Category: Movies

Bill Maher’s Religulous: Blunter Than Borat?

Filed Under Movies

After first reading about the movie project Religulous, I wondered how the “let people hang themselves” style of Borat director Larry Charles will work with Bill Maher, a much blunter comedian. We have some indication of that with the trailer, which doesn’t really have much in the way of the slow roll pranking, but leans far more to Maher interviewing religious figures.

For more detail on what the film might be, here’s the full story about Larry Charles from Esquire.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 02:31 PM | Comments (1)

Adam Sandler Needs an Act for Judd Apatow’s Film on Stand-Ups

Filed Under Movies, Stand-Up Comedy

With the news that Judd Apatow is doing a movie about stand-up comedians and that it’s not necessarily a comedy, some naturally are wondering if we’re essentially going to get a remake of the 80s film Punchline.

I’m no so worried. If there’s anybody who I’d trust make a film about stand-up, it’s Judd Apatow. Apatow has been a passionate fan of the art form since he was a kid, interviewing stand-ups like Steven Wright and Jerry Seinfeld for a high school radio show, then taking those lessons himself to become a stand-up himself.

Besides regular Apatow repitore member Seth Rogen (who also took to stand-up from a young age), the film will star Adam Sandler. Though some might sneer at the casting, Sandler was a roommate of Apatow’s during his stand-up days and I’m sure the pair look back on the time fondly. It should make for a more personal, affecting film… which seems to me an important ingredient if you’re attempting your first drama, albeit a hilarious drama.

Here’s Sandler talking about the film to MTV:

An interesting point from the video is Sandler talking about having to write an act again, as he hasn’t performed stand-up in 10 years. So they definitely want the stand-up to be as real as possible, with material that’s been tested with a live audience.

But obviously Sandler will be playing a character so he’ll have to be material that works for both Sandler’s character and Sandler the movie star who just dropped in to do a spot at the Improv.

Plus, I kind of wonder if Sandler’s previous stand-up style would work for him today. Here’s a sample of his stand-up before his SNL/movie days.

It’s very regular guy but refracted through someone who’s more than a little off. A lot of the jokes are universal, but Sandler (and likely, the character Sandler will play) is in a different place. An audience will know that Sandler lives a different life now than that guy who talks in an awkward monotone. It’ll be interesting to see what he’ll craft…

Posted by Todd Jackson at 07:49 PM | Comments (3)

Hey, What’s Zach Galifianakis Been Up To Lately?

Filed Under Movies, Pranks, Print

Glad you asked. First of all, he’s gotten a book deal:

Writer/star of both his own Comedy Central special and the recent Live At The Purple Onion DVD Zach Galifianakis’s ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: Comedians Of Comedy, a humorous sequence of essays and musings that shed some light on his magical beard, to Ben Greenberg at Grand Central, by Sally Willcox at CAA (World).

Hard to say how good that will be. Galifianakis material is mostly one-liners, briliant one-liner. He’s also highly improvisational. Will that work as a book?

Also, he’s staring in the upcoming Visioneers, which has cult written all over it. Zach stars as a mid-level office worker who’s worried he’s going to explode. And he appears to have dreams that he’s George Washington.

There’s a level of distance that’s all over this, but it’ll be interesting to see if that’s because of quirk or because that’s the only way to deal with the things George is feeling.

And, when he’s not doing those, he’s making college girls uncomfortable…

Posted by Todd Jackson at 01:25 PM | Comments (0)

Rooftop Brings Back Aspen

Filed Under Aspen Comedy Festival, Movies, Stand-Up Comedy

Aspen and comedy will keep their somewhat surprising association thanks to the Aspen Rooftop Comedy Festival, which fills in for the recently abandoned U.S. Comedy Arts Festival run by HBO. The new fest takes place at the end of this month on the 30th and 31st.

I’m not sure about keeping up a comedy fest in Aspen, other than the sentimental and promotional reasons. The place is still expensive. But on the plus side, the fest is not being held during ski season which should help. it also kind of ensures that the people coming are there for the talent, not as an excuse for a ski vacation on the company dime.

A part of the fest will be the culmination of Rooftop’s National College Comedy Competition, where the winner will be crowned from four finalists in two categories:

  • Stand-up: Kathleen O’Brien, Tim Ball, Reid Faylor and Mary Sasson
  • Short Film: Icescraper! by Mark Potts, The Breakup by Amos Vernon, Actor Hunters: Ep. 1 Pt. 1 by Matthew Schwartz and Car Phone by Dan Perrault.

Previously, there was the suggestion that the stand-ups would perform in a show at the Wheeler Opera House in a show headlined by David Brenner, but no schedule has yet show up. (The other piece of news at the time - that this might be a cleaner festival that the HBO one - is also not clear as well.)

While all the details aren’t clear yet, the invite I received from Rooftop did make one thing clear. Right after the award ceremony, they listed “Games & Cake.” Yea! and Yum!

Posted by Todd Jackson at 01:47 PM | Comments (2)

Clapter Stealing: Bill Hicks vs. Bill Maher

Filed Under Jokes, Movies, Satire

During last week’s episode of “Real Time”, one of Bill Maher‘s guests Esai Morales made reference to a documentary called “American Drug War”, which asserts a government interest in the distribution of drugs. Maher quickly called it a conspiracy theory. (And it does sound like one, when its so briefly described.)

A regular viewer of Maher show is Kevin Booth, the director of “American Drug War,” who’s a little bothered by having his work being just dismissed as a conspiracy theory. Booth was also close with the late Bill Hicks, producing much of his early albums and recording many of his live shows. He’s continued his involvement with comedy through his production company Sacred Cow, working with such Hicks-worthy successors as Doug Stanhope and Joe Rogan.

The drug war is a little outside the scope of my site here, but Booth made the point that I’m going to focus on here. The director said this in an email to his Sacred Cow members about Maher’s dismissal of the documentary:

I wonder how many people remember Bill Maher’s famous routine that got him fired from ABC -

“Who is the real coward ? when the United States is launching missiles from floating Iron Islands 200 miles away”

as first being performed by non other then Bill Hicks back in 1992

But maybe thats just “Conspiracy Theory”

(Booth states it here too on HBO’s Real TIme board.)

I don’t have encyclopedic knowledge of Hicks’ work, so I can’t verify exactly what album/performance Bill said this at. But what’s interesting in that it’s probably not necessarily a punchline, but an applause line. A piece of clapter in Tina Fey‘s vernacular. It kind of opens up another target as well as a defense of joke stealing.

Can making a simple observation of the truth as one sees it really be called stealing? Good comics are supposed to see things as they are, can you fault two for sizing things up exactly the same way? When I think about it, I don’t necessarily think of the punchline of the infamous Carlos Mencia‘s “Who going to build the wall?” joke stealing controversy as necessarily funny inherently. People would say the same thing without it being a joke. It’s an insight, a truth. Jokes are exaggeration - stealing an exaggeration seems far more egregious to me ( as evidenced by the subsequent reveal of the Cosby vs. Mencia son playing football routine).

In a sense when a comic is pointing out a repressed fact like these, they’re getting a laugh because of the tension of how we can’t acknowledge that truth in polite society. But everyone who’s hears it and laughs it, has thought the same thing - even subconsciously. Can you slam a comic for saying the unsaid thing second?

By the by, Booth says he really does like Maher’s show, describing himself as a “huge fan” of Bill Maher. He even mentions he just bitching a little to get his attention, obviously to get the documentary seen by more eyes. (It currently plays on Showtime.)

I haven’t seen American Drug War, but I did what Esai suggested and searched YouTube for it. From what I’ve seen, it’s an interesting treatment of the subject, more focusing on the “Prison Industrial Complex” and the corporate interest in the drug war in the clips I’ve viewed. Plus, it’s got comics - besides the afforementioned Rogan - there’s also a lengthy interview with Tommy Chong and a conversation with Tom Rhodes about Amsterdam and its drug laws. They’re in there, doing what good comedians do - telling truths that go unsaid.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 12:51 AM | Comments (1)

Tragedy is a close-up; Comedy, also, sometimes, a close-up?

Filed Under Movies, Sitcom, Sketch Comedy

An interesting post about directing comedy from Cinemoose puts forward this Buster Keaton quote, “Tragedy is a close-up; Comedy, a long shot.” They argue that it still applies to comedy today. Why?

  1. Long shots put the straight man in the scene, helping to both set-up a bit and also land the jokes with the straight man’s reaction, who subs for the audience.
  2. Close-ups put you in the mind of the character, creating sympathy which destroys the distance necessary for comedy.

They use the old banana peel analogy, that cutting the viewers witnessing the fall would create laughter but cutting to the man who slipped would put our emotions with him.

I’m not sure this is true any more. Today’s comedy is a little crueler… allowing us to laugh directly in the face of a character’s pain.

Also, long shots aren’t really necessary to get the reactions in any more. Often that same thing is done in other ways - think of the quick pans in “The Office.” The joke is heightened because we get to anticipate what Pam or Jim reaction might be to the sexist/annoying thing that Michael just said.

There’s a trust today that the audience knows that this is a terrible funny thing, so we don’t need a straight man to substitute for us as much anymore. Often in sketches I kind of prefer it if everybody in the sketch buys into the crazy thing going on - it makes the sketch get funnier, rather than relying on a character saying, “What are you people doing?” for the jokes.

One trait of comedy that’s also very true today is mimicry. Not so much parody, but a scene needs to be done in the style of drama to make it funny. Besides the acting being played straight, the directing must be played straight as well. It makes the exaggeration all the stronger. Here’s an example, from Human Giant and their sketch “Sketch Artist.” Rob Huebel never breaks the senior demeanor of a cop haunted by his partner’s death and killer and neither does director Jason Woliner, making the arrival of the killer that much more funny.

After introducing the silly killer, they keep up the dark, straight part of the scene with Huebel bleeding. (Human Giant is possibly the bloodiest sketch comedy show ever filmed I think.)

So what do you think? Does Keaton’s maxim still apply?

Posted by Todd Jackson at 11:08 AM | Comments (1)

Filming Bruno: The Audience is What Makes It Funny

Filed Under Movies, Pranks

The filming of Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen’s follow-up to Borat, recently made some news while shooting in Wichita, Kansas. Besides disrupting a local church Easter play, the crew also filmed a scene at an airport which was caught with this spectator’s video.

It’s a little fascinating to see in this context because though Bruno and his dance partner look silly and it is a funny dance, you don’t really have a joke. What’s necessary for that?

The reaction - the breathless gawking and confused stares. Thank goodness for local news media. Besides quoting anonymous witnesses as saying the antics “almost looked like pornography”, they also filed this somewhat ridiculous report, where they warn audience members that they might be offended, as if two men dressed very silly doing a funny dance was pornography.

Check out Ma and Pa Kettle smiling - smiling! - at 0:59. They sure like pornography, huh? The media doesn’t notice that older couple. Of course, I don’t think the Bruno movie will be showing them either. Maybe those are “look at the fruits!” smiles, but perhaps its genuine amusement at something outside the everyday. No matter what, the ambiguity of it wouldn’t be funny. (I certainly hope Sacha Baron Cohen proves me wrong.)

But it’s interesting how both that news report and, likely, Bruno will rely on the one version of America - that we’re offended or shocked, not that we’re amused and picking up our cell phone cameras. One’s doing it to enforce the status quo, the other to slam it.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 09:22 AM | Comments (0)
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