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Comedy Stray Notes December 5, 2021
On my new TikTok video, the value of baseball cards, Adam Driver movies, forgotten SNL cast members and two excellent things I read this week.
• Whenever I’m at my childhood home, I can’t help but notice that I look pretty ridiculous in almost all the photos my parents have chosen to line their walls (there is one great one of three-year-old me hugging Winnie the Pooh at DisneyLand though).
It’s my own fault that I look weird in pictures- my eyes are closed, I’m making a strange face, I’m not looking at the camera for whatever reason. Needless to say, I’m not an easy subject to make look good. So, rather than dwelling on this privately forever, I decided to do what everyone under 30 does when something happens to them.
I made a TikTok about it (Note: I’m not under 30).
Coming in at exactly one minute, I use the 60 seconds to analyze and attempt to explain these blown up images on display at my mom and pop’s home in Phoenix to get to the bottom of why I can never quite get smiling and looking at the camera right.
Anyway, the TL;DR here is you can see a handful of dumb photos of me in succession.
There’s even one from my bar mitzvah.
• It’s been forever since I participated or even attended a roast battle but thankfully highlight clips of the best bits make their way to Instagram all the time. This week, the funniest one I saw came from a smackdown between Drew Drevyanko and Andrew Manning. In the 30-second clip shared here, Drew dishes up a monster joke and just as the laughter subsides, Manning treats the punchline like an alley oop and tags it like a pro. I wouldn’t just recommend watching this one- I’d say play it on a loop. It’s that good.
• In my misspent youth, I spent a lot of weekends at the local mall browsing baseball cards trying to haggle with middle-aged men over $2 Sean Caseys and $5 Ichiros thinking “years from now, I’ll have the last laugh with all my priceless rookies.” Well, the years have passed and my cards aren’t worth as much as I thought. However, there are a ton out there that can really make you a pretty penny. That’s where Ray DeVito comes in. He dropped a new video this week explaining various cards’ current value that mixes comedic chops with sports fandom and knowledge seamlessly. Who knew a Satchel Paige or Ja Morant could net you so much cash? Maybe I’ll just hold on to my Ichiros a bit longer.
• Saw two movies this week. Both starred Adam Driver. That’s just the way it is in 2021. He stars in all of them. Those are the rules.
“Annette” (2021): The biggest letdown of the year. No question. I was beyond excited for Leos Carax’s first feature after taking nearly a decade off after he made my favorite movie of the 2010s “Holy Motors.” The trailer amped me up. The synopsis “A stand-up comedian and his opera singer wife have a two-year-old daughter with a surprising gift” had me counting the days until its release. Once I saw Sparks was doing the soundtrack, I couldn’t wait any longer. Then, when it hit Amazon back in August, Anna and I started it.
The opening scene was a firecracker dynamo. The musical duo Sparks’ pulsating piano and the free-flowing camera walking Driver to the show gave me chills. Carax still had the lively sense of surrealism that made “Motors” so special! Then...it got serious. Too serious. Driver, playing the “comic” Henry McHenry, lectures crowds about comedy wearing a bathrobe and the audiences eat it up. I was trying to draw parallels the whole time- is this supposed to be satirizing a Joe Rogan or Bill Maher type?- but there was no obvious surrogate for who or what this character was supposed to represent. Plus, it was too wrapped in trying to say “something about entertainers” that it missed what makes entertainers great: they entertain us.
Elsewhere, McHenry’s wife, Anne (Marion Cotillard) the opera singer, sings beautifully in front of lavish sets. No winking irony here- just opera. Then, the two of them live happily together earnestly singing “We love each other so much.” The song made Anna and me laugh but I have no idea if that was supposed to be comedic or not.
My new justification at this point was that this must be how the French view overexposed American celebrities. In that sense, it sorta kinda works. For a while.
Without spoiling the film, the McHenrys conceive and give birth to an eerie CG Pinocchio puppet child. At this point, Anna and I turned the movie off. I didn’t want to see anymore.
Three months later, we returned to finish it. It got darker and weirder. I’d never seen anything quite like this movie before but it all still seemed so predictable. Also, Simon Helberg from “The Big Bang Theory” plays a very serious conductor for some reason.
There was a flash of brilliance late in the movie when women in a club sang, “All these men hate themselves but want us to love them” but other than that, this pity party made me sad. A director I loved got to do something on a grand scale and WHIFFED IN THE WEIRDEST WAY POSSIBLE (Streaming on Amazon Prime).
“House of Gucci” (2021): This was by far the superior Driver movie. The dialogue surrounding this new Ridley Scott feature mostly centers around the ridiculous borderline offensive Italian accents the characters trade in. Admittedly, it is distracting at first. Yet, once you give into Driver, Lady Gaga, Al Pacino and Jared Leto doing their over the top best, you’ll find yourself in the middle of a pulpy, fun tragedy that has a lot to offer.
Force of nature Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) works at her father’s trucking firm by day and clubs at night. While partying, she runs into mild-mannered Maurizio Gucci (Driver) whom she dances with and then stalks at the library the next day. Soon after, they’re inseparable. This is a point of contention between Driver and his father who refuses to allow his high class son to commingle with someone of such lowly stature. Maurizio is 86’d from the family and works his way into the Reggiani trucking family business. This isn’t called “The House of Reggiani” though. Gucci goes back to Gucci and rises the ranks with the help of his ruthless wife who charms, bamboozles and tears the family apart.
The above is probably the first hour of this 2.5-hour behemoth of a film. I’ll admit I wasn’t quite feeling it at this point. Rich and famous people struggling and talking about business deals makes me yawn. Give me real conflict, Ridley!
Then, just as I was about to write this movie off, “Gucci” ramps up and I won’t spoil how.
It’s way better to see where this splashy based on a true story movie that feels like a sketch, reality TV show and miniseries all rolled into one goes on its own. THIS MOVIE IS TRASHY FUN, KNOWS IT’S TRASHY FUN AND EMBRACES IT (Now in theaters).
Note: Everyone in my theater at the end of the movie was saying, “That was Jared Leto?!” but no one was talking about how damn funny Salma Hayek was in an extended cameo as a psychic who aids Patrizia. That character deserves a movie all of her own.
• Listened to one quick podcast this week from a few years back.
I was sitting around wondering “Whatever happened to Paul Brittain who was on SNL for a year and a half from 2010-2012?” and decided to see if he had any podcast appearances explaining his departure. The one I found “Entry Level with Brooks Wheelan” (another SNL cast member with a crazy short tenure) doesn’t really answer the question but does erase some of the mystery behind the guy who never really got a shot.
The conceit of Wheelan’s podcast “Entry Level” is to ask guests about their jobs before they made it and Brittain details his time as a teen working at pizza shops and getting paid peanuts for covering a newspaper route in Illinois. We skip forward a few years and Brittain shares a fantastic anecdote about having to be on set for his first commercial acting gig. Unfortunately, it coincides with his team, the White Sox about to win their only World Series in the past 80 or so years. Poor dude had to watch from a bar where no one cared. Then, the next day on set, it was so cold that the camera picked up the actor’s breath. The trick to make it so your breath doesn’t show? They have actors suck on ice cubes in the cold right before their takes. Brutal.
Finally, the last section of the podcast takes us up to Brittain performing at Improv Olympic under Mike O’Brien as his coach which leads to a successful SNL audition and then Brittain triumphantly signing a seven-year contract which didn’t end up working in his favor.
The aforementioned seven-year contract led to a discussion between Anna and me. I’d never given it much thought but now I was wondering “Does everyone at the end of seven years get a show?” I’m thinking of:
Kenan’s “Kenan,” Aidy Bryant’s “Shrill,” Cecily Strong’s “Schmigadoon,” Kyle Mooney’s upcoming “Saturday Morning All Star Hits” and Michael Che’s “That Damn Michael Che Sketch Show” from the current cast.
Anna said it best, “Maybe the seven years are just a long audition for prime time.”
That’s gotta be it.
• Bonus reading for this week:
-There’s an excellent Adam McKay profile in Vanity Fair about the director’s upcoming “Don’t Look Up.” I loved McKay’s made up introductions for himself sprinkled throughout the story and the backstory behind his rocky relationship with Will Ferrell. My only quibble here is that McKay says, “If there’s justice in the world, I’d probably be making $140,000 a year” like that’s not a lot of money. I’ll let it slide but that’s the cringiest quote I’d heard in a minute.
-The Washington Post profiled Lorne Michaels. It’s the umpteenth “Lorne cares more about this week’s episode than its entire history” profile but this one is particularly well-written inserting the reader into Lorne’s shoes while the show is just about to go on air. Great details like, “Surrounding him are cabinets and credenzas crammed with three-quarter-inch tapes of episodes going back decades, labeled with host and musical guest: “JIM CARREY and Soundgarden.” “ELLE MACPHERSON and Sting” jump off the page.
Later in the piece, Lorne uncomfortably skates past questions about his power and influence. Makes you wonder just how much the original draft of this story was edited to ensure it was up to snuff. Great read for fans.
• That’s honestly all I got this week. There’s really nothing else