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SXSW 2008: Going Cuckoo for Cannabis

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03092008_superhighme.jpgBy Stephen Saito

With 4/20 only a little more than a month away, SXSW kicked off an all-encompassing celebration of marijuana on Friday with the regional premiere of the Doug Benson doc “Super High Me” at the Paramount Theatre, shortly before other comedies about the herb made their premieres (officially: “Humboldt County”; unofficially: Jonathan Levine’s Sundance hit “The Wackness,” which played Saturday night as a secret screening). Part concert film culled from “Best Week Ever” regular Benson’s stand-up act and part social documentary about the ongoing battle in California between the feds and the newly created legalized “dispensaries,” which have been empowered by state law to sell medical marijuana, “Super High Me” sets its sights on being entertaining and informative and manages to do a little of both.

As Benson proves, it’s not difficult to procure a doctor’s note, and the film follows him as he detoxifies for 30 days from the substance before getting high for an entire month, inspired by Morgan Spurlock’s attack on the Big Mac, “Super Size Me.” On the surface, it would seem that the film is merely a vehicle for Benson’s aloof brand of comedy, which, only moments into the film, gets him recognized as High Times #2 favorite pot comic. But, like Spurlock’s seemingly self-serving doc, Benson’s 30-day binge becomes something much larger than the gimmick at its center. The comedian’s frequent trips to a doctor (who is merely high on life, providing an engaging dynamic) and director Michael Blieden’s capture of the public outcry that results from overzealous drug enforcement officers breaking into the marijuana stores that have cropped up since California passed its medical marijuana law make for an intriguing discourse about the health and social ramifications of legalizing the drug. (Still, the sight of Benson and Sarah Silverman sharing a toke while Dave Navarro strums his guitar in the background is a bit jarring to see on camera.)

At the post-screening Q & A, Benson was pleased that “Super High Me” worked for the audience as a concert film, saying thata lot of times, because the audience on screen laughs, the in-house audience won’t, which wasn’t a concern in Austin. Likewise, Morgan Spurlock won’t be filing suit for infringement, according to Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos, whose Red Envelope Entertainment produced “Super High Me.” He added that when he told Spurlock of the Benson film at Sundance, “[Spurlock] only wished he had seen it first.” Sarandos and Benson were joined on stage by editor Alexis Hanawalt, director Blieden and producer D.J. Paul, who probably inspired a few people in the audience to start making movies of their own when he said all the marijuana for the production was donated for free.

Although the second installment of the adventures of Harold and Kumar has a little more than just pot on its mind, the sequel to the instant stoner classic was the subject of a panel Saturday that featured actors John Cho, Kal Penn and Neil Patrick Harris, as well as writer/directors Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz. While moderator Robert Wilonsky and the panel generally steered talk away from the films’ drug element, one Austinite couldn’t help himself during the Q & A portion and ask if Cho and Penn did any research before making the first film, to which Cho deadpanned, “We did a lot of blow — and then I was told that was incorrect.” However, a beet red Harris was more surprised to learn that Penn actually had to research “Doogie Howser, M.D.” for Kumar’s obsession with the Steven Bochco series.

Despite the panel’s mostly light tone, with Cho going so far as to say, “I don’t think the movie has anything to say politically,” the social issues that have given weight to the “Harold and Kumar” comedies were also raised. Penn shared an anecdote about the TSA searching him frequently in airports during the first film’s press tour and how in one instance, his friend, who was in Penn’s words, “pinker,” was carrying a hunting knife on him after just getting back from a camping trip. “Racial profiling makes us all less safe,” said Penn, who also spoke of his first encounter with Schlossberg and Hurwitz at a mutual friend’s birthday party and being offended by Hurwitz when he said, “Wow, you don’t have an accent.” (Hurwitz countered, “We weren’t actor trained yet.”) But Penn and Cho reflected positively on what “Harold and Kumar” has done for their careers — Cho said the film was his “calling card at this point” while Penn said he only got an audition for Mira Nair’s adaptation of “The Namesake” when Nair’s 14-year-old son (a “Harold and Kumar” fan) bugged his mom to audition him. And for those already awaiting a third “Harold and Kumar,” Schlossberg jokingly teased, “We’ve planned a 12-part dodecology. What you find out is [“Guantanamo Bay”] is chapter four and five.”

If there was one shortcoming of the panel, it was the lack of input from Harris, who not surprisingly had all the best lines. When asked whether he was reluctant to come back for a second film, Harris cracked, “I was excited to finally cash in on a sequel… and [Schlossberg and Hurwitz] told me Anthony Michael Hall was on the other line.” But he saved his best for last when Wilonsky walked right into a gag by cutting off questions by saying, “I see the guy in the back giving me the ‘hi’ sign,” leading Harris to do his best Beavis impersonation, giggling, “high sign.”

[Photo: “Super High Me,” Screen Media Films, 2008]

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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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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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