Radiolab

Navigate
Return Home

On Repeat

Back to Episode

Nesting doll Nesting doll (jronaldlee/jronaldlee/CC-BY-2.0)

We begin with a couple of silly people – comedians Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler (of the Hot Tub comedy series) – deciding to do something silly. And at first, it’s very funny. Then they do it again. And again. And again. Until... it’s not really very funny anymore. Until it is again. Jesse Thorn, host of the radio show The Sound of Young America, explains.
 
Next we meet Christine Campbell, who one day discovers her mom, Mary Sue, is trapped in a mysterious (and rather terrifying) loop within her own mind. The condition leaves Mary Sue’s doctor, Jonathan Vlahos, pondering just how much control we have over our own actions.

Guests:

Kurt Braunohler, Kristen Schaal and Jesse Thorn

Comments [32]

Wil Davis from Nashua, NH

I found this to be incredibly tedious, and switched off after about 30 secs. (...justifying my decision not to waste my hard-earned $$ by supporting NPR) - Wil Davis

Sep. 01 2014 07:09 PM
nlpnt

The Simpsons did something better in "Cape Feare" (a full-length parody of Cape Fear starring Sideshow Bob as the escaped convict); Bob climbs out from under the car, stands up, turns, and steps on a rake. Then he turns around and does it again, and again and again. Nine times.

Unfortunately, it happens right before an act/commercial break and the version used in syndication to local TV stations cuts it down to four or five - Matt Groening himself said on the DVD commentary that this puts it in the "unfunny" range.

Aug. 31 2014 11:02 AM
KPCC Subscriber from Southern California

This is not new. Mark Twain describes an act like this in "Huckleberry Finn". Just as these so-called comedians did, they took their Western customers' money and then laughed at them. Twain had it right. After all in the town had been fooled, the "comedians" were tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. I would have done likewise with your clowns tonight, coating them with sticky stuff and confetti and dumping them on the sidewalk. The only concession I would have made to the 21st Century would have been to make the goo water-soluble...barely.

Aug. 28 2014 12:50 AM
Marko from Croatia

A friend of my dad's had this for a few hours after he hit his head playing football. Hilarious.

Jul. 22 2014 12:27 PM

If I had been in the room when the "Kristen Schaal is a horse" bit had been performed, I would have resorted to violence to end it.

"Loops" enrage me after the third repeat. People drumming their fingers on a table will cause me to physically stop their hand, if they don't respond to a verbal request. It's not a joke but an aspect of my Asperger's.

I love the science presented in the podcasts - you've covered some very engrossing topics - but too often 'loops' are played and I have to zip past them. Please, less loops? (and fewer "dramatic pauses")

Thanks.

Feb. 09 2014 12:28 PM
Zeina Abboud from UAE

Liked it very much

Apr. 05 2013 07:27 PM
Drew Hunkins from Madison, WI

The Braunhohler and Schaal segment was mesmerizing. One of the best stories I've heard on the radio in a long, long time. Absolutely brilliant.

Aug. 23 2012 07:18 PM
Will from Boulder CO

What happens if you ask the person with no short-term memory to "say something random"? Or "say a random sentence" or "say a random word".

I see that all the other questions are answered with nearly verbatim replies - same words, same inflections, etc.

But this question seems like it would have a real chance to determine if our brains are only machines.

Jun. 05 2012 08:31 PM
Otto

So we re-enacted the comedy bit at a family gathering "Talent Show," (nobody else is familiar with the act, so it was completely unexpected) and the reaction has completely floored me.

I was amazed how predictably the emotions followed the laughter-boredom-anger transition described in the podcast. Unfortunately, when we got to the point of anger, people were REALLY ANGRY.

My mother physically grabbed my brother (the singer) around the throat and tried to pull/choke him off stage (he didn't miss a beat, and just kept going, like a pro). My cousin-in-law grabbed a fireplace hook and tried to pull my cousin (the dancer) off stage with it (he didn't miss a step and just kept dancing, like a pro). After 15-30 seconds of anger, people started using their children to end it by saying, "(child) has a headache. You're hurting him." No joke.

Of course, once children were brought into the mix, the performers could not keep going without feeling like terrible human beings. So the entire performance ended in anger and hatred. We tried explaining the intent of the act to a few people, but they confidently responded that "It never would have been funny."

Everyone hated us, and I will probably never be able to talk to my family members again...(but it was a lot of fun)

You've been warned.

Apr. 22 2012 09:46 PM
Victoria

Can anyone tell me the name of the Sesame Street episode featured in the "Loops" podcast? Thanks

Dec. 03 2011 04:59 PM
Christine from San Francisco

@Matt Aukamp:
In the actual situation (and it's a bit more shown in the youtube video), my mom, Mary Sue, was actually asking why she was in the hospital most times the loop restarted. She would ask if she had had a stroke, or even heat stroke, and I would tell her she had amnesia, at which point she would call the situation creepy or something similar.

Nov. 05 2011 03:28 AM
Matt Aukamp from West Chester, PA

I posted this in the general episode comments, but I think it goes better here:

I don't understand how if the woman with temporary amnesia is unable to make new memories, she can remember that she's having temporary amnesia the whole time?

She never seems to question why she's in a hospital and goes so far as to start exploring the extent of her memory and commenting on it ("This is so WEIRD!") but if she's missing her memory, shouldn't she just be saying "Why am I in a hospital?" or "Where am I? How did I get here?" or "When am I going to see the doctor?" or something?

Is it just that the human brain is smart enough to piece together "I'm confused and don't remember anything" and "I'm in a hospital" into "I must have amnesia and everyone around must already be aware of this." ?

Nov. 04 2011 03:40 PM
drivingiscool from US

I have learned how to lead her out of the loop when I start to lose my patience with answering the same questions over and over again but that only starts a new loop. But in reality the answer is invariably going to be B. My mom and I took a lot from the experience. He was out riding a bike when the chain fell off and he went flying over the handlebars. He ran inside crying and had clearly had a concussion. On our drive to the hospital he kept repeating the same questions over and over. I was terrified my little brother was going to be stuck in this mode for the rest of his life. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. More information about Sloan at www. The only problem was I was on THE BUS when I heard it and everyone must have thought I was a lunatic. I played it for my husband when I got home from work and he loved it too. Unfortunately she will never recover. Please make an app for android too. There are more android phones in .I love this <a href="http://www.easterlydriving.co.uk/">driving lesson</a>.

Oct. 28 2011 07:30 PM
drivingiscool from United States

Unfortunately she will never recover. I have learned how to lead her out of the loop when I start to lose my patience with answering the same questions over and over again but that only starts a new loop. But in reality the answer is invariably going to be B. My mom and I took a lot from the experience. He was out riding a bike when the chain fell off and he went flying over the handlebars. He ran inside crying and had clearly had a concussion. On our drive to the hospital he kept repeating the same questions over and over. I was terrified my little brother was going to be stuck in this mode for the rest of his life. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. More information about Sloan at www. The only problem was I was on THE BUS when I heard it and everyone must have thought I was a lunatic. I played it for my husband when I got home from work and he loved it too.I love this <a href="http://www.easterlydriving.co.uk/">driving school</a>.

Oct. 28 2011 07:17 PM
drivingiscool from US

I played it for my husband when I got home from work and he loved it too. Unfortunately she will never recover. I have learned how to lead her out of the loop when I start to lose my patience with answering the same questions over and over again but that only starts a new loop. But in reality the answer is invariably going to be B. My mom and I took a lot from the experience. He was out riding a bike when the chain fell off and he went flying over the handlebars. He ran inside crying and had clearly had a concussion. On our drive to the hospital he kept repeating the same questions over and over. I was terrified my little brother was going to be stuck in this mode for the rest of his life. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. More information about Sloan at www. The only problem was I was on THE BUS when I heard it and everyone must have thought I was a lunatic.I love this <a href="http://www.easterlydriving.co.uk/">colchester driving lessons</a>.

Oct. 28 2011 06:58 PM
drivingiscool from USA

The only problem was I was on THE BUS when I heard it and everyone must have thought I was a lunatic. I played it for my husband when I got home from work and he loved it too. Unfortunately she will never recover. I have learned how to lead her out of the loop when I start to lose my patience with answering the same questions over and over again but that only starts a new loop. But in reality the answer is invariably going to be B. My mom and I took a lot from the experience. He was out riding a bike when the chain fell off and he went flying over the handlebars. He ran inside crying and had clearly had a concussion. On our drive to the hospital he kept repeating the same questions over and over. I was terrified my little brother was going to be stuck in this mode for the rest of his life. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. More information about Sloan at www.I love this <a href="http://www.easterlydriving.co.uk/">driving instuctor</a>.

Oct. 28 2011 06:39 PM
mindy from American in London

I mean seriously, I have not laughed so hard at ANYTHING in months and months like I laughed listening to that Kristen Schaal is a Horse thing. I felt exactly what they said - I was amused, then I hated them, then I loved them as they went on. The only problem was I was on THE BUS when I heard it and everyone must have thought I was a lunatic. I played it for my husband when I got home from work and he loved it too. It's a great point they make also. Love love love Radio Lab.

Oct. 27 2011 05:28 PM
Jonathan from Seattle, Washington

Yes, please release the full a cappella version of Kristen Schaal Is A Horse!

Oct. 23 2011 03:20 AM
Bryce from Iowa

Schaal and Braunohler's performance reminds me a little of this Andy Kaufman song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSYV-nEE300

although I suppose Kaufman's has a little more variation in the delivery.

Oct. 19 2011 01:22 AM
Andrew

Honestly, this sketch had me crying it was so funny. However, it was probably weird for other people at the gym who saw me.

Oct. 14 2011 10:23 AM
James from Chester, NH

Holy cow - you guys used my photo (the nesting dolls).

*honored*

Loved the show - I started listening to it by myself, and knew almost instantly that I had to share it with my family, so I saved the podcast... and we nearly drove off the road we were laughing so hard to Kristen & Kurt's skit.

Oct. 11 2011 10:47 PM
Ralph B

Odd that the article above doesn't include links to the YouTube video of the transient global amnesia case:
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3fA5uzWDU8
or the for the remarkable "Kristen Schaal is a horse" song:
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUkixWUJzPE

Oct. 10 2011 03:05 AM
WhisperingChaos

The amnesia loops remind me of last resort data recovery algorithms for bad sectors on hard drives that will attempt to reread a defective sector multiple times (loops) in order to reclaim as much of the damaged data as possible. I wonder if an amnesia loop is a similar biological process that attempts to reconnect severed neural pathways by constantly firing an, at first, isolated network of neurons. The firing of each loop provides feedback to grow (extend) synapses in an attempt to either reconnect or more likely rewire around the damaged neural circuitry. It is hypothesized that the connectivity of neurons in humans maybe an example of a scale free network, if so, reconnecting isolated networks of neurons may be accomplished by a relatively small number of neurons that are themselves associated to a small number of neurons in other potentially adjacent neural networks.

Oct. 09 2011 11:40 AM
Ben

I assume the performance they're talking about in Australia was from the Melbourne Comedy Festival Gala a few years ago, which, when they broadcast it on TV, featured about five minutes of the song before cutting to an ad break, and then further two minutes of it when the break ended. Easily the funniest thing I've ever seen on television.

Oct. 09 2011 03:49 AM
liz from San Diego

This reminds me of a Tao Lin poetry reading. When things get repetitive, the audience reacts just about the same way. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjcOK2T0lPo

Oct. 06 2011 08:35 PM
Joel

Her name is Kristen Schaal!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kristen_Schaal

She's a lady!(not a horse)

Oct. 06 2011 03:55 PM
Magnulus

I have nothing of substance to add here, which makes me feel a little bad, but I really want a full song version of that a cappella rendition of Kristen Schaal Is A Horse!

Oct. 05 2011 06:42 PM
Nate T.

@jonwarner - Good call, but if the loop is produced by limited programming, how does that make it not a loop?

Oct. 05 2011 06:01 PM
Lisa from USA

The loop is something I'm very familiar with. My grandmother suffers from Alzheimer's and we get stuck in loops quite frequently. Unfortunately she will never recover. I can always tell how she's feeling that day by the length of the loop. The days when she is not feeling so well the loops start over every few minutes or so, sometimes within 1-2 minutes. The days when she's feeling well the loop may not start for about 30 minutes or so. I have learned how to lead her out of the loop when I start to lose my patience with answering the same questions over and over again but that only starts a new loop.

Oct. 05 2011 05:54 PM

I think you're imposing more structure on the amnesia by calling it a "loop". The real reason for the repeated pattern of responses is simply that people aren't that original, generally. People like to think that if one was asked question A, they will potentially respond with any number from a set of answers B...Z. But in reality the answer is invariably going to be B. People just aren't that interesting.

"How are you doing?"
"I'm okay"

"How are you doing?"
"I'm okay"

"How are you doing?"
"I'm okay"

I once watched a couple people watching a recording of themselves watching a recording. Throughout the video I heard the real couple and the video couple say the exact same question/answer couplets -- verbatim -- for about 20 minutes. Both recorded and actual people were just making conversation as they watched the movie, but their spontaneous conversation was always the same. People just aren't that interesting.

Oct. 05 2011 05:19 PM
Christine Campbell from San Francisco, CA

So great to hear the final cut! Thank you, Jad and Robert for letting us be a part of the show. My mom and I took a lot from the experience. Your questions allowed us to be much more introspective about the experience than we had been pre-interview. For anyone looking to see the video I recorded the day of the "incident", it's right here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3fA5uzWDU8

Oct. 05 2011 02:45 PM
Michael

The tale of Mary Sue sounds oddly familiar to something that happened to my younger brother. He was maybe 13 or so and I was 17 or 18. He was out riding a bike when the chain fell off and he went flying over the handlebars. He ran inside crying and had clearly had a concussion. He was really confused and wanted to know where he was (in my parents room). On our drive to the hospital he kept repeating the same questions over and over. 'Wait where are we going?' 'To the doctors.' 'Wait, wait, why?' 'You fell on your bike.' 'Okay, what day is it?' 'Friday.' 'Wait, where are we going?'

Over and over... I was terrified my little brother was going to be stuck in this mode for the rest of his life. Luckily, like the story he gradually came out of this mode within 7 hours or so.

Oct. 05 2011 12:04 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.