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Comedy Stray Notes December 26, 2021
• It wasn’t an official Christmas gift but our Santa-like friend Fluke Human gave Anna Paone and me a tight holiday present this week when he hit us up and asked if we wanted to be in a sketch comedy video. As big fans of Mr. Human’s work, we quickly accepted. However, with Omicron running rampant through the tri-state, we decided to film in a very 2020 way. Rather than gather in an enclosed space, Anna and I set up a green screen in our apartment, planted the old DSLR nearby, put Fluke on FaceTime and had him direct remotely. Rather than send him footage that didn’t work, having him “there” with us made it so he got exactly what he needed. Plus, no commute.
The finished product is a five-minute ode to fictional super-producer Jerry Packedhouse. Fluke frames the story as part of the ongoing series “History of Haha” that takes a look back at the comedy of the early 2020s we haven’t experienced yet. It’s a genius concept- I don’t think I’ve seen a mockumentary make fun of the near future. For everyone roasting 2021, Fluke’s a step ahead of you- he’s already insulting trends that haven’t even happened yet.
PS: If you watch this, you’ll see a real line I used to use to bark people into shows back in the day. It wasn’t very successful but did get some smirks. That was more than enough for me.
• My favorite Christmas week entertainment is walking around and looking at people’s holiday lights. You get to see a lot of inflatable Minions that way. My second favorite pastime is watching really funny stuff that budding comedy star friends are putting on the web. Here’s a snapshot of what I clicked on and lol’d at these past few days.
- SantaCon is a supremely bizarre annual event that seems to be hated by everyone yet somehow still exists. I’ve seen a million jokes and vids hating on the day but I’ve never come across anything like Sam Zelitch and Tom Achilles’ frenetic, joyful “Ultra Men Vs The Santas.” After a call from their harried manager (Mia Faith Hammond), the Ultra Men (Achilles and Carlos Nath) stumble upon SantaCon and with a look of gobsmacked wonder on their faces. In unison, they exclaim, “I think that’s it.”
Techno bliss follows. Rather than besmirching SantaCon for its irritating bro-y ‘tude, the dudes embrace the giddy nature of the day, dance with many, many Jolly Saint Nicks and even shout out “Burlington Coat Factory” and “Kohl’s.” Watch this one twice I say- the first time you see it, it may confound you because there’s nothing really like it. On second viewing, the sunshine vibes wash over you and the laughs come crashing in. Can’t wait to see what the Ultra Men do next.
- Everyone knows Christmas movies. You got your “It’s A Wonderful Life’s,” your “Home Alone’s,” your “Die Hard’s,” yadda, yadda, yadda. However, no one ever really talks about New Year’s movies. They’re out there but they don’t get the same respect. Enter Genevieve Rice. This past month, she’s taken to Twitter and compiled a list of the 31 best New Year’s flicks. It’s a fun concept and not only does she recommend quality cinema, she peppers each suggestion with a great line about the movie. For example, about the hilariously underrated 1990 movie “Metropolitan” she wrote, “An interesting little romp about why we should eat the rich.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
- If you aren’t paying attention to Zarna Garg’s TikTok, you’re missing one of the app’s greatest features. In addition to hilarious at-home featurettes, she also shares punchy stand up clips that are honestly too good to just be given away for free like this. A few weeks ago, she dropped “Love Love Love!” a minute-long rant about how Americans tell each other we love each other too much. It’s an incisive observation about our culture that she relates to her marriage in hilarious fashion. The closer in this bit gets FOUR different, totally worthy laughs. Now that’s a marriage of writing and performance that (excuse me, Zarna) I love.
- Not all of us (including me) subscribe to The New Yorker. However, if you have a few articles left for the month, I implore you to donate one of them to Alex Baia’s brilliant essay “Existentialist Blonde Jokes.” In it, Baia takes your classic blonde joke setups and flips them on their blonde heads to go to much darker places than your childhood joke books ever did. Since there are so many gems here, I’ll share just one as a litmus test:
“What do you do when a blonde throws a grenade at you?
Lament the absurdity of a world where science is used for war.”
If a bit like that’s for you, there’s a lot more where that came from in the essay.
• Amidst my ongoing “Succession” binge, I found time to take in quite a bit of “Succession”-adjacent content (also, please no “Succession” spoilers. I’m still a season-and-a-half behind).
“Don’t Look Up” (2021): How is this movie starring Leo, J-Law and Streep related to “Succession?” Well, other than playing like a B-level episode of the series, it was written and directed by none other than “Succession” pilot director and executive producer Adam McKay.
As satire, the story of two climatologists (Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio) who discover a comet hurtling toward Earth in six months only to find that the rest of the world is a) disinterested, b) becomes super scared once the President (a Trumped-up Streep) acknowledges the end may be near in an attempt to gain political leverage and then c) divides everyone into camps that believe different things about what the comet really is, it really tracks.
This 2.5-hour movie holds a mirror to our present-day reality. Whether you think “Don’t Look Up” is a metaphor for climate change or COVID, one thing is for certain- the media controls the narrative and determines what we regular folk care about and believe.
However, as a film, the movie doesn’t quite work on the same level. While the impassioned climatologists give a beating heart to this socio-political dramatic satire (this one really runs the gamut of genres here) AND it has some truly inspired jokes (I actually clapped at one of the callbacks in the movie while watching from the couch- a first for me), “Don’t Look Up” could have stood to lose a good chunk of its running time. As important as the film’s message is- we’re already living it and shouting similar messages from the rooftops (or Twitter). If this was a lean 90 minutes and didn’t repeat the “the world’s going to end!” self-seriousness ad nauseum, I think it would have packed a much more potent punch. Satire works better the less it screams its message in your face. All that being said, I LIKED IT A LOT, I JUST WANTED A LITTLE LESS OF IT (Streaming on Netflix).
* If you see this movie, make sure to stay past the end credits. I’ll leave it at that.
- WTF with Alan Ruck: This was the first of three (!) “Succession” podcasts I took in. Now that I’ve started watching, I figured there would be ancillary content online and oh boy, is there. Maron interviewed a slew of the show’s lead actors but I was most curious to hear his conversation with “Ferris Bueller” star/Cameron Roy Alan Ruck. In their 80-minute chat, Ruck spills a few great stories about his life and the show. One of my favorites was about how he couldn’t find work post-”Bueller” and was roughing it at a menial temp day job. A month or so in, a co-worker approached him and said, “You’re that guy from ‘Ferris Buford.’” Ooh, so close. For “Succession” fans, there’s stories about Ruck’s audition process for the show as well as how he figured out who his character was. Still, the best part is a throwaway Richard Kind story that’s so short and funny, I’m not going to spoil it here.
* Bonus “Succession” theory: Cameron from “Ferris Bueller” is essentially Connor Roy. A delusional, spoiled rich kid disconnected from his uber-wealthy father. Don’t question me on this- I clearly haven’t thought it all the way through.
- Fresh Air with Kieran Culkin: Man, Terry Gross is good at what she does. This 46-minute breezy pod went by so quickly, I did a double take when it was over (might have been all the NPR ads crammed into the interview). Although it felt short, Gross and Culkin still got in a lot of conversation.
Like many before her, Gross began by mentioning that she didn’t like “Succession” when she first saw it. Yet, after a few episodes, it really grew on her. I think the same could be said for anyone who saw Culkin’s freewheeling troll of a character Roman Roy in the pilot. Right off the bat, Culkin explains Roman’s motivations succinctly saying he plays him as a “someone who has never suffered any consequences for anything in his life” which really captures the essence of what makes him so great. Other tidbits from the show include a semi-juicy origin story for the Roman/Gerri relationship and a detailed breakdown of how the writers craft dialogue for each character.
After talking about the show, Gross dips her toes into slightly uncomfortable territory asking questions about his upbringing. Apparently Culkin doesn’t talk to his dad anymore. On a lighter note, Culkin tells a great story of how he didn’t know his brother Macauly was the star of “Home Alone” until he saw it. For those that may have forgotten, Kieran’s in the movie with Macauly. Kids are great. Best of all though was a story about how a fan came up to Macauly in the ‘90s and said, “Are you McCluckly McCluckly?” That’s even better than “Ferris Buford.”
*Note: This episode is a bit spoiler-heavy if you’re behind on the show so tread with caution if you haven’t seen everything.
“HBO’s ‘Succession’ Podcast” with Nicholas Braun: Big Cousin Greg fan here. I’d never seen him in the Disney Channel shows he was in back in the day or the movie “Sky High” so I was unfamiliar with his work before the show. Is Braun really like the character? The answer is yes. He affably stumbles throughout the interview in that distinctly Cousin Greg way.
This short 28-minute interview doesn’t have quite the same flow as the other two but is fun all the same. Braun talks about how he wanted to become a serious actor after he was raised on Leo, DeNiro, Day-Lewis and Phillip Seymour Hoffman but pivoted after crushing it in comedies. While talking about the show, he reveals that the writers input extra question marks in his dialogue for him to have a field day with. He also shared that he intentionally gives Greg hesitation and a chunkier rhythm to offset the speed at which the other characters spit venom at each other.
Some additional choice details about the character he spilled were that Cousin Greg’s dancing is allegedly based on an awkward guy he saw at a wedding dancing with abandon; he practiced being uncomfortable talking to strangers at the airport as long as he could before they would try and leave and his comedic chemistry with Tom (Matthew McFayden) was discovered on set. Damn, those writers are perceptive.
At the end, Braun drops that he counts Bill Clinton and Paul McCartney as Cousin Greg fans and refers to them by their first names “Bill and Paul.” Damn. Wow.
• Finally, I leave you with two comedy oddities I came across while on the web.
- The first is Matt Berry from “What We Do In The Shadows” put out a wonderful album this year called “Gather Up (Ten Years On Acid Jazz)” that sounds like a lost relic of ‘60s rock. Doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of Berry’s comedy or not, this record stands as a piece of music on its own. The opening track “Take My Hand” has been on heavy rotation for me this past week.
- CBS Morning News’ Gayle King interviewed Lorne Michaels about his upcoming Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime artistic achievement this week. It’s your standard fare Lorne interview complete with abbreviated quotes from Kenan Thompson and Bowen Yang. Nothing about this eight-minute chat would be noteworthy except for when King asks Lorne who his successor might be. It’s a great tense moment that will certainly be in the Lorne doc about how they chose his replacement coming exclusively to Peacock in 2025.
For more discourse on this, you ought to check out Pamela Ross’ tweet about how finding Lorne’s replacement is similar to “Succession.” She even etched a fun sketch in the replies about how this might all go down. Not only is the sketch worthy of being on SNL but it would be a great way to close out the epic “Lorne era” when he retires.
See ya in 2022. Yep, I’m one of those people that does that