Keeping Your Childlike Enthusiasm Alive with Janet Varney

janetvarneyJanet Varney's positive and generous attitude might be best exemplified by her Nerdist podcast The JV Club; in it the actress, producer, and writer interviews women in entertainment (and this summer, men) about their experiences growing up and how their formative teenage years influence their work and who they are today. In her often funny and sometimes emotional conversations Varney exudes warmth and an earnest curiosity to understand and share her guest's stories with her audience.

As a comedic actress Varney has made a variety of guest appearances in shows and movies like Kroll Show, How I Met Your Mother, and Key and Peele, but she might be best known to alt comedy fans for her work on Burning Love, in which she played the disinterested lesbian love interest of Ken Marino's pompous bachelor.

Varney also founded SF SketchFest with Owen David and Cole Stratton. The festival celebrated its thirteenth year in February with shows at nearly two dozen Bay Area venues.

This summer Varney has appeared on the relationship comedy You're the Worst and stars in the animated adventure series The Legend of Korra, which released its third season finale online on Friday.

I recently talked with Varney about The JV Club, Korra, SF SketchFest, and interacting with fans. READ MORE


Talking to Kumail Nanjiani and Jonah Ray About 'The Meltdown'

Meltdown_TopThe Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail premieres on Comedy Central tonight as an eight-episode, half-hour standup showcase based on the very popular weekly alt show hosted by Kumail Nanjiani and Jonah Ray in Meltdown Comics’ NerdMelt Theater and produced by Emily Gordon. The show will feature a range of comedians many of whom have appeared on the live show in the four years it’s been a part of the Los Angeles comedy scene including Marc Maron, Jim Gaffigan, Adam Scott, Maria Bamford, and Moshe Kasher.

I caught up with Nanjiani and Ray and talked with them about translating their show to TV, working with director Lance Bangs, and making the kind of show they’d never seen before. READ MORE


Brian Huskey on UCB, Improv, and Being a Character Actor

brian huskeyBrian Huskey might have once been "that guy," recognized for his work in commercials and film and TV, but the actor and UCB-trained improviser has built a career as a quick-thinking talent able to sink into a role — often a soft-spoken or buttoned-up character — that Huskey makes his own and twists into something more complex. Huskey played an empty-headed panelist in Onion News Network videos before he began appearing regularly as the unbalanced EMT Chet on Childrens Hospital, and he's been popping up in shows and movies all over, including a memorable scene in This Is The End and on shows like Workaholics, Parks and Rec, Bob's Burgers, and Veep.

Now, Huskey plays as a high school principal in Premature, a high-concept teen sex comedy from writer-director Dan Beers about a day in the life of overachieving and anxiety-ridden senior Rob (John Karna). It could have gone better: Rob ends a day of humiliation after having started it waking up to his mom walking in on him after he'd just had a wet dream, later being hit with a squirt gun full of piss, failing to nail a crucial interview with a Georgetown recruiter (Alan Tudyk) to his father's disappointment, feeling pressure from his friend (Craig Roberts) to have sex with the hot girl he tutors (Carlson Young), and blowing off his good friend (Katie Findlay) for the chance of losing his virginity, which he botches. Then he repeats it. Groundhog Day would have been the closest comparison to the premise of Premature were it not for Edge of Tomorrow, since, like the way Tom Cruise's character resets the day himself by dying, Rob resets it whenever he orgasms.

I talked with Huskey about the movie, improv, and how he's made a career of acting. READ MORE


'They Came Together': Beating a Dead Horse with Efficiency and Spite

they-came-togetherMade by smart, talented comedy people and starring smart, talented comedy people, They Came Together is a dumb movie. It's built on dumb ideas and executed as dumbly as possible, and that's the point. Slickly directly by David Wain and starring Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd, They Came Together is a self-assuredly dumb parody of the romantic comedy, intent on skewering the genre's worst instincts mainly by reproducing them in a biting tone dripping with mockery. To be clear, this movie doesn't give romcoms a good-natured roasting — it's straight up mean. Nearly every scene features a clever riff on the familiar beats of a romcom formula, and even when Wain's absurdist sensibility closest to his work in Wet Hot American Summer actively alienates, it's still a fascinating exercise in dissecting a genre.

The non-romcom rejects any sort of emotional investment in its characters — because they're not characters, really. Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler) reek of artificiality as genre types propped up by the only minimal charms of their actors, since even they aren't trying to draw you in. Poehler and Rudd commit themselves entirely to the movie's self-conscious tone, meaning they've traded their usual magnetism and — as Rudd especially has shown in romcoms in recent years — their capacity to inject specificity and authenticity into otherwise broad roles, for a suffocating degree of twee.

If it seems like Joel and Molly and just about everything else in the movie have been dialed to insufferable levels of meet-cuteness, it's all intentional: Co-writers Wain and Michael Showalter attack the genre by fully immersing the audience in the romcom's most cringe-worthy elements, exaggerating every available hackneyed trope and melodramatic plot point well past toleration. READ MORE


Carmen Lynch on Translating Comedy from English to Spanish and an Unexpected Career in Standup

carmen lynchNew York-based comedian Carmen Lynch didn't come to the city planning to do standup, but she's been at it for more than a decade. She's appeared on Comedy Central's Premium Blend, as a contestant on Last Comic Standing, and recently made her second appearance on Late Show with David Letterman. The Spanish-American comedian performs primarily in English and has also translated her deadpan, personal style of comedy to audiences in Spain and Costa Rica.

You can catch Lynch performing on A Night at Whiplash, the concert movie version of the popular live standup showcase Whiplash at UCB NY that we recently released via our digital distribution label, Splitsider Presents. The film also features performances from Eugene Mirman, Janeane Garafalo, Sean Patton, Jared Logan, Michael Che, and Sheng Wang.

I talked with Lynch about Whiplash, her recent appearance on Letterman, and how she fell in love with standup comedy. READ MORE


Trying to Keep Up with the Unstoppable J.B. Smoove

J.B. Smoove is a force to be reckoned with. The quick-witted, high-energy standup, actor, and writer, known for his role as Leon on Curb Your Enthusiasm, has been running on all cylinders the last few years, appearing in memorable TV and movie roles and in his first special for Comedy Central. He currently stars on The Millers and Real Husbands of Hollywood and is the host of the new season of Last Comic Standing, which premieres tonight on NBC.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Smoove about the new season of Last Comic, his love of standup, and his philosophy on work and play. READ MORE


Talking to Nick Frost About Dance, Passion, and 'Cuban Fury'

Nick Frost is putting himself out there. Just as his Cornetto Trilogy collaborators Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg are working on their own individual projects, Frost stars in his first solo lead role in the new romantic comedy Cuban Fury, a warm underdog story emphasizing the importance of passion and the value of challenging oneself.

Frost also lives the movie's message by taking on a technically-demanding role: Cuban Fury is a dance movie, and Frost plays Bruce Garrett, a former child salsa prodigy bullied into giving up his dream now living a safe adult life working for an industrial manufacturing company. Dance is a painful memory pushed firmly out of sight, until Bruce learns his charming American boss Julie (played by Rashida Jones) is into salsa. He dusts off his shoes and dons his sequined shirt once more but not without some significant stumbles.

Directed by James Griffiths, known for directing episodes of TV comedies like Up All Night and Episodes, Cuban Fury also features Chris O'Dowd as Bruce's thoroughly punchable rival for Julie's affections and Ian McShane as a seasoned salsa guru and Bruce's once-mentor.

I recently talked with Frost about the film, his rigorous dance training, and the challenge of embracing one's passion. READ MORE


Talking to Jillian Bell and Charlotte Newhouse About Their Comedy Central Web Series 'Idiotsitter'

Jillian Bell and Charlotte Newhouse’s Comedy Central web series Idiotsitter wraps up this week, with the series possibly seeing its odd couple of Gene, a super rich, under-house-arrest woman-child, and Billie, her uptight GED tutor, becoming friends, celebrating Gene getting her ankle monitor off, or burning down Gene’s mansion. The web series showcases Bell and Newhouse’s talents as writers and performers, adding to the two Groundlings’ growing credits. Bell and Newhouse sold a pitch of an arranged marriage comedy last year to MGM, and Bell has popped up in several high-profile comedies like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Bridesmaids, as well as in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (apparently he’s a fan of her role on Workaholics).

I recently talked with Bell and Newhouse via phone about their backgrounds in comedy, their writing partnership, and Idiotsitter.



Jason Bateman Gleefully Gets Away with Rule-Breaking in 'Bad Words'

Bad Words, an inappropriate exercise in audacity starring Jason Bateman, works exceedingly well if you'd laugh at a full-grown adult with life experience and a job stealing candy from a baby. Appalling, you say! Never, you say! Now imagine the adult swiping that lollipop, laughing in that baby's face, and moonwalking away. Even if you don't agree with the act, you have to admire their spirit.

More than confidently-directed by Bateman, Bad Words (his feature directorial debut) follows Guy Trilby, a casually mean but focused adult entrant to the national spelling bee — yes, the one usually meant for children. The setup is quick and painless for all but the parents of some disappointed eighth-grade Ohioans who attack Guy after he forces his way into a regional qualifier and ungraciously trounces his much younger competition. There should be no enjoyment in watching an adult handily beat and humiliate children (who lack the decades of practice and theoretical maturity Guy has), but Bateman can deliver a stinging one-liner like no other, and the way he recognizes his advantage, relishes winning, and shows off while doing it actually inspires awe in its audacity rather than disgust. Guy is LeBron James showboating at a kiddie dunk contest, and he's actually winning you over. READ MORE


Andy Daly's New Show 'Review' Is Sharp and Full of Promise

"Life. It’s literally all we have. But is it any good?"

Last night, this so very critical question was posed by Andy Daly’s earnest and committed life critic Forest MacNeil before taking on the life experiences of stealing, addiction, and the prom in the premiere episode of Review on Comedy Central. By MacNeil's patented five-star rating system, the experiences didn't fare well, but the pilot works as a highly successful demonstration of the show's central concept in action, and its blend of dark comedy and news magazine parody, sharp writing, and talented cast make it a very promising show with seemingly endless storytelling potential.

Based on the Australian series Review with Myles Barlow, Daly plays Forest MacNeil, a critic in the mold of an extreme George Plimpton, a consummate experiential journalist who sought out uncommon life experiences like those of extraordinary athletes for example, playing goalie for the Boston Bruins and writing about what it means and feels to do the thing so few of us experience.

Plimpton pursued that which sparked his curiosity, but MacNeil's activities are viewer-directed; it's less about him pursuing his interests to their highest possible levels of expression than being of service to (and at the mercy of) his viewership. Whatever you're curious about, MacNeil will do it. Review takes the life-by-proxy appeal of reality television to its logical conclusion by asking viewers what they want to see. Unlike critics who review movies (or TV shows) that you could see without reading a review, MacNeil often does what you or any other sane person wouldn't. READ MORE


Inside 'The Thrilling Adventure Hour' Podcast with Ben Acker and Ben Blacker

The LA-based monthly short-form comedy and variety show The Thrilling Adventure Hour is entering its ninth year in March, and as a self-proclaimed “new-time podcast in the style of old-time radio,” the show is ever-gaining in popularity and expanding into media beyond its live show roots. Last fall, creators Ben Acker and Ben Blacker released a graphic novel adaptation of the show, bringing their idiosyncratic sensibility that regularly mixes vaudeville humor, the tropes of old genre serials, arch wordplay, and catchphrase humor all wrapped in good-natured whimsy to the page and realizing characters like Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars and the time-traveling, Nazi butt-kicking Amelia Earhart in a new form. Thrilling Adventure Hour’s talented group of regular performers includes Paul F. Tompkins, Paget Brewster, Marc Evan Jackson, Busy Philipps, James Urbaniak, and John DiMaggio, and the show frequently draws talented guests like Nathan Fillion, John Hodgman, and Linda Cardellini.

I was able to talk to Thrilling Adventure Hour creators Ben Acker and Ben Blacker each via phone, and we discussed the show’s unique voice, collaborating with Welcome to Night Vale, and how they’re growing the Thrilling Adventure Hour world. READ MORE


'Key & Peele' Showrunners Ian Roberts and Jay Martel Talk the Third Season, the Writing Process, and Metta World Peace

Key & Peele wraps up its third season next week, and the dynamic sketch show continues to work like a well-oiled machine, delivering an impressive and idiosyncratic mix of sketches with strong performances from creator-stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele and pitch-perfect cinematic aesthetics from director Peter Atencio. Comedy Central has renewed the show for a fourth season, and credit must also go to executive producers Jay Martel and Ian Roberts. As showrunners, Martel — a television, film, and theater writer known for Strangers with Candy — and Roberts — writer, producer, UCB founder who executive produced Players on Spike TV with Martel — unite the disparate players around a common vision, oversee the writing staff, and represent the show to Comedy Central.

I recently talked with Roberts and Martel about their roles as showrunners, the writing process, and how Key & Peele has changed in its three seasons. READ MORE


Talking to Mike Birbiglia About Retiring 'My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend' and What's Next for Him

Mike Birbiglia isn't in love with standup comedy, and he's not exactly hot on the one-man show either. The workman-like storyteller says he's more interested in blending his favorite aspects of the two, as in his latest standup special My Girlfriend's Boyfriend, which came out on DVD, Amazon, and iTunes this week. In the show, Birbiglia offers his skeptical views on marriage as a through line to a series of stories on his own mortification and frustration in relationships, each executed with his self-deprecating wit and a surprising strain of earnestness.

I talked recently with Birbiglia about ending his 70-city tour of the show, the personal reactions of fans, and his desire to offer something more than just jokes.



How to Make a Successful Web Series with Natasha Leggero

On the spectrum of conceptual talk shows, Natasha Leggero’s Tubbin’ with Tash, which debuted last month on the YouTube channel JASH, is certainly one of the weirder ones, with its hot tub location possibly being the most conventional thing about it. Leggero is assisted by Moshe Kasher who plays her spa boy Pig Bottom, and the short-but-insane episodes have featured prominent comedians joining the host in her hot tub, which has led to memorable images like Reggie Watts twerking, Sarah Silverman using a tampon as a projectile, and Eric Andre getting naked, which is actually becoming business as usual for his talk show appearances.

I talked to Leggero recently about her show, her clothing optional rule, and the power of the hot tub. READ MORE