on my readers’ time. For the princely fee of $20.

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And hey, look, confirmation that the folks reaching out to me aren’t even bothering to customize their templates beyond the barest minimum. Surely the content they’re offering will be stellar. (They’re doubling that money, though. I’m twice as tempted to fuck over my readers!)

I get these a lot. Like, all the damned time. Sometimes they take the time to learn my name. Usually they don’t. One of them, for some reason, called me Sue. And none of them, ever, care about you, or the site, or what anybody coming here would like to read.

They write garbage. I know they write garbage, because I used to work for a digital marketing agency that pulled this same crap. We wrote garbage, too.

But…well…wouldn’t that be nice? If I could just take one of these folks at their ostensible word every month? That’s an extra $40 every 30 days. And, hey, what if I did two per month? Or three? I could pull in $1,200 a year easily, just by posting this crap that nobody cares about. And doesn’t that sound like a fair trade? Maybe I could even post it on Sundays, when I never post anything and nobody even thinks to visit the site anyway. Who would that hurt?

It’d hurt the site.

It’d hurt what I’ve built.

It’d hurt you guys, and make poor use of your time.

I don’t want to hold Noiseless Chatter up as some exemplar of quality or anything, but I hope it can have just a little bit of integrity in a medium that…doesn’t always value it. And doesn’t always want it. And is glad to fake it just long enough to turn itself around for an easy buck.

There’s a blogger I used to visit that, within the past year, has turned her site over to sponsored content, and it’s sad. I won’t name her site here because I don’t intend to shame her and I don’t know what’s behind her decision, but I went from having a blogger I was interested in reading whenever she had something to say, to having a shell of a blog that doesn’t seem to have much of her in it at all.

I don’t want anyone here to feel that. If you get any joy out of this site whatsoever, I’d like to maintain that. If you don’t…well, even then it’s not like sponsored content is going to change your mind. Nobody wins.

I make money, yes…but nobody wins.

I’ve hosted pieces here that were provided by outside writers, but I’ve never accepted a penny for doing so. I’ve reviewed other people’s products and wrote about their projects, but never in exchange for money. And I wouldn’t take any. Ever. If I get a review request for something that interests me, I ask for a copy of that item, which I think is fair. If they offer money, I refuse. As you see above, people do indeed offer money.

I’ve had people ask how they can support the site. One reader — whom I don’t wish to embarrass, but feel free to out yourself in the comments — said he goes out of his way to click ads on my site in order to help.

And, yes, that’s a way, but never, ever feel obligated to do that. If you see an ad on my site for something that interests you, and you click it, I get a little money from Google. If you don’t click it, I get a little less (as long as the ad actually displays).

Don’t click for the sake of clicking…but if you do click, it helps. I’m not asking you to click; I’m just explaining how it works. If you tell me here and now that you’d never click a damned thing on my site, I wouldn’t think any less of you, and I have no expectations that anybody will click anything.

Really, the only thing I would ask is that you disable adblock on my site. And that’s not even a very strong request. Frankly, I don’t mind what you block or don’t block. But if you’re wondering “how can I help?” that would be the extent of my answer.

Ads are a touchy subject. I feel dirty every time I see them on my own site. At the same time, they’re helping me afford to keep the site. Does that make them a necessarily evil? I…honestly don’t know. And it’s probably not for me to decide. Many of you don’t seem to mind either way. Others, I’m sure, hate that they’re here. Believe me, I hear you, and I understand. If there were any other way to defray the cost of maintaining the site, I’d be all ears.

I could offer something for sale, here. And maybe I will, at some point. Right now, you could always buy a mug if you haven’t already. They’re good mugs! But that’s just an option. Maybe in the future I’ll have more options. Again, I’m all ears.

But, really, there’s not much that you can do. I could set up a donation link or something, but I’d rather there be something of value changing hands. I do have an idea for something else to offer in the near-ish future, and I’ll probably announce that in the near-er-ish future, but right now the way to help…the best way to really help…is just to read.

To comment.

To like this stuff on Facebook.

To share it with your friends should you feel so compelled.

That’s all. It’s not money that keeps me going. If this site one day broke even I’d do a cartwheel, but that’s not what I’m after. I could make this site immediately profitable at the expense of its identity…and I don’t want that.

I want you guys.

And every time you show me you’re engaged — even through disagreement — it means the world to me. That’s what keeps me here, investing time and money and, on Thursdays, my sanity. I read all comments. I value every like and retweet and everything else. I get giddy when I look at old articles and see that they’ve been shared dozens of times. In some cases hundreds. In one case thousands.

That means everything to me. That’s why I write. That’s why I have this site. And that’s why no amount of money is going to tempt me — really tempt me — to part with it.

The internet eats great things alive.

Thank you for giving me reasons every day to keep this small one afloat.

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

Alright, so, I need to apologize for a bit of a quiet stretch here. I have a bunch of half-started drafts, and I’ll get to them. And god knows I won’t bail on ALF reviews because the day I claw my way out of that horse shit is the day I can face my own reflection again.

But, as I mentioned last week, I’m writing fiction again.

Fiction, without exaggeration, has been the most important thing to me for the majority of the time I’ve been alive. I went through a long dry spell, wondering if I’d ever write again. There were reasons to be doubtful. Maybe I’ll discuss them at some point.

I had a small spark of inspiration, though, and a story that had been brewing for around seven years finally clicked for me. My problem with fiction is never coming up with a plot…it’s coming up with an interesting way to frame that plot. I have a thousand ideas for stories that I could start writing tomorrow…but I’d get bored the day after that, because anyone can write a sequence of events. It’s a lot more difficult to create a universe in which those events unfold, find the proper voice with which to describe them, and tell the story in a way that nobody else can.

That’s important to me. And that’s been my sticking point.

For no particular reason that I can identify, I figured out how to tell this particular story. I went home and started writing. It’d be a lie to say I haven’t stopped since, but I can honestly say that any free time I have had has gone to directly or indirectly working on it. And I’m excited, because even though I’ve lived with these characters for seven years in my mind, I’m finally discovering who they really are.

I feel great. I feel younger and more excited than I’ve felt since I’ve moved to Colorado. And I also feel tired and mentally drained whenever I finish working on it…which is why the posting here has suffered.

It’ll come back, and likely pretty soon. I’ll run out of creative energy and take a break from the story to recharge. This isn’t goodbye; it’s an apology for those who keep checking back and finding nothing.

So far, so understandable. But here’s where I come to a slight crisis:

I really wanted to keep Fiction Into Film a monthly feature, but I’m running out of time to finish it. It’s started, and it’s going to be a good one. It…just might be a late one. I feel terrible about that, even though I get the sense that nobody really cares if they read it in February instead of January…but at the same time it’s an adaptation I really want to do justice to, and I don’t want to rush it for the sake of meeting a self-imposed deadline.

We’ll see. I still have time to finish it, but I want more than anything to avoid half-assing it.

May God forgive me.

Anyway, that’s all. Just a brief note to let you know I’m alive, happy, and productive than I’ve been in ages. Which is why you haven’t seen one damned thing.

It’s Just Another Year

January 1st, 2016 | Posted by Philip J Reed in Meta | personal - (1 Comments)

New Year

It’s just another year. 2015, 2016, 2014. What’s the difference, really?

Probably nothing. It happens. December 31 is one day, January 1 is the next day. There’s no significance aside from whatever we decide to give it.

Big deal.

But…here we are. Celebrating — or at least acknowledging — it anyway. And it’s difficult to resist looking back at what the previous year has been. People say it’s better to look ahead to the next. It probably is. That doesn’t really change anything; nobody knows how things will work out.

2015, if you’d like to know, was one of the most difficult I’ve ever had. I try hard not to turn this into a personal blog, and, largely, I succeed at that. There’s no reason to keep that stuff out of here — it’s my site, after all — but I like the fact that I can turn to Noiseless Chatter as an escape. As something apart from whatever else it is I’m dealing with at the time…even if I inevitably have to go back to it.

A new year is a new year. It means nothing and feels like it should mean everything. When 2015 started, I was in probably the best situation I’ve ever been in. About halfway through, that changed, and I was probably in the worst. Month to month, week to week, day to day, you never really know what to expect. A few years back I made all the wrong decisions and ended up in a very bad place. No surprise there. This year I made all the right ones…and ended up in a very bad place anyway.

What’s the moral? What’s the lesson? Why bother? Isn’t it easier to be a shit? A miser? A pain in the ass? If you end up in the same place…why do it the hard way? Why put your trust in people? Why hope for anything? Why work for anything?

It’s all fleeting. At best you find what you wanted and keep it until you die. More likely you don’t hold onto it that long, or don’t find it at all. In the end, does it matter?

Of course it matters.

Of course it matters, and it matters because you don’t know how things will work out. I started last year high, found myself low. But you know what? I ended it in a good place again. Just as things can pivot and change for the worst tomorrow, they can pivot again the day after that.

Everybody’s going to experience their ups and downs. Bad things will happen to good people and good things will happen to bad people. So why bother being good? Because when you’re good, you deserve those good things. And when you’re good and bad things happen to you, people will be there to help. That’s the difference. It’s not karma or any kind of cosmic balance that’s gone askew. It’s life. And you’re going to go through the worst things imaginable, no matter who you are. The difference is that if you’re good, people will be there to help you through those times. And if you’re good, you’ll be there to help them as well.

This year won’t be any easier than the last. It might even be a little harder, for all of us. We’re all older. Our metabolism is slowing down. We’re closer to grey hair, or no hair. We’re closer to death.

2015 is over, and none of us are getting it back. If we had a shit year and want to try again, too bad. If we had a great year, too bad. It’s gone.

Do something this year.

I don’t care what it is. Nobody but you should care what it is. Do something.

If it costs money, spend the money. If it costs time, invest the time. Because this is it. Whatever amount of time you have left on this planet, it’s decreasing. That arrow only points in one direction.

Figure it out. There’s something that will make you happy. What is it? What’s stopping you from getting there? Figure it out. Now. Do it. There will never be a better time. There will be less time, but never a better time.

We live in a scary world. We live in a confusing world. Above all, we live in a world that has no interest in our personal definitions of fairness.

Figure out what you want to do, and do it. Do it for you. Nobody else in the world is going to do it for you, so do it for yourself.

Maybe the thing you need is really getting rid of something else you don’t need. Something holding you back or breaking your spirit or slowing you down. Maybe getting rid of that thing will hurt somebody you don’t want to hurt. Maybe that’s still for the best.

One day you’ll die, and that’ll be it. The things you did are the things you did, and the things you didn’t do you will never do. If you died tomorrow, would you be satisfied? Why not? What haven’t you done? Why aren’t you doing it? How can you get to the point that you’re doing it?

Do it. One day you will die, and the odds are good that it won’t be on your own terms. It won’t be when you’re ready. It won’t wait for you to get around to that thing you’ve always meant to get around to.

There’s something out there that you want. Go get it. If it’s not something that will impress anyone else, or is important to anyone else, good news: it’s your life. You’re doing it for you.

Do it for you.

It’s just another year. 2016, 2017, 2015. What’s the difference, really?

Probably nothing. It happens. December 31 is one day, January 1 is the next day. There’s no significance aside from whatever we decide to give it.

So give it some significance. New Year’s Day is, if nothing else, a very useful reminder of how quickly an entire year of your life slipped away.

Make it a big deal.

Jan Terri, "Excuse My Christmas"

The Xmas Bash!!! has become an annual tradition around here, but I realize now that its purpose (and appeal) might be a bit unclear to folks who haven’t attended. For those who have, you know what it’s all about. For those who haven’t, it probably seems like this impenetrable oddity that I don’t shut up about for 30 days out of the year.

What’s the deal with the lousy Christmas specials? Why in the world would anyone give up their night for that? And what’s with the money you’re collecting?

All valid questions that I’m sure many readers have asked themselves. Which is why I want to take some time to talk about the event. Even those who have made it out to all three years (the true Noiseless Chatter veterans who deserve your respect and pity) might not know entirely what it is, how it came to be, or why it’s important to me. So here’s a brief history of The Bash!!! and its development.

And please do comment below with any questions or suggestions for the future. If anything it’s an organic, evolving beast, and I want every year to be the best year yet.

Conception

ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

The Xmas Bash!!!, like so much of modern entertainment, owes its genesis to ALF. No, really; it does. Three years later it amuses me deeply that this whole massive event is technically a spinoff of the ALF reviews, but it is.

In 2013, I started reviewing every episode of that often insane, periodically troubling puppet show. I posted a review every week, and at some point I realized that my review of “Oh, Tannerbaum” (the show’s first Christmas special) would be posted a week after Christmas.

That was fine, but it was so close to Christmas that it seemed like a missed opportunity. I considered shuffling up the order, just that once, so that I could get that review live within the appropriate week, but ultimately I decided not to. (Chaos theory in action: had I started reviewing ALF just one week sooner than I did, the Xmas Bash!!! would not exist.)

Instead I decided that it would be fun to screen “Oh, Tannerbaum” together, with all of my readers and whomever else decided to show up. That way we could all watch it before Christmas, even if the review wouldn’t be posted until afterward.

That’s it. That’s the entire genesis of the Xmas Bash!!! I just wanted a way to get “Oh, Tannerbaum” in front of people during the right week.

From there, I thought it would be fun if we all riffed on it together. We wouldn’t just watch ALF; we’d review it as a group. I wrote my review ahead of time so that I wouldn’t have my opinions tainted or changed by anything anyone said, but the idea of everyone commenting on it in real time was appealing to me, so I found a streaming site that offered live chat: Twitch.

I tested the stream out a few times with a friend (J.P., who has served as my technical troubleshooter all three years), and it seemed like it would work. It was something that could actually happen, and I was excited.

Fleshing it Out

Sabrina, the Teenage Witch

Of course, screening “Oh, Tannerbaum” would take all of 23 minutes, and asking people to tune in just for that seemed…silly. Especially if we ended up having fun. What would happen after the episode ended? We’d just say goodnight and find other things to do? Nuts to that.

So I figured I’d find a few other Christmas specials — preferably corny ones — to follow it up. I had Hulu Plus at the time, and since that was my source for “Oh, Tannerbaum” I thought I’d comb through their other offerings and find a few more that way. That’s how I ended up with shows like Major Dad and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.

Those aren’t shows I ever would have thought about otherwise, but they set the precedent for the kind of thing I’d look for in the future. It’s also how I stumbled upon the great Lassie Christmas episode, which opens with the titular dog being creamed by a careless driver. I’d never even heard of that episode, and I had no idea what happened in it. It was just a show I remembered watching as a kid, and it had a Christmas episode. Fate brought that one to us, and it’s still one of the funniest Xmas Bash!!! memories for me.

I found as many episodes as I could and realized I could make a whole night out of it, so that’s what I did.

The Partridge Family, "Don't Bring Your Guns to Town, Santa"

The only problem was switching between episodes. I could just leave the screen capture running and let people watch me navigate Hulu finding the next special, and that would have been fine (if damned clunky), but I really wanted something to fill that dead space between episodes.

That’s when I figured I’d host the show, and give the night some structure and narrative.

Sure, we could just watch a bunch of disconnected Christmas specials…but as long as I had dead space to fill, why not give it a purpose? The idea of watching and riffing on Christmas specials was obviously in line with Mystery Science Theater 3000, so I decided to provide similar breaks from the chaos in the form of host segments.

Host Segments

Host Segments, Year One

The host segments had to be simple, since I was filming this stuff the day it aired. Beyond that, I didn’t really have much of an idea for them.

My humor tends toward the dark and self-effacing, and I figured that would make for a good counterpoint to the sap and syrup we’d likely get throughout the night in the Christmas specials. I made a list of a few sad things the holiday season could bring out in someone (being lonely, remembering traumatic Christmases past, eating shitty candy), and improvised around those.

I’ll be the first to say that they should have been more tightly scripted or edited. I wanted it to feel natural, but I probably went too far in that direction. I know first hand how difficult it is for the joke to be “this guy isn’t funny” without the experience actually being unfunny, and yet I keep trying that approach over and over again (see the first episode of my old Save-State Gamer series), never truly learning the lesson.

The host segments received some positive feedback, but for my money they were still a bit too loose and unfocused. They broke up the night (which is good), and tied all of the Christmas specials together (which is also good), but compared to the later Xmas Bash!!!es, they were a drag, and gave the night a too-lethargic feel. I was learning as I went, so I don’t mean to be too critical of myself, but there’s no way I’d ever return to that zero-energy approach in the future. I don’t know how anyone sat through those. Hopefully they served as a great chance to urinate without worrying that you’re missing anything.

My tie and sweater vest made me look even nerdier than usual, which led viewer Daniel to repeatedly riff on me looking like the host of an NPR pledge drive. It was unexpectedly prescient…as we’ll see.

Host Segments, Year Three

From a logistical standpoint, the host segments all lived together in the same video file; I’d pause it when the segment was over, click over to the Hulu window to air a special, then click back over to the video file and unpause it for the next host segment.

Due to this the progress bar at the bottom of the video player let everyone know how deep into the night we were. I was fine with that (and I saw it as a good thing, actually), but somebody riffed on my performance by saying that it seemed like when the little blue line was full, I’d commit suicide.

That’s what led to the running joke of me dying every year in the host segments. I didn’t actually die the first year, but the suicide joke gained traction in the chat, and something happened to the stream that prevented anyone from seeing the ending, so it became passive canon that my character, indeed, killed himself.

Merry Xmas!

Technical Difficulties

Here’s what prevented anyone from seeing the ending: the stream died.

Lassie, "A Christmas Story"

As the night wore on, I got very excited by how many viewers we had. We probably started with around 30, but before long we hit 100. And we kept going from there. Not too shabby for something spur of the moment with no planning.

The reason we got so many viewers, I’m sure, is that we were on Twitch, which is a very popular streaming site. Their own users were looking for something to watch, found us, and tuned in. It was great, and it’s still the largest Bash!!! turnout we’ve had yet.

With visibility, however, came the problem of legality. Someone reported the stream as being against Twitch’s Terms of Service, and we were shut down. Unfortunate, but…I couldn’t really argue.

Some folks have asked what specials we missed out on that night, but don’t worry; there were only two more to go when we got canned. The first was The Fat Albert Christmas Special, which we aired the following year, and the next was a repeat of “Oh, Tannerbaum” for those who tuned in late. I’m sad that we didn’t get to end the stream properly, but nothing was truly lost.

That meant that we only got to air seven specials that night. But that’s okay, because seven is a really nice number anyway, and each year since we’ve aired seven more. Another accidental birth of tradition.

The ending of Year One

The fact that someone reported us is the reason I don’t post the link to the stream ahead of time anymore. That’s why I make the stream private. It doesn’t always prevent unfortunate moderation, but as of now, secrecy is the only choice I have. That’s why I’m very interested in finding a new streaming solution, but we’ll get to that.

That wasn’t the only technical issue of the night, though. J.P. helped me troubleshoot ahead of going live, but when we started the stream, there was an unfortunate echo effect to the audio. I tried everything I could to fix it, but folks were already watching. They were stuck listening to ALF repeat endlessly, “It’s the day before Christmas! I’ve hidden all the eggs,” which has since become a kind of Noiseless Chatter shibboleth.

Longtime reader Jeff emailed me this year to say, “The best traditions are the ones that arise organically from awesome events, as did this one.” And looking back on the way these Bash!!!es have unfolded, it’s so true. I could have sat down one day and manufactured a special event out of thin air…but it wouldn’t have felt the same. It’d feel too deliberate. Too intentional.

A tradition born of beautiful accidents means so much more.

While fixing the audio I chose to play that terrible “Chacarron” song to keep people entertained, but if there’s anything that makes that song even worse it’s a compounding echo effect. So, you’re welcome.

At some point I got the echo down to a very low level; even though the lines were repeated they were done so very quietly. Somebody observed that this sounded like demonic whispering in the background of all the shows.

I was okay with this.

Charity Telethon

RIP Robin Williams

That was the first Xmas Bash! Between that and the second one, something big happened: Robin Williams committed suicide.

I was never a big fan of Williams. In fact, he kind of annoyed me. But his suicide was important because of how it made people react. The outpouring not of grief, but of identification.

I heard and saw friends coming out of the woodwork to talk about their own struggles with depression, their own suicidal thoughts, their own difficulties making it through any given day. In just about every case, I never would have guessed that these people important to me were facing demons like that. It was something everyone had always been afraid to talk about, until Williams’ suicide reminded them that bottling it up could very likely kill them.

Williams was a celebrity. He was well-loved. He was wealthy. He had a family and a career and a deep and important legacy. And then, in August, demons nobody knew he had defeated him. It shocked a lot of people, and helped a lot of others to open up.

As a response, I invited readers to submit their stories. They did. It was profoundly heartbreaking and inspiring. That’s still my favorite thing we’ve ever done on this site. One day Noiseless Chatter will no longer exist, and I’d be surprised if anything I do between now and that point that means more to me.

But it also frustrated me. I wanted to do something.

People out there were hurting. They needed help. They needed to know they weren’t alone. I came up with the idea for a Mental Health Scholarship. I’d collect money and put together whatever sum I could…and offer that to someone around the holidays. Someone who needed therapy or medication that they couldn’t afford. Someone who needed the help.

ALF, "ALF's Special Christmas"

I talked to my friend Emily — one of this site’s longest readers and supporters — and discovered a lot of logistical problems in terms of getting and handling the money. On top of that, I also knew that by selecting a recipient I’d be denying the funds from others who needed them. I could make Christmas brighter for one person, and unfortunately remind others how far from help they were.

It wasn’t something I could legally or emotionally figure out, so she advised me to find a charity that already did what I was trying to do, and collect the money for them.

She was right, of course. That was the solution. So I found The Trevor Project, which specifically offers mental health and suicide prevention services to LGTBQ youth. I was thrilled to find them, and they’ve been incredible to work with.

As difficult as the holidays are for me — and for countless others, including, perhaps, you — I can’t imagine how much harder they are for young folks who have been kicked out of their homes and shunned by their families because of who they are. I mean, I’m a straight white male from a well-enough-off family, college educated, free from disability or addiction, and most likely the handsomest man on Earth. If I have trouble getting through life, I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it is for others.

Host Segments, Year Two

I don’t mean to be flippant (aside from the handsome thing; I’m actually quite unattractive). My point is just that by mere circumstance of my birth, I don’t have to deal with so many of the hurdles that others have to. If I did have to deal with those, things would be exponentially harder. And I feel deeply for people in situations worse than mine.

So the 2nd Annual Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash!! would have a charitable component. That worked well, in one way, because it was already a longform entertainment event, like the charity telethons of old. But in another way, it posed a problem.

Amanda

Amanda!

If the Xmas Bash!! was going to be helping people — and soliciting actual financial donations to a reputable organization — there was a potential tonal inconsistency.

How could I be funny in the host segments and ask people to take me (and the night) seriously? How could we ridicule ALF and The Partridge Family and Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey if we were supposed to be doing some good for others?

Charity is serious. Comedy is not. There was a problem of balance that I didn’t know how to overcome, short of turning all of the host segments into scenes of me saying, “We’re having a lot of fun here tonight, but here’s what’s not so fun…”

I didn’t want that.

There’s no way you’d want that.

I wanted to facilitate donations without demanding them. If folks had no interest in giving to charity, I still wanted them to enjoy the night and laugh their heads off. But if they did want to donate, I wanted them to understand that that was a serious (and very much appreciated) option. I needed to have it both ways.

That’s where Amanda came in. Amanda’s been in a strange sort-of-cohost position for the past two Bash!!!es. That’s by design. If I can do my own ridiculous sad-sack bullshit in the host segments, she needs to be able to stand apart from (and, in a way, above) the rest of the night. When she lets you know about The Trevor Project, it means something different than if you’d heard it from me, acting like a bozo who is slowly freezing to death in a ditch.

Amanda, Year Three

It worked great. She’s been fantastic. I gave her some lines with a sort of subtle humor, but which were largely sincere. I let her know that if she was uncomfortable with any of them for any reason, that she could (and should) let me know, and I’d rewrite them.

She had no concerns with the material at all. She recorded everything I gave her, and even gave the lines a perfectly creepy twist that I adored. Amanda built her own character on top of what I asked from her. She was both serious (as I needed) and hilarious (as I wanted).

Amanda’s a good friend of mine. We bonded around the time of Williams’ suicide, and she revealed herself to be not just a sweet, funny, incredible human being…but a source of genuine inspiration as well. I knew she’d be a perfect fit for the event.

I think I was right, because she ended up being my single favorite thing about the second Xmas Bash!!, and I invited her back for the third. In fact, much of what she said and did in the third was improvised; she built even more of a persona for herself, and deviated substantially from the material I gave her. I couldn’t be happier.

After this year’s Bash!!!, I learned that she had been worried about participating in these events, as she has a fear of public speaking.

I had no idea.

I’m glad I didn’t know, because if I did I wouldn’t have asked her. Instead she pushed through it, and came out the other end feeling more secure and confident in herself. A very coincidental — and very reassuring — byproduct of the stream’s increasing good intentions.

Viva Variety

Ronnie the Skeleton, "Deck the Halls"

Of course, telethons tend to be very varied events. And, yes, following a magical space robot singing about Jesus with a story about the time Pac-Man saved Santa Claus would indeed count as “varied events.” But I wanted more than just different shows; I wanted a reason for folks to keep watching, to worry about missing something, to keep the energy up throughout the night and encourage people to stay alert and interested.

And I handled that in a few ways. For starters, I thought it might be fun to dig up more archival stuff. We had the specials, but I inserted vintage commercials into the breaks as well. And between specials, I aired smaller pieces of longer things that I’d never dare show an audience in their entirety. This included the Jefferson Starship segment from the Star Wars holiday travesty, David Bowie and Bing Crosby singing “Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth,” and the Ninja Turtles performing “The Wrap Rap” from We Wish You a Turtle Christmas, which I aired in its entirety this past year anyway because I hate you.

The addition of commercials and inane Christmas musical sequences continued this year, and likely will as long as I can find material to sustain them. Maybe at some point I’ll need to repeat some of those smaller segments, but that’s okay. They’re just a few minutes here and there, and they keep the pace up. They’re so far removed from listening to me drone on between specials, and I’d like to think they’re a thousand times more enjoyable as well. For whatever reason, they tend to get riffed even harder; maybe everyone realizes that they only have a few seconds to make their best joke. I’m glad, because reading the chat during Jingle Cats footage, for instance, is guaranteed to be painfully funny.

In addition I asked a few folks to put together special segments of their own. We had original music from Andy Starkey, a debut episode of PortsCenter by Ben Paddon, an original Christmas song from Adam Lore, illusions from Wes Iseli, a new episode of The Big Bible Blastoff from Sammy Scripture, an ALF-heavy installment of No Date Gamers from Ryan, and more.

Wes Iseli, Year Three

And while this was a great way of making the stream feel more varied, I admit that it lost a bit of focus. That’s due in no part whatsoever to those who contributed segments, because all of those were great; it was poor planning on my part.

Three-time Bash!!! veteran Ridley observed on the night that it went against the spirit of the event to include things that are actually good. He’s probably right. Asking someone to shift from laughing at something to laughing with something else is difficult, and it makes things feel confused.

At the very least, the balance was off, and there should have been more vintage programming and less unique content. I still like and want the unique content, but it shouldn’t be a shared focus. It should serve as more of an intermission from the rest of the night’s programming.

So for the 3rd Annual Xmas Bash!!! there was less of it. Another great song from Adam, more awesome illusions from Wes (including one that definitively established me as worse than The Grinch), and a tour de force return from Amanda. Those were natural fits, because their contributions were brief, and served as perfect little signposts throughout the night, rather than distractions from what we were doing.

There will still be unique content in the future, but balancing things will be a priority of mine. For what it’s worth, and to open the discussion, I think the balance achieved this year was ideal. I’d like to hear your thoughts on that, for sure.

Legal Matters

Walker: Texas Ranger, "A Ranger's Christmas"

And that’s pretty much the story of the Xmas Bash!!! So far we’ve raised over $700 for The Trevor Project, which is incredible to me, and I’m endlessly grateful to everyone who tuned in, everyone who donated, everyone who provided content or feedback…and just everyone, really. You guys are fantastic, and I hope you’ll help me to make next year’s — and the year’s after that — even more successful.

Of course, there’s a looming issue: copyright.

Twitch terminated us the first year, and Hitbox terminated us (temporarily) this year. I’d rather not rely on tricking streaming sites into letting us violate them left and right, so if you have any suggestions at all on how to host the stream moving forward, please let me know so I can investigate them.

I’m aware that what we’re doing is a big no-no. It’s copyrighted material. Period. There’s no way around that.

On the other hand, it’s for charity. I’m not making any money off of the event, and any donations go straight to The Trevor Project; they don’t come through me at all.

I’d like to keep this up. I’ve always wanted this event to feel like a Christmas party. A real Christmas party, where you get together with people you like once a year to have fun. To laugh. To drink too much. To be in good company where you can make a crappy joke and nobody will pick on you, because we’re all making crappy jokes in the hope that one of them, against all odds, will manage to be great.

Vintage Silverman's ad

A Christmas party for introverts, who love bad TV because of how bad it is. Who can bond in each other’s nerdy references and reminders of a more sincere time in pop-culture that’s been swept away by irony and winking self-awareness. People who want to dip one toe into the past at a time of year that warrants a little bit of sap. People who may or may not have anywhere else to go, or who just want a break from reality for a few hours.

It is a real party. As real as any party, with the exception of the fact that you’ll never have to worry about running into someone you don’t like.

And we’ve got ALF on the TV and Jan Terri on the playlist, because we can see Charlie Brown anytime and hear the same 50 versions of the same 10 Christmas songs in any given Starbucks. It’s a party at which the host is curating stuff that you won’t see anywhere else, and he’s doing it for a good cause. And just by being there, you’re doing good, too.

So…what can we do? Is there a streaming service that’s amenable to this? Is there some way I can stream it live through my own site? I know I can just host a big video file for download and ask that we all press play at the same time, but that’s a poor solution for many reasons. I’d rather it be something people can drop into and out of throughout the night, so, please, if you’re aware of any way we can do this more reliably in the future, let me know.

The Future, and Questions for You

Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, "Alpha's Magical Christmas"

And speaking of which, let me know what you’ve liked and didn’t like. Which specials have been your favorites?* Which have been your least? I’m aware that they’re all varying degrees of lousy, but I’m curious which ones brought you the most joy to riff on. (And the ones, in all honesty, you felt were pretty dead or unriffable.)

Let me know your suggestions for the future. Bad specials to screen. Christmas songs so odd you’re surprised I haven’t aired them yet. Ideas to make it more fun. Anything. So far each year has been better from the last, and I’d like to keep that up as long as humanly possible.

So let me know what you think. And thanks for all of your support — of the event and the site in general — over the past few years. You’ve taken some mindless outlet for my writing and helped me turn it into something productive and special.

I’ve heard from viewers who tell me how important the stream is to them. I’ve heard from one woman who told me that the Xmas Bash!!! is the only Christmas activity she and her husband participate in. And this year I hosted the same stream on both nights…and saw a significant number of people tune in to both nights simply because they enjoyed it so much the first.

The holidays have always been difficult for me, and the Bash!!! is now the thing I look forward to most. And I look forward to it a lot. If anyone out there benefits from it as well, then that’s great. The fact that so many benefit from it — both from participating and from the donations — is deeply moving to me.

The Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash!!! has taken the most difficult time of year for me and turned it into my most anticipated.

I love you guys for that. And I already can’t wait for you to see all the shit I’ve got planned for you next year.

The Bill Cosby Show, "A Christmas Ballad"

Happy holidays, everyone. I couldn’t do any of this without you.

—–
* For the record, my favorites so far were Lassie, Major Dad, Fat Albert, Power Rangers, The Bill Cosby Show, We Wish You a Turtle Christmas, and Walker: Texas Ranger. Coincidentally, that’s seven specials. Pretend they’re airing right now in a Best Of retrospective.

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