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Interview: Bruce Campbell on “My Name is Bruce”

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11042008_mynameisbruce.jpgBy Aaron Hillis

In his half-century on this crazy orb, Bruce Campbell — beloved deadpan star of the “Evil Dead” trilogy, “Bubba Ho-Tep” and USA Network’s current hit series “Burn Notice” — has also been a director and a two-time New York Times best-selling author, but that’s not how he’s typically described. “I get all kinds of weird titles,” says the man himself. “Cult fave. Horror icon. Genre legend. I get them all.”

For his second directorial feature, a horror-comedy and love letter to his fans called “My Name is Bruce,” Campbell sends up his own persona as a vulgar, womanizing, alcoholic, washed-up dunderhead of an actor named Bruce Campbell, naturally. Confused for one of the two-fisted characters he plays, Bruce is kidnapped by a teenage fanboy in hopes that he’ll rid a small town of a resurrected Chinese warlord, with inevitably ludicrous results and multiple Ted Raimi cameos. Campbell called me before the film’s release to talk about awkward fans, harvesting his lavender, and why he thinks the Three Stooges are funnier than the Marx brothers.

There’s already gossip about a possible sequel called “My Name is Still Bruce.” Was that your idea?

Well, you have to make sure this first one makes a little bit of dough. We have an idea and the money, but we’re waiting to push the button. The original idea was pitched to me by [co-producer] Mike Richardson from Dark Horse Comics, and Mark Verheiden, the writer. I thought it was a chance to make fun of myself for an hour and a half; it sounded like a great idea. Behind the premise, even if you remove the Bruce Campbell [character], I like the idea of kidnapping a B-movie actor known for being a hero to be your hero, and he goes, “What are you, crazy?” It’s a little bit like “My Favorite Year”: “I’m a movie star, not an actor.” In this case, he’s neither.

So, tell the truth — did you shoot in Oregon because it made sense to the story, or because the state has a hell of a tax break for film production?

I’m always going to favor where I live, so I was going to shoot in Oregon regardless of the tax break — but that wasn’t bad either. My partner, Mike Richardson, lives in the Portland area, so when he pitched this idea to me a couple years ago, I thought, “Hey, you’re an Oregonian. I’m an Oregonian. Let’s make this in Oregon.” We shot on my property. I built a Western town on my property.

11042008_mynameisbruce2.jpgI read somewhere that you live on a lavender farm?

There’s lavender on it, but it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s a farm. We just have a couple acres of lavender that makes our house smell lovely and wonderful. It was there when we bought the property. We harvest once a year. We have a place in Eugene where we pitchfork it into a truck, just like Farmer Joe, then they distill it. You get 30 pounds of organic lavender oil that you can put in or around anything. It’s good for cleaning, it smells good, it’s actually a natural disinfectant, and it’s calming and soothing.

Maybe it’s the lavender talking, but you’ve always seemed like a nice guy. When you’re working in comedy, why do you think you excel at playing oblivious, pompous jerks?

[laughs] Maybe I’m an oblivious, pompous jerk, I don’t know. My feeling is this: As a filmmaker or as an actor, I like to see a character with some sort of arc during the course of a movie. What happens to this character? So, I find if you make them a little more despicable at the beginning, they’ve got somewhere to go, somewhere to improve. “My Name is Bruce” is the pseudo-redemptive story of a man falsely named Bruce Campbell.

You titled your first book “If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor.” How do you feel about being slapped with that label?

It’s actually fine because I like movies that are a little off-kilter or weird, and those usually wind up being the B-movies. I’m now in a B-television series because you’ve got your networks, those are your A-pictures — and then you’ve got cable, your B-television. I wouldn’t be anywhere else. Hey, if you get bitten by a radioactive spider, that’s a B-movie. Even though you spend $200 million on a movie, it can still be a B-movie. “Transformers”? Come on, guys, this is a kids’ toy here. Let’s watch the Transformer transform! It’s not gonna fool me.

A moment in this film reminded me of that old William Shatner “SNL” sketch where he tells off a Trekkie convention: “Get a life, people!” Have you ever had frustrating moments with your fans?

11042008_mynameisbruce3.jpgI’d say 90 percent are mostly shy, quiet, reserved people. You got your five or ten percent that are either a little snotty, they want to take a cheap shot, or they torment you about stuff incessantly that you don’t think is that important. Sometimes someone comes to meet you, and they just want to show you exactly where you have to sign on their poster: “No, no, no, not there — sign there! No, not that pen — this pen!” That person and I have no interaction whatsoever as a result because they’re obsessing about how this has to be perfect. You can look at it on a wall, but it was actually a lousy experience between us. That’s disappointing sometimes. I try to do what I can to talk to people and discourage antisocial behavior.

When you’re 60 years old, do you think you’ll still be asked when a fourth “Evil Dead” will happen?

You can’t help it. If the series is popular, it’s just a natural inclination: “When do we get another one?” I don’t think there’s even a doubt that we won’t one day, but Sam Raimi just signed on for part four of “Spider-Man,” so it’s kind of like, “See you later, alligator.” The only time I’ll see him is on his own set. Sam brings me in as a wringer to torment Tobey Maguire [in each “Spider-Man”]. But life intervenes, you know? We’ll look into it when we get to it. It’ll be me as old Ash.

Like Indiana Jones, you can hand over the reins to a new generation.

Exactly. It’ll be a young guy, a Shia LeBeouf character, and I’ll limp along behind, coughing. I’ll say “I’m getting too old for this shit” once every 20 minutes.

“My Name is Bruce” name-drops a ton of your films, some more well-known than others. Are there any films hiding in your oeuvre that you believe are underrated or misunderstood?

Yeah, “Running Time” is pretty under-watched. I don’t know if it’s underrated. It’s just a teeny little black-and-white movie that’s about 70 minutes long, but it’s a cool, real-time crime drama. Anchor Bay put it out [on DVD]. The good news is if you buy some of my old stuff on Amazon, one of these movies is bound to pop up because they link it up: “If you like that product, you’ll love this one!” It’s okay, things get discovered as they get discovered. Probably when I get hit by a bus, they’ll bring all the old movies out.

11042008_mynameisbruce5.jpgNow don’t say that. What about 1985’s “Crimewave”? How can a hilarious little gem like that, directed by Sam Raimi and co-written by the Coen Brothers, not yet have a stateside DVD release?

It should, because it would have the mother of all commentaries. I’ve got such a commentary waiting for that movie. It was an incredible disaster on almost every level after a very successful run with “Evil Dead.” That was our second movie, and it was like running 70 miles an hour into a brick wall. It was a really educational process of dealing with a studio for the first time, union guild scheduling, horrible Detroit winters, stunts, accidents and difficult actors. It was just ridiculous. I liken it to “Brazil” in that it’s good in ten-minute chunks. The fact that the movie ever got made is amazing, but I guess that’s the trick — trying to disguise all that when you actually make the movies.

If that film perfectly embodies anything, it’s how much you and the Raimi family love the Three Stooges. Don’t think I didn’t notice the Shemp brand whiskey in “My Name is Bruce.”

Yeah, there’s “Shemp’s Olde-Time Whiskey,” and at one point, Bruce jumps on a truck to leave town, and it’s “Moe Manure Hauling and Disposal.” In the Western town, there’s “Larry’s Livery.” I have all the boys represented.

But let’s get down to brass tacks. Don’t you think the Marx brothers were funnier and more sophisticated?

Look, it takes sophistication to be funny. You still have to plan things out. You have to execute it. I liken the Marx brothers to Charlie Chaplin: very clever. They had some really funny, crazy stuff, but they had some boring, banal stuff as well. Get Gummo and Zeppo out of there, nobody wants them! With the Stooges, it’s visceral. It’s all really simple, and they had longevity. You can debate about comedic styles. I didn’t find Buster Keaton particularly funny, but I found him amazing. Same with Charlie Chaplin — I didn’t think he was funny, but inventive as hell.

[Photos: Bruce Campbell in “My Name is Bruce,” Image Entertainment, 2007]

“My Name is Bruce” has begun a 21-city tour, with its next stop in Philadelphia on November 5th. For more dates and locations, check out Bruce Campbell’s official site here.

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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…


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.


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).


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.


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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GIFs via Giphy

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.


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.



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 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….


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.


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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