Lore Sjöberg from Brunching Shuttlecocks to ALT TEXT

Umlaut-bearing professional sarcast and net-native humorist Lore Sjöberg has managed the tricky feat of being a “Web 1.0” innovator who is now thriving in these 2.0 times. His sport is geeky, snarky comedy and his tools are comics (both still and animation), blog, and talking-headiness (with supporting comics).

Lore attended last week’s ROFLThing San Francisco conference, which seemed a great occasion to post this installment in my occasional series on internet comedy. Below you’ll find a tour of both his older and newer work together in a link-orgy of hilarious proportions.

Brunching Shuttlecocks was a comedy website that ran from 1997 to 2003, it wasn’t all Sjöberg all the time, there were other authors, but he was the editor and was responsible for the majority of stuff on the site.

lore-ebayauction on Lore Brand Comics

On Brunching Shuttlecocks, Lore began writing humorous lists grading small sets of things, both the fantastic and the banal, on an entirely subjective basis (to quote the late George Carlin: My rules, I make ’em up) and then all the wackiness that one could hope for does ensue. These lists of ratings he later compiled and published and put up on a website called mysteriously Bookofratings.com.

And oh what ratings he has, from hobo signs to slang words that mean “good” to the stages of coping with death, all compared on a relative scale from A to F–the stakes of the grade being only slightly lower than points on a radio gameshow.

He continues mining this vein today, witness the recent judgment meted out on the constituents of The Legion of Doom:

One special thing about Brunching.com, in an alpha-geeky way (relative to the era of the Common Gateway Interface and Server Side Includes), was a penchant for neat scripts and games that added an additional dimension to what an offline comedy mag could provide. These games are lo-fi by today’s standards, but at the time… well they were still lo-fi but we knew it was the best that could be done.

For instance this awesome rock paper scissors maze game (that I can never be). And there’s the nifty trick of putting words in a billionaire’s mouth a.k.a. Smilin’ Willy Gates

Smilin' Willy Gates on Brunching.com

Of course, this power (i.e. scripts) can also be used for evil, just witness the Your Roommate Plays The Indigo Girls generative animation.

And that is the distinguishing trait of Lore brand humor, a geek streak a klick wide, whether it’s jokes about superheroes and supervillians, advice on choosing passwords, Lore’s own geeky ‘legal’ code, or a list of fuzzy logic functions (complete with its own faux-O’Reilly cover).

Perhaps Brunching’s most lasting contribution to smart people wasting their time over intoxicatingly interbred minutiae (in a *totally* good way, mind you) is The Geek Hierarchy a family tree of obsessions of the over-smart, under-socialized and generally otaku-liscious.

The Geek Hierarchy on Brunching.com

This we truly needed, and I personally consult it on a weekly basis, whether to confirm if Piers Anthony fans should be subjugated to People Who Majored in Folklore and Mythology (the answer is yes) or whether to give the last parachute to a Trekkie or Someone Who Read Books Based on Sci-Fi TV Shows–so much better than a coin flip!

Flash forward to 2008, Lore is on the wired.com payroll (of all the retro-future-y things) and produces a column (doesn’t that sound old-timey?) and both audio and video podcasts under the sufficiently geeky heading of ALT TEXT.

He still digs deep into his nerd bag with ample D&D and WOW references, but he also takes time to explain the surreal world of molecular gastronomy.

And of course he does cover this Web 2.0 thang, with his column on the ultimate blog posts for various well-known blogs, and below his 4-minute summary of what’s compelling and wrong with twitter:

In addition to his Wired stuff, Lore has a mini empire of comedy (i.e. domain names) including the Book of Ratings, his Bad Gods comics/animation site, the Brunching Shuttlecocks archive, his collected flash animation (of which, Kitchen Floor is my personal fave), and his blog The Slumbering Lungfish Dybbuk Hostel and All-Night Boulangerie which I prefer to call “his blog”. Not to mention his own twittery tweets.

Another of his sites, hearkening back to his clever tricks of the past is namedecoder.com, which generates thematic acronyms from your name.

Upon reflection, it’s not surprising that Lore’s humor has stood the test of (internet) time. In fact, if you look back at his Brunching stuff, you can see that he anticipates some key developments of recent years.

His Online Journal Generator can be repurposed for your twittering needs. He also inadvertently predicted a current Microsoft business model when he joked in 1998 about their “Don’t Use Netscape and We’ll Give You a Buck” campaign. And his funny Venn diagrams like the below bear an uncanny resemblance to those used in Battledecks:

Diagrams for You on Brunching.com

Of course he can’t always be right, he wrote a 2002 primer on ‘weblogs’ whatever those were. He also drastically underestimated the adaptability of spammers, and so this 2001 challenge for spam to be more creative is directly to blame for the plague of spam we now endure.

One more rating rant to close this out: what the world needs more of is strong opinions about American coinage!!

Lore Sjöberg on Bad Gods

Previously in mikl‘s series on internet humor: Things To Say When You’re Losing a Technical Argument


Actor, nerd, poet, producer, writer mikl-em made his name short so you wouldn't have to. In addition to his blog you can find his writing in "Hi Fructose" magazine and witness him almost life-sized in various plays at The Dark Room Theater in SF's Mission district.

He tends to write about theater, humor, San Francisco culture and history, and stuff that's just plain weird. He thanks Scott for sharing the keys to the Laughing Squid virtual HQ and promises to uphold whatever it is that the mirthful cephalopod would prefer to be uplifted.