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Magazines have a short half-life. You get a good 20 minutes out of one, you've done well. The funniest 20 minutes of last month for me came from McSweeney's 11. Oh I liked the stories and essays fine and the design qualities once again won best in show. But the DVD--omigod, it killed me. True the whole DVD thing is a pricey gimmick. But a good McSweeney's always gets your attention. (The first two pages are devoted to a fiction award in memory of Amanda Davis, who died this past year in a plane crash. A frequent McSweeney's contributor, Davis left Durham to find many new friends in San Francisco and everywhere else she traveled.) You're saying, "A DVD in a magazine? Isn't that going too far? Isn't that pushing it? Isn't that just trying too hard to be 'cool'?" That's just the point, because this wasn't your ordinary "special features" DVD. The "Deleted Scenes" sections featured writers reading works published in the pages of McS's 11 (T.C.Boyle and Joyce Carol Oates are among the crowd.) In the "Extra-Deleted Scenes," we're treated to Denis Johnson and "Lit-Cribs," in which Jonathan Ames shows off ... his crib.

We strike gold in the third section of the DVD, "Behind the Scenes of the Deleted Scenes and the Extra-Deleted Scenes: The Editing of the Making of McSweeney's #11 DVD (with audio commentary)." It is to this audio commentary that I cracked up. Sarah Vowell can go off on tangents, "sound" understated, and do lit stand-up better than any one.

Her future's not with NPR. We'll be catching her on Comedy Central's "Daily Show" if they check this clip out. A published, popular essayist, Vowell is a tight observer of details with Lily Tomlin timing. The camera watches a film editor watch a computer screen. Boring stuff for sure. Put Sarah Vowell behind the mic describing that static scene and it's a hilarious episode. Even better than the McSweeney blooper track.

We kid. We have to in these unbalanced times. Just to stay sane--afloat even. Mea culpa, I tithe to NPR. I'm locked in there for real news at dawn; for fake news, nothing beats Jon Stewart's Daily Show. For real fake news, The Onion wins flat out. It's the quiet pledge-drive week on the dial, but we all cracked up when a friend showed me the latest Onion headline: "NPR Listener Acquires Kick-Ass Tote Bag."

Back-to-school, end-of-summer, vacation credit card maxed--phew--we need some laughs. McSweeney's DVD and a kick-ass tote bag come at just the right time.

Contact info: www.mcsweeneys.net , www.blotterrag.com, www.theonion.com

Contributing Writer John Valentine can be reached at ajcg@acpub.duke.edu

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