Our favorite things this week include Woody Allen's "The Stand-Up Years," "Inherent Vice" by Thomas Pynchon not Paul Thomas Anderson, and "Saga" by Brian K. Vaughan.

woody allen album cover

Allen’s Stand-Up Roots: On a recent episode of WTF, comedian Marc Maron interviewed director Judd Apatow, who has been outspoken in his disgust at Hollywood’s awkward silence where Bill Cosby’s concerned. Their consensus was that people had a hard time reconciling the guy who made those remarkable comedy albums with the possible serial rapist. Years before , Woody Allen put fans in a similar bind when he began to see his stepdaughter, Soon-Yi Previn, then was later accused of child molestation. The Stand-Up Years is a reminder that before his movies and personal drama, Allen was a great stand-up comic who anticipated alternative comedy by creating a persona-based point of view, one that would become the basis of Allen’s comedy legend.

The recordings come from 1964 to 1968, and they present Allen as the quintessential New York, neurotic Jew—one with an intellectual streak that could manifest itself in the domesticated surrealism of a joke that includes a character named Guy de Maupassant Rabinowitz. The collection’s a window into another comic world, one that was barely recognized as a distinct entertainment form, much less an overcrowded one. Allen was a master craftsman whose jokes were immaculately set up and unpredictably paid off. You can understand him moving on to movies because if The Stand-Up Years is any indication, stand-up comedy seems to have come too easily to him.

Some jokes have dated badly as some pop culture punchlines of the day require a Google search today, while Allen’s versions of my-wife-is-so-fat jokes that feel like part of another world. Those punchlines come with easy exaggeration; but he could also effectively land that kind of joke with something closer to his wheelhouse. In another joke he mentions running into his ex-wife in Los Angeles. “I didn’t recognize her with her wrists closed.” (Alex Rawls)

Floating in Vice: During my travels last month I picked up a copy of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, which was recently turned into a movie starring Joaquin Phoenix by Paul Thomas Anderson. The book is built around protagonist Doc Sportello who oscillates between a state of subdued excitement and a distant desire for self-preservation, emotions suppressed by the foggy obfuscations of marijuana smoke. While reading, it became difficult to hold on to every thread and clue that was offered, instead I was drawn into the journey of a wise PI who relies on a combination of connections and pure luck, though he hardly believes in coincidence, to solve a mysterious case involving his “ex-old lady.” Inherent Vice’s allure, to gently let go and float along with Doc on his eccentric adventures, was the most resonant aspect of this novel. Similar to taking acid at an overcrowded indoor concert, sometimes it is best to walk out on your favorite band and enjoy the trip for what it is. It was a book I committed myself to finishing in one session and look forward to re-reading many times over. (Justin Picard)

The Child is the Narrator of the Man: The world of comic book series Saga has more crazy characters than any bar on Tatooine. I’m not even sure where to start—the planet of people who have TVs as heads? The talking manatee who owns a farm of walruses? Or maybe the giant talking seahorse who runs a mercenary assassin business? It’s really a toss up. First published in 2012, Saga is written by Brain K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. It tells the story of married couple Alana and Marko, two soldiers who fall in love despite coming from warring planets. The comic opens with the birth of their child, who occasionally narrates the series from the future. The war has consumed the entire galaxy, and the new family must try to survive as fugitives in a world where they find as many colorful allies as foes. Staples’ drawings are vibrant and clear, giving spark to even the smaller side characters. Both wildly funny and, at times, heart-wrenching, the story itself is based on ideas that Vaughan conceived first as a child and later a parent, and much of the drama comes not from the intergalactic war but from the evolving relationship between Alana and Marko as they attempt to navigate their way through parenthood. The series is published weekly, and is also currently in print as four cumulative volumes. (Lauren Picard)