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While it sounds like a documentary about stand-up, Jamie Kennedy’s Heckler focuses on criticism in general and ties it with what’s becoming an ubiquitous desire of everyone to be in the spotlight. At 75 minutes, it’s far too short to cover the subject, but there’s a fair amount of threads of the phenomena explored.
There are two inspirations for Kennedy in making the documentary:
Stand-up, because of its intimate nature, is naturally the perfect place to examine why people want to aggressively overshadow others’ talent. There’s no other medium where direct resistance and rejection of an artist’s ideas is possible. And when the jokes are rejected, it feels like a personal rejection and often intended as one.
There’s a lot of videos of infamous heckling here and If you’ve spent any time on YouTube, you might recognize much of it. Included are the video where a comic gets punched by a politically correct patron, the one where the comic hits a heckler with a guitar and, of course, the Michael Richards meltdown of last year. There’s also more than a little joy to be had in hearing comics talk their experiences with hecklers and even some surprising confessions of hecklers’ effects – such as David Cross admitting he considered quitting stand-up for a time.
However, a good deal of the film focuses on Jamie Kennedy’s sit-down with critics of his films. Jamie does have a good point here… so much of criticism is now an excuse for a writer to shit all not so much the work, but the creator. If it’s criticism, it should be an honest assessment of the work without getting into whether the artist deserves to draw breath.
But in Kennedy’s confrontations with critics that thought gets lost, mostly because Kennedy trying to discount the destractor’s credibility by demonstrating their nerdiness or lack of sexual experience. He repeats the same error: knocking down the man, not the work. Anyone can have an opinion about a film, but can he justify why a critic can say that Kennedy should never been born?
At Friday’s premiere screening, Kennedy mentioned that he doesn’t think the film he seems to be defending is that good. I think this admission would be great to have in the film in some way, because it would help put the focus back on the point at hand: why call me a rape baby?
The man who called Kennedy that is probably the best illustration of what most criticism is and why it probably shouldn’t be taken personally. His name is Peter Grumbine and in his confrontation with Kennedy he’s unrepentant – at one point while Kennedy reads a part of Grumbine’s review that mentions he should be dragged behind a truck, Grumbine nonchalantly nods his head in agreement. Grumbine revels in playing the villain for Kennedy here, eagerly telling him that he enjoys pissing off celebs like Jamie. He even has the appropriate facial hair for the role.
I’m actually friendly with Peter Grumbine and what the film doesn’t mention, and perhaps should, is the Peter is a stand-up himself. Letting people in on that would illustrate that criticism has become entertainment itself, following many of the same rhythms a stand-up comic has when he’s making fun of Paris Hilton or George Bush on stage. In a world where anyone could be star, everything we write is an audition for the spotlight.
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Lewis Black and Jim Norton star as the far-too-filthy comedy team of Burt and Dick, two vulgarians from the age of vaudeville. The whole thing is too long for sure but there’s some great gems in there crossing the excessively filthy language and humor of today with the stiffness and patter of early showbiz. And the attention to detail in portraying each era is amazing. Jim Gaffigan narrates the whole thing and there’s cameos from Judy Gold, Eddie Brill and Jim David in here. Here’s a clip from Sidesplitters featuring one of their “classic” routines:
Besides this there’s another routine playing on the word “abroad” and a short aside about a monkey who’s a former partner of Burt and goes on to be more famous than him. Putting Black and Norton together is an inspired choice… they’re not two comics I naturally imagine together so it was charming and exciting to see them mesh, particularly in ways that still fit their personas.
Like it? It’s sold with a couple of other shorts on DVD featuring not only Black and Norton, but also Greg Giraldo, Greg Fitzsimmons and Rich Vos at Laugh.com.
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On Monday night, Inside Joke moved from its usual confines of the UCB to a movie theater for a special screening of Hot Fuzz followed by a conversation with stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright.
First off, the movie is excellent. The incredible achievement in both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz is that Wright and Pegg do genre parody without becoming Airplane or Police Squad. The situations are played for real - they’re people inside an action movie, even if it is an unlikely one. The action is shot exactly like a Michael Bay movie - almost to its peril because the action is occasionally as difficult to follow. They keep very true to the genre, even nailing the semi-homoerotic element of action movie pairings. Plus, if you’re a britcom aficionado, you’ll recognize familiar faces from The Office, Extras, Peep Show, Black Books and, of course, the team’s own Spaced. It’s about ten minutes too long in no particular place and it’s insanely gory at times, more than the likelier gorefest Shaun, so it sticks out a little. Those are quibbles though. It’s incredibly funny and well worth a look.
Then the Q & A followed. Host Carl Arnheiter kept his own questions short to allow the audience to have a chance to talk to the three creators. Some of the things learned:
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Caught this film today in a late matinee. I’d admit that a less than crowded afternoon theater is never really optimum for comedies. Though I’d like to think that we all appreciate a funny film individually - that consensus of laughter is incredibly powerful and can really up the appraisal of the experience.
That’s said, I think Reno suffers a bit in the wake of a film like Borat. Borat - though far more about pranking than sketch - raised the bar on how something improvised could play. Particularly in keeping something outlandish going but while looking real. One of the things that always kept me from embracing the show wholeheartedly is the conceit of being a documentary is far too loose - the antics are allowed to swallow up the format.
Living by the gag is good for the sake of the joke but not for the sake of the whole. For a film, that whole should be kept above all else. When a joke takes precedence over everything else, it becomes a wink that destroys an illusion. I’m probably less forgiving because it’s playing inside the mockumentary format - but with the format now having so many examples of how it can be done - The Office being one - I just don’t see why not just do Reno 911! as a sitcom/sketch hybrid if you’re not going to use the advantages of the filming style.
Naturally, the former State members are masterful sketch crafters and there’s some impressive segments in the film. One sequence has us watch the officers return to their motel after partying up on South Beach and their various attempts to couple and not couple, culminating in a brilliant funny-sad peep show.
The biggest joy I took from Reno was the fact that they cleverfully found a way to keep a gag in the trailer and make a surprise. In the trailer, while trying to get the attention of partiers at a rap mogul’s residence, Chief Dangle pulls his gun and fires off a round. In the trailer they cut to black and we hear the clicks of various weapons pointed at them. In the film itself, it’s only a little different but the essential structure of the joke isn’t broken. I was just impressed that whoever cut the trailer had the decency to figure out how to show something funny without stepping on a gag for the film.
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As a follow-up to yesterday’s post with a recap of the Mitch Hedberg tribute from the SF Sketchfest, here’s a few clips from Mitch’s film “Los Enchiladas.” Even though Ian didn’t think it was very good, he felt it was still worth seeing just to see how Mitch pervades all the film’s dialogue. Clip #1 features both Mitch Hedberg and Todd Barry.
I’m a little torn myself after seeing these clips. I wouldn’t particularly want to see this in a theater, because I think I’d need the ability to fast forward to the good stuff. There’s three more clips after the jump.
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Aforementioned Your Frog Abroad Correspondent Ian Lendler also checked out another show at SF Sketchfest, the hugely popular Match Game Live show, featuring David Cross, Maria Bamford, Doug Benson, Paul F. Tompkins, Scott Aukerman, B.J. Porter and host Jimmy Pardo. Here’s what he saw:
Another auspicious start to an evening: YFAC took his seat down, only to discover that he was directly in front of Samm Levine (aka Freaks and Geeks’ Neal Schweiber). Through the incredible journalistic technique of “eavesdropping,” YFAC can confirm the following about Mr. Levine:
But on with the show Part II: This is one of those real tight-wire shows. Jimmy Pardo has to interact with the guests, comedians and audience and keep the show moving. Fortunately, he was up to the task.
Employing the full range of game-show-host-cheesiness, Pardo managed to be both ironically pseudo-host funny and authentically funny at the same time. He was helped by the contestants. It says everything about San Francisco (or this crowd) that the contestants called up were a cheese-maker, a medical illustrator, a theater usher, and a member of a Latino improv company.
The show then moved straight into replicating the TV show, Match Game. For those of you who don’t remember The Match Game, the contestants had to answer quasi-retarded joke/questions like: “Carl the Cannibal wanted to open a restaurant. So he decided to open a Chinese restaurant so he could serve [blank] Foo Young.”
The blank was then to be filled in by contestants who were trying to match their answers with the celebrity panel. “Fill in the blank” humor has a proven pedigree. Mad Libs has been mining that vein for years. And the comedian panel didn’t disappoint, employing every trick in the comedy lexicon from surrealisms to witticisms to, of course, “cock” and “anal rape.” Doug Benson was particularly sharp, very much giving off the vibe of being the smartest guy in a room of comedy writers.
But it was David Cross got the biggest applause of the night with his answer to the [blank] Foo Young question. His answer was: “Ching-Chong Chinaman Foo Young.” This may only look funny sort of funny in print, but trust YFAC, it killed.
Again, a fine night of comedy. Like the Red Wine Boys, this show was less about material then just good stage presence. Both nights were examples of comedians who have been on stages so long that they could get up their, with practically no scripted material, and be at total ease with the situation. This is especially true of a show like Match Game, that actually encourage a rowdy audience to boo, hiss, shout answers, etc. This is the sort of thing that can quickly go south, but instead it made for a great interactive atmosphere.
An impressive couple nights all around, and it must be said that, in terms of star power, creativity, and unusual offerings, SF Sketchfest is living up to the hype.
The San Francisco Sketchfest is going on the rest of the month. If you’re in the city by the bay, you owe it to yourself to check out one of the many other great shows they got remaining.
Mike Judge’s much-mistreated comedy Idiocracy was released on DVD this week. As you might recall, Idiocracy’s distributor Fox only released the film in a few cities without a trailer or any advertising. It’s pretty much the kind of treatment a film only gets if it’s irredeemably awful. I’ve seen the film, and though it’s not Office Space, it’s definitely far better than many of the comedies that saw release last year (or in 2005, which is when Idiocracy was originally slated). It’s a smart comedy about stupidity and hence, it treads a very fine line, with gags that could be appreciated for the wrong reasons as well as the right. It’s a finely pointed satire that many I know have described as feeling like a documentary. The film is rough around the edges at some points, but there is a lot to enjoy if you look past where Fox obviously tightened its purse strings before the film’s completition. But seeing it will say much more than I can. Here’s the first couple minutes of the film:
If you’ve enjoyed any of Judge’s work in the past, particularly if you ever felt you appreciated Beavis and Butthead a bit differently from others, you should see this film. Rent it. And if you like it, buy it. You can find it on bittorrent quite easily now of course. But this is the type of film you should give a little bit of money to, just to show Fox how wrong they were.