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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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SO EXCITED!!!

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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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.”

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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. 

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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