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Armando Iannucci on Why Politics Are Still Funny

Armando Iannucci on Why Politics Are Still Funny (photo)

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Despite being a major recipient of that notorious Sundance buzz when premiering at the festival in January, “In the Loop” seemed out of place in Park City. Sundance is a festival that tends to take its comedy quirky, with a dollop of teary reconciliation, and “In the Loop” is stealthily, wonderfully heartless, a political satire in which individual self-interest constantly gums up the governing systems of two nations and eventually leads to war. Glasgow-born comedian Armando Iannucci, making his directorial debut with the film, knows his way around the savage send-up. In his storied career as a TV writer and producer, he helped to create Alan Partridge, the narcissistic talk-show host character that established Steve Coogan’s career, not to mention a throng of other comedy series, many with a political edge. One of those, “The Thick of It,” a mockumentary-style farce set in the British ministry, provided a launching pad “In the Loop.” The series and the film share a visual style, some of the most creatively profane dialogue you’re ever likely to hear, and the character who spouts more of it, apoplectic spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), who stalks the halls of state of London and D.C. trying to curtail the chaos that ensues after Secretary of State for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) tells a radio interviewer that war in the Middle East is “unforeseeable.”

Where did the idea of “In The Loop” as a feature come from?

I was very excited by the whole Iraq situation, but at the time, it was just so horrible that you couldn’t be funny about it. However, the more I read afterward about what was going on, the more I thought, well, either you can scream about something like that or you can try and make comedy out of it without diminishing what actually happened.

That led me to look to Washington more and discover all sorts of funny things that you never see portrayed in any dramatic recreation of insider politics — like the fact that a lot of the government is run by 23-year-olds with degrees in terrorism studies and oil analysis, but who don’t really know how to buy a house. [laugh] We met someone who said they knew a 23-year-old who was sent to Baghdad to help draw up the constitution! Also, I like the idea of revealing what’s actually going on behind those closed doors, and the fact that it’s terribly human and terribly fallible. It’s just people making mistakes and trying to cover up for mistakes they’ve made, the office politics that go on.

Were you allowed, when researching for the film, any access into these realms?

I went to Washington and hooked up with a blogger out there who knew everyone, Spencer Ackerman, and he fixed up meetings with ex-State Department, CIA, Pentagon, Senate, U.N. — it was absolutely invaluable. I said I’d love to go into the State Department, see what it looks like. And everyone was saying [in hushed tone] “Well, security.” And I said, well, I’ve got a BBC pass. It’s just this plastic thing with my face on it and my name and BBC. There’s no– no…

01282009_intheloop3.jpgMicrochip inside?

No microchip, no PIN, nothing. My son, who’s 15, could’ve done it off his computer. My friend, this journalist, said to go up to the front desk at the State Department and say “I’m here for the 12:30. BBC.” And that did it. They just said, “Through there,” and we got into the State Department. We just wandered around taking photographs for our art department. I’m sure we must’ve been on 17 different cameras. [laughs] There may well have been snipers on their way…

Certainly the look of the film and of “The Thick of It” are inspired by documentary. Why did you make that choice?

Two reasons: One is I wanted to stress the naturalism of it, and the documentary feel lends itself to that. The other is just the method of shooting. I like to shoot fast and free and slightly improvised, having all the locations just generally lit, no marks; telling the cast they can wander about; having two cameras on the go all the time so if somebody comes up with a magnificent piece of improvised dialogue, I don’t then have to say, “Can you say all that again, this time for a tight shot?” I wanted the behavior of the performers to be like the behavior of people in politics, which is that they are improvising. They’re reacting very fast to things that are thrown at them out of the blue, so if there’s a slightly panicked look in any of the characters’ eyes, it’s because it’s there in the actors’ eyes [laughs] as they’ve just been given the lines that morning and they’re told, “We’ve only got ten minutes on this scene and then we’ve got to move on.”

So what percentage of the film is improvised? Because the dialogue does feel very precise.

We go in with a script I’m absolutely happy with and shoot the script. I then say, “Okay, say it all again in your own way,” and chances are they’ll come up with the script again, but maybe in a slightly different order or with a completely new line. I’d say in the end at least 80% of it is the script, but there is that 15 to 20% that’s new and therefore a lot of the cast are chosen for their ability to improvise.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



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.”


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. 


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.