Tag Archives: Comedy

Interview: Martin Olson: A Writer’s Life

Martin Olson

It is another night of bright lights in the big city when a tall dapper gentleman strides into Musso & Frank Grill, Hollywood’s legendary restaurant, frequented by stars of today and ghosts of yesteryear. This is Martin Olson: comedy writer, TV producer, bestselling author, playwright, stage director, composer and poet. Here I am, with a reservation at the Three Stooges booth, across from the Charlie Chaplin booth and the Marilyn Monroe booth. I wave Martin over to join me and Jennifer. We’re in town for a bit and honored at the chance to get together for this interview. Mr. Olson is a very busy, very talented, and very nice guy. If you see a publicity photo of him frowning (see above), that’s part of an act. He is really nice. I don’t know if I should be telling you this, but I’m putting it out there just so you know.

Hunson Abadeer

By the way, among the various credits that Mr. Olson can point to, he will forever enjoy a place in pop culture history as the voice of Hunson Abadeer (aka the Lord of Evil), ruler of the Nightosphere, and father of Marceline the Vampire Queen (Olson’s daughter, Olivia, is voice talent) on the legendary animated series, “Adventure Time” on Cartoon Network.

“Rocko’s Modern Life”

Encyclopedia of Hell,” Olson’s popular and critically-acclaimed satirical book will continue in a new book in 2018. We chat about that. We discuss the Boston Comedy Scene which Olson helped form. And another fun item is a reunion of the original cast of the landmark animated series, “Rocko’s Modern Life.” Olson was part of the writing team behind a new one-hour TV special that will run in 2018.

“Encyclopedia of Hell” by Martin Olson

When the subject of writing, or any form of creativity comes up, people usually seek some insights and tips. We tackle that sort of stuff here too. So, sit back and enjoy this podcast. Given the nature of our talk, more in tune with a conversation over a meal, it is split into two sections: one before dinner and the other after dinner. Oh, dinner was great, if you were wondering.

Click the two links below to go to Part One and Part Two:

Visit Martin Olson right here.

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Filed under Adventure Time, Comedy, Humor, Interviews, Martin Olson, Olivia Olson, writers, writing

Review: THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK

THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK

I still remember the sting and utter humiliation during an improv class when I was asked to tell a joke and I froze. I thought I knew what to expect from acting and improv but I wasn’t ready that night to tell a simple joke! Now, I have discovered a fine book that I wish I had with me all long: THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK! This book will save your comedic bacon no matter what your age and is published by Downtown Bookworks.

Page from THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK

There are more than 600 puns, knock-knocks, one-liners, riddles, gags, and tongue twisters! Use it at parties. Use it on dates, depending on the date, of course. And definitely use it to bring a smile to anyone’s face. How about a way to get a rambunctious kid’s attention? Everyone loves a good joke. This book is chock full of them in an eye-popping colorful presentation.

Page from THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK

As you can see from the samples, these are smart and funny jokes. A little here about the authors: Noah Smith is a comedy writer who has worked for Saturday Night Live; Sarah Parvis is a children’s book author; and Michael Robin is an author and librarian.

THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK is a full color 176-page trade paperback for ages 6 and up, published by Downtown Bookworks. You can also find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comedy, Comics, DC Comics, Downtown Bookworks, Humor, Jokes, Super Heroes

Interview: Mike Capozzola and ‘Evil Cyborg Sea Monsters!’

Mike Capozzola and “Evil Cyborg Sea Monsters!”

Mike Capozzola is a unique hybrid, a cartoonist and a stand-up comedian. He’s a professional in both for over 20 years. In fact, the two passions are inextricably linked. I enjoyed his set this last Saturday at Seattle’s Comedy Underground. Mike is based out of San Francisco and maintains a busy schedule so it was a real treat to get to catch his act while he was in town. I asked him about his process, specifically about a bit where he describes weird yet appealing movie scenarios, ending each description with, “Yeah, I’d see that.” I came to find out that this movie routine originated as a drawn-out cartoon. The concept as a cartoon did not seem to work. But, when he performed the material on stage, Mike found what he was looking for.

Mike kicked off his first night at Comedy Underground with his ongoing pop culture extravaganza, Evil Cyborg Sea Monsters. This is a multimedia show featuring all the things that us geeks enjoy: sci-fi, superheroes, and monsters. As Mike said during our talk, geek culture is everywhere today but it was a hard-won identity for kids growing up in the ’70s and ’80s. It wasn’t so cool to be a geek back then. That said, we can all freely celebrate being a geek now, like we kids from yesteryear could only dream of.

Mike Capozzola at the Comedy Underground in Seattle

The last time I had one of these free-for-all chats with Mike, I offered up the topic of leaf blowers. He had no problem with them. I took the opposing view. Sure, it’s an honest job but, to my mind, the art of leaf blowing can be overdone. I contend that rakes make for a sensible and quiet alternative for much of these tasks. Anyway, I tried a different tack this time and brought to the table the intrinsic character of Seattle. Given that it’s my hometown, I felt it fair for me to say that there’s some truth to stereotypes regarding a certain coolness and reserve to the natives. Capozzola, based upon is observations, took the opposing view.

Is Seattle Sweet, Bitter, or Just Right? That’s what I’d call our lighthearted search for Seattle’s soul. Overall, I think that my friend here was picking up some strong frontier vibes. And I can’t deny him that joy. Seattle does offer the comforts of urban living in close proximity to an abundance of natural wonder. Mike wanted to take the more sunny view of things too. And it was challenging for me to pursue my case that Seattle is too prim and proper while we were chatting outside in Pioneer Square, hands down the rowdiest part of town. Ongoing hijinks near us just played into Mike’s hands.

We had time to dissect a few other things too, namely Trump. Mike had this to say: “The day after the election, so many people felt defeated. Many thought they could turn to art. For comedians, this meant war. I remember Trump for the last thirty years as being treated as a punchline by the tri-state area media. To see it come to this is wild. It’s like the local screw-up, or Ronald McDonald, or a sled has suddenly become president. He’s given voice to a fringe element in the same way that you’d unlock a mystical box and unleash an ancient curse.” That, my friends, says it all. We chatted about how those of us in the Gen X demographic feel unfairly sandwiched between the mighty Baby Boomers and the Millennials. We were misfits to begin with so it figures. And we decried the overall lowering or lack of standards we live with today. Maybe America deserves a pro wrestler or Mark Wahlberg as their next president.

Contact Mike Capozzola with any questions, such as doing commissioned work or presenting his Evil Cyborg Sea Monsters show, at his website right here.

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Filed under Comedians, Comedy, Comedy Underground, Comics, Donald Trump, Geeks, Mike Capozzola, Monsters, pop culture, Seattle, Stand-up Comedy, Superheroes

Movie Review: ‘Toni Erdmann’

Peter Simonischek plays the role of Winfried Conradi (alias Toni Erdmann).

Peter Simonischek plays the role of Winfried Conradi (alias Toni Erdmann).

The poet, Philip Larkin, advised “don’t have any kids yourself” in his celebrated poem on parenting, “This Be The Verse.” In the film, “Toni Erdmann,” the dynamic between parent and child is explored to heroic, and hilarious, levels. Ines Conradi (played by Sandra Hüller) is all business and seems to be doing well in her corporate career. But her father, Winfried Conradi (played by Peter Simonischek), thinks he knows better.

Ines Conradi (played by Sandra Hüller)

Ines Conradi (played by Sandra Hüller)

Ines’s father knows his daughter is terribly unhappy and he aims to fix that. Part of his plan is to amuse her with his jokes. But the jokes keep getting more and more elaborate to the point that he dons an alter ego, Toni Erdmann, made up of fake clown teeth, fright wig, and nonstop blustering. It’s pretty maddening and just a matter of time before something has got to give.

“Toni Erdmann” is written and directed by Maren Ade. It is nominated for an Academy Award this year for Best Foreign Film. And it so inspired Jack Nicholson that he has come out of retirement to play the lead, alongside co-star Kristen Wiig, in the upcoming American remake. Indeed, there is something special about this film so go seek out the original. But be prepared for a European view that certainly runs counter to your typical mainstream American big studio movie. But if you enjoy offbeat/absurdist humor, then this is definitely for you.

"Toni Erdmann," written and directed by Maren Ade

“Toni Erdmann,” written and directed by Maren Ade

What I think may happen with the upcoming Americanized version is that all the playful and theatrical quality to this original film will be explained far more than necessary. The gritty European sensibility will most likely be wiped away in favor of something that seems to make more sense to most Americans. That said, dysfunctional families are every bit a part of the American scene as anywhere else. And, it is dysfunction that is at the root of this film. Ines, the daughter, is a mess. Winfried, the father, is a mess. But, despite a high level of tension between them, the two share a secret language and seem to be at their best in each other’s company. At least, there are enough positive signs to encourage the dad to keep trying to find his daughter.

Where it gets sort of weird is how insistent the dad is in his practical joke therapy path to winning over his daughter. Winfried Conradi cannot cope for very long without enacting some jarring gag. To say he is a compulsive jokester would be putting it mildly at best. No, this guy has some coping disorder and it’s pretty serious and kinda creepy. This film does address the dad’s problem but in a deceptively light way. It gradually builds. Before you know it, you’ve come to know this father and daughter in a truly remarkable way. And you come to realize that a rather heroic and rambling tale about a father and daughter can add up to a truly remarkable film.

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Filed under Academy Awards, Germany, Movie Reviews, movies, Oscars

Movie Review: ‘Yoga Hosers’

"Yoga Hosers" by Kevin Smith

“Yoga Hosers” by Kevin Smith

On his deathbed, Kevin Smith will say, “Clerks,” and die with a smile on his face. For now, he is content with giving us his latest movie treat, “Yoga Hosers,” both written and directed by him. This will please any diehard Kevin Smith fan and may puzzle quite a few critics pondering the director’s vision and legacy. Quite the prankster, I am quite happy to chalk this up as Mr. Smith just having some fun. If I try to read into it, perhaps I can see him saying something about the state of Hollywood. There’s a scene where the villain (hilarious performance by Ralph Garman) asks if he might be taken more seriously if he were to speak in the melodious tones of Al Pacino. He then goes on to do a spot on impersonation as he describes his diabolical plans to kill off all the critics who have savaged his art. This could be interpreted as Smith saying that if only he were to play the game, then he would be taken more seriously.

I got to thinking that maybe Kevin Smith is right about how he’s been unfairly treated by critics. I’m just thinking here but consider the fact that Kevin Smith’s breakout hit, “Clerks” and Quentin Tarantino’s breakout hit, “Pulp Fiction,” both came out in 1994. This is nothing against Mr. Tarantino but I would argue that he and Mr. Smith are more alike than not. One director got the adulation of critics as his career progressed; while the other got a very hard time by the critics as his career progressed. The end result is that Tarantino finds himself in a very good place. And Smith finds himself the underdog. It’s worth considering this and might add to the enjoyment of this rather bizarre yet compelling film. It’s that special blend of Kevin Smith weird. And maybe he needs to keep doing what he’s doing.

Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp

Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp

“Yoga Hosers” is connected to Smith’s previous film, “Tusk” so he’s on a roll with his experiments in comedy/horror mashup. And there will be at least one more, “Moose Jaws,” rounding out Smith’s True North trilogy. For those of you who missed 2014’s “Tusk,” that proved to be quite unusual and not without some fairly gruesome moments in the spirit of Tarantino. That film had quite an edge to it. This time around, the gore has been rolled back but there’s an interesting sense of tension that Smith plays with especially early in this story that centers on two teenage friends, both with the first name of Colleen, thus they are known as The Two Colleens. The two work at the Eh-2-Zed, a convenience store owned by the father of Colleen Collette (played by Lily-Rose Depp). The other Colleen is Colleen McKenzie (played by Harley Quinn Smith). It’s pretty miserable for them being clerks. And the fact that the dad who owns the Eh-2-Zed is dating the store’s manager does not sit well at all with his daughter. Lots of domestic despair depicted with good comedic timing. It’s as if Smith knew he could have continued along that route but then decided to give his critics the finger and unleash his theater of the absurd.

You can give Smith credit for his abrupt shifts in tone. I fondly remember that moment in “Tusk” when Justin Long pleads not to die a horrible death. And then there’s a pause. And he ends his sentence with “…in Canada.” That was a genuinely masterful example of the comedy/horror mashup that Smith was going for. In “Yoga Hosers,” he not only doubles down but ratchets up the silliness with a bunch of menacing little sausage Nazis. The plot involves the untold story of Canada’s Nazi past–and this involves sausages. If critics want to give Smith a hard time, then he’s going to make them sit through a free screening involving little sausage Nazis. The fans will love it. The trilogy will one day be complete. The rarefied pompous hypocritical critics get the finger. Everyone wins.

That said, if you view the trailer, you’ll get a sense of how this film is actually more substantial than it may seem at first. Again, I go back to the idea of shifting tones, or shifting viewpoints. Part of the film is simply a heartfelt satire of high school life. The Two Colleens are sweet absent-minded girls who happen to love yoga. Thus the title to this film.

If you enjoyed “Tusk” or were curious about it but want to avoid some disturbing content, then go see “Yoga Hosers.” Justin Long is in it and he provides some impressive extended comedic bits as a yoga guru. Johnny Depp reprises his role as inspector Guy Lapointe to great effect. Both Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith are quite charming and show promise. Both have the sensibility and grace to pursue acting careers. And then you have Kevin Smith who portrays all the itty bitty Bratzis. Oh, and a cameo by Stan Lee as a police dispatcher! Overall, Smith turns the teenage horror flick up on its head and provides some good laughs. Amid so many Hollywood, and indie, cookie-cutter films, I want to see Mr. Smith continue making movies. He’s going out on a limb with his wacky Canadian horror/comedy trilogy but that’s fine by me.

Find out more and where to see the film by going to Kevin Smith’s Smodcast right here.

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Filed under Comedy, Hollywood, Horror, Horror Movies, Kevin Smith, Movie Reviews, movies, Satire

Interview: Jennifer Daydreamer: Comics and Beyond

Jennifer Daydreamer

Jennifer Daydreamer

Jennifer Daydreamer has been published by Top Shelf Productions and regularly contributed illustrations to the Seattle alt-weekly, The Stranger, in the late ’90s. In the course of a creative life, Daydreamer has seen her path take an interesting trajectory. I share with you now a conversation with artist and writer Jennifer Daydreamer on her new project, “Mack Stuckey’s Guide to the Center of the Universe.” A Kickstarter campaign in support of a print run to the book is going on now thru August 28th. You can find it right here. She is the author. Full disclosure, I’m the illustrator for the book, and I contributed to the story. And she’s my partner.

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Let’s begin, Jen. We can jump in to the very beginning of the Mack Stuckey project.

JENNIFER DAYDREAMER: You certainly did contribute to the prose. There are details in Mack, plot points, character names and so forth, that you came up with. We are both illustrators but you were the instant choice of illustrator. Although I can draw fast, I don’t normally paint in quick thick brush strokes, the kind you do, and so I was excited about a real artistic collaboration with you. Probably our first. I think after you’ve been blogging for ten years, this has been the first time you have interviewed me. So, thanks!

What was the impetus to writing Mack Stuckey?

Well, before 2008, I could score a job pretty easily. I’m a creative type but I have a detailed part of my brain that does well with accounting. I actually enjoy accounting because I find it meditative and so for most of my career I have been able to do accounting work for my jobs. I was in a series of job layoffs. One, the company went out of business, the next, the company transferred my position out of state, another one I was a new hire and when they do layoffs, the new hires usually get cut first. In a nutshell, the book is about the economy and expressing my frustration about it, in a creative way. I just don’t want to spend my time venting at this point. I have expressed my employment dilemmas to my friends over the years. At this point, I’d rather be joking.

Illustration for "Mack Stuckey" by Henry Chamberlain

Illustration for “Mack Stuckey” by Henry Chamberlain

Jennifer Daydreamer quote

Where does it take place?

It takes place in Seattle. Poor Seattle. The inspiration to write the book is my need to express myself in regards to the economy and state of housing and living in our city with a disappearing middle class. The story takes place in 2014, by the way, and so, any uptick of the economy happening today, I hope is really happening. I digress. Seattle happens to be the fall guy, the theatrical back drop of the story and so, we make fun of Seattle. Specifically, Fremont. We venture into Ballard, Downtown, and the U District.

How so?

For one thing, I create a feud between Ballard and Fremont, either real or imagined. I examine the tension that I think exists between the two locales because when you want to buy something practical in Fremont, like pens and a pad of paper there is only one or two small places to go. There are no standard drug stores allowed in Fremont (I think from building codes) so you have to take your car or the bus or your bike and dip into Ballard for practical needs.

What else is the book about?

Well, we describe the book succinctly on our Kickstarter page! Basically, I created a love triangle between a woman and two men, representing the upper, middle, and lower classes. I don’t come right out and say that in the book, because that would be too explicit, but that is one of the themes. I think there is something for everyone in the book, if you like humor, a sexy romance, or interest in the local icons. I try my hand at what I call comedic erotica.

Tell us about what you’ve been up to in the last few years.

After drawing comics, I was inspired to write a screenplay because that imprint, what was it called?

Minx.

Yes, Minx, from DC Comics, asked me for some ideas. They cancelled the imprint. One of my ideas was for a dystopian novel about the separation between a guy and a girl and killing in the army, that someday I should write. They really did not like it, too macabre, and then Hunger Games comes out later. I remember believing them at the time that the story pitch is not good, so its a reminder to believe in myself. I wrote the screenplay for the humor submission that they did like. Then Minx was cancelled. I never had a contract, just a “that’s funny, I like that one.” So, I spent about a year studying how to write a screenplay and it took me about 1.8 to finish it, because it was my first screenplay.

Where did that leave you?

With one foot halfway in the door! It left me with one manager who switched companies and his job position and so he could not represent it. Then I found an agent who read it, she is known in the industry and so I felt lucky. She was encouraging. She said I needed edits and she gave me her manager contact and said to try and do edits with him and then resubmit it to her. But her manager nixed it. By the way, I respected how he communicated with me, as he got to it, read the script promptly and let me know his opinion. Everyone I submitted it to over a year’s time or so, was very nice, frankly. I know there is crap that happens in Hollywood, but, somehow, I felt encouraged by people in the business I was in contact with. Most did not have room or time to read it and some commented that my pitch was great and so to keep at it. So, I got my foot in the Hollywood door about an eigth of the way. A toe.

Interesting visual, one toe clinging to a door. But, seriously, it put you in an interesting situation. You were in the thick of transitioning from comics, moving beyond comics.

It was fun to try. I felt a cartoonist could get a foot in the door because comic book movies were taking off. I had an agent/lawyer to make some pathway, also, when I submitted, so I was not completely unprofessional and just cold called everyone. I think the writing contributed to writing Mack – the more you create the better you get. Mack has taken 2.5 years to write and I still have some details I want to round it out with. Its basically done. Besides those projects, I have spent a lot of time writing and sketching out a four book Young Adult Fantasy Series which I am eager to launch on social media. For this YA series, I really think a book agent, editor or editors and publishing company is necessary. You need help to keep detail accurate when you are world building.

After Mack, I have one very odd book, I have to get off my chest, then I will launch my YA series. I have spent a year on it. Its not complicated like writing a story but I am scared of publishing it, and so, I have to publish it. I’m scared as I have to dip into some religious and societal explanations. I had an out of body experience or an altered state from drawing my mini comics long ago and it was not until recently when I studied Jung in detail and some Jungian psychologists that I realized there is a biological explanation or a science explanation for it.

Lots of room to dig deeper.

Usually the explanation in our society, is something spiritual or “occult” and so I am eager to lay out my idea to disprove the occult notions, that there may be a more reasonable or logic based explanation. I have not completely ruled out a spiritual component. I think there is a spiritual component, I understand the shamanic explanation for something like that, but I think there is a middle ground, because the explanations from psychologists are so clear and sound. There’s compelling commentary by Oliver Sacks on YouTube (13.45). Maybe you can link the video for our cartoonist friends because it’s interesting if you draw comics.

Yes, consider it done. It will run right below these comments.

Great!

What Oliver Sacks has to say I am relating to my experience in the book. I think the brain is activated because of the archetypal nature of comics. What archetypal nature is, should be explained more but there is not room in this intervew to go into that kind of detail.

“There is another part of the brain which is especially activated when one sees cartoons. It’s activated when one recognizes cartoons when one draws cartoons and when one hallucinates them. It’s very interesting that that should be (so) specific.”

–Oliver Sacks

Are you still drawing comics? Where would you say you are today in relation to comics?

I love comics. I am following my heart and my heart wants my YA series to be prose – just words – and my illustrations. And so, no, its not comics. I would like to draw comics and be in anthologies, but there is no time at the moment. I am really focused on the projects listed above. I have the door open on comics, the door is not closed. Same with, you know, doing another humor book like Mack. When I was in high school I was the kid that made fun of all the teachers and drew riffs on them and passed them to my friends in class. I have a humor side and I have the side that loves to create long fantasy.

Anything else you’d like to add?

One last word. We make fun of some drug usage in Mack but I don’t do drugs. I am a very very square cat when it comes to things like that. It’s important for me to be clear on this because I don’t like my out of body experiences nor my illustrations to be accused of being “drug influenced.” Because I think fantasy story and art is related to healing and I want to contribute to that. I want to explore more in the future on the connection to drawing comics and naturally based hallucinations.

Thanks, Jennifer!

Thank you, Henry!

Be sure to visit Mack Stuckey right here. To go directly to the Kickstarter campaign on thru 8/28, go right here.

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Filed under Comics, Humor, Interviews, Jennifer Daydreamer, Kickstarter, Satire, Seattle, writers, writing, Young Adult

Netflix Review: UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT Season Two

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

I’d been reading one of my favorite dark fantasy/horror writers, Dennis Etchison, when I took to watching the new season of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” Now, this show may appear to simply involve wacky hijinks but the connection to the likes of Etchison is significant. Kimmy Schmidt, created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, is a show of high quality in more ways than one may expect. Etchison’s short story, “Inside the Cackle Factory” is quite fitting. Ostensibly, it is about how TV sitcoms get approved. However, the veil of secrecy keeps slipping to reveal sinister underpinnings. And so it is with Kimmy Schmidt: the veil keeps falling.

Ellie Kemper and Amy Sedaris

Ellie Kemper and Amy Sedaris

Now, I’m only suggesting a touch of horror. We know it can be a short distance between comedy and tragedy and that horror need not require a drop of blood. Another dark comedy on the same track is the now classic, “Strangers with Candy” (1999-2000) starring Amy Sedaris. This is the show about a 46-year-old former drug addict and prostitute trying to get her life together by literally going back to high school. This is so key to what I’m saying that I’m doing cartwheels right now. “Strangers with Candy” proves that dark comedy is often the best comedy. It had Stephen Colbert and David Letterman involved. And, the cherry on the top is that Amy Sedaris plays an ongoing character on Kimmy Schmidt!

Ellie Kemper getting her Kimmy Schmidt on!

Ellie Kemper getting her Kimmy Schmidt on!

Amy Sedaris plays the role of Mimi Kanasis, best pal to Jacqueline Voorhees (now Jacqueline White as she is newly divorced from her cheating billionaire husband). If this sounds like a lot of plot development going on with this show, you’d be correct. But it all makes sense. In one respect, the show is sort of spoiler-proof as it is broad comedy on one level, just fun satire like you got from “Seinfeld.” However, it does want to have it both ways with investing in character development. This, odd combination of edgy whimsy and heart-felt exploration of character tends to work out pretty well in this case.

Without giving anything away, consider a scene that can be read as a faux pivotal moment. It seems that a certain train departure is significant and may very well interrupt a “boy-meets-girl” connection. But, hey, no worries, the train is running two hours late! “Wow, what a break for that couple meeting up! You guys are running two hours late!” yells Kimmy to an Amtrak train conductor. He smiles and says, “And you thought we were just a train company. Far from it! We make love connections happen!” It is a funny and silly scene but it also does involve an authentic connection, sans irony, between characters. You can say that is a Kimmy Schmidt trademark. As Jerry Seinfeld has famously said of his show, it is devoid of any “very special moments.”

Tituss Burgess as Titus Andronicus, no...Titus Andromedon!

Tituss Burgess as Titus Andronicus, no…Titus Andromedon!

The reason for the tension between broad comedy and authentic connection on Kimmy Schmidt is that this show, as opposed to Seinfeld, is about something instead of nothing. It has a pretty heavy premise and the showrunners carry that as a badge of honor: young woman survives fifteen years hidden away in a bunker and now tries to rebuild a life in New York City. It is a premise very much in the spirit of Strangers with Candy. It’s not pure comedy but it provides some of the biggest laughs you’ll find. And it’s definitely NOT a typical comedy-drama, infamously known as a “dramedy.” It is coming from another place. That is why I think the touch of horror is so important: this is a show that is meant to make you laugh as well as unsettle you, take you out of your comfort zone. And, in that regard, it is doing a bang-up job.

Carol Kane (Lillian Kaushtupper) and Jane Krakowski (Jacqueline White)

Carol Kane (Lillian Kaushtupper) and Jane Krakowski (Jacqueline White)

It is because Kimmy Schmidt resides some place other than a typical sitcom that the show becomes this broad venue upon which masterful writing can discuss various themes. With the character of Lillian Kaushtupper (played by Carol Kane) we explore the conflict between old urban neighborhoods giving way to gentrification. Lillian doesn’t always have the best responses but she offers a compelling portrait of someone who finds herself being pushed out in the name of progress. With the character of Jacqueline White, we have a latter-day “The Awakening” story by Kate Chopin. Jacqueline comes to realize in middle-age that her whole life has been a sham of social climbing in Manhattan. She makes various awkward attempts to be true to her Native American heritage. Then we have the character of Titus Andromedon (played by Tituss Burgess) who is forced to do more and live more after having come out gay. Originally born Ronald Ephen Wilkerson in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, Titus Andromedon experienced his own awakening that led him to live in New York City. However, in the intervening years, he has frittered away much of his promise as an aspiring actor/singer.

Tina Fey as Andrea Bayden on "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"

Tina Fey as Andrea Bayden on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

Finally, we come back to Kimmy Schmidt. Who is she and what does she want? Well, as she learns from stumbling into a friendship with a psychiatrist, Andrea Bayden (played by Tina Fey), she has a lot of work to do on her own personal baggage. For starters, she is too helpful. Again, without any irony, Andrea suggests that Kimmy is an “enabler.” Kimmy, the good doctor points out, is too busy trying to help others, perhaps more than for their own good. And, on top of it, Kimmy is avoiding helping herself. She, after all, was kidnapped and lost fifteen years of her life huddled in a bunker with three other women. The cult leader abused the women. Pretty dark stuff in the background that keeps coming up to the surface like PTSD. Ah, but if only the good doctor could take her own advice. It’s not like Andrea is in the driver’s seat, especially with her having Kimmy as her own personal Uber driver. Very funny, and very touching, stuff. It takes formidable comedic, and general writing, chops to pull of a show that has bite as well as provides a hug. See for yourself. If you have not already, go on your merry way to Netflix and get all caught up on Season Two of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

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Filed under Amy Sedaris, Comedy, Dennis Etchison, Entertainment, Horror, Humor, Netflix, Television, Tina Fey

Movie Review: ‘Irrational Man’

Joaquin-Phoenix-Emma-Stone

Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone confront some startling existential questions in Woody Allen’s latest film, “Irrational Man.” Mr. Allen has, without fail, created a new film each year since his 1965 comedy “What’s New Pussycat?” Among his best are such films as 1986’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” and 2011’s “Midnight in Paris,” both Oscar winners. Will “Irrational Man” garner any award nominations? The funny thing is, the film is very sound and, depending on the roll of the dice, it could come in for some Academy Award recognition. Let’s take a closer look.

Emma Stone has proven to be an exceptional leading lady for Allen with her mesmerizing role as a clairvoyant pursuing Colin Firth in 2014’s “Magic in the Moonlight.” Wow, and that was only last year. Given such a solid performance in that, Stone takes it further with her latest Allen film. As Jill, she must decide between her college boyfriend, Roy (played by Jamie Blackley) or the mysterious visiting professor, Abe Lucas (played by Joaquin Phoenix). However, Abe is nuts. It takes an “existential act” for this tormented philosophy professor to find a will to live. Just a little too heavy-duty for our ingenue. She may find herself with no clear way out once she’s under Abe’s spell.

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Joaquin Phoenix is perfect as the charismatic, and dangerous, prof. He fills in for Allen’s self-absorbed intellectual on a highly dubious spiritual quest. Here is where you can spin it as Allen back to true form or Allen back to his old tricks. The compromise view, and more to the point, is that here we have another variation on a theme, another gem from the master storyteller. You’ll love seeing all the characters put through the wringer. It’s a fun farce. You can kick Allen around or praise him, but he is hardly someone to take for granted.

As with any Allen film, it gives back bit by bit as little seeds take root and blossom. The surprise treasure in this case is Parker Posey as Rita, the more substantial love interest for Abe. She plays a sexy and easy-going faculty member who proves to be a good match for the mercurial Abe. If all he seems capable of offering at first is brooding, scotch, and endless ranting about Heidegger, she can work with that. While, on the other hand, such a high-strung person as Abe may drive Emma Stone’s Jill up the wall and then some. Yes, this is Woody Allen in his element. Time to get over it and enjoy it.

This is a pleasing Woody Allen film with what some may think features all the usual suspects and themes. For a fan, this is nirvana. And, even for a most casual viewer, this will be a fun romp and thriller to boot. Allen has more screenwriting Academy Award nominations than any other writer and he has tied for third with seven Best Director nominations. While “Irrational Man” may be too close to what we’ve seen before, it’s anybody’s guess as to how that adds up come Oscar time. You can find some early Oscar speculation for 2016 right here. Whatever the fate of his latest film, Woody Allen has created another quality work uniquely his own.

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Filed under Movie Reviews, movies, philosophy, Woody Allen

TV Review: WELCOME TO SWEDEN

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Editor’s Note: Vote for me on the Laugh Your Way to Sweden contest! I’m at the bottom row wearing a striped shirt. My skit is called, “People Don’t Stop Anymore.” Just go here.

Welcome to Sweden,” NBC’s comedy about a NYC accountant who falls in love with a Swedish tourist (Sundays 8/7c) has a very funny challenge. Sweden is not known for being funny. Now, England, there’s a funny country. But Sweden, not so much. It’s this dichotomy of unfunny versus funny that makes this comedy so appealing.

There’s a great mix of deadpan and absurd humor to be found here. And you’d expect that from Amy Poehler. And now we come to also appreciate the comedic talents of her brother, Greg Poehler. After 12 years as a lawyer, in 2012, Greg Poehler started doing stand-up comedy in Sweden. At the same time, he began writing the script for what became his first TV series, Welcome to Sweden, in which he plays the lead part, in addition to his roles as head writer and producer. His sister, Amy Poehler, decided to produce the show after proofreading the script.

The first episode sets the tone for this quirky romantic comedy. While most of the characters choose to hide behind a Scandinavian reserve, they are also quite crafty and/or blunt when pushed. We begin with what should be a mild, if not pleasant, exchange between a young man asking for the blessing from the father of the woman he loves. Bruce Evans (played by Greg Poehler) starts out hoping for some goodwill from Birger Wiik (played by Claes Månsson). Instead, he gets a tidal wave of passive-aggressive shyness and resistance. And it turns out that Bruce did want more than just a handshake or a pat on the back. If it were left up to him, he would have gotten full-on validation and the longest and warmest of hugs. No such luck with Papa Wiik. Then, to really floor him, Bruce gets an unequivocal answer. Viveka Börjesson (played by Lena Olin), the woman that Bruce thinks he wants as his mother-in-law, simply says no.

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The premise of the show is that one person in this equation is clearly a fish out of water. Bruce has uprooted himself to Sweden to be with the woman he loves. However, the woman he loves, Emma Wiik (played by Josephine Bornebusch) is not totally in her own element even though she has home court advantage. Emma is a bank executive. She’s the boss. People call her the “chairman of the board.” But Emma has met her match when a marketing expert seems to take over operations as she devises how to best give the bank a much needed image makeover. Diane (played by Neve Campbell) is a social media genius. Emma doesn’t even know what a meme is. Each time Diane attempts to take a flattering photo of Emma, it’s the same pained expression over and over. Diane, in frustration, tells Emma it should be impossible to maintain that same expression. This problem, like a meme, takes on a life of its own with very funny results.

I’m so glad this show popped up on my radar. It’s definitely something different. With an appealing self-deprecating charm, Greg Poehler makes a great fish out of water. It will be fun to see him at least try to overcome his situation.

To check out the show and watch free episodes, got to NBC right here.

And there’s a contest underway, that’s in its final days, where you can vote on your favorite fan tributes to the show. I couldn’t help entering. I feel that I tapped into some of that quirk factor working so well on the show. Whoever wins the most votes gets to go see the show on location in Sweden. Show your support and vote for my entry, People Don’t Stop Anymore, on the contest page right here.

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Filed under Amy Poehler, Comedy, Greg Poehler, Humor, NBC, NBC Universal, Sweden, Television

Seattle Focus: Review of DAY JOB at Ballard Underground, 7/18/2015

From clockwise: Caitie Auld, Kara O'Connor, Molly Tellers, & Nicole Santora

From clockwise: Caitie Auld, Kara O’Connor, Molly Tellers, & Nicole Santora

The sketch comedy troupe Day Job presented two shows at the Ballard Underground this last Friday and Saturday. Day Job is made up of what could very well be the only all-female sketch comedy group in Seattle. The members are Caitie Auld, Kara O’Connor, Molly Tellers, and Nicole Santora. The foursome is currently a threesome as Nicole is out on maternity leave. I caught the Saturday show which featured the comedic talents of Clara Lewis, Casey Middaugh, and Brittany Tipton.

The show kicked off with a long music intro as Clara Lewis took the stage. She wasn’t expecting so much music but gladly shimmied around. Then she launched into a most inspired set on millennial woes. There was also perfect use of fart jokes. In my view, a strategically placed fart joke will carry you through thick and thin. Placement one: Clara clued us in on how she craves letting her guard down and be able to fart if she chooses. Okay, something the audience can instantly relate to. Placement two: Clara distinguishes between letting a fart fend off a bad date before it happens and avoiding a fart end a good date before it happens. All very funny stuff. Clara provided a very quirky and charming set.

Music was everything for Casey Middaugh as her set was a mix of spoken word accompanied by a ukulele. Casey has a winning smile and easily won over the audience with her whimsical sense of humor. It seemed to come from a sweet, and lovingly loopy, place with a touch of Andy Kaufman and Lily Tomlin. Casey gracefully gave us a short tour of her childhood via anecdotes and even a song she wrote when she was six years old. It’s quite an awesome song involving teenagers, Hawaii, and Hula hoops.

Millennial woes from a different vantage point made up Brittany Tipton‘s set. Brittany was very generous in opening up to the audience. From where she sits, low expectations are nothing to sneeze at. But, if you want to hear a more ambitious attitude, then Brittany was game. She invited the audience to take part in a quick and free therapy session before she became a professional and would have to charge an arm and a leg. One brave soul came forward and claimed he was having misgivings about his career choice. Brittany, with a wink and a ton of irony, did the best to reassure him.

And then it was on to a variety of freewheeling and fast-paced sets by the Day Job comedy group. Let me say here that I was very impressed with everything I saw. When you think about it, on any given night, a comedy club is likely to have an all-male show. Of course, we have great female comics and we need to see more of them. Saturday’s show was an excellent example. Is the female sense of humor any different from the male view? Equal, at least. Maybe even better. It seems that certain details in character studies might be handled with more care from a feminine perspective. Sometimes males need to tap into their feminine side. That said, the Day Job crew were on their A game.

One of the most inventive and fully realized scenes from the Day Job set was Molly Tellers as a father clumsily trying to help his teen daughter, played by Caitie Auld, match up with the coolest boy in her high school, played by Kara O’Connor. I’ll break this one down as best I can. Molly has a gift for taking on her characters with a fun and physical gusto. Much of it depended upon just the right goofy voice along with spot on body language. It’s an immersive quality she achieves as she channels her version of a Homer Simpson-like dad. Caitie, as the teen daughter, is a whirlwind of emotional despair. She nails her teen character with determined grace. I think Caitie is a wonderful talent with a delightful presence. Kara, as the most eligible bachelor, is hilarious. With effortless ease, she taps into all the bravado and posturing of a hot teenage boy.

Be sure to catch DAY JOB (Caitie Auld, Kara O’Connor, and Molly Tellers) at Seattle SketchFest where they will be on September 26th at 7pm at The Annex Theatre.

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Filed under Comedians, Comedy, Seattle