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Thomas Haden Church Rolls On

Thomas Haden Church Rolls On (photo)

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A day after he traveled home from the sound of thunderous applause at the Tribeca Film Festival, Thomas Haden Church was driving through the pouring rain outside his ranch in Texas when he called to discuss “Don McKay.” Church left knowing the darkly comic film about a janitor who rekindles a relationship with a high school sweetheart after hitting a dead end 25 years after the fact was “not going to be for everybody,” but that writer/director Jake Goldberger’s unexpectedly twisty take on why most reunions after that much time don’t work was working for the audience. Much of the credit belongs to Church, who’s long brought the pathos to his most bitingly funny performances. Church was all smiles at the film’s premiere, which as an executive producer on marked his second effort behind the camera in a creative capacity, following his directorial debut on the underseen and underappreciated 2003 pot comedy “Rolling Kansas.” As he drove through the stormy weather, I asked Church about his time on the festival circuit, as well as working with Charlie Kaufman on his equally underappreciated ’90s sitcom “Ned and Stacey.”

Were you pleased with how the festival went?

The screenings were beyond my greatest expectations. The audience was just rollicking and then stone silent at the poignant moments, but they were launched right back into the ribaldry with the story. The audience embraced it, and that’s all you can hope for, that people understand it and are compelled and they want to go for the ride and they don’t regret it when the ride’s over. They don’t regret being there.

You were working with a first-time filmmaker in now-32-year-old Jake Goldberger on “Don McKay” — could you relate from your experience directing “Rolling Kansas”?

Oh, sure. I’ll say this and it’s not false humility — going into “Don McKay,” Jake had fashioned a much better script than “Rolling Kansas” had, a more complete emotional story. [In “Kansas”] we went for overblown comedy set-pieces that we thought worked into the story, but didn’t really have anything at times to do with the narrative, which was a real thing that happened to me when I was a sophomore in college. I told the tale on Conan O’Brien and the audience went berserk that some dumbasses had stolen a bunch of pot from the government and gotten away with it — that’s when we decided to write the film. But it was always an incomplete emotional journey. We tried to make as much out of it as we could.

With “Don McKay,” Jake is a young guy, and to imagine such a complete emotional life for a man 20 years older than him, I was just absolutely enthralled by that. It took four years, give or take, from when I first read the script and met him to when we were actually shooting a film. We got to be very close and in the interim, tweaked it and sharpened it, but the story was always an emotionally complete tale, which is what every actor wants to play, no matter whether you have three scenes or 30 or 100.

05062009_DonMcKay2.jpgBecause of that long development period, had this story resonated for you more personally as the years have worn on?

It did. I’m not exaggerating — the first ten pages of the script, I knew that that guy lived inside of me. Jake and I always had a very succinct understanding of who he was. And yet it still was a tremendous challenge, probably is the most challenging thing I’ve ever tried to do. It was also at a very difficult time in my personal life. I had a relationship that was breaking up, and it fueled in a weird way the emotional isolation of the character. He’s a very lonely guy [whose] adult existence is completely defined by tragedy. That’s a very unique thing to play, but to play with restraint. You don’t have “once an act the guy is quietly sobbing” or shit like that — you never know until all of those things are revealed in the third act of the film what this undercurrent of sadness and possibly tragedy in his life is.

That ambiguity is probably what had so many people talking about it at Tribeca.

Which is great. I mean, look, it’s not going to be for everybody. There’s a suspension of disbelief throughout the movie that some people are just not going to be able to wrap their heads around. And we knew that. It’s a movie that you’ve got to be willing to go with the flight of imagination. But I’ll say this: nobody left. All three times the theaters were full and nobody left. [laughs] It may never do any business, but that’s all we can ask for at this point.

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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.