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Riding Along with Steve Zahn

Riding Along with Steve Zahn (photo)

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Since his big break in 1994’s “Reality Bites,” Indiewood mainstay Steve Zahn’s been best known as a supporting player (thanks to scene-stealing performances in “Out of Sight,” “Rescue Dawn” and studio fare like “Riding in Cars With Boys”), so it’s refreshing to see his sunny, faux-dopey charm lead the pack. In “Management” — the directorial debut of “Tape” playwright/screenwriter Stephen Belber — Zahn stars as Mike, a socially stunted oddball who works the late shift for his parents’ Arizona desert motel. In walks Sue (Jennifer Aniston), a corporate art saleswoman staying for two nights, with whom Mike ineptly flirts by bringing champagne to her room after hours. A fateful butt groping and spontaneous bout of laundry room sex later, Mike begins a long-distance romantic journey to win her over forever, even after she reunites with her punk-rock yogurt mogul of an ex (Woody Harrelson). By phone, Zahn and I talked about his favorite forms of meditation, strange ways to pick up girls, and why he doesn’t feel like a creepy stalker.

Where’s the line drawn between creepy stalking and romantic passion?

Honesty. The guy’s so honest, pure, simple, vulnerable and unpretentious, and that’s what gives [the script] validity.. I was really blown away by the script in that sense, because all the characters are complex in a very real way, and you just don’t read that anymore. Once you have that believable core, you can really go anywhere with it, and that’s what I love about the movie. At times, it’s this very simple, heavy drama. Then five minutes later, it’s slapstick and absurd.

What’s the most peculiar pick-up line or stunt you’ve pulled to get a woman’s attention?

I once hitchhiked down to Rochester, Minnesota — my girlfriend’s town — in a chicken suit for no apparent reason. But it worked. That’s kind of similar to Mike. [laughs] I figured if I was hitchhiking, no one would pick me up, but who the fuck is going to kill you in a chicken suit? I didn’t have a car, [but] I just had to get there because I loved her. It was more about the ride than it was showing up. It served two purposes.

Have you ever obsessed over a girl after just a fleeting encounter?

Of course! Honestly, my wife, when I met her… we were doing a play, a Broadway tour of “Bye Bye Birdie” in 1991, with Tommy Tune and Ann Reinking. All these dancers were in this thing, and I was like, “Greeeeat.” They didn’t really float my boat, you know? Then she came in two weeks late, she was swearin’ and smokin’, and I was like, “That’s the girl right there.” I coordinated my moving around backstage according to when she was going to move around backstage, so I could brush by her, stick out my chest. It fuckin’ worked, man. [laughs]

Jennifer Aniston’s character Sue is very eco-minded. Fess up, how green do you live?

Hey, I live on a farm [in Kentucky]. I just planted the family vegetables yesterday. You name it, I grow it. I have gardens coming out of my butt. I have raised beds, perennial beds, cut flower beds. I have an island on a pond that’s just covered in peonies. I have an herb garden, tons of vegetables, raspberries. I have everything. I’m a green guy. My hands will prove it. If you were here, I’d show you my hands and you’d go, “Yeah, man.”

05142009_Management1.jpgWere you raised with these skills?

I lived in Minnesota in a small town. [All of] my family farms, so I was very familiar with that. I did a lot of farm work as a kid. When we were in New York, we actually moved out to a farm in a Delaware water gap and lived there for ten years. So we were always out in the country. We lived in the city for, like, two years, but that was it. I love New York, but I just about went crazy trying to get into the Lincoln Tunnel yesterday. I don’t experience that at all anymore, unless I’m getting behind a tractor.

Do you, like your character Mike, practice yoga or meditate?

I cut fields. You ever done that? Let me tell you something, that’s called “forced fuckin’ meditation.” You sit on a tractor, going one mile an hour for, like, ten hours? That’s about as good as it gets. You have to just think about shit. [I think about] everything, from the Tet Offensive [and] Vietnam to naked women, you name it. Is there a God? What’s that bird? Then ten minutes of absolutely nothing, no thoughts — which guys have the capability of, that’s an amazing thing. Then it’s like, food. But you can’t get too involved, otherwise you’ll cut your arm off. PlayStation 3 is another form of meditation. Come on, when you’re on set, all day? That’s what I do in my trailer, I just play PlayStation 3. If I have to wait for six hours, my assistant and I will just play “NHL Hockey.”

That’s your game of choice?

Yeah, “NHL Hockey 2001.” [laughs] The new ones, you have to be a pro to play the frickin’ game.

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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.


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…


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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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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