This Is What It Sounds Like When Comedians Cry

This Is What It Sounds Like When Comedians Cry (photo)

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As the adage goes, “dying is hard, comedy is harder.” So why is it that so many comic actors are eager to cast aside the funny for the oh-so-serious? Sure, you’re much more likely to bag an Oscar nomination for a role that calls for droopy-eyed soulfulness than for one that involves carrying out a ground campaign against gophers, but in the end, it’s your monologue about caddying for the Dalai Lama that everyone knows by heart.

The latest instance of a comedian crossing the humor line is Mike Binder’s drama “Reign Over Me,” which features Adam Sandler as a man emotionally shattered after losing his family on 9/11. As Sandler rides around the city on his scooter, reestablishing his sanity and his friendship with a former college roommate (played by Don Cheadle), you have to wonder if this performance is going to be more “Punch Drunk Love” (yes!) or “Spanglish” (ack!). In honor of Sandler’s valiant (if perhaps ill-advised) venture back into the dramatic, here’s our look at the mixed results that have come about when our favorite comedians have gone serious.

09022010_number23.jpgJim Carrey

The very rubber-faced qualities that make Jim Carrey such a gifted physical comedian sometimes defeat him when he plays it straight. At rest, that spastic visage is surprisingly boyish, but also a little…smug? Or maybe it’s just that Carrey, when he’s not in full-bore supercomedian mode, seems too smart for the dreck to which he can commit himself so earnestly. To watch him wade wide-eyed through drippy period piece “The Majestic” or to somberly bracket the soapy “Simon Birch” as the narrator and adult incarnation of the main character is to wait on the edge of your seat for him to crack and acknowledge to the audience and to himself that the dreadful dialogue he’s uttering could be comedic gold, given the proper satirical touch. And wait you will in vain — Carrey’s latest attempt at drama, the nonsensical numerical howler “The Number 23,” finds him, rumple-faced, gamely playing two characters — good-natured dog-catched (hee!) Walter Sparrow and fictional detective Fingerling (hee again!) — with nary a wink or a smile.

Not that Carrey’s serious roles have been all bad; while I always thought his most acclaimed role as Andy Kaufman in 1999 biopic “Man on the Moon” was overrated, there’s no denying Carrey inhabits the comedian’s every twitch. And as the unexpected straight man in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Carrey is, bereft of his comedic trappings, the saddest clown on the LIRR, worn down by the day to day slog of life, but still open to finding a little unanticipated magic in it. —Alison Willmore

09022010_fireworks1.jpgTakeshi Kitano

In the U.S., Takeshi Kitano is a cult icon, a shaper of laconic gangster films that emphasize the empty moments in between blood spurts. His role in Japan is far more complex, having shot to stardom as a member of “The Two Beats,” a controversially foul-mouthed comedy duo that came to prominence in the 70s. It’s shocking to see clips of them now, since “Beat” Takeshi plays the fast-talking vulgarian to “Beat” Kiyoshi’s befuddled straight man. His rapid fire delivery is a far cry from the sullen thugs of “Sonatine” (1993) and “Fireworks” (1997). Kitano went on to dominate television in Japan through the nineties (he was voted Japan’s favorite TV celebrity from 90-95), doing a little bit of everything including a game show entitled Takeshi’s Castle (86-89), where contestants endured humiliating stunts in order to meet his “Count.” The show was later dubbed with a mocking English voiceover and ran in syndication in the states as the Most Extreme Elimination Challenge. That xenophobic nugget (look at those crazy Japanese!) exposed me to Kitano’s vast career before his discovery in the states, which is in dire need of a recovery, or at least a few subtitled DVDs of “The Two Beats” in their prime. —R. Emmet Sweeney

09022010_shopgirl1.jpgSteve Martin

Steve Martin was accused of attempting a Bill Murray-like slight-of-bland when “Shopgirl” came out in 2005, two years after Murray sighed his way to a Golden Globe for “Lost in Translation.” Playing a post-middle aged, successful, rich man with a thing for Claire Danes’ depressive ingénue, Martin tried on melancholy minimalism and it fit him like a giant inner tube. The most unseemly part of the failure was that it was truly an inside job; Martin was responsible for the source material (his novella of the same name) and even provided the turgid narration. Audiences recoiled at the sight of The Grey One’s gnarly, old man hands on Danes’ bare bum and the film was called, among other things “art decoration for an aging celebrity’s unpleasant fantasy.” Martin has rarely found success with the serious thing; though he was praised for his role in “Grand Canyon,” since then he has tried again with “A Simple Twist of Fate,” “The Spanish Prisoner” and then the curiously bad “Shopgirl.” I hold out hope that he has it in him somewhere, but without the body armor of the straight man suit or comic bag of tricks, Martin seems to wax over with self-consciousness. —Michelle Orange

09022010_rushmore1.jpgBill Murray

For a while after graduating from the ranks of “Saturday Night Live,” nobody could shape a character as funny as he was human like Bill Murray. Even in small roles — like immortal groundskeeper Carl Spackler in “Caddyshack,” who was given special dispensation from the Dalai Lama (something along the lines of “Gunga galunga”) — Murray made huge impressions. But at some point in the mid-90s, Murray transmogrified from comedian who could act into an actor who was also funny. Whether it was because the choice comic roles weren’t there anymore, or he started thinking about his legacy, Murray traded the Harold Ramises and Ivan Reitmans of the world for the Sophia Coppolas and Wes Andersons. His first partnership with the latter, 1998’s “Rushmore,” yielded one of his finest performances in a career full of them as Herman Blume, a man so introverted he was practically antithetical to the goofy, genially grating persona Murray had worked for nearly 20 years.

He’s taken a few goofy roles since, but he’s mostly stayed in his “serious” mode. But it’s one thing to be serious; it’s another to be boring, and Bill’s come dangerously close in recent films. The Blume role, such a departure, now seems like his standard operating procedure, and what previously felt so fresh now smells a bit stale (see “The Life Aquatic” and “Broken Flowers”). Instead of taking serious roles, Murray seems to take himself seriously — something that can spell doom for an actor/comedian. Let’s hope Bill figures out he doesn’t need to be either an actor or a comedian. At his best, he does both equally well. —Matt Singer



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.