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Comedy Stray Notes January 2, 2022
On New Year's resolutions, unexpected viral tweets, 2021's most acclaimed movies, "The Shrink Next Door" and so much more, folks
• Last year, I said, “In 2021, I’m going to make a feature film.” A lot of people were like, “Hell yeah, bro!” and I was fired up. A production company had reached out to me and teased the possibility of them helping produce my movie. So, I reached out to a professional animator and had a minute-long teaser trailer made. Then, I did a table read of the screenplay with all my favorite actors. Next, I created a website so the project would look more legit. Finally, I started reaching out to C-list actors’ agents to try and get the project off the ground floor.
Around August, the production company stopped responding to my messages. No agents responded to my email (Beans from “Even Stevens’” agent said she’d pass it along to him but radio silence since then).
At this point, I decided to give in. It may seem like I gave up a little early but this is when I made peace with this movie not being made. The work seemed like more work than fun.
Anyhow, I’ve said all of this to say that I’m publicly announcing I’m not going to publicly announce any New Year’s resolutions this year. If I make stuff or learn things in 2022, that’s great. If I don’t, I don’t have to feel any guilt.
So, here’s to the next 365 days, the year where whatever happens, happens.
• While writing Stray Notes last Sunday night, I thought of a dumb tweet. It read:
If you were to tell me in 1993 that in 2021 the most famous Olsen would be Elizabeth and the most famous Culkin would be Kieran, I’d be like, “I’m five, why are you telling me this”
134,600 likes later, it’s easily the most viral thing I’ve ever put on the internet. Is it funny? Debatable. I give it about a 5/10. Wouldn’t work on the stage.
People argued vehemently in the comments about how Macauly is far more famous than Kieran (many, many people quote tweeted me writing “who tf is kieran”) and they’re probably right. I’m just hoping the Culkins and Olsens didn’t see this half thought of a tweet and say, “Why is this nobody commenting on our fame?”
Either way, I’m happy this dumb joke exists. It netted me 300 or so new followers, four subscribers to my newsletter (if you’re reading this, hello!) and a retweet from Jane Lynch. No complaints here.
• The awkward Christmas to New Years week is a time for year-end lists, recaps, resolutions (see above) and catching up on critically-acclaimed movies you haven’t seen yet (see below). However, there are a seldom few who are fearlessly dropping sick CONTENT. Here are their stories (all links in the comments).
- There’s something inherently ridiculous about unboxing videos. The meticulous tape removal and careful unwrapping only to reveal the fully-expected contents of the box is ripe for parody.
It’s also what makes Barak Ziv’s minute-long video making fun of the concept so funny. Barak, playing reviewer Ari Samuels, treats his “cardboard pro X7P” box with care and wastes no time getting to a brilliant series of meta jokes exposing the vapidity of opening a box and showing off the new stuff you own. This one’s quick- watch it twice to make sure you don’t miss the “blink and you’ll miss it” bits.
- One of the kings of Jersey, Mark Henely, dropped the surprise laid back 12-minute Christmas special “MXRRX CHRXSTMXS, BXG DXG!” Filmed with a warm, casual atmosphere by director Ben Miller, Mark transitions effortlessly between crowd work trashing Christmas songs and prepared material like a seasoned pro. The closing chunk finds Mark walking a tightrope where he takes a risk with an edgy joke and miraculously works his way out of the hole to win the room back.
Stay for the credits at the end. Mark’s expressionless mug while a friend sings to him is one of the special’s best bits.
- Speaking of edgy jokes sticking the landing, Jamie Wolf’‘s short yet fully-realized take on why he needs a white male therapist should be in the misdirect hall of fame. In the span of less than a minute, Jamie loses the crowd with an offensive-sounding premise, wins them back, loses them and gets them all over again. While watching, I thought to myself, “Where’s he going with this?” only to have my worldview expanded and simultaneously narrowed.
Needless to say, it’s a damn good joke. The greats love to make things difficult for themselves and work their way out. Jamie did it multiple times here.
- This week, I had a vague idea of a tweet I wanted to send out. The general idea was:
New Years Resolutions
2021: Make a movie
2022: Go outside once or twice
It didn’t feel fully fleshed out and I slept on it. Eight hours later, I woke up and found that Ralph Anthony used this format to write a far superior joke that had gone mega viral. I wasn’t even mad. You can’t be angry when your version of the parallel thought is inferior. Took the L, wrote my inconsequential version of the tweet and bowed to Ralph’s dynamite version. I’m being intentionally vague so you check out his tweet and lavish it with the praise it deserves. It’s Onion-level writing.
• Earlier I mentioned that I caught up on movies that I missed. Thanks to the near-MoviePass value of AMC A-List, Anna Paone and I reserved seats to the theater three times and saw this trio of flicks (NOTE: Every single movie played the trailers for “Death on the Nile” and “Uncharted” ahead of the screening in case you were wondering).
“Spider-Man: No Way Home” (2021): Never has a 2 ½ hour movie gone by so fast.
When we got into the IMAX theater, I was immediately distressed- we were so close to the screen that it seemed impossible to enjoy any images on it. Once the story kicked in though, all my anxiety was quelled. This Queens-based banger picks up right where the last film left off. The world has discovered Peter Parker’s superhero identity which prevented his girlfriend MJ and friend Ned from getting into MIT since they were associated with Spider-Man. Parker’s solution? Get Doctor Strange to reset the world so no one knows who the man in the arachnid tights are. Of course, it goes awry. Then, the movie goes to a much more thrilling place than your typical Marvel fare. Doctor Strange’s spell unleashes all of the villains from the previous Spider-Man universes (Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx, Rhys Ifans and Thomas Haden Church) and eventually a few other surprises that garnered real-life applause breaks in my theater.
The rest is your textbook superhero movie but it’s no matter. This is a major crowd pleaser that has everything. Each former villain subtly addresses their mental illness that comes packaged into their evil afflictions, there are cameos from comedic geniuses (JB Smoove, Hannibal Buress and Martin Starr all at once!) and on top of it all, winking self references galore.
Before the movie, I read a fantastic article about how comedy films will be relegated to streaming in the future; the fact that movies like “Spider-Man” exist is an ok compromise for me. If smart comedy can be Trojan-horsed into theaters via superhero and horror pictures, I can live with it.
* Can’t believe they didn’t address the “Spider-Man” musical. Also, poor Kirsten Dunst got the short end of the stick here. At the very least, she deserved a cameo.
“West Side Story” (2021): We rang in the New Year at the theater. A person sitting near us said, “This is my sixth time seeing this movie. That’s how good it is.” I begged to differ. I felt every minute of this flick’s 2 ½ hour runtime.
Even though there is a bit of lively energy to Spielberg’s romantic musical, the treacly story and mismatched stars put me to sleep. No joke, multiple people walked out of our theater. I can’t argue with the film’s songs, dances, cinematography and performances from Anita (Ariana DeBose) and Riff (Mike Faist) but a) I didn’t buy Tony and Maria’s pure relationship and b) it’s awfully hard to root for the problematic Jets (even if they’re the villains). This may just be a matter of taste but this reimagining of a reimagining left me feeling cold. It feels wrong to dislike something so critically beloved but I’ll stand by my (most likely undignified) opinion here.
“Licorice Pizza” (2021): With YouTube ads and commercials, I think I saw the trailer for PT Anderson’s latest featuring Bowie’s “Life on Mars” a good 30-40 times. From said trailer, I gathered that this was PT’s coming of age, puppy love ode to ‘70s sun-drenched Cali.
That was pretty much right.
However, what I wasn’t expecting was the hangout nature of the film. Anderson’s screenplay throws logic and tight plotting out the window for a more fanciful toast to youth. It’s rambly, it’s messy, it’s funny, it’s full of life.
Here, 15-year-old actor/entrepreneur/serial charmer Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman AKA Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son) crushes hard on the 25-year-old school photographer’s assistant Alana Kane (Alana Haim of HAIM). The two have an immediate chemistry that’s far more believable than Tony and Maria’s short-lived fling. Banter, cross-country trips and “will they-won’t they” tension follow. There’s even a sharp commentary on how men objectify women no matter the scenario.
In the film’s rambliness, we’re treated to PT’s flights of fancy. Scenes that seem to be fragments from other screenplays he’s written sneak their way into the movie. Bradley Cooper steals “Licorice Pizza” as Barbara Streisand’s blowhard boyfriend and Sean Penn and Tom Waits yelling at each other is far more entertaining than it has any right to be. Both scenes could have been excised from the movie and the story wouldn’t lose a step. Their inclusion is what adds to “Pizza’s” loopy magic.
After a while though, PT goes a step too far cramming in subplots, new love interests and implausible storylines that made the film feel more episodic than cinematic but a movie that has this many elements working in its favor is A-OK in my book.
* Don’t go in expecting to understand what the movie’s title means. You can find a dull explanation online but you won’t find a single mention of “Licorice Pizza” onscreen.
**Keep an eye out for a John C. Reilly cameo. You won’t see his face but he’s there.
“The Shrink Next Door” (2021): Reviews out of the gate for this Apple TV “Based on a true story” Will Ferrell/Paul Rudd two-hander were dismal. The Ringer and The New York Times panned it. Didn’t stop me. I watched the whole eight-episode miniseries and thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Admittedly, it does take fifteen minutes for the story to bubble up, but once the charismatic therapist Rudd starts treating the anxious Ferrell (doing a bordering on offensive New York Jewish accent), the first episode finds its groove. Over the course of the next eight hours, the show plays the same note over and over but somehow it sings. Rudd’s hypnotized the wealthy Ferrell character into doing whatever he wants- making him get adult bar mitzvahed, buying a $20,000 signed Mickey Mantle ball, throwing parties on his behalf- and as an audience member, I wanted to see just how far this parable about toxic male friendship would go.
Gaslighting is never pretty but it’s fascinating to see just how much a therapist could weasel out of their impressionable patients. There really is a gray area between helpful and greedy.
Also, I can’t give enough major props to one of my favorite actors Annie Boon for her turn as Will Ferrell’s mom. It’s an integral part of the narrative and she brings the right mixture of gravitas and humor to the role.
- Khaleel Raman’s podcast “Tight Five” has the best guests. SNL head writer Anna Drezen and Mulaney’s sister Claire back to back? That’s what I’m all about. In the Drezen conversation, she talks about the importance of making sure that sketches for the show have clear yet fresh premises. Certainly refreshing to hear a writer for the show talk about the struggles of coming up with ideas that meet that criteria constantly googling to make sure that what she’s writing hasn’t been done before.
The most interesting tidbit she shared was that self deprecation doesn’t play at SNL. In your interviews to work there, you have to be comfortable and forthright with your skills rather than downplaying your abilities. That’s a $10,000 piece of advice for free.
Plus, a sheep took a dump during one of her sketches on live TV.
On the flip, Claire Mulaney’s interview was equally engrossing. I loved how she said to never write something like, “the way the guy tips his hat is what makes this sketch funny.” Come up with hard jokes. Even more valuable was her note that “Light and fun is always better than clever.”
Little tips for all comedy writers to keep in their back pocket from those that have made it.
• That’s all. If you missed it, I made a short vid about how I’d like to be the spokesman for Fresh Gourmet croutons. If you have connections to the salad topping world, please let me know.
I’ll close with my favorite Abraham Lincoln quote, “Turn the beat around. Love to feel percussion”