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Grabbing sand with their tiny claws, the filter-feeding Sand Bubbler Crab eats detritus and plankton bits from the grains. The cleaned sand is rolled into a ball and kicked it off to the side before it gets too big to hold. Soon, the creatures are surrounded by dozens of small spheres.
One morning, on the beaches of Langkawi, I noticed fractal-like patterns in the sand. At first I thought it was caused by an impression of seaweed, but upon closer inspection, the patterns were convex, not concave in fact the patterns were hundreds of tiny little spheres of sand. There was always at least one clear path to a hole in the sand. If I stayed still long enough, eventually these tiny little crabs about the size of a fingernail climbed out of the holes and began their work.
but their spheres leave observable patterns on the beach, indicating their presence at low tide. Filmmaker Ross Birnie captured these tiny sand ball patterns on an Indo-Pacific beach in January, 2020:
Next, watch more videos about sand, filter feeders, and crabs, including: Sand Bubbler Crabs make tiny sand balls Sea cucumbers are underwater vacuum cleaners The Amazing Life of Sand, a Deep Look video
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Theres no right way to close a stand-up comedy set. Some comedians go with what they believe is their strongest bit, while others go for their longest. Some opt for callbacks, while some save their dirtiest jokes for the end, knowing that if they told them too early on in the set, they wouldnt be able to follow it with anything. Some want to challenge the audience, and others want their closer to serve as a thank you note to the crowd for bearing with them for however long theyve been onstage.
This is when the performer decides how youre going to spend the rest of your evening, what your energy is going to be, says comedian Guy Branum. In the 80s into the 90s. I think comics particularly had extremely modular sets full of short jokes and put the strongest one last. Now, people think (or I hope more people think), What am I sending you away with? Its such an earned moment.
To understand more about the art of ending a stand-up set, Vulture spoke with eight comedians who chose their favorite set-ending bits and explained why they work so well. And while their choices varied greatly in form and style, they all agreed that there are no rules just be funny. Here are their picks for best closers.
Andy Kindler: Ive been friends with Maria for a long, long time. I saw her grow and just become the greatest. I picked this bit because it really shows the whole scope of the problem with stand-up comedy clubs. There had already been an alternative comedy movement, but shes really referring to the clubs in the 90s when the comedy boom kind of imploded and all these clubs became awful. She never did an act like that just to please the crowd, but you could see the pain shed be in if she ever had to. She channels a horrible female comic from that time period.
When I started in comedy, it was so closed and so rigid. A lot of the comedy was based on a woman who couldnt really say what was going on. They would be relying on sex or a persona. Maria goes right to sex and then she goes, Im a husk. I cant feel my hands! then Men are from Mars, women want their penis. I dont feel good! Then how shed be back at the Comfort Inn, wounding herself. That voice: Long sleeves, ladies, right? That would be the way someone who hurt themselves would admit it to a mainstream stand-up comedy crowd. Youre getting her commenting on her life as shes doing a hack act, having a breakdown onstage.
My style, well, Im guilty of a lot of self-sabotage. When Im onstage, Im on a roll, I get nervous, and Im afraid its going to end, so I end it myself: I close weak! Thats my hook! I used to do the show with Louie Anderson hosting back in the 90s, and I was upset with the crowd because I thought they werent getting me. So, I ended up with, Good night, you sons of bitches! I didnt know this, but I kind of got some street cred for it. Because thats really kind of how comics can feel: Thanks a lot. You didnt get me as much as I wanted you to, so go fuck yourself. All right, folks!
Guy Branum: If youre doing an hour of comedy, I should learn something about you. I should know who you are. So, one of my favorite closers is Joel Kim Boosters joke Pony. Its one of those jokes that hes had since the first time I saw him, and it is everything that I want a closer to be. He tells this heartrending story of his parents diagnosing and pathologizing his homosexuality through his desire for a Crimp n Curl pony whose hair hed get to style. Its this moment where a person is telling you about one of the core rejections in their life, and then it ends on the brightest note. Basically, the punchline is his dad saying, Whats he going to become? A horse hairstylist? and Joels response is, Is that a profession? Its such a beautiful moment of queer comedy, where the most powerful part isnt the sadness. Comedy should be about the resilience of the human spirit, to me. Its about, Here are all of these hard things, but its okay. Every time, after you listen to that joke, you know everythings gonna be okay. Thats one of a comedians jobs.
Ronny Chieng: Bill Burrs pretty much a master of the craft, undisputed. What I like about Let It Go is it has a very classic closing structure of using a callback to a joke he makes earlier in the piece, about how he noticed that all these older men all have faces that look like an expression of pain and horror, constantly. The initial joke was so funny that the nonverbal act-out he does gets an applause break. He very well couldve ended it on that, but he keeps going. Thats pretty impressive, when the joke is so strong and the concept is resonating so much that you dont even need to use words anymore to invoke it. Stand-up, we measure it as an entire product and what youre trying to say: This is a nonverbal act out, a callback, and the closer. Doing any of those things individually, just for the sake of doing it, doesnt mean much. Its not the goal, but the fact that this exists organically is proof of mastery.
Chappelles Bird Revelation is interesting as a case study. Hes another master of the art. I think Neal Brennan called Dave Chappelle the most naturally talented orator hes ever seen. It comes across here because Chappelle is telling a very long story from a book by the pimp Iceberg Slim. Hes using it as a parable for show business. The audience trusts him so much that theyre willing to allow him to do a book report. Its well-documented, Chappelles battle with show business, his creative struggle to maintain integrity, and it relates to how his race is viewed by American society. He doesnt connect the dots for you, and thats really cool. I think the best comedy is jokes where the audience makes the connections themselves. Chappelle is not only making you listen though its so engaging and interesting hes also making you think about what hes saying in a very profound way.
The bigger idea of closers is that theyre the difference between a good hour and a great hour of comedy. The closer connects to something youve been talking about in your routine. Its not necessary any joke can be a closer. You can close on something random, and great stand-up specials do it. So this is kind of like taking a step further. There are so many specials out there that I think thats how you can differentiate yourself, by having a closer that connects. Youve earned the audiences trust through the rest of your routine, so theyre willing to go with you on this slightly more indulgent journey, but with a better payoff.
Shane Torres: I have OCD, but outside of that, Seans bit is fucking hilarious. There is absolutely all the blood from a stone you could possibly get out of it that bit goes for 11 minutes about a very personal thing. Its a spiderweb it goes in 10,000 directions, and every direction has another direction coming off of it. I would have these same kinds of thoughts when I was young, so its very normalizing in a way, too. I mean, I wasnt thumbing and uncorking my asshole like a wine bottle twice a day like Sean, but I definitely had weird anxieties as a kid. That feeling of dread for no apparent reason and then what you do to relieve it, it is a very, very relatable thing to a lot of people with a compulsive disorder. In the recording, its killing, and then at the end, it doesnt get this big, huge laugh, which makes me laugh even more. Youre like, This whole thing had me on pins and needles the whole time, and then, Okay, well thats how were doing this thing. Im jealous of it, and for comics, thats a sign that its an amazing bit.
Sams is much different. Hes not dirty as an act, but he was like, This is a little gross, right? I said, I dont know, man. Go up there and see what they think. He super leaned into it you cant do a bit bordering on incest with your toe half in the pool and its a little more organic because he calls it his closer. Its fucking disgusting that his aunt asked him about talking about her tits, and he goes, Its not a hack premise. Your breasts have been somewhat of a comedic blind spot. Its just a very funny fucking joke about his experience, and its not trying to be gross, even though its gross.
The only intention of Sams bit is for it to be funny. A lot of people are closing on politics or tragedy and all that. That can work, and some of its really great. Seans is pretty personal in the OCD thing, even though its lunacy. I like that Sams is just very, very funny. In the past four and a half years, Ive only just wanted to laugh some of the time, enjoy it, and not overthink it.
Nicole Byer: My all-time favorite closer is Adele Givenss Def Comedy Jam set. She does a pretty famous bit called Im such a fucking lady, and then the closer is like, I have big lips but I cant fuck with dudes who dont have big dicks, too. Because if I fuck around with a dude without a big dick, its like giving a tic-tac to a whale. The way the audience reacts is truly magical. People stand up and run around. It is unexpected, and its so fucking funny. The whole special is like, Im such a fucking lady, but shes also using profanity. Its this beautiful juxtaposition about What are women even supposed to be? What does it mean to be such a lady? Then she closes with that, and its perfect.
The closer doesnt have to be your funniest joke top to bottom your closer just has to have the funniest button. The funniest part of your set has to be like the last two seconds. Whether its a ten-minute set, a 15-minute set, or a 20-minute set, whatever, there are ebbs and flows, ups and downs, hills and valleys. But your closer? You have to end at the top of the fucking mountain. Because then its just like Yes! and you fucking drop the mic. If the last thing you say isnt a huge hit, then why is that your closer? Sometimes people start with a solid opener, and youre like, Oh, lets tuck in. This is gonna be a real treat. But then they close, and youre like, Huh. Okay, whatever. Its like you didnt come. You didnt get fucking fully serviced. You did a bunch of foreplay, and nobody came.
Erica Rhodes: The closer is the last thing theyre taking away from you. And Gary, he definitely seemed more observational before. In one of his specials, he goes into a bit about cookies for, like, ever. Hes touchy about all the different cookies. Its really funny, but its not so personal. Hes become more and more personal, and I connect to that. Some comics stay observational their whole careers, and if theyre really good writers, thats fine. I enjoy that too. But I enjoy personal aspects because I feel more invested in their story. With Gary, hes got both. Hes got the really well-crafted jokes, and then he has the stories. I think the best comedy is when only that person can tell that joke. That joke he has about the psych ward, where the guys like, Are you Gary Gulman, or am I crazy? You cant make that up at all. You know that happened. Sometimes, his voice kind of quivers a little or something feels difficult to say. You feel like, Oh, this isnt easy for him.
Ending on a sound is so interesting. Gary ends on this tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, which says so much because, yeah, thats life in a nutshell. Do you know the 60 Minutes sound? Not a lot of sounds bring you back to your childhood, but I remember being a kid and listening along as my parents watched it. That feeling that life happens every single day, its just so funny. It captures how somebody who has battled depression would feel. It summed up his entire message in such a short, simple phrase: Life, its every single day. What more do you need to say?
DeAnne Smith: This whole album, 45 Jokes About My Dead Dad, is brilliant. It seems impossible: How could you make an entire album about losing your father, a completely tragic and heart-wrecking event? I love that its very specific, but also, everybodys lost somebody, everybody knows what grieving is like, so it has the potential to appeal to anyone.
Then the closer wraps up the album perfectly. Its like the ultimate closer in the way that the whole joke is literally about her fathers funeral lifes closer. I counted at least four callbacks that she managed to get in there, completely naturally and effortlessly, these little bonuses you remember. When you listen to the whole album, you really recognize how masterful and well-crafted it is. At the same time that shes talking about the process of grieving and what a big deal it is to lose a parent, shes also got sexual bits in there. Even her talking about the animosity with her mom, shes built that up through the album so by the time we get here, where she says theres a 21-gun salute and that she wanted to push her mom in front of them like a firing squad, its like, Wow. Its all of life wrapped up into one joke.
With the album and this closer, Laurie gives us permission to have all the feelings we have. Its validating in the way that the best kind of comedy is. I love personal and confessional comedy, where the comedian says something thats taboo or maybe not okay and everybody laughs because theyve also felt that way. Its brutal and so funny.
Jackie Kashian: Stewart Lee is one of the greatest stand-up comics in the world. Its him and Maria Bamford who are the best. Stewart has this technique of silence and repetition and silliness, and usually when he does a new hour, he publishes the transcript as a book with 4,000 annotations. Theres a conceit: This is art. Of course, youll want to know what I was thinking. Of course, youll want to know how I thought of it. His stand-up is like this sociopolitical experiment and especially the cider with the 100 percent pears, where youre like, What on earth are you doing?
And it is so long. You have to appreciate when someones closer is 20 minutes long. Youre like, Are you still talking? Oh, yeah. You are. I worked with him in Australia, and his closer was this thing about living in London and having a missionary come to his door. He answers the door and the missionary says, Jesus is the answer. What is the question? And then the bit has like three or four different very silly, obscure, smart, and all weird references, like, Is the question, What kind of sandals did hippies wear in the early 70s? And theyre like, No. And he says, Can I guess again? He does, like, four of those, and some Australian dude, a guy couldnt handle the tension, yells, Get to it, mate! Finish the damn joke! Stewart has that sort of celebration of silence, so he sat there, and then finally said, Usually, I do four of these but for you, I think Im gonna do six. It was literally maddening and awesome. So, how long the closer is the guts of it as well. Its the audacity and the ability. Hes testing himself and his audience. Thats hard to do.