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This Week in Web Videos: 'Neighbors'

Do what you want all the time and, even when you're not funny, chances are you'll learn something about how to be funnier. That's the gist of the advice Jackie Jennings gives and after watching her great series Neighbors, it's pretty clear that this strategy works. So, learn about the science of comedy by taking some classes and reading some stuff (ummmm, this column much?!) and then, once you've got an idea that you believe in, don't listen to the haters and the blowhards and just make what you want. If you've got talent, seeds of your ability will be present in your earliest attempts at originality. If you don't, well…you can still read this column. READ MORE

Watch Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Scott Adsit, and More Improvise an NPR Show in 1997

Welcome to The Second City Archives, in which we post an exclusive clip each week of some of comedy's biggest superstars performing early in their careers on the legendary Chicago stage. Second City has generously given us a glimpse into their extensive archive of live performances, and over the coming weeks we'll be sharing some rare and retro comedy never before seen on the web.

For our final Second City Archives post of 2014, we're going out with a bang: a full 15 minutes of expert improvised goodness from 1997's revue Paradigm Lost featuring Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Scott Adsit, Kevin Dorff, Jenna Jolovitz, and Jim Zulevic staging a fake Chicago NPR show called Urban Wind. Fey plays the host of the banana-themed Urban Wind episode with Jolovitz as a sociology professor, Dratch as a pretentious creative writing professor, Dorff and Zulevic as folk musicians, and Adsit as a deceased German composer. Check out another clip from Paradigm Lost here.

The Young Standup: Brandon Wardell on Drake, Bob Odenkirk, and Taking the Unexpected Path

At 22 he may be young, but he looks even younger. With a recent move to Los Angeles from his native DC, Brandon Wardell's notoriety in the comedy scene is growing.

He was included as the opening act of Bob Odenkirk's latest album Amateur Hour and even featured on the album's cover — a dream for any young comedian. He's even begun to make the podcast rounds as a recent guest on the OMFG Earwolf podcast and The Todd Glass Show – listen if you are prepared to hear a Brandon Wardell song stuck in your head for days.

To understand his humor, read his Twitter feed of one-liners about pop culture, hip-hop, and the life of a standup that makes you wonder what you did in your early twenties. The backpack he carries around must literally and figuratively be full of potential material.

I recently woke Wardell up from a nap to talk about the Canadian drama Degrassi, starting standup, and what's next. READ MORE

How the New Movement Built a Comedy Scene from Scratch in New Orleans

The MC yells, “Please, sound like a million people for…!” and sweeps his arm as he announces the name of the improv group taking over the stage. This exhortation a familiar one to regular visitors to The New Movement Theater, a major player in the ongoing development of New Orleans’ comedy scene. Just that little tweak from the traditional  “Give it up for…” or “Please welcome…” affects audiences’ expectations, whether there are ten people seated or a full house. People respond to it and cheer like a multitude.

Tami Nelson and Chris Trew, the founders of The New Movement (TNM), have shaped their brand by challenging the expectations of what a comedy show and the scene around it looks like, how performers should engage their audience on and off the stage. They have two underlying principles: improv is a life force that can fuel all types of comedy, and that no one should have to leave New Orleans in order to build a national reputation in comedy. READ MORE

The Secret Society of John Hodgman

John Hodgman, comedian, author and generally knower-of-all-things, has a live comedy show that you probably have never heard of, because by design it is a secret. A Secret Society that is. Members meet in the basement of Union Hall in Brooklyn and are sworn to secrecy about the comedy, guests, song or anything else that might happen… or so I’ve been told. The only reason I was given this coveted information is because for the first time, Hodgman is opening his society to the public in “A Secret Society Meeting & Public Holiday Spectacle” on December 18th in New York. Though I’m not an official member, I was given a little insight into the secrecies of this society (which is NOT A CULT) when I spoke to the man himself by phone.

Hodgman: This is John Hodgman. Is that Monique?

This is Monique. How are you?

Good. It was fated that we should speak.

It was?

I mean, I found out a few days ago that we were going to talk and I accept that destiny happily and I’m glad that it has come to be.

As am I. Well, I will ask you right off the bat, if it’s not too much of a secret, can you tell us about Secret Society?

I noticed that you said, “Right off the bat” and right off the bat I have to tell you that using a sports metaphor of that kind will not get me to reveal my secrets. Next question. READ MORE

A Spencer's Gifts Manager Chastises the Staff, by Lucas Gardner

Alright guys, team meeting. Let's make this quick, 'cause we've got some fucking strobe lights to sell.

Listen, I can't be here to manage this Spencer's Gifts all the time, and I need you guys to be able to run things on your own when I'm not around. Quite frankly, this staff ain't up to par right now. Most of you come in late and leave early. Maybe you think I'm not able to see you coming and going when the fog machine is running inside the store, but I've been working in this store for four years and I can basically see right through the fog now.

I need you guys to put in a lot more effort around here. When I came in today the place was in goddamn shambles. First of all, the life-sized Ron Burgundy cardboard cutout up front had its BACK to the entrance. I know that this always confuses you guys, but if you can see the front of the Ron Burgundy cutout from inside the store, that means the foot traffic outside can't.

Whoever is in charge of stocking the shelves on any particular day, please GROUP THINGS APPROPRIATELY. Ask yourself, should the bondage kits be stocked next to novelty “Small Pecker” Condoms? NO! One is sexy, and one is funny. Please group them accordingly. The place is a mess. We got beer pong kits on the Family Guy T-shirt shelves, the fake dog shit next to the sex handcuffs, the body jewelry next to the Poo Identification Manual books. How is anyone gonna know where to find anything? Don't just throw merchandise wherever you feel like. This is a Spencer's Gifts, not a Goodwill.

If a lava lamp breaks on the floor, don't just fucking leave it. Please mop it up immediately. And it's not real lava, guys. I can't have my staff running for cover every time a lava lamp breaks, like you all did today when that customer's backpack knocked one off the display shelf.


Dan Soder and the Importance of Originality

Dan Soder’s comedy career began in small town Tucson, Arizona in 2004. “I did a joke about homeless people in Tucson, like the stock joke for beginning comedians. You notice homeless people and you’re like ‘No one’s really dove into this in the US.’ Everyone has dove into [the homeless joke]. But my joke was about being tricked by a homeless guy because I was high on pot and he was high on meth. And he tricked me.”

Soder says, “It was one of the first jokes I did that worked every time I did it, so I just milked that motherfucker 'til I realized the wrong I was doing. It took me moving to New York to wash the hack off. Tucson was a great place to start as far as stage time, but it wasn’t good as far as artistic development, comedic development.”

Indeed, his comedy has evolved far beyond his beginnings in Tucson. His recent credits include Conan, Comedy Central’s Half Hour and nightly standup all across New York City. He’s spent most of his time this year on the road and right now he’s gearing up for his next few weeks in Providence, Arlington, and LA for Riot Fest.

We talked at a diner near The Stand NYC, where he was headed for his first of three sets that night. READ MORE

'SNL' Review: Martin Freeman Comes Bearing Gifts

While watching this weekend's SNL hosted by first-timer Martin Freeman, I couldn't help but wonder what the show's original head writer Michael O'Donoghue might have thought of an episode that turned the recently released CIA torture report into jokes about autocorrect and Time Warner Cable, all while tens of thousands of people crowded the length of Sixth Avenue just outside the 30 Rockefeller doors in protest of police brutality and racism. Fans who abandoned SNL back in the '80s will be the quickest to point out that the show's satire hasn't had any edge since O'Donoghue left, but those of us still who still watch regularly know that argument isn't worth the frustration. The truth is, SNL is still packed with plenty of subversive humor and political bite — you just have to know where to look for it. Rarely does the cold open serve as a symbol of SNL's once-trademark "Not Ready for Prime Time" energy or a bellwether of alternative thought these days, but for its dogged lifetime fans, some of SNL's rising writers continue to serve up glimmers of hope hidden in pretaped segments and Weekend Update bits where they can't be cut in favor of another musical number, recurring character, or talk/reality show sendup.

Thankfully, season 40's writing problem was completely overshadowed by the energy of the performers and live audience during Freeman's episode this past weekend. Known for a mix of roles both dramatic (the Hobbit films, FX's Fargo, BBC's Sherlock) and comedic (the original Office, Edgar Wright's Cornetto trilogy, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), Freeman repeatedly pivoted from low-key straight man to a capable jokester on his own through adorable awkward dancing, fake saxophone playing, or public declarations of his love for Leslie Jones. Charming, versatile, and game to share (and sometimes completely give away) the spotlight, Freeman came to this episode with a commitment to even the weakest sketches that often saved them, along with MVPs Kate McKinnon and Taran Killam, in surprising ways during the last few seconds. The night had its fair share of duds, but it's worth noting that it completely avoided recurring characters and sketches and didn't rely on a single unnecessary celebrity cameo (sorry, Cumberbatch fans). On top of that we were gifted with two future Christmas classics (including a very Catholic slam dunk from writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider) that will get tons of play time at holiday gatherings next week, not to mention Sasheer Zamata's Weekend Update debut co-written with Natasha Rothwell, which proved to be more poignant and in tune with current events than any cold open of the year. READ MORE

@DanaCBell on Having Strong Visuals in Mind While Tweeting and Writing In All Caps

Dana Bell is a Los Angeles-based comedian who recently moved from Washington, DC after a summer in Yellowstone National Park. She has performed at Bentzen Ball, D.C.'s comedy festival. Bell is on Twitter as @DanaCBell, where you can find her thoughts on pop culture, descriptions of funny visuals, and things that are appropriate to write in all caps. Recently I spoke with Bell about three of her favorite tweets, the visual aspect of her jokes, and the Illuminati.

Bell: I have a real soft spot for all caps tweets. This is one of the few tweets I've also tried reworking for standup. I like the image of little sperms packing up the Subaru, realizing the value of adult friendship, maybe one of them deciding they're not going to sperm law school just because their dad wants them to. This fact really made me relate to sperm a lot more, and I hope it did the same for some other people too. READ MORE

'The Heart, She Holler' and PFFR's Insane Trilogy of Ignorance

The production company PFFR, headlined by the infinitely unconventional Vernon Chatman, John Lee, and Alison Levy, have produced some of the most unique, challenging, (and naturally) hated programs to have graced Adult Swim, a channel already known for different, more absurd programming. In the past, PFFR created such brilliant experiments in television like MTV2’s Sesame Street-skewing, public-enraging Wonder Showzen, the CGI New Age-spouting, low-rated Xavier: Renegade Angel, or the most “mainstream” of their programs, Delocated, a series whose star is wearing a ski mask and has his voice modulated for its entirety.

But their latest entry, the Southern gothic, soap opera-aping, The Heart, She Holler, almost immediately proved that it was going to be PFFR’s weirdest entry yet, what with the David Lynch infused universe it takes place in, where a deceased magnate talking to his kin through an endless supply of VHS tapes is the most grounded aspect of the show. But when it began (or endginned, your call) in 2011, it was far from clear that it would be the final piece of a trilogy that PFFR has been telling nearly since they began. A trilogy of ignorance, racism, and destruction that started with Wonder Showzen, developed through Xavier: Renegade Angel, and is now finally coming into focus and concluded with what the third season of The Heart, She Holler has had to say. READ MORE

Watching the Unaired Sgt. Bilko Pilot

Today, Phil Silvers’ legacy might be that his voice and TV persona were ripped off by Hanna-Barbera for the character of Top Cat. As a result, today’s generation is missing out on watching a truly unique performer with the ability to play a perfect fast-talking heel, who truly lived up to his nickname as “The King of Chutzpah.” Today we look in on the first time Silvers performed his most famous character Sergeant Bilko on film in the very rare, unaired audition show for what would become the classic Phil Silvers Show.

Originally titled You’ll Never Get Rich, The Phil Silvers Show (sometimes also referred to simply as Sgt. Bilko) featured a very straightforward premise. Bilko is stationed at a quiet Army base in the middle of Kansas, in charge of a rag-tag group of men who spend very little time actually doing their duty. Bilko is constantly trying to get rich quick whether it be with the help of his men, or through their wallets. The show was created by Nat Hiken, who was one of television’s first writer/producers. When the show started, Silvers’ career in film was just beginning to flourish, but his stage resume was long. Starting with vaudeville, and then working his way up to a Tony award winning Broadway actor, Silvers quickly made a name for himself as a very funny actor. He didn’t do standup, and according to a featurette on the It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World DVD, he wasn’t particularly funny in real life, but when in character the man knew how to milk every laugh out of an audience with a slow burn or a quick emotional turn to anger. READ MORE

Sketch Anatomy: Lucia Aniello Goes Behind the Scenes of Above Average's "Ghost Tits"

Welcome to our column Sketch Anatomy, where we ask some of our favorite comedy writers to choose any sketch — one they personally wrote or one from history they find particularly hilarious, notable, or underappreciated — to learn from a writer's perspective what separates a successful sketch from the rest.

For this week's installment of Sketch Anatomy we spoke UCB performer and Broad City writer/director Lucia Aniello for a behind-the-scenes look at her sketch "Ghost Tits." Starring Olivia Munn and Aniello's sketch comedy partner Paul W. Downs, "Ghost Tits" premiered on Above Average back in 2012 and currently has over six million views on YouTube. I recently spoke with Aniello about how she got interested in making comedy videos, where the idea for "Ghost Tits" originated, and what she's learned pulling double duty as both a writer and director for the internet and television. READ MORE

The Weasel Grows Up

The late 80s and early 90s were good to Pauly Shore. The Weasel — an alter ego born out of Shore's standup — became, for a time, more than just a character. The Weasel was a living, breathing thing whose mannerisms and catchphrases, like it or not, infiltrated the fabric of American pop culture. From the small screen to the big screen, there was no escaping Pauly Shore. Shore's new documentary, Pauly Shore Stands Alone, which recently premiered on Showtime, opens with archival footage from that wildly successful point in his career. But the film quickly shifts focus to the reality of today: Pauly Shore, age 46, dealing with the mundane pressures of adulthood while trying to manage a career in standup comedy. I talked to Shore the day after the film's television premiere about his motives for making the movie, life on the road and people's strange and intense connection with The Weasel.

Your documentary just premiered last night on Showtime. What's been the feedback so far?

People seem to be in to it, I guess. I just kind of look at my Twitter feed for my notifications, you know? People seem to like it.

Are you happy with the way it came out?

Yeah, I like the feel. Have you seen it?

Yeah, your people sent me a screener. I watched it last week.

OK yeah, so I like the feel of it. I like the honesty of it. I like the look. I like the music. I like the shots and I think the story is cool. People seem to relate to it.

This was something you directed yourself. What prompted you to do it at this point in your career?

I just thought it was at an interesting time. I mean, I think my story, a lot of people are going through. It's relatable — being in their 40s, taking care of their elderly parents, maybe not having the best relationships with family members and being alone. I thought it would be interesting doing it with the backdrop of this snowy Midwestern tour, telling this story as I'm cruising along and doing my thing, you know? I just thought that the timing was good and the fact that I was living at home with my mom, you know, people relate to that shit. It's the real thing. READ MORE

This Week in Web Videos: 'SingleDumb'

I'm self-centered, terrified of insects, and–I think–not the best kisser in the world. Those are three deeply personal things about me that I wrote on a blog read by THOUSANDS. Why? Because that's what writers do. We share very intimate details about ourselves and our innermost thoughts. Sometimes those thoughts are inarguably personal, like mine just were, and sometimes they're presented under the cloak of characters in our work. Either way, strong creative requires a suspension of an innate fear all of us have: to be seen as "other." Alexandra Kern has successfully suspended that fear. She lets her true self out, and that's why SingleDumb is not only worth watching, but also brave. Also, I'm not like a TERRIBLE kisser. I just don't love kissing and think I do other stuff better. Cool? READ MORE