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Patton Oswalt: A “Fan” for All Seasons

Patton Oswalt: A “Fan” for All Seasons (photo)

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One of the most irreverent, quick-witted and prolific stand-up comedians working today, Patton Oswalt is instantly recognizable from his TV appearances (“The King of Queens,” “The United States of Tara”), voiceover work (“Ratatouille”) and cameo roles in movies (“Observe and Report,” “Starsky and Hutch”). So the most surprising fact about Oswalt’s first film leading role is that it’s far too unsettling to be called a comedy. “Big Fan” marks the directorial debut of Robert Siegel, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of last year’s “The Wrestler.” A convincingly sincere Oswalt stars as Paul Aufiero, a sad-sack Staten Island parking lot attendant who obsessively follows the New York Giants, and spends his free time writing triumphant rants about his beloved footballers to be unloaded on a sports radio call-in show. Oswalt has joked that the movie should be called “Fattsy Driver,” but the more accurate Scorsese reference is “The King of Comedy,” as Paul becomes dangerously fanatical about his favorite linebacker. In town to promote the film and his new comedy album “My Weakness is Strong,” Oswalt sat down with me at a midtown Manhattan pub to talk about comic books, why Staten Island isn’t entirely depressing and the last time he got his ass kicked.

So you’re a comedian doing drama, working with a former Onion writer now recognized for drama, and you’re shooting this quick and dirty little indie. How unusual was this project?

[laughs] Quick and dirty is correct! What was challenging was the lack of any kind of facilities. You change your clothes in the back of the van, you stay in the car with the heater on to stay warm, or we’re all on location at someone’s house. Because I’m such a film buff, [I had] that nerdy exhilaration: “This is what it probably was like to do ‘Mean Streets’ or ‘The Rain People’ or all these early movies when they had no fucking money.” It was all “Quick, grab the shot before we get arrested,” or “Call your friend tomorrow, we got a mock-up. Doesn’t he have a room that’s really white? We’ll make it look like a hospital. Fuck, what are we going to do?” It was all [about] who can pitch in where, and I loved that kind of moviemaking, where we used the world around us, rather than depend on sets.

Do you get pampered working on studio projects?

Well, there’s a level of comfort from being on a much bigger budget thing. Something like this, it didn’t take you long to get into the character: “What is the effect of staying in this room my whole life done to me?” I’ve been here for eight hours, and it really is starting to affect my worldview, and pissing me off a bit. There’s something beautiful about that.

The film was shot all over Staten Island. Is there any place more depressing?

It’s not that the place itself is depressing. There’s just been no effort towards any kind of design or aesthetics. It’s like that Oscar Wilde quote — “Why are Americans so violent?” He goes: “Well, you guys have such ugly wallpaper.” That sounds funny, but there’s something psychological to it. If you surround people with ugliness, then they’re going to be in a bad mood all the time. But a lot of the [restaurants] were all family-run, so that part still had a lot of humanity to it. It had this cool dichotomy that I loved.

I know you’re not a sports fanatic, so let’s talk comic books. What’s the most obsessive thing you’ve done in the name of comic collecting?

I don’t collect them, but I do read them, so I do get very obsessive. I want my new comics on a Wednesday. I fucking want them. I’ve gotten in cabs and driven to the outskirts of Las Vegas to find a comic book store on a Wednesday, so that I’ve got my pile. But I’m not obsessed with the characters — I very much follow the writers and artists that I like: the Luna brothers; everything Ed Brubaker, Brian K. Vaughan, Daniel Way or Matt Fraction does; or Warren Ellis, his 19 titles a week. [laughs] That stuff jazzes me up. The things I love… I try to have them enhance my life, not replace my life.

08252009_BigFan3.jpgSo what’s the through line of your taste? What appeals to you in modern comics?

The only genre I have left is just “good.” I tend to trust writers, and I also read reviews. When people say, “Oh, there’s this new writer, you should really check him out. He’s doing something great,” that’s what I follow. I don’t sit there and go, “I like robots. I like werewolves.” It doesn’t matter. Dave Mazzucchelli has this new one — “Asterios Polyp,” about an aging architect — that I could not put down. At the same time, Darwyn Cooke adapted Richard Stark’s “The Hunter,” and I could not put that down. I just like good stuff.

Besides being obsessive, your character Paul’s fandom is communal. Do you have any hobbies you share with a collective of friends?

There’s nothing I meet up for anymore. It’s all solitary. I’m so busy working, writing and performing that I don’t have time. Going to see movies with friends, and sitting and arguing about them afterward, that’s still an abiding passion. But I wouldn’t say that that’s a hobby-like meeting — tt’s just me and my friends going to see movies.

From my limited exposure to your onscreen buddy Kevin Corrigan, he seems like a real-life eccentric.

That’s really how he is. He’s not “Oh, I better put on the weirdo character now.” It’s just the way he interacts with the world and the way his thoughts come out of him. You realize he’s moving at a different and random speed. That’s what gives him his genius.

In so many ways, Paul just wants to be left alone. Being in the limelight now more than ever, is there anything you want to be left alone about?

Not really. I’ll discuss anything with anyone. There’s nothing I feel like I have to hide, or just… [in a whiny voice] “Oh, guys, just leave me alone.” I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you like it, don’t be guilty about that.

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

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IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

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Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

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In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

“Zed is Dead”: A Chat with Bobcat Goldthwait

“Zed is Dead”: A Chat with Bobcat Goldthwait (photo)

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Comedian-turned-filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait is getting closer to shaking off his early career history, when his stand-up comic persona had a high-pitched, jittery growl (for the last time: no, that wasn’t his real voice), which also fueled his role as Zed, the loose-cannon cop from the “Police Academy” series. In 1991, he directed the now cult-legendary “Shakes the Clown,” but his real rebirth as an indie auteur begins with 2006’s “Sleeping Dogs Lie,” an unexpected tender rom-com about a guy trying to deal with the knowledge that his fiancée once performed oral sex on a dog. Goldthwait’s latest feature is the outrageously dark (but again, heartfelt) comedy “World’s Greatest Dad.” A smartly subdued Robin Williams stars as Lance, a high school English teacher, failed writer, and father to an obnoxious, perverted, truly unlikeable teen Kyle (Daryl Sabara). After Kyle dies from autoerotic asphyxiation, Lance fakes his son’s memoirs out of despair, turning his dead brat into a lovable martyr, and earning himself sympathy and self-confidence as a writer. Goldthwait sat down with me to talk about enjoying stand-up for the first time in ages, the famous director he slept with, and a follow-up to the marriage advice he gave me three years ago.

I’m sure you’re sick of talking about career moments from more than 20 years ago, so I won’t bring up “Police Academy” or that snarling voice you were known for.

I don’t mind. I just went out and did “The Alimony Tour.” I was on the road [doing stand-up], making money — eight cities in ten days. I filmed it, and I thought I’d make a movie about how club owners are douchebags and morning radio DJs are assholes. But nobody was, and I was like, “Why do I still hate this?” It was really clear to me: “Oh, I hate this character.” So, while I was on the road, I said I’m not doing it anymore. It was terrifying to be in the heartland where they had [“Police Academy” co-star] Michael Winslow two weeks before making bird noises and helicopter farts or whatever. They were yelling, “Do the voice!” I stuck to my guns and just did it as me. It was hard and scary, but it was really freeing. A high ratio of it went well, and sometimes it didn’t, but I learned the truth. I’m going to be honest with myself and the audience, and have a good time. For the first time, I had fun. I was going on an extra half hour and shit. I hadn’t liked [stand-up] in years, so Zed is dead.

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Comic-Con: Musings from the Back of the Twiline

Comic-Con: Musings from the Back of the Twiline (photo)

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Everyone likes to pick out trends each Comic-Con, but at this year’s four-day geek bacchanal, where the film panels once again have equal (if not greater) priority to comic books, there seems to be a genuine one developing as the faceless franchises that usually reign over the convention have given way to the some of the world’s best directors pushing the limits of their craft. Sure, “Twilight” fans camped outside the San Diego Convention Center (forming what our own Matt Singer dubbed the “Twiline”) for a glimpse of Robert Pattinson yesterday, and Saturday’s “Iron Man 2″ panel, said to include Mickey Rourke and Scarlett Johansson in addition to Comic-Con vets Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr., will likely be one of the Con’s major events. Yet it was watching Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” footage yesterday morning that made me realize that, just as Neil Gaiman, Todd McFarlane and Frank Miller roam the halls outside, this year’s collection of filmmakers represents something unusual in a world filled with sequels and remakes — a place where artists working on some of the biggest canvasses imaginable can be appreciated as such.

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