Tag Archives: comedy

Wives, Queens, and Other Comedy Heroes: A Reading List

(Rex Features via AP Images)

Honestly, I thought I was handling the Trump presidency okay. At least I wasn’t crying every day. I realize that not crying every day isn’t much of a litmus test. But when Trump codified his transgender military ban, I could no longer deny that I was struggling in other subtle and sinister ways: “I have to sleep more than nine hours a day or I cannot function physically,” or “My finances are shot because I don’t have the will to work and provide for a future that may or may not come to fruition.”

Of course, this is what fascists want for someone like me. They want me fatigued, struggling mentally, and hopeless. They don’t want me alive. Logically then, I should fight really, really, hard to thrive. I am trying, when I sit here to write for the first time in almost two months. I am trying, whenever I bring myself to get out of bed before noon, when I cook for myself. I am trying to imagine a fascism-free future. I am trying to imagine a future where evangelical Christians don’t take time out of serving the poor to disparage and damn the marginalized and their allies. I document the moments I laugh the loudest. I try to be honest with myself and with the people I care for.

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The Making of ‘Meatballs’: Is Bill Murray Even Going to Show Up?

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Ivan Reitman and his crew didn’t have a solid script for the screwball 1979 summer camp comedy Meatballs. They didn’t have Bill Murray. They had a few months to film, and most of the camps they asked to use as sets thought they were nuts. Yet the movie they made stands as one of Hollywood’s enduring comedies, a surprisingly sensitive look at one teenager’s rite of passage through summer camp. At Vanity Fair, the always spicy Eric Spitznagel talks with cast and crew in a revealing oral history of the making of Meatballs. As they say in the movie, “Are you ready for the summer?”

Goldberg: We had our cast, but there was still the matter of Bill [Murray]. “Is Bill going to do it? Will he show up?” I didn’t know if he ever read the script. Then he kind of committed, but not really. Three days before we start shooting, we have no idea if it’s going to happen.

Banham: Dan Aykroyd was supposed to play the part. That’s what I heard. And that’s what we all believed. Most of us in the cast, we would talk about it. “Can you believe we’re in a movie with Dan Aykroyd?” Everybody knew who Dan Aykroyd was. And then we show up for the movie, and there’s Bill Murray. And we’re like, [deflated] “Oh. It’s the new guy from S.N.L. [Sighs] O.K.”

Blum: Bill turned up in this Hawaiian shirt and red shorts, wearing an alarm clock on his wrist, which eventually found its way into the film.

Reitman: I remember how amazing he was that first day he showed up. I handed him the script—I think it was the first time he was reading it—he flipped through it and said, “Eh.” And he very theatrically threw it into a nearby trash can. [Laughs] That’s kind of terrifying to see an actor do that just minutes before you’re going to shoot your first scene with him.

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The Mike and Carol Brady Art Collection

Mike and Carol Brady in front of a gem from their art collection.
Mike and Carol Brady in front of a gem from their art collection. (ABC)

Taking obsession with The Brady Bunch to a whole new level, blogger Kirk Demarais dissects the art collection used on set in Mike and Carol Brady’s glorious modern home on We Are the Mutants.

To point out the generic nature of the Brady’s artistic taste isn’t to say they weren’t on trend. After World War II, art was industrialized like never before in order to meet the demand for something to cover the walls of tens of thousands of new American homes. Companies like Turner Wall Accessory produced and reproduced hundreds of prints with the home decor market in mind. During this era, original art was often replicated by an assembly line of contract artists working under shared pseudonyms. The subjects were intentionally innocuous in contrast to the art world at large, where bold personalities emerged to break every conceivable convention. Like most Americans, the Brady’s humble art collection largely consists of commercially produced prints. This makes the family seem real and relatable to the viewer—until you remember that they have a live-in housemaid.

The production designers didn’t construct the Brady aesthetic from scratch. According to the The Brady Bunch Blog, the sets are full of props and artwork that previously appeared in other Paramount-produced television shows. There’s little chance of finding intentional parallels between the characters and their surroundings, but that needn’t stop us from applying our own meaning. It’s also worth noting that much of the art is repeatedly repositioned throughout the course of the show. It is unclear whether this is the result of less-than-vigilant set dressers or a class five haunting.

Mom always says don’t play ball in the house, Bobby. She wanted to protect this precious collection.

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The David Letterman University of Excessive Self-Deprecation

Over at Vulture, David Marchese sits down to a nice long conversation with the great David Letterman to rap about Dave’s thirty-three years in television, the evolution of late-night, what obligations comedians have to put comedy in service of our nation, and the loneliness of retirement. Wait, why is this man retired? Dave, please pop your head up more often!

How? Is comedy useful for that?

Comedy’s one of the ways that we can protect ourselves. Alec Baldwin deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Sadly, he’s not going to get it from this president.

Can you explain that a bit more? How does satire protect us from Donald Trump?

The man has such thin skin that if you keep pressure on him — I remember there was a baseball game in Cleveland, and a swarm of flies came on the field and the batters were doing this [mimes swatting at flies] while the pitcher was throwing 100 miles an hour. Well, that’s Alec Baldwin and Saturday Night Live. It’s distracting the batter. Eventually Trump’s going to take a fastball off the sternum and have to leave the game.

There’s this idea that reducing Trump to a punchline could make him seem harmless or helps to normalize him. Is there any validity to that argument?

I guess it’s a possibility. On the other hand, Donald Trump can be Donald Trump, but if he doesn’t help the people that need help, then he’s just a jerk. That press conference that he held berating the news media? I mean, how do you build a dictatorship? First, you undermine the press: “The only truth you’re going to hear is from me.” And he hires the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Steve Bannon, to be his little buddy. Bannon looks like a guy who goes to lunch, gets drunk, and comes back to the office: “Steve, could you have just one drink?” “Fuck you.” How is a white supremacist the chief adviser to our president? Did anybody look that up? I don’t know. How’s this interview going? Do you think you’re talking to a normal person here? Don’t I seem like I’m full of something?

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Comedy: The True Pièce de Résistance

Photo by Ted Eytan (CC BY-SA 2.0)

At the BBC, Jennifer Keishin Armstrong recalls Saddam Hussein, Silvio Berlusconi, Vladimir Putin, and Muammar Gaddafi as she explores the history of comedy as not only a relief valve but also as a formidable resistance tactic against oppressive regimes.

Even in Iraq in 2003, with Saddam Hussein still in power, with US bombings about to begin, comedian Mahir Hassan could find a reason to laugh: Saddam Hussein himself. Hassan told his favorite Saddam joke to the Guardian in March 2003: “Saddam is addressing a convention of the blind in Baghdad on the eve of the American attack. He tells them: ‘God willing, you will see our victory.'”

Hassan was one of Iraq’s most famous comedians, but he could only dare to lob his political humour from Northern Iraq, which was under Kurdish control. Hassan had become infamous for producing a comedy film sending up Saddam in the 1990s after the Kurds had taken the north, relaxing restrictions on freedom of expression – at least a bit. Hassan recruited his Hussein lookalike friend, Goran Faili, to play the reviled leader. In the film, 50 Kurdish guerillas hired to play Iraqi soldiers marched around singing Long live Saddam in a parody of the TV propaganda Hussein’s regime regularly aired. Faili’s Saddam was a rambling madman, with an emphasis on the leader’s Tikrit accent and slow movements.

When the film aired on Kurdish television, it was a hit. Saddam ordered assassins to kill the entire cast.

Hassan and Faili’s willingness to take grave risks for a bit of satire shows how vital the right to political comedy is to freedom.

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‘Exposure Is Bullshit’: Who Should Get Paid for Live Storytelling Events?

The Moth
The Moth in Sydney. Photo by itsnotyouitsbri

Rick Paulas | Longreads | August 2016 | 12 minutes (2,986 words)

The storytelling show Mortified was created in 2002 by Dave Nadelberg, and the show has a clever angle: Performers share “their most mortifying childhood artifacts,” along with a running behind-the-scenes commentary from their younger selves. It’s show-and-tell meets #tbt, and the results are hilarious. The show’s so beloved by performers and audiences that there are now nearly a dozen Mortified shows performed each month throughout various “chapters” around the world: eight in the U.S., eight abroad. Tickets range between $10 and $20-plus.

They also don’t pay performers, at least not in money. Mortified, like The Moth, Upright Citizens Brigade, and even TED Talks, is one of the hundreds of live events around the world that have sprouted up during an era in which experiential entertainment, or the IRL economy, were supposed to grow more cherished (and more lucrative) as entertainment products became digitized and commoditized. There’s just one problem: Live events exist in the same way many independent publishers exist—on a shoestring budget in which the performer is usually the last to be paid. Read more…

The ‘Airplane!’ Guide to Joke Delivery

We found that it was easier to keep an audience laughing than to start them up all over again.

—David Zucker, in New York magazine, on how he and his co-directors, Jim Abrahams and brother Jerry Zucker, approached comedy and rapid-fire joke delivery with the classic 1980 movie Airplane!. Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker broke down the origins of their classic joke “…don’t call me Shirley.”

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Coining Catchphrases on ‘Seinfeld’

“Humor can be dissected as a frog can,” E.B. White famously wrote, “but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the purely scientific mind.” It’s from this quotation that Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations With Today’s Top Comedy Writers, Mike Sacks’ 2014 collection of interviews with humorists, takes its title, and contrary to White’s claim, the discussions are enlivening, revealing, and likely of interest to an audience beyond just die-hard comedy nerds. From Sacks’ interview with journalist and television writer Peter Mehlman, a look at how some of Seinfeld‘s catchphrases were unintentionally coined:

You wrote twenty-two episodes of Seinfeld. Quite a few lines from these episodes became well-known and found their way into the popular vernacular, including “yada yada yada” and “double-dip.” Did you have any idea while you were writing these scripts that a particular line would later hit with the public?

No, I never had an idea. I never knew, really, what would become popular. It always surprised me, actually.

So none of the lines were written to be a catchphrase?

No. Every line was written just to be funny and to further the plot. But, actually, there was one time that I did think that a certain phrase would become popular. And I was completely wrong. In the “Yada Yada” episode [April 24, 1997], I really thought that it was going to be the “antidentite” line that was going to be the big phrase, and it was not. That line went: “If this wasn’t my son’s wedding day, I’d knock your teeth out, you antidentite bastard.” The man who said it was a dentist. And no one remembers that phrase; it’s the “yada yada yada” line that everyone remembers.

But it’s interesting. When a phrase or word becomes popular on a show, it’s like a pop song. Everybody remembers the hook. Nobody really listens to the verses.

In 1993, you wrote a Seinfeld script called “The Implant” that included the “double-dipping” line. Did the story come from a real-life experience?

It did, yes. I was at a party and somebody flipped out because someone else double-dipped a chip. They didn’t say “double-dipped.” I had to make up the phrase, but that wasn’t exactly a tough phrase to make up. To me, “double-dipping” sounded funny and it fit, but I never intended it to stand out. I never consciously thought, Oh, my god, I can actually add to the lexicon.

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Tig Notaro on Going Topless Onstage, Post-Double Mastectomy

Last week, ‘Tig’, a documentary about stand-up comic Tig Notaro–whose career reached new heights in 2012 after she opened a set by announcing she had breast cancer–debuted on Netflix. In January, at Vulture, Jada Yuan spoke with Notaro about the film, the assorted grave misfortunes from 2012 that are now behind her, her plans for marrying and having kids with her partner, Stephanie Allynne–and baring her mastectomy scars through an entire set, before an audience:

You did a topless set showing your mastectomy scars in New York this November. Why did you want to do that?

Well, I felt compelled after my surgery. It amused me to think of going onstage topless and not really acknowledging it. And just kind of in the same awkward way that it is to say, “Good evening, I have cancer, how’s it going tonight? Are you guys having fun?” Delivering it like, “Any birthdays?” And then I kind of put it out of my mind. But then when I started touring again a couple years later, I felt compelled, and I told a few friends that I was thinking about it, and they were all so excited. And then one person said that they were scared I couldn’t get the audience back if I did that, and then another person said they were scared it would be a stunt, and I feel very much like it is a stunt. [Laughs.] But it’s my skin, it’s my body, it healed, and it shouldn’t be taboo. It’s not a big deal. Cancer is a big deal, but my body — the aftermath — is not a big deal. I really did get a lot of feedback that people were stunned when I took my shirt off, and then 30 seconds later they didn’t even notice. I’m in a unique position after that album that I put out two years ago, and this would be the time for me to make that kind of statement and do that sort of action.

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How a ’12 Angry Men’ Parody Emerged from Amy Schumer’s Writing Room

Photo by Comedy Central

Each episode of Inside Amy Schumer usually contains a number of sketches, but last week the entire show was composed of a single extremely ambitious sketch. Bryan Moylan recently profiled Jessi Klein, the show’s head writer and co-executive producer of the show in New York Magazine. In the excerpt below, Moylan provides context for how the much-talked-about episode came together:

Tuesday night’s “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” sketch has a particularly incisive feminist tenor, though there are practically no women in the episode. Taking a break from their usual blend of stand-up bits, sketches, and interviews, the 22-minute-long parody features a jury deliberating whether or not Schumer is hot enough to be on television.

“Amy had pitched it early on in the season,” Klein says. “And then I got a text from Amy to me and Dan [Powell]: ‘What if we did that sketch as a whole episode, and we got amazing character actors to be in it?’ As soon as we saw that, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that could be really crazy.’ So Amy wrote a first draft and laid out the bones of it. And we all watched the movie again. I had seen it more than once, but not in a long time, and I watched it again and took a crack at it with the movie fresh in my head, to shape it with as much of the movie beats.”

From there, the writers’ room had a go at it. “This is how we work on everything,” Klein explains. “Someone does a draft, then there’s another draft, and then everyone is in it. It took a village, in terms of the casting of it and the producing of it.”

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