The making of a comedy classic, first published in Premiere Magazine:
HAROLD RAMIS: We very quickly came up with a model: Dan was the heart of the Ghostbusters, I was the brains, and Bill was the mouth.
I found my character on the front page of an abstract architectural journal. There was a picture of a guy and an article about his work. I didn’t understand a word, but his image was great. He was wearing a retro three-piece tweed suit, wire-rim glasses, and his hair was standing way up. I thought, “That could be my guy.” I took the name Egon from a Hungarian refugee I went to grammar school with, and Spengler was from [noted historian] Oswald Spengler.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 26, 2014
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3562 words)
While reporting for The New York Times, Kevin Roose went undercover and snuck into an exclusive annual dinner party for Kappa Beta Phi, Wall Street's Secret Society. [Excerpted from Roose's book, Young Money]:
Bill Mulrow, a top executive at the Blackstone Group (who was later appointed chairman of the New York State Housing Finance Agency), and Emil Henry, a hedge fund manager with Tiger Infrastructure Partners and former assistant secretary of the Treasury, performed a bizarre two-man comedy skit. Mulrow was dressed in raggedy, tie-dye clothes to play the part of a liberal radical, and Henry was playing the part of a wealthy baron. They exchanged lines as if staging a debate between the 99 percent and the 1 percent. (“Bill, look at you! You’re pathetic, you liberal! You need a bath!” Henry shouted. “My God, you callow, insensitive Republican! Don’t you know what we need to do? We need to create jobs,” Mulrow shot back.)
PUBLISHED: Feb. 18, 2014
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2258 words)
A look back at the career of a comedy star turned dramatic actor:
Murray rebounded nicely that same year with Caddyshack, which paired him with Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, and Chase. Murray’s investment in Caddyshack was minimal. He simply showed up on set for a film co-written by his brother Brian Doyle-Murray (who also appears in the film) and directed by Ramis, and improvised his entire performance as Carl Spackler, a groundskeeper at a snooty country club engaged in all-out war with a sassy gopher. In the process, he created a slacker hero for the ages, a singularly inspired cross between the perpetually thwarted Wile E. Coyote and Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. Murray babbled divine nonsense and emerged the MVP of an all-star comedy dream team, stealing the film from stars at the height of their powers. Caddyshack wasn’t a competition, but Murray won it all the same.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 17, 2014
LENGTH: 34 minutes (8603 words)
The son of a circus clown discovers what's beneath the painted-on smiles:
I remember she’d blink open her eyes and study the image in the mirror: the inverted music notes under her eyes; the triangles above them; the exaggerated, untiring smile bending up into her cheeks. It was a smile that reminded all who chanced upon it that the hilarity would not relent, that the jokes would not stop, that the comedy would not end—for what happens when the comedy ends? What happens when the laughter dries up, and the mouth reverts to its resting state?
PUBLISHED: Jan. 16, 2014
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2497 words)
From Charlie Chaplin to the pantomime clown Joseph Grimaldi, a look at the link between depression and comedy:
Chaplin had hoped to cultivate the mind of his young wife, which he found “cluttered with pink-ribboned foolishness.” According to Harris, this meant he read long, boring books out loud and rehearsed the tragic roles he harbored secret ambitions to play. Mildred once mistook something he said for a joke and began to laugh, but soon realized her error as he flew into a fury and called her names. When they divorced in 1920, on grounds of mental cruelty, she received $200,000. “It has been said that a comedian is only funny in public,” she complained to the Washington Times. “I believe it. In fact, I know it. Charlie Chaplin, who has made millions laugh, only caused me tears.”
PUBLISHED: Dec. 22, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3537 words)
Meet the man who created "Deep Thoughts" and "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer"—and who is about to release his first novel, The Stench of Honolulu
“'A lot of comedy is going the extra step,' Handey continued. 'An unfrozen caveman was funny — but that’s not enough.' Later, he e-mailed me a sheet of sketch ideas he typed up in 1991. The sketch seemed to be a combination of two ideas: 'Too Many Frozen Cavemen,' in which a surplus of frozen Neanderthals drive scientists crazy, and 'Swamp Bastard,' about a Swamp Thing-like creature who keeps stealing everyone’s girlfriends. 'I guess my brain put these things in a blender,' he wrote, 'and out came Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.'"
What happened when the author re-reported Bob Woodward's book on John Belushi:
"Of all the people I interviewed, SNL writer and current Sen. Al Franken, referencing his late comedy partner Tom Davis, offered the most apt description of Woodward’s one-sided approach to the drug use in Belushi’s story: 'Tom Davis said the best thing about Wired,' Franken told me. 'He said it’s as if someone wrote a book about your college years and called it Puked. And all it was about was who puked, when they puked, what they ate before they puked and what they puked up. No one read Dostoevsky, no one studied math, no one fell in love, and nothing happened but people puking.'"
PUBLISHED: March 12, 2013
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3279 words)
[Fiction] On a life in stand-up:
"One time on a talk show, before he made the change in his comedy, the comedian was asked why he started telling jokes. He took a sip from his mug and responded that he just wanted some attention. As a child he’d felt unseen. He was a handsome baby (photographs confirm) but his impression was that no one cooed at him or went cross-eyed to make him smile. Common expressions of affection, such as loving glances, approving grins, and hearty that-a-boys, eluded him. His mother told him 'Hush, now,' when he came to her with his needs or questions and he frowned and padded off quietly. He received a measly portion of affirmation from grandparents, elderly neighbors, and wizened aunts who never married, folks who were practically in the affirmation-of-children business. In kindergarten, he was downright appalled to find the bullies stingy with noogies and degrading nicknames. The comedian believed that he was unseen, overlooked, and not-perceived to a greater extent than other people were unseen, overlooked, and not-perceived, when in actuality he was overlooked as much as everyone else, he just felt it more keenly. The talk show host asked him what his first joke was. He said he didn’t remember, but he must have liked what happened because he did it again."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 19, 2013
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2948 words)
A new year, and a change in the conversation about race in America:
"As I left the theater after Django, it was interesting to see how diverse the crowd was, and, based on the conversations being had in the lobby, how they were all impacted in some way, whether it was by the violence or the language or the fact that it was simply a really good movie. I left the theaters feeling oddly proud of Tarantino for making such a thought-provoking film, while feeling the exact opposite way about Spike Lee for not giving Django a chance. I was slightly shocked at how numb I became to Leo's use of the N-word, to the point that I almost started to marvel at the bravado with which he uttered it. As for my 'Django Moment,' yes, there was the horrible foreign couple behind me that thought everything was hilarious, but mine came from a more unexpected place: the laughter that filled the room when Samuel L. Jackson and Jamie Foxx would say the N-word — less like we imagine blacks would have in the 1800s, and more like they were two of the four Kings of Comedy."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 3, 2013
LENGTH: 8 minutes (2095 words)