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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.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

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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