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Second City's Finest: 31 Clips of Young Comedy Legends Before They Were Famous

Last year, we teamed up with Second City for a new column called "The Second City Archives," in which we debut a new and never-before-seen clip from the improv theatre's extensive archives each week featuring legendary performers of the past and present, from old-school throwbacks like John Belushi, Chris Farley, and Alan Arkin to today's comedy superstars like Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Keegan-Michael Key, Bob Odenkirk, and tons more. Together with Second City, we've unearthed over thirty classic clips so far, so this week we're taking a look back all of them: READ MORE

How 'Mad About You' Made One of the Boldest Bottle Episodes Ever

‘Genie in a Bottle’ is a recurring feature where each week a different bottle episode (an episode set entirely in one location, often designed to save money) from a comedy series is examined

“This whole scene is one shot. The camera hasn’t moved in twenty minutes.”

“What’s the big deal?”

The quote up above appears in the episode’s tag where Paul and Jamie Buchman are watching a movie together and Jamie is unimpressed by the film’s one-take approach. “The Conversation” is arguably an unpopular episode (and if you check out IMDB, a lot of users are quick to accuse it as being “boring”). It’s smart for the series to at least address this side of the argument in the episode’s closing moments, but in spite of this not being for everyone, it’s an incredible effort and a very atypical piece of television.

When Mad About Youentered its sixth season, the show introduced the idea of relative newlyweds, Paul and Jamie Buchman, giving birth to a baby daughter named Mabel. Stories were now heavily revolving around having a newborn, rather than the previous material focusing purely on their marriage. This evolution of their relationship opened a lot of doors for them, and allowed an episode like this to be attempted in the first place. Here Paul and Jamie have an uninterrupted 20-minute conversation in front of Mabel’s bedroom door, trying to train Mabel to learn how to sleep on her own. It’s an idea that Reiser and Hunt had wanted to attempt since the series’ conception, apparently.

When this episode was originally broadcast on NBC, it was even aired uninterrupted, with commercials airing only after the theme song and before the end credits (a move that felt like it was being implemented in Archer’s recent “Vision Quest” foray into the genre, but wasn’t, surely due to the increasing dominance of advertisers now versus then). The 20-minute conversation between Paul and Jamie outside the baby's room, filmed in one take, is shown straight through. There are absolutely no hidden cuts here like shows often have to resort to when attempting this idea. They did this all as one take, with the entire thing memorized, and if nothing else, that’s an incredible feat that just isn’t seen anymore. Murray the dog is even added briefly as an impressive piece to this Rube Goldberg-like machine that could break at any moment. READ MORE

A Discussion About Philosophy and Spirituality with Eddie Pepitone

On his new full length comedy album, In Ruins, Eddie Pepitone lives up to his Bitter Buddha reputation with passionate diatribes on everything from the cost of war to his ongoing existential crisis. Like a well-caffeinated sidewalk preacher, Pepitone delivers his sermon with an improvisational flow that can only come from a seasoned mind full of too many competing ideas. He is a true comic philosopher, willing to hold himself up to the evils and tragedy that he sees in the world. I talked to Pepitone about his search for spirituality, the little joys in life and what he would like to see more of in standup comedy.

You're a big advocate for meditation and the philosophical quest to become a better person. At the same time, you have a joke on the new album where you say that you got addicted to Vicodin because you couldn't afford a real vacation.

That's the constant struggle, man. It's classic. The enlightened part of us versus the primal animal in us that just wants pleasure. My whole life has been a struggle against instant gratification. Especially in today's world where you can go on the internet and see pornography, or order food to be delivered, or watch movies. Instant gratification is so unbelievable now. I'm so glad I quit smoking pot and drinking because if I was still doing that I don't think I would travel. I don't think I would be productive at all. My whole thing with getting high and all of that was just to zone out into pleasure. We can pleasure ourselves to death. One of the books I'm reading right now is called Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman and it's all about that. READ MORE

An Excerpt From ‘FUDS: A Complete Encyclofoodia’

FUDS began in 2012 as a parody menu satirizing the foodie scene, food blogs, and, mostly, pretentious food words. (The menu includes “thick crust stringer chunks,” “crab dorks,” and “sea sucklers towered over a seaweed sleeping bag and calmed with a menthol pillow.”)  Named by GQ as one of its “100 Funniest Things in the History of the Internet," the work of "Alfredo and Antonio Mizretto" has expanded to a whole book, FUDS: A Complete Encyclofoodia (From Tickling Shrimp to Not Dying in a Restaurant). Probably the most complete book ever written on cooking and eating not real food, the book, like the website, is actually written by Kelly Hudson (Thing X, Adult Swim), Dan Klein (Funny or Die, Comedy Bang! Bang!), and Arthur Meyer (The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon). Here’s an excerpt, “Kitchen Things.”

A lot of people think that cooking is just throwing a bunch of ingredients together and getting them all hot. That’s true, but there are plenty of tools that can help ease the process. Here are a few of our favorites. We recommend you spend a lot of money on them.

Air, Surfaces, and Space
The three most important things you’ll need in your kitchen are breath­able air, matter in the shape of surfaces, and spatial dimensions. Without air, you cannot breathe; without surfaces, you have no place to put the food; and without dimensions, you would be floating in an endless white void, and that’s no good for cooking.

Hands
Hands are the two things that hang off the ends of your arms. They’re great for grabbing, holding, throwing, placing, and tickling your food. You get them for free when you are born. They’re easy to maintain, too. Just remember to wash them at least once a week.

Spankler
For spanking food when it’s cooking too loudly in the pan. READ MORE

"I Was Just Kidding!": Offensive Humor and the Benefit of the Doubt

Last week, BuzzFeed reported that Jace Connors, the man who supposedly crashed his car on the way to terrorize feminist video game developer Brianna Wu as part of “GamerGate”, was really a “sketch comedian” who was playing a “character” and the whole thing was, in fact, a long, involved “joke.”

First of all, if you don’t know what GamerGate is, it’s probably better that way. Just go home and hug your kids and teach them to be nice. It is/was an online campaign that quickly turned into thousands of anonymous internet trolls sending death threats to women online. And more to the point, the Jace Connors case is the latest and maybe most high-profile example in a trend of people making news for doing controversial stuff and then saying, “But I was just kidding.”

The “I’m just kidding” defense I’m sure dates back to the earliest use of language, but I first became aware of it when people would accuse Jon Stewart of trying to make serious political points in Daily Show interviews and then hide behind the “but I’m just a comedian!” thing. In this case, of course, the issue is less whether he’s guilty of doing that (which he obviously is) and more a question of whether those means are justified by the end result of influencing political culture (which they are).

And of course there are many more controversial instances where the morality isn’t so cut and dried, like Bill Maher’s attitude towards Islam, or Charlie Hebdo’s practice of deliberately being offensive just because legally they can. There is a very real consideration in cases like these about where their motivation lies on the spectrum from “honorably using the art of satire to support free expression” to “assholes who actively incite hatred toward Muslims.” READ MORE

'SNL' Review: Business as Usual with Dakota Johnson

Two weeks ago, SNL's 40th anniversary reminded us what we love about this show. The routine scrutiny fell silent at the images that once captured each generation: the classic setups like "Celebrity Jeopardy," "Nick the Lounge Singer," and "Wayne's World"; the tongue-in-cheek smugness of regulars like Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin; the moments when endearing nobodies became stars before our eyes. We can complain that SNL lacks originality, but our hearts long for the familiarity we used to have, for the days when we'd pray for Chris Farley to crash into a scene or the TV Funhouse dog to drag the show away or Tina Fey to do the news.

As SNL falls back into business as usual, it's clear the show misses this familiarity too. Talented as they are, the current cast rarely produces the thrill we require to build anticipation and stay invested — not because they aren't as good as previous casts, but because they still haven't won over their generation of viewers. No one during the week says to themselves, "I can't wait to see Colin Jost do Weekend Update!" …other than Colin Jost, perhaps. This episode, with Fifty Shades of Grey's Dakota Johnson emceeing, featured several cast members each struggling to break through this apathy in their own ways, to varying degrees of success. And still, none of these live moments reached the comedic heights of the episode's isolated video segments, which are more the product of bold execution by writers and directors than a creatively gelled cast that functions in sync.

This chronic disconnect will be SNL's biggest hurdle as season 40 attempts to top (or at least, not topple) a towering legacy. READ MORE

Eudora Peterson (@Pjetey) on Twitter's Character Limit and Not Overthinking Jokes

Eudora Peterson is a New York City-based comedian whose work has appeared on The Hairpin, The Toast, and more. She currently runs Fashion What Ifs, a fashion advice video series on Jezebel’s beauty and style site Millihelen. Recently I asked Peterson to share and talk about three of her favorite tweets, and our conversation covered topics including writing in different personas, the strengths of Twitter’s character limit, and some of her material that’s made the jump from tweets to other media.

Peterson: Tweets written in character voices make me laugh, especially if the characters have an uncompromising and/or aggressive point of view. Alexis Wilkinson does it really well. People getting out of hammocks makes me laugh, too. READ MORE

David Letterman Says Goodbye to Mornings

The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)

As we move closer to the end of the long Letterman era of television, It’s interesting to remember that this will actually be the third time Dave has closed down a TV show. The second was in 1993 when Letterman said goodbye to NBC and relaunched his show an hour earlier on CBS (we covered that farewell over here). Today we look back at Dave’s first televised goodbye on October 24, 1980, when the experiment that was The David Letterman Show signed off one last time.

There are a few things that made The David Letterman Show different from Dave’s later shows. First, there’s the fact that it was 90 minutes. Eventually that was cut down to an hour, but that’s an extra two and a half hours of content they had to create every week. Second, there’s the fact that it was broadcast live. This leads to a much more vocal studio audience (apparently, knowing that their friends could be seeing it right then led to people wanting to make a lot more noise), and a few more flubs, though this could be due to the fact that Dave was so new to hosting. And finally there was the fact that it was on at 10am.

Despite all this, the tone of The David Letterman Show was much closer to his current show than it was to Ellen and the other daytime fare. The “Viewer Mail,” “Stupid Pet Tricks” and “Small Town News” segments began there, and continued across each of Dave’s shows, (he performed the latter earlier this week), Dave had an obnoxious buzzer installed by his desk that he would hit intermittently, and his dry and irreverent sense of humor was deeply ingrained into the program, no matter what time it was on. READ MORE

How 'Parks and Rec' Transcended its Mockumentary Roots

NBC’s Parks and Recreation ended its seven-season run Tuesday night and will go down as undoubtedly my favorite sitcom of its era. Created as a spinoff of The Office by writers Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, the first season mostly mimicked that mockumentary style and even slotted in the characters in very familiar tropes created by the show from which it was spun. Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope was a Michael Scott-type — well-meaning but ultimately grating and not adored by her coworkers — and Aziz Ansari as Tom, Rashida Jones as Ann, and Nick Offerman as Ron slotted into the Jim, Pam, and Dwight roles cleanly enough, of course bringing their own personalities to the roles. The results… were fine. Looking back I actually quite enjoy those first six episodes of Parks, the primordial stew phase of Pawnee that would eventually evolve into a uniquely developed world, but there was a flatness not well served by the mean-spirited mockumentary style of The Office.

When the show returned for its second season, gone was Leslie’s contempt for the smalltown bumpkins she served in her work (and Ron’s ill-fitting suit) and in its place came a deep love, capability, and commitment to her work that Michael never brought the Scranton (and Ron’s signature tucked in polo). As Schur says in an interview with the AV Club, “we realized early on that Leslie is not performing for anyone. Leslie is completely authentic through and through, she doesn’t care what people think of her, necessarily, or whether she comes off as cool, or any of the stuff Michael Scott or David Brent cared about.” Thus, when Schur realized that Leslie did not need to be performing for a camera, the conceit that she was being filmed fell to the wayside. READ MORE

Our Favorite Harris Wittels Podcast Appearances

The comedy podcast universe is ever expanding, not unlike the universe universe. We're here to make it a bit smaller, a bit more manageable. There are a lot of great shows and each has a lot of great episodes, so we want to highlight the exceptional, the noteworthy. Each week our crack team of podcast enthusiasts and specialists and especially enthusiastic people will pick their favorites. We hope to have your ears permanently plugged with the best in aural comedy.

Last week, the comedy world lost one of its own when standup and Parks and Recreation writer/co-executive producer Harris Wittels tragically died at the age of 30. To celebrate Wittels' life and work, this week we're dedicating our podcast roundup to some of our favorite Wittels podcast episodes over the years: READ MORE

This Week in Web Videos: 'Assassin Banana'


Casting celebrities does not a good project make, and thinking otherwise is a huge mistake. That's my web video rhyme. Seriously, though. Too many creators think that all they need to do to send a project into the stratosphere is attach a recognizable name, and that's so misguided. Celebrities, just like any talented performers, are great when they have great material. The key to making the most of talent like Scarlett Johanson or even Will Sasso is creating a project that can stand on its own two feet– or banana peels as the case may be–without them and then presenting it confidently to the famous folks you hope can help give your masterpiece its proper, deserved due. Banking on big names to save something from obscurity will never work. Success is driven by passion first, and the people on the marquis should come a distant second. If you build it, they may come, and if they don't, you've still got something worthy of the world's attention. Just ask Assassin Banana co-creator Jordan Rozansky. Well, we asked him, but you can read about it. Here… READ MORE

Trevor Moore and That Awkward Conversation with Your Parents About Your Comedy

Trevor Moore, founding member of The Whitest Kids U' Know, returns to television at midnight on March 6th with a brand new one-hour Comedy Central musical special, High in Church. The show was recorded live at the Gramercy Theater in New York and incorporates a full band, backup singers, dancing girls and some truly hilarious music videos featuring Presidential cat assassinations, drunk texts and Moore and his pals accidentally tripping balls at a midnight mass. I talked to Moore about the special, his conservative upbringing, and the latest news on The Whitest Kids U' Know. READ MORE

This 20-Year-Old Amy Poehler Pilot Is the Stuff of Comedy Nerd Dreams

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.

If you're mourning the end of Parks and Recreation today, Second City dug up an extra special clip for us this week that will help ease your sadness — a compilation of Amy Poehler scenes from a never-before-seen pilot from 1995 she starred in with Matt Dwyer and legendary Second City improv guru Del Close called RVTV. Not a whole lot is known about RVTV, so we reached out to Dwyer for some details:

I honestly do not recall where the concept came from. I know it was written by Adam McKay and Tom Gianas, who both went on to write for SNL and of course film and TV. Tom co-directed it. We shot it for a week up in Toronto.

Also, Del improvised constantly and was throwing in tributes to old greats like his Ken Nordine. I think Amy and I may have improvised less, but as with any group of improvisors working together, improvisation is going to happen. Del was constantly throwing in references to Lenny Bruce and the others of that era. The target audience for that show probably would have no idea who he was talking about, but I personally loved it. It was a a great deal of fun and I remember both Amy and I were thrilled to be working with Del. Del was an icon to all of us.

Dwyer says that despite not knowing why the pilot didn't move forward, "the one thing that was great and important to Adam, Tom, Amy, and myself was that we all got to work closely with Del, who shaped everything we did and everything to follow." This particular RVTV compilation includes some trademark Poehler freestyling, spot-on YouTube and Internet Age prophecies, and perhaps most importantly, a scene of Poehler getting Close to admit that he masturbates to Janet Reno whenever she's on television. Enjoy.

The Gospel According to Barley

Nathan Barley is like treasure. It’s a British sitcom that aired ten years ago, with six sweet episodes eviscerating urban tech-chic culture. I’m talking diamond-hard satire, the kind that makes you laugh with the bitter taste of bile in the back of your throat, and re-shapes your view of the world in the process. Before we had the word “hipster,” before YouTube existed, before smartphones and Facebook and Twitter, Nathan Barley drove a hot iron spike into the heart of our narcissistic, trivia obsessed, self-promotional, media-laden times.

But nobody seems to have heard of it.

On the North American side of the pond, anyway, the show never took off. I’m not saying that it’s as popular as One Direction over yonder, but Barley is respected enough that its tenth anniversary prompted an insightful and in-depth essay in The Guardian arguing for its continued cultural relevance and downright spooky prescience. Despite being a decade old, the show is just as cutting today. If you replaced the flip-phones with iPhones and tightened everyone’s trousers the show could’ve been shot in 2015 instead of 2005. READ MORE