Ben Stiller, ’90s survivor.

Ben Stiller, ’90s survivor.  (photo)

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If you look at the two big peaks of Ben Stiller’s early ’90s career — Fox’s “The Ben Stiller Show” and 1994’s “Reality Bites,” the two projects over which he exercised the most control up to that point — and didn’t know any better, you might not have expected him to stick around.

Back then, it seemed clear that Stiller wasn’t a comedian, actor or director so much as a guy peculiarly obsessed with the texture of late twentysomething life (a topic of considerable self-obsession at the time), especially its pop cultural aspects. His Bono impersonation was dead-on, and “Reality Bites” has become a fairly unwatchable touchstone, an amusing anthology of current concerns (AIDS! Coming out of the closet! Slackers!).

Stiller eventually left this financially unrewarding path and, starting with “There’s Something About Mary,” began to systematically peel away the rough edges from his persona. At least in “Meet The Parents” he was worried about being Jewish, and rightfully so whenever De Niro started to crack wise; of late, his paranoia and flailing precede any motivation. It’s schtick as calcified as any Robin Williams film.

It’s funny, then, to see Stiller respectfully profiled and analyzed by Dennis Lim in the New York Times, who notes that he specializes in “characters defined by their simmering resentments and festering neuroses.” Well, sure. Williams plays (mostly) characters defined by motor-mouthed volubility and wise-cracking impersonations: what of it? For the most part, Stiller presents anxiety as a spectacle for other people to laugh at, which is unobjectionable but not particularly brave. It’s hardly a lot to talk about.

03182010_zoolander.jpgOn the other hand, as a director Stiller favors casting himself in aggressively self-regarding and preening capacities (both in “Zoolander” and “Tropic Thunder”). As a satirist, he isn’t so much pointed as, often, angry. He’s spoofing other people he obviously isn’t — model, action star — and it’s that split between his self-deprecation and his own tendency to use himself as a stick to beat others with that forms maybe the sole interesting tension of Stiller’s recent career.

Towards the end of the profile, Stiller says pop-culture parody — his former starting point — is now maybe too fragmentary for him to keep up with. Instead, the photo at the top of the profile has Stiller (now 44) looking grey-haired and kind of Jeff Bridges-y, while the article talks up how sharp and aggressive his character in “Greenberg” is. But if you transplant the anger animating and uneasy that animates Stiller’s own work, it makes sense: he’s just going to express that in slightly more straightforward ways, the same way all aging comedians eventually feel the oft-misplaced urge to “get serious.” Self-loathing and aggressive bad treatment of others, after all, are almost invariably two sides of the same coin.

[Photos: “Reality Bites,” Universal, 1994; “Zoolander,” Paramount, 2001]


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…


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. 


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


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


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.