Splitsider

 
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The Inside Story of The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail

Meltdown_Top2“I’ve always been fascinated with the moment people go from being a just a group in a room to one unit – for me, that’s the most interesting thing on the planet,” says Emily Gordon, co-producer of The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail. “Movies do that, and church does that, and comedy shows do that, and I always wanted to make an environment where that happens.”

Every Wednesday night, it happens in an unlikely place: the dim, unfinished back room of a comic book shop on Sunset Boulevard. 

Just a few blocks east of Los Angeles’ biggest comedy clubs, the NerdMelt Showroom is home to one of the most welcoming and well-respected stages in the city. Over the past four years the theater’s flagship show, The Meltdown, has hosted hundreds of incredible lineups while cultivating a uniquely inclusive atmosphere, making it as much a clubhouse for comedy nerds as it is a coveted credit for comics. Hosts Jonah Rayand Kumail Nanjiani bring infectious energy each week, peppering recurring bits, unplanned tangents, and conversations with the crowd in between The Meltdown’s billed acts and frequent unannounced guests.  Fans know they’re just as likely to see a drop-in from Louis CK (or Robin Williams, or Sarah Silverman…) as they’re likely to be surprised by pies from the producers around Thanksgiving, or to be encouraged to dress up like their favorite comedians around Halloween. READ MORE

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Splitsider's Guide to the 15th Annual Del Close Marathon

It’s that time of year again: the week when improvisers from across the globe gather in New York for 56 consecutive hours of shows (and parties) sponsored by the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. The 15th annual Del Close Marathon promises to be the biggest yet, with 420 slots featuring house teams from the country’s best theaters (including iO and Second City), indie favorites (like LA’s Shakedown and NYC’s Gadget), reunions (fwand and Mother!), supergroups (Let’s Have A Ball, TourCo Allstars), and, of course, plenty of late night insanity (three words: Match. Game. 76.).

It's a lot to take in, but we're here to help. READ MORE

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Talking to Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts About His New Movie 'The Kings of Summer'

Chances are, at some point while you were in high school, you wished you could run away from home. And chances are, your escape fantasy was just that: something you spent your time planning and never carrying out. But…what if you did? The Kings of Summer – a uniquely comedic coming of age story that’s become one of the season’s most anticipated indie releases – imagines exactly that.

The film’s director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, is well-known for his collaborations with comic T.J. Miller. Most recently, the pair teamed up on Comedy Central’s sketch/stand-up experiment Mash Up, and their 2010 short, Successful Alcoholics, showcased the director’s ability to blend dark comedy with sincere drama. His first full-length film is a tonally similar yet much more complex masterpiece. Set in rural Ohio, The Kings of Summer follows three teens attempting to expedite the onset of adulthood: best friends Joe and Patrick (Nick Robinson and Gabriel Basso), high schoolers whose families are preventing them from finding their own voices, and quirky interloper Biaggio, an enigmatic and endearing weirdo (former Hannah Montana star Moises Arias). READ MORE

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Go Backstage at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival with Andy Peters' Wandertown Podcast

The sixth annual Bridgetown Comedy Festival brought over 200 comedians (and about as many shows) to Portland, Oregon, last weekend, but don’t be bummed if you weren’t able to make it – you’ve still got a chance be a Bridgetown VIP thanks to Andy Peters’ Wandertown podcast. Wandertown, presented by CleftClips and Soundcloud, captures a cross-section of festival life with dozens of interviews, clips from shows, and chronicles of Peters’ Portland adventures, from taking a tour of the city with local comic Ian Karmel to hanging at a strip club with Byron Bowers and getting (lovingly) harassed by Todd Glass.

The affable, absolutely hilarious Peters spent four sleepless days trekking across Portland to capture shows, parties, and hangover-fueled food truck adventures, and the resulting recordings capture Bridgetown life so thoroughly, it’s almost better than actually being there. Pretend you’re spending the afternoon playing pinball with Andy Haynes, or touring Chinatown with Dan St. Germain; sample some of the festival’s eclectic shows, like Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction and An Early Afternoon with The Simpsons; hear music from Reggie Watts and Drennon Davis; get rowdy at a late night open mic with Ron Lynch. But first, start by learning Bridgetown’s origin story from festival founders (and standups) Matt Braunger and Andy Wood: READ MORE

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Talking to Craig Rowin About 'Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell'

Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell, which premiered last night at midnight on Adult Swim, is the first live-action offering from Dave Willis and Chris "Casper" Kelly, the minds behind cult hits like Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Squidbillies. Based on a pilot the duo originally created back in 2010, Your Pretty Face is an sharp comedy that's equal parts Alighieri and Gary Larson, a glimpse into the lives of office workers who just happen to have the worst boss ever — Satan.

You've probably heard of Cerberus, the hound who guards the entrance to the underworld, but what about the masturbating spider who lives in Satan's office? Sure, getting into the afterlife is as easy as crossing a river, but what about getting a prestigious internship with a demon-in-training? Your Pretty Face follows mid-level incubus Gary (Henry Zebrowski) and his intern Claude (Craig Rowin) as they placate tortured souls and deal with their boss, the devil (Matt Servitto). The quarter-hour comedy blends The Office's trademark celebration of the mundane with the trippy visuals of Tim & Eric and the absurdity of, well, Willis and Kelly's other projects, and the result is a practical guide to the afterlife that puts Ovid's Metamorphisis to shame.

Actor, improviser, podcaster and TV expert Craig Rowin — who plays ambitious intern Claude — tells us why Adult Swim's latest show is more than just a pitch-perfect, and perfectly absurd, parody. READ MORE

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Checking In with Parks and Recreation Halfway Through Season 5

Consistently one of the funniest shows on TV (based on a scientific method averaging laughs per minute over well-placed callbacks per episode), Parks and Recreation has already hit some significant milestones halfway through its fifth – and, hopefully, not last – season. As Leslie adapts to life outside the Parks and Rec office, Ron pulls free from the Tammys, and Ben, Tom, April, and Andy all start getting serious about their own five-year plans, things are evolving across the board. And while all the big life events lead to occasional emotional moments, they’ve been perfectly balanced by the absurd things we’re learning about Pawnee – and the strength of the writing staff and cast.

Parks continues to escape the Office traps of repetitive storylines and forgettable subplots, partly because big challenges are so central to each character’s continued evolution. So when this season started out with Ben (Adam Scott) and Leslie (Amy Poehler) long-distance dating, we knew it would all work out somehow. It seemed inevitable, after the exuberant City Council win that capped off last season, that Leslie’s sky-high aspirations were due for a reality check. And following his expert management of her campaign, it’s only natural that Ben’s rollercoaster career was about to hit another peak. The first few episodes showed an increasingly meek Leslie almost drowning in shady City Hall politics while Ben fended off job offers, and the portrayal of everyone’s favorite public servant in such a downward spiral was almost uncomfortable to watch. But by episode four – “Sex Education,” in which Leslie defies conservative critics while teaching proper condom use to senior citizens – everything was almost back to normal. By episode five, “Halloween Surprise,” it was even better. Which leads us to the season’s three biggest developments: READ MORE

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Checking In with 'New Girl' Halfway Through Season 2

Back in 2011, I was skeptical about New Girl. It’s no surprise that a sitcom built to showcase Zooey Deschanel’s cutesy-cool charm might suffer some initial snap judgments, and I’ll admit, it took a few episodes for me to really fall in love. But a season and a half in, it’s clear the show’s skill in exploring – and poking fun at – its own sweetness has made it a deservedly stand-out series for FOX.

Season One started with a simple premise: what happens when a super cute, super sheltered girl finds herself newly single and shacked up with a trio of handsome (and heartwarmingly sweet) new roomies? New Girl found its voice early on, with episodes like “Wedding” throwing everyone into character-establishing moments, and those more focused on the ensemble, like “Kryptonite,” playing with the show’s perfect storm of quirky personalities (despite all else, we know we’re dealing with the kind of people who love planning elaborate pranks). As months passed, more serious storylines (Schmidt and Cece’s secret romance, Nick’s cancer scare and romance with Caroline, Jess’s rebound with divorcée Russell) tested the cast’s and writer’s abilities to add surprising edges to seemingly exhausted topics (temp jobs, paying bills, weird dates). Judging by the fact that they earned multiple Golden Globe and Critic’s Choice Television Award noms – Deschanel even took home the CCTA for Best Actress in a Comedy Series – it seems they succeeded. READ MORE

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The Year in Comedy Movies

A year ago, we reflected on a raunchy, female-dominated, fairly diverse year in comedy and concluded that 2012 would likely bring a similarly strong crop of films. Coming out of 2011’s Bridesmaids-induced box office boost, 2012 promised eagerly awaited new works from Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Woody Allen; plenty of reboots and sequels (The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, The Amazing Spider Man, MIB3, 21 Jump Street); an end to Twilight; and the birth of The Hunger Games and The Hobbit.  Among all the action, young adult, and animated films rolling out each week, comedy fans didn’t have quite as many premieres to look forward to; but though there may have been fewer high profile comedies on the charts, 2012 saw several unexpected highlights, a spike in independent releases, and a marked increase in the attention paid to expanding the comedy lineup at acclaimed festivals like Sundance, Cannes, and SXSW.

As is usually the case, most of the year’s big box office comedies – or, at least, those with the biggest advertising and production budgets – weren’t necessarily the most favorably reviewed. Kevin James’s Here Comes The Boom, Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection Program, and Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator catered to fans of each actor’s respective, mechanical styles; The Three Stooges, American Reunion, and MIB3 cashed in on nostalgia; and stacked casts helped make otherwise tepid offerings like The Watch, The Campaign, and Seven Psychopaths more palatable. Ted, on the other hand – Seth MacFarlane’s raunchy teddy bear bromance – garnered surprisingly positive reviews among critics and harder-to-please comedy fans alike, earning the coveted title of Highest Grossing Comedy of the Year. The third highest grossing film (after MIB3 in second place), 21 Jump Street, was another highlight: after its premiere at SXSW, the remake went on to earn a Critic’s Choice Award nom for Best Comedy. Also ranking in the top 100 most profitable films of the year? Teen movies with adult appeal, like glee club dramedy Pitch Perfect and high school party jam Project X. And as we head into the last days of 2012, one of the year’s most anticipated films is finally hitting screens: Judd Apatow’s semi-autobiographical semi-sequel This is 40, released last week to mixed reviews and featuring a supporting role from Albert Brooks that’s got Academy Award speculators going crazy. READ MORE

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Talking to Eric Idle About the Absurd World of 'What About Dick?'

Picture a cast of actors, reading from scripts on a stage — dressed in vintage gowns and dapper suits, some are settled into plush velvet chairs, while others stand in pairs, emoting earnestly in front of oversized chrome microphones. A narrator, all British charm, nudges in between brief musical numbers and bursts of smart, anthropological humor that trusts the audience to catch up with its mile-a-minute wit. Sound like something straight out of an old-fashioned radio play? Now, add some of the most brilliant comic minds in the world, throw in a heaping dose of satire, and you’ve got Eric Idle’s latest project, an 80-minute experimental play titled What About Dick? 

Writer and performer Idle — known for his work on Monty Python, and for co-creating the musical comedy Spamalot — translates the classic feel of a radio serial to the screen with this show, originally a live production that’s been recorded and released online directly through Idle’s own site. This past April, the comic treated Los Angeles audiences to an absurd live show starring some of the UK’s (and the world’s) brightest comic minds; the former Rutle shared the stage with Russell Brand, Billy Connolly, Tim Curry, Eric Idle, Eddie Izzard, Jane Leeves, Jim Piddock, Tracey Ullman, and Sophie Winkleman for Dick’s four night run, each show uniquely different from the next thanks to improvised additions and unexpected riffs.

Dick has literally everything, from an all-star cast to a completely indescribable plot that’s been summed up by Idle himself in strings of comparisons including “Oscar Wilde on acid,” “Downton Abbey, only funnier,” and “an Emotion Picture for Radio.” The script is full of meandering metaphors and veiled meanings, rife with staples of British humor like bawdy innuendo, politely biting political commentary, and a heaping dose of absurdity — the whole thing’s narrated by a piano, for example. While the finer points of the play’s class humor might be lost on those with less than a working knowledge of the noble hierarchy, the script is peppered with cross-cultural, au courant political jabs (like a dismissive reference to Sarah Palin, or slanging “taking a Donald Trump” for “taking a dump”) and pop culture critiques (RE. the Kardashians: “Is that some kind of disease?” “Yes.”) READ MORE

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Talking to Sean Patton About Standup, His New Album, NY vs. LA and Creating a Web Series

Few comics can win over a room quite like Sean Patton; the Louisiana native literally captivates crowds, pacing back and forth as he unfolds stories and punctuates them with winks and grins. Recently, he’s headlined festivals and made late several night appearances — you may have seen him on Live at Gotham, or on Fallon or Conan — and this week we’re celebrating the release of his debut album, Standard Operating Procedure (available on iTunes and CD).

The record showcases his range; he relays tales of love and family, shitty jobs and smoking weed, with the same electric energy as beatboxed bits and calculatedly grating impressions. While there’s no substitute for seeing him live, Standard Operating Procedure is the next best thing, and his packed tour schedule means you won’t have to wait long til he’s in your city (and soon, you’ll be able to see him online – more on that below).

Check out clips from the album, and read on for our interview with Patton: READ MORE

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The Chris Gethard Show's Connor Ratliff Reflects on His Presidential Campaign

As election season becomes election month, top contenders are focusing on tying up swing states and trying not to tank debates. Connor Ratliff, the official presidential candidate of The Chris Gethard Show, has other priorities: putting the finishing touches on his new documentary, Old Enough To Be President: Connor Ratliff's 35-Year Journey To The White House (which premieres October 15 at 92YTribeca).

Ratliff’s campaign began as a one-off video for public access talk show TCGS, and quickly blossomed into a full-blown political powerhouse, branching out to include national events, a full staff, and celebrity endorsements. His platform is simple — he meets the Constitutionally mandated minimum age for candidacy — and his resolve hasn’t wavered over his 14-month campaign.

“In many ways the campaign has been about sheer narcissism. There’s a feeling of entitlement, that just because I’m old enough, therefore I should be president,” Ratliff explains. “I’ve always been amused by the specificity of the presidential age limit. I’ve always thought that’s a funny, mundane thing in the Constitution, it always just seemed like, why 35? There is an element of making fun of that: the Founding Fathers put the number 35 in the Constitution. therefore it must have been the perfect number.” READ MORE

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All Improv, No Sleep: Inside the 14th Annual Del Close Marathon

When you’re surrounded by several hundred sweat-drenched people on a New York City sidewalk for hours at a time, you don’t expect to see so many smiles. Unless, apparently, the crowd’s waiting to catch a taping of celebrity quiz show Match Game ‘76, or an X-rated pantomime performed by chanting robots, or a brilliantly threaded 30 minutes of completely improvised comedy — or all three in the same hour. Last weekend, a small army of exuberant fans streamed into the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (and several nearby spaces) for all this and more, courtesy of the 14th annual Del Close Marathon, a sleepless weekend celebrating improv at its sharpest — and its most pointedly absurd.

Months before the 2012 lineup was even released, marathon veterans wondered whether the event was finally about to reach its well-deserved tipping point. What began as a single theater production honoring the memory of late comedy innovator (and UCB muse) Del Close has grown to a 54-hour-long, caffeine-fueled comedy overload spanning multiple venues (and an official off-site party space, now famed to the point of being essentially inaccessible during the weekend’s peak hours). DCM features acts from training centers and cities across the globe, with a focus on local New York teams and alumni of the UCB’s bi-coastal courses; for many improv fans, it’s a highly anticipated chance to catch mind-expanding talent and discover new favorite groups, and with each festival season its core audience visibly grows. This year, the UCB’s new East Village outpost stretched the marathon across Manhattan, and more slots for headlining acts — like a 30 Rock staff supergroup, multimedia sketch masters BriTaNicK, and public access hit The Chris Gethard Show – filled the School of Visual Arts’ two Chelsea auditoriums for a grand total of seven stages (up from last year’s five). It’s no surprise programmers prepared for a much larger crowd than usual — the lineup featured over 100 more performing groups than in 2011 and, while the audience tends to be heavily populated by participants, general wristband and single-ticket sales were also up. READ MORE

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What to Expect When Dave Chappelle Does a Surprise Show in Your Town

Following an abrupt departure from his wildly popular (and still widely quoted) sketch show, stand-up/actor Dave Chappelle has managed to maintain a relatively low profile. Though he’s opted to stay out of the spotlight, he still does badass things like decide, on a whim, to ride his motorcycle across the country for a secret run of shows. Earlier this week, with less than 24 hours notice, Chappelle scheduled and sold out Austin’s 1,200-seat Paramount Theater. It was a rare opportunity to witness the emotional and intellectual growth of a legendary act, but unfortunately, the audience was mostly there to see the Prince-mocking Half Baked star’s greatest hits. When the toned-down comic who took the stage wasn’t quite what they expected, the show became less of a performance and more an awkward back and forth between Chappelle and the crowd. Understandably, people were pissed, and in the days since, there’s been a lot of blame placed on the audience, the venue, Austin in general and Chappelle himself, but the bottom line is, it’s been nearly a decade since we’ve seen much of Chappelle, and things have changed: READ MORE

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Surviving Bonnaroo

Within an hour of arriving at Bonnaroo, I‘d stumbled into a smoky circle of kids from Annapolis. Across from me sat a shirtless boy who, between long draws from a Camelbak, kept loudly referencing The Tao of Pooh; to my right, one showing off the glass pipes he’d picked up at a roadside 3-for-1 sale. I checked my phone: still no service. With about 75 more hours of festival to go, this did not bode well.

A cross between Woodstock and spring break (circa 1998), in its ten-year run Bonnaroo has earned a reputation as a drug friendly hippie holiday, a completely immersive experience as focused on fostering good vibes as on curating an eclectic lineup. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the four-day music and arts festival, held annually on a Manchester, Tennessee field known as “The Farm,” though I had a feeling it’d be something like this: READ MORE