A History of Hair

May 8, 2020

Comedians Aparna Nancherla (BoJack Horseman) and Joyelle Nicole Johnson (Crashing) take a quiz on the history of hairstyling and hair trends.

Heard on D.J. "Shangela" Pierce: Quaran-Queen.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


We are on the line with two amazing comedians. I'm so happy they're joining us. It's Joyelle Nicole Johnson and Aparna Nancherla...


EISENBERG: ...All the way from sunny Brooklyn, I believe.

APARNA NANCHERLA: Brooklyn - different parts of Brooklyn, yes.

JOHNSON: Very sunny Brooklyn.

EISENBERG: So you're both stand-up comics and performed a ton before this all happened. Are you doing any of these virtual shows?

NANCHERLA: Not - I've been working on a book, so I've been weirdly - yeah. It's been strangely, I feel, book-writing conditions.


EISENBERG: I'm glad you're doing it, though because I was thinking there's so many of us who have projects that they're like, if I only just get the time, I'm going to do it.


EISENBERG: And there's many projects even I have been like, I don't feel like doing that, which makes me think it's never going to happen.

JOHNSON: Yeah, yeah.

NANCHERLA: Right, right.

JOHNSON: But at least you have a child as an excuse.


JOHNSON: I don't.


JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: Except for the pandemic and this sort of global emergency that's happening.

EISENBERG: That's right.

COULTON: It's entirely possible that's causing some stress in our lives, whether we know it or not, you know?

EISENBERG: Just a little bit. I'm going to repeat this thing that someone said to me. When I was complaining about the same thing, this person said to me, it's not an artist's retreat. It's a pandemic.


EISENBERG: So let me ask you this, though, within this world that we are in now, are you guys baking bread?

NANCHERLA: My boyfriend bakes bread.


NANCHERLA: I got lucky. I found a bread-maker.


JOHNSON: Not to brag, but my boyfriend's a candlestick-maker. So we're going to...


JOHNSON: That was a dad joke. That was a dad joke.

NANCHERLA: That was...

JOHNSON: That was a dad joke.

NANCHERLA: That was great.


EISENBERG: So - yeah, so as we - like, baking bread is definitely a thing that everyone's doing. Also, I feel like there is a lot of cutting of your own hair.

NANCHERLA: That feels like the last straw for me. I haven't gotten there yet.

JOHNSON: Yeah. I had braids, and I've since taken the braids out, so that was my haircutting.

EISENBERG: What did you do with all the braids?

JOHNSON: You cut them out and take the weave and throw it in the trash. That's what you do.


EISENBERG: Throw in the trash. Throw it in the trash.


EISENBERG: OK, so this - in this game, you're going to be competing. We have a quiz for you - that's a multiple choice quiz - about hair.

Here we go. Joyelle...


EISENBERG: ...In the 1700s...

JOHNSON: Of course.

EISENBERG: In the 1700s, it was common for British men to wear powdered wigs, but that all changed when which one of the following happened? Was it, A, there was a national wig shortage? Was it, B, Napoleon mocked British wigs in a very passive aggressive Op-Ed? Or, was it, C, Parliament began taxing wig powder?

JOHNSON: I feel like Napoleon is very petty, so I'm just going to - I'm just going to hope that's the answer, that Napoleon did that because that sounds like something a short man would do.



EISENBERG: And I'm sure he did mock them. But the real thing that was the tipping point was that they - the Parliament started taxing wig powder, and then all the men were like, we're not going to pay for this.

NANCHERLA: And then everyone was just wandering around like Vin Diesel.


COULTON: That's right.

JOHNSON: Yeah. Oh, man. They couldn't handle a period tax. Good lord.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) I know. I was thinking, like, maybe - maybe we should tax, like, I don't know, those deep V...


EISENBERG: ...Neck shirts for men. Like, what else can I tax?

COULTON: (Laughter) Yeah, let's tax Axe body spray.

JOHNSON: I was just about to say that.


JOHNSON: Tax Axe body spray (laughter). Wait, did you make up that Napoleon answer?



EISENBERG: I mean, I didn't personally. But - you know what? You know what? This is my time to take credit for other people. I did.


NANCHERLA: (Laughter).

COULTON: Yeah, personally, yourself.


COULTON: All right, Aparna, here's one for you.

NANCHERLA: Yeah. All right.

COULTON: According to the book "Hair: A Human History," up to how much weight can a single strand of hair lift?


COULTON: Is it, A, five grams, or a nickel, B, a quarter pound, or a stick of butter, or, C, one ton, like the Liberty Bell?

NANCHERLA: I'm going to say the first one because I want it to be a stick of butter, but maybe I just got weak hair. I don't think mine could...


JOHNSON: You've tried it?

NANCHERLA: I just imagine it snapping off like a pencil.

COULTON: The answer is actually B, a stick of butter, quarter pound.




COULTON: Very strong fiber. According to the author of this book, a knot of hair consisting of 10,000 strands of hair...


COULTON: ...Can lift 1,500 pounds.

NANCHERLA: Oh, my God.

JOHNSON: Yeah. I've seen the ladies hang by their hair. I've seen that before.


COULTON: Yeah, that's right.

NANCHERLA: Oh, yes. That's right.

EISENBERG: I have a shower drain that is going to end up lifting...


EISENBERG: ...Some serious things.

COULTON: Right. It's holding up your building at this point.

EISENBERG: That's right.


EISENBERG: All right, Joyelle...


EISENBERG: ...In 1898, a New York inventor named Claude O. Rosell invented a high-tech hair loss treatment. OK, what was the invention? Was it A, a metal bowl attached to a vacuum hose? Was it B, Tabasco shampoo and conditioner?

JOHNSON: What? Hilarious.

EISENBERG: Or C, self-styling robotic wigs?

JOHNSON: Oh, I'm just I'm going to go with that Tabasco because I'm going with the hilarious answers.


JOHNSON: I just want to see a whole bunch of dudes squirting Tabasco in their hair and they get it in their eyes...


COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: I know, right?

JOHNSON: ...Because they didn't know not to put it - they had to go backwards, not forwards, and all of them messed their eyeballs up.


JOHNSON: That's my fantasy.

EISENBERG: I love your fantasy. I love your fantasy. The answer was a metal bowl attached to a vacuum hose. There's got to be sriracha shampoo out there. That seems like someone did that.

NANCHERLA: Oh, there's got to be.

JOHNSON: A jalapeno shampoo.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

COULTON: Yeah, chipotle mayonnaise shampoo.


JOHNSON: Our new line of shampoo conditioners.

NANCHERLA: Body condiment shampoos.


JOHNSON: (Laughter) Yes.

COULTON: OK, Aparna...


COULTON: ...For the past three years, the small Australian town Kurri Kurri hosted a festival celebrating what divisive hairstyle - A, the beehive, B, the man bun, or C, the mullet?

NANCHERLA: I didn't know the beehive was divisive.



EISENBERG: I mean, to bees.

NANCHERLA: (Laughter) Oh, yeah.

EISENBERG: Bees really do not like it.

COULTON: Everyone loves a beehive.

JOHNSON: I mean, just the mention of it makes me want to fight, so...


NANCHERLA: I feel like the man bun is the most divisive out of those. I'm going to go with the man bun.

COULTON: That's a fine guess. It is certainly divisive, but it is actually the mullet.

NANCHERLA: Woah. I thought...

COULTON: Yeah, it's Mulletfest. It's a day-long festival. It includes competitions by category of mullets, including junior mullets, vintage mullets and extreme mullets, each one more horrifying than the last.


EISENBERG: So let's see...


EISENBERG: ...What is the score? Is there a score? They are - well, hold on.

COULTON: I think we are not...


COULTON: ...keeping score.

NANCHERLA: I think I'm leading for none right.


COULTON: No, let's not hang a number on it. Let's not look at the details about what happened. Let's not worry about that.

NANCHERLA: (Laughter).

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