Life can be a very serious experience, lacking joy and the positive things that make life, well, worth living. And yet I’m often struck by how many people and groups try pull us forward into a more sublime and beautiful future despite the terrible things around us–artists, creators, pundits and others give us their humor, insight or distracting surrealism.
And since many of us are prone to moments of melancholy, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve watched or otherwise partaken of to make things just a little bit better. There’s no way to make a definitive list of such things, of course, so here are some of the people and things that have helped make my life and world better just by doing what they love.
There’s nothing intellectual here. Don’t overthink it. Enjoy.
10 Strangely Beautiful Positive Things
These are in no particular order, and are numbered just to make them easier to reference.
1. Ze Frank’s True Facts
I can still remember the first time I heard about Ze Frank’s True Facts while in the backseat of my cousin’s car as his daughter tried to explain the ridiculous sex lives of ducks. It sounded wonderfully ridiculous, a parody nature documentary that was as educational as it was odd and frequently disturbing. Here is the True Facts about the Duck that started the binge:
If you just watched that, you understand the meaning of “nine-inch exploding corkscrew penis.” You’re welcome. And that’s not even the best video on True Facts playlist, which includes this gem about mantis shrimp and their freakish eyes and destructive powers:
Then there’s this beauty about marsupials and in particular koala, which includes the quote, “koalas in the rain, no fucks given” in addition to some truly odd reproductive facts:
Not to mention, Ze Frank has other channels and content, perhaps most famously his Sad Cat Dairies and pet commentaries:
2. The Oatmeal
SEO-expert and web designer turned cartoonist turned game creator, The Oatmeal produces social commentary, humor and all the exploding cats we never knew we needed. I first stumbled across a graphic novel he’d done on ultra running, The Terrible and Wonderful Reason I Run Long Distances (with bonus segue on murder hornets):
So of course I read all of his cartoons and graphic novels. Years later, he produced some videos including this collaboration with Sarah Donner on Nikola Tesla:
My personal favorite thing on the internet on some days, is this profane, absurd and whimsical madness: The Motherfucking Pterodactyl:
The Oatmeal produces games like Exploding Kittens and more. He doesn’t need my marketing, of course, but I truly appreciate the new weirdness he’s brought to animation, games and even running.
3. Screen Rant’s Pitch Meetings
Pitch Meetings are a surprising guilty pleasure, quick videos about how movies might have come to being that you watch thinking, I’ll just watch one, and then, well, you’re eyes a burning and it’s two in the morning:
At some point, you start to wonder if this is how movies actually get made. It makes more sense than the reality of it. Pitch Meetings are far from high art, but they are strangely addictive good fun. This one about Coraline cracks me up:
Other mother and her scary button eyes. For the children!
4. The Barkley Marathons & Backyard Ultras
It may seem strange to include ultra marathons on this list, but art comes in mysterious forms and the act of creation is not limited to the canvas or screen. Gary Cantrell (aka Lazarus Lake or laz) is most famous for creating the Barkley Marathons, a cultish race limited to 40 runners a year that almost nobody finishes. The race first became (unfortunately to some) popular after release of a 2012 documentary called The Race That Eats it’s Young that you can watch on Amazon Video.
Both the movie and the race it tries to explain are terrible, beautiful things, darkly mysterious, full of impossibilities, and for many aspiring runners such as myself, deeply addictive. Laz has turned running, endurance and suffering into living, breathing sculpture covered in briar-gashes and sweat. It’s unclear if the weird and quirky race can survive him, but there’s no doubt he birthed something new into the world one gladly brutalized runner at a time.
And then, of course, Gary created the Big Dog Backyard Ultra, which is less mysterious but still unique in its own way. Feeder backyard ultras have spread around the world over the past few years, and will probably continue to grow for decades. It’s art that grows itself.
That’s two entirely new race formats, followed by millions, neither of which are about money or glory but instead just teaching runners more about their own untapped potential.
5. Ozzy Man Reviews & Destination Fucked
Ozzy Man is just an Australian dude with a great voice who makes profanity-laden narratives of random nonsense. He’s funny, good-natured and finds fun in the absurdities of life. Destination Fucked is just one series, focused on, well, bad experiences in weird places,
Ozzy Man has several other series. One of my favorite videos is his narration of some bizarre Slippery Stairs competition that seems to mock itself:
And his commentary on a honey badger fight is hysterical. This one’s for you, JM:
6. Kurzgesagt Videos (All of Them!)
One of the greatest challenges in the age of short attention spans and screaming pundits is to convey useful information in a calm and engaging way. Kurzgesagt has this nailed, if not for the pronunciation of their name. Whether you want to learn about nuclear war or the dangers of future of designer babies, you’ve found the place:
This video on loneliness, while not the happiest of topics, is well worth a watch:
7. Random Music Videos
Yeah, totally random. Just a few videos that were beautiful, thought-provoking or funny. Maybe even a little sad in a provocative way, like This is America:
There’s a whole movie associated with this video (which is really just the song), but I’m just including Dirty Computer because it’s awesome:
Somebody that I Used to Know is good by itself…
…but I’m including it here just so I can show the parody from The Key of Awesome:
Heh heh. The plinky noise.
8. Random Animated Shorts
Even more random than the music videos, these are some recent shorts that were inspiring or just gorgeous in their own way–most famously Oscar-Winner Hair Love:
Memorable by Bruno Collet lost to Hair Love, but offers a truly beautiful if devastating perspective on dementia. You can watch the trailer here, but the full video has to be purchased on Vimeo.
The next video Happinessby Steve Cutts and is about the opposite of happiness found in the pursuit of it, the rat race we all seem trapped in at times. It’s a beautiful piece of work:
9. John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight
John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight is a lot like Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show in that he finds a humorous way to cover serious things. Yes, he’s got a liberal bent and yes he can go off on weird tangents, but if you want to keep up on recent events and laugh a bit while doing it, John’s here for you:
And of course his Eat Shit Bob video is a classic takedown of Bob Murray, litigious coal CEO and, well, asshole:
Should there be a trigger warning on that? Well, too late now.
10. Randy Rainbow
What happens when musical theater meets political commentary? Randy Rainbow apparently. Come for the harmonization, stay for the puns:
And if you like Fiddler on the Roof, enjoy this take on Sedition:
More Beautiful or Positive Things?
What strangely beautiful or positive things have you found? Feel free to share. I’d love to see what makes your day better.
Oh, I just thought of another one, so I’ll leave you with this: