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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

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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