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Comedy Stray Notes July 25, 2022
On my last newsletter in a while (maybe), the new seasons of "Kids In The Hall," the two movies Judd Apatow dumped on streaming this year and SO MUCH MORE (there is a lot more lol)
• Last week, I closed this newsletter with a touch of melancholy.
I wrote, “This may be the last Comedy Stray Notes for quite some time. Let’s call it a farewell for a short while” since Anna was due any day.
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Damn, that was sappy.
Anyway, at the time of publication today, she’s still due at any time. For now, we’re playing the increasingly exciting waiting game where we wake up every morning thinking “Is today the most memorable day of my life and a date I’ll remember forever” or “just another Wednesday?”
We’ll find out soon enough.
Either way, please send all unsolicited advice my way and definitely not to Anna.
With all that being said, since there’s no baby yet, I’m writing another goofy, overly indulgent newsletter on one of my last days of pre-dad life.
Here goes nothing, m’friend:
• Even though Anna is mad preggy, she’s still a great sport and willing to participate in spur of the moment TikToks I dream up.
This past month, we’ve filmed a few and put two goofy ones online.
The first one we dropped “How My Wife Wordles” is probably the most spontaneous comedic lightning in a bottle I’ve ever filmed. Making fun of Anna’s silly attempts at five-letter words got funnier and funnier as she continued to throw out guesses that weren’t even close to being right. Wordling ain’t easy and everyone has a different process but it’s awfully funny to see the mental hoops people jump through to land on the right answer.
Plus, the thing is only 40 seconds long. You can’t argue with that. You’re already here. Just do it. Or else you’re denying a pregnant woman views and you wouldn’t want to do that, would you, you monster?
Our second ‘Tok sees Anna auditioning for the role of “woman” in an unnamed movie. What monologue does she deliver? Honestly, that’s the whole bit. BUT if you’ve been to a movie theater in the past year or so, I think you’ll appreciate the joke.
• Every week, I try to check out a new podcast. At this one new podcast a week rate, I’ll get around to all the new pods from the 2020s by 2065 or so. Not bad.
This time around, I peeped Myq Kaplan’s upbeat “Broccoli and Ice Cream” where he interviews comics about the work or “broccoli” in their careers to get to their joys or “ice cream.”
In the 40-minute episode I listened to, he spoke candidly with Steel City Arts Foundation founder and long-time comic Steve Hofstetter.
The two make for an odd yet intriguing pair. They have completely different comic energies. Kaplan casually spouts off the most impressive, whimsical wordplay you’ve ever heard while on the other pole, Hofstetter effortlessly lists brilliant, shrewd ideas that could maximize one’s comedic potential.
Over the course of the short show, Hofstetter let loose a few of these wise nuggets that I couldn’t believe I got to hear for free. Specifically, his proclamation that “even the most original comics are hacks when it comes to promotion” struck a real chord. Everyone DOES replicate whatever everyone who is successful does on social media. Never thought of that. Instead, by spending as much time brainstorming how to get your content out into the world as you spend on the content itself, you get a leg up on the competition.
Hofstetter, who compared his career to being on an island (running a mini comedy empire) with an occasional visit to the mainland (touring at traditional clubs), may have a reputation for being a bit of a polarizing comedic figure — hell, in this episode he straight up says he told his mom that a premise she tried out on him was hack — but he is a fascinating free thinker. This is the rare instance where the “broccoli” that Myq digs through is more fun than the ice cream.
Great listen. Highly recommended.
• One of the greatest benefits of waiting for baby is that our version of twiddling our thumbs is continually catching up on movies and TV. Well, at least that’s what I tell myself.
Here’s everything I peeped over the last seven days.
“Nope” (2022): For many, including myself, this was the most anticipated movie of the year.
It makes sense too. After “Get Out,” each Jordan Peele release has become the equivalent of a full-on cinematic holiday as he has since crossed over to modern auteur status reserved for the likes of Tarantino, Scorsese, Wes Anderson, PT Anderson and Greta Gerwig (Safdie Brothers, Taika and Spielberg may qualify too).
Full disclosure, Peele’s second feature, “Us,” blew me away. Most fans were mixed after the zeitgeist-y “Get Out” but I thought it was a fascinating meditation on society’s “haves” and “have nots” chock full of Easter eggs, subtext and food for thought.
Now, three years later, the more straightforward “Nope” is certainly more crowd-pleasing, more chock full of spectacle and more unabashedly fun even with its surprisingly heavy central thesis that “humans truly can’t tame anything other than humans unless there’s a true connection.” However, it rang a bit hollow compared to his first two features for me. I’d argue that that’s because “Nope” had a disjointed, shaggier “let’s see if all these cool ideas stick” vibe than its tightly plotted predecessors.
Less of a horror film- although not without its surreal scares- and more of a sci-fi flick in the vein of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Nope” follows sibling horse wranglers Em (Keke Palmer, knock your socks off charming) and O.J. (Daniel Kaluuya, something huge has to happen to get a facial expression out of him) on their ranch following a failed movie set gig where one of their equines kicked a crew member after being spooked.
Out of work and with tight funds, the two pin all their hopes on making money from “the impossible shot” of a strange cumulus phenomena happening above their grounds. With the help of a Fry’s Electronics installation expert who's also going through a breakup, they see a _____ (redacted for spoiler reasons) that ______ (come on, you think I’m going to tell you?).
REAL SPOILERS FOLLOW.
Rather than run to the city, the trio unwisely decide to stay behind and capture this elusive, untameable image on film using horses and motorcycles AKA every special skill an actor has at the bottom of their resume.
It was at precisely this moment that this fairly standard but well-made alien picture lost me. Heck, I even went along for the “let’s go viral on Oprah!” story line that is becoming such a screenwriting shorthand that I’d call it the ultimate “2022 hack.” Yet, the true moment I checked out was when our heroes, who could have easily led themselves to safety and completely avoided this classic “Man V. Otherworldly Nature” conflict, willingly chose to participate and risk it all. This isn’t horror or sci-fi, it’s silly. Hard to root for characters that seek out danger.
Although the third act was a bit far-fetched for my liking, I’d like to make it clear that Peele hasn’t completely lost his Midas touch. A subplot of sorts revolving around a fictional ‘90s sitcom called “Gordy’s Home” starring a chimp was far more disturbing, engaging and comic than our A story. In fact, in a perfect world, “Nope” would have been all about the terrifying isolated incident that took place on this sitcom set and the trauma it caused its child stars.
Final verdict: Absolutely see this movie in theaters to a) add to the discourse and b) keep original voices on the big screen. “Nope” may resemble a string of disparate ideas more so than a cohesive whole, but when it works, it’s crackerjack. When it doesn’t, the spectacle is still there. You just need to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride. Once again, can’t wait to see what Peele brings to the table next time around (In theaters all over the country).
*Kudos to Peele for the made-up SNL reference around the 30-minute mark. My comedy nerd heart skipped a beat. I’m sure Chris Kattan’s did too.
**The diegetic song switch at the wild west town where Steven Yeun points to his sound guy to click over to the next track was a top-notch nod to the awkwardness of live performance.
“Ape” (2012): If you’ve got a movie rec for me, let me know. I’ll watch. This past week, my pal Jake Kaye suggested I check out Criterion’s movie about a young pyromaniac stand up comic.
Couldn’t say no to that one.
Coming in at a swift 86 minutes, “Ape” is really a commentary on the futility of stand up comedy. How doing the same bits over and over rather than getting a job is a choice that attracts potentially dangerous people and not necessarily a calling.
Our humdrum story follows Trevor, a 25-year-old dead end comic who has increasingly bizarre visions offstage that affect his mental state. When he’s a bit more lucid, Trevor works on his material sparingly and spends most of his time doing whatever he pleases. Of course, he still feels slighted when the club, where he recites the same jokes nightly, decides he shouldn’t perform there anymore.
This is one of those rare movies that “sort of” gets stand up right. There is a lot of resentment, bitterness, repetition and mediocrity simmering at the fringes of the medium. In “Ape,” one might wonder why this club keeps putting up these awful comics night after night but sometimes that’s just how it is. Thus, it’s refreshing to see merely below average comedy portrayed realistically rather than “masterful'' or “out and out” bad which is usually the route movies and TV go down.
Final verdict: More cringe-y than funny, “Ape” is not for everyone. However, if you’ve ever had a below average set of comedy performing knock off Steven Wright one-liners you might find this scrappy, low budget indie endearing.
Otherwise, you’ll probably want to stay away from “Ape.” When the protagonist becomes unbearably violent, the movie crosses a line and becomes hard to watch.
“The Bubble” (2022): Remember when everyone said, “Don’t make a pandemic movie. It’ll age horribly”? This is why.
Judd Apatow attempted the impossible and tried to make a showbiz satire about action stars quarantining prior to filming a fictional tentpole franchise picture called “Cliff Beasts 6.” As noble as this experiment was, the jokes have gone from relevant to groan-worthy in just the two years since quarantining was a thing.
Having assembled a cast of ringers (Fred Armisen, David Duchovny, Leslie Mann of course, Karen Gillan, Keegan Michael-Key, Maria Bakalova, Kate McKinnon, Pedro Pascal, Iris Apatow of course and many, many more), you’d think that Apatow could wring a solid comedy out of these winning players. At times, he does. The poorly reviewed fake film starring Karen Gillan’s pretentious movie star character where Israel and Palestine come together to fight aliens is inspired. As is another gag where a group of actors watch YouTube tutorials mid-air to learn how to fly a helicopter. Heck, I even liked a sped-up, time-lapsed quarantine sequence quite a bit.
Yet “The Bubble” sags under its lifeless plot where we’re asked to sympathize with actors who are given the world in this remote castle but still act entitled and attempt to escape at every turn. Even if it’s supposed to be “funny,” it’s not easy to empathize with people who have it better than you.
Final verdict: As much as I wanted to like this meta movie, the weightless jokes about coughing on people and insufferable characters burst “The Bubble” for me. Sure, there’s a beating heart and glee to the movie but it only comes in small doses (Streaming on Netflix).
“The Kids In The Hall” season six (2022): Seemingly out of nowhere, the “Kids” are back for a surprise sixth season on Amazon. Heck, hearing the theme song alone made me feel all warm and fuzzy.
It’s great to see the gang back together in their advanced age too. Rather than serve as a cash grab victory lap, the five hit incredible highs in this eight-episode run showing no reservations about baring it all, donning drag, addressing how out of touch they are and mocking their previous work.
Chock full of laugh out loud highlights like McKinney’s Lorne Michaels, jabs at their ill-fated “Brain Candy” movie being stuck in garage sale hell, this may be the best reboot I’ve seen ever.
Don’t get me wrong- the series is far from perfect (I say this in everything I review). After a strong start to the season, a few episodes in the middle of the run don’t hit the high highs that kickstarted the reboot even if it’s easy to find at least a small detail to love in every sketch.
I’d diagnose the sketches that aren’t quite at the same level as being guilty of asking the audience to do too much mental math or simply being too random (the iPad charging sketch from episode two comes to mind) to truly just sit back and laugh. Comedy at its best is simple. Yes, make us think but not wrack our brains.
Still, there’s so much good, self-referential stuff (a pawn shop selling Kevin McDonald DVDs and the fourth wall breaking final sketch of the season roasting Gen Z’ers viewing habits are aces) here that it’s silly to dwell on what doesn’t work.
A few standouts include the intentionally navel gazing “last fax ever sent” which serves as a metaphor for the group being left out of the cultural conversation, the brilliant “Super Drunk” about a hero that can only fight while inebriated (started as a simple joke where a young girl asks her dad if he drinks builds into a full-blown superhero movie complete with Marvel comic panels) and the always escalating set piece about a guy who just wants to take a bath while complaining to customer service that his tub water never got “Hot hot. Just lukewarm.”
At times, this season was so meta, so good and so with it, that I got comedy chills. Not an easy feat. Occasionally, the gang will slip in a random pop culture reference that’s so off-game but somehow mocking and zeitgeist-y that it saves everything that came before that didn’t work. That’s a lot of what this show is. Brilliantly executed small moments.
Final verdict: Essentially a comedy about dads for their kids, “KITH” hasn’t lost a step. I can’t wait to see them satirize what it’s like to be 70, 80 and 90 in the coming years (Streaming on Amazon).
* Pete Davidson, Kenan Thompson, Mark Hamill, Will Forte and many more celebrities make brief remote cameos. They honestly add almost nothing to the series other than the fact that promotional materials can say all these huge stars appear. Honestly, it’s kind of a genius marketing trick.
*In addition to the eight-episode block, Amazon also released a two-part documentary about the Kids that is a fantastic companion piece to the show. Tracking the group’s formation in the early ‘80s to where they are now, it’s a complete warts and all picture— including a story about how they sued Dave Foley in the mid ‘90s — that only makes this new season better.
“Pam and Tommy” (2022): If the return of the “Kids In The Hall” wasn’t ‘90s enough for you, might I suggest the slick, re-enactment of the drama surrounding the world’s most famous sex tape?
Full of attention to era-appropriate detail like no one knowing what the internet is, this occasionally overly preachy but ultimately entertaining single-season yarn spinner posits the tale of “that VHS” as many different things. While the tape represents many things ranging from revenge to love to technological evolution, the series itself is just as multi-faceted. “Pam and Tommy” is the redemption story of Tommy Lee’s disgruntled contractor (Seth Rogen, mulleted) who gets in over his head stealing the tape without realizing the repercussions or having the foresight of how to profit off of this thing right as the internet takes form. “Pam and Tommy” is also the story of wholesome Pam and “so awesomely awful you can’t look away” Tommy’s rocky relationship from its odd beginnings where Lee stalked Pam all the way to Mexico to its end where they can’t see eye to eye on how to handle the tape once it becomes national news.
Along the way, there are quite a few inspired detours. Andrew Dice Clay, Nick Offerman, Taylor Schilling and Brian Huskey all get roped into Rogen’s scheme in one way or another. Pam and Tommy duet to “Getting To Know You.” An episode chronicling Anderson’s rise from a normal girl to the most famous face in the world. Uncanny valley Jay Leno interviewing Pam. While the series may be a bit short on out and out plot, many of these delights more than make up for what the series lacks in the story department.
Final verdict: “Pam and Tommy” is a treatise on ownership in the internet age. Before we had NFTs (lol), it was difficult to define or control who owned rights to property (and certainly still is). This central conflict keeps the motor of this always entertaining, easily digestible series running at a healthy clip (Streaming on Hulu).
* Did you know Pamela Anderson lost out on roles in both “L.A. Confidential” and the first “Austin Powers?” I didn’t.
“George Carlin’s American Dream” (2022): Yep, Judd Apatow directed TWO movies this year.
“American Dream,” his stylish four-hour love letter to George Carlin is a zippy, politically-fueled, angry as hell tip of the cap to one of the greatest stand up comedians and thinkers to ever perform.
It’s far superior to “The Bubble.”
Apatow and his co-director Michael Bonfiglio leave no stone unturned and showcase early clips from Carlin’s straitlaced suited up days to his time as the hippy dippy weatherman all the way to his latter day prophet years when he commented on gun regulation, vaccines (?!), censorship, religion and every other hot button issue that’s never left the cultural conversation.
That’s not all though. This two-part romp isn’t just nonstop Carlin praise. No, the viewer also gets a helpful heaping of honest to goodness truth about this complicated man whose father passed when he was eight. Carlin’s rough and tumble childhood clearly had an effect on him as he later retreated inward and became a cynical introvert who loved to write. In the movie’s most damning section, we learn he occasionally neglected his wife and daughter. One particularly harrowing scene about his wife on her deathbed shook me. Who knew a man known for such thoughtful comedy could be so selfish?
Final verdict: Ultimately, “American Dream” is supremely funny, tragic and entertaining all at once. Just like great comedy should be (Streaming on HBO Max).
*Looking for a shortcut to catch clips of classic comedians you’ve never seen? This is the gateway. Rather than going down a YouTube rabbit hole, this doc will treat you to Danny Kaye, Nichols and May, Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor footage. It’s Comedy 101, a can’t miss for any true geek of the form with gaps in their history of the form.
• Finally, your moment of zen.
Dana Carvey took over hosting duties for Jimmy Kimmel last week and interviewed old Quentin Tarantino who was on the show to plug his new podcast with Roger Avary.
In their 20 minutes together, these Gen X icons geeked out over video stores (Tarantino shared he was hired BECAUSE he was a walking film encyclopedia), zombies and best of all, Carvey acted out large swaths of “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.” If you’re a fan of either of these aging talents, their interview here is a blast.
OK, that should be it for a while. I think. Pretty sure
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