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Babycastles Takes Manhattan

Babycastles Takes Manhattan (photo)

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It’s been almost two months since the minds behind Babycastles inaugurated their residency just a few blocks from Grand Central Station. The space comes courtesy of Chashama, an organization that sets up artists in empty real-estate locations like retail storefronts or office spaces. Previously, Babycastles lived at the Silent Barn music venue in Rudgewood, Queens. You didn’t need a password but their space at Silent Barn felt like a video game speakeasy. Finding yourself at the nondescript metal door and going down to the basement illuminated by screenlight meant you now belonged to a secret society of people privy to a bubbling, fertile cultural movement.

11292010_Babycastles_Manhattan_3a.jpgStill, the bigger, splashier Midtown East locale required a change in approach, both in terms of what the show and how they show it. Syed Salahuddin, one of the founders of Babycastles, offered that “we could do whatever the f**k we wanted at Silent Barn. That crowd was more acclimated to trying out new things, even if they didn’t play video games.” He continued with the observation that “here [at Chashama, we need to have things that are more palatable. We want to be people’s introduction to indie games.”

The latest exhibition–curated by Independent Games Festival chairman Brandon Boyer–featured the biggest names yet, with indie success stories “Super Meat Boy,” “Continuity” and “Enviro-Bear 2000” playable in custom-made cabinets. Saturday night saw a closing party for the exhibition, with musical performances by chiptune artists Starscream, Neil Voss and Knife City. Salahuddin says that openings have been great, but ordinary weekdays have been a mixed bag: “Midtown is an alien world for us and it’s a little difficult to get people from Brooklyn to come out.”

However, they have managed to draw a curious cubicle-dweller crowd: “People wander in during their lunch breaks, because nothing cool or cultural happens in this part of the city. They’ve been super-appreciative.” So has Chashama, who have extended the Babycastles residency through to the end of January. The pace of exhibitions has doubled in the new space, up to two showcases a month. A January show will feature the work of Eddo Stern, who helped curate Fantastic Arcade at the 2010 Fantastic Fest and is also known for “Tekken Torture Tournament.”

Speaking of upcoming exhibitions, Eric Zimmerman and Nathalie Pozzi have also created “Flatlands,” a new site-specific work for the space that Zimmerman described as a “conversational” game about aesthetic discourse. The pair plan to re-work the feel of the venue a little bit as Pozzi described the look of the non-digital game as more somber interspersed with bursts of color. Zimmerman didn’t get in specifics but said that playing “Flatlands” involves old-school board games from the 1980s and that which board you choose will in itself be a move.

11292010_Babycastles_Manhattan_6a.jpgAsked why Babycastles’ Manhattan space is important, Zimmerman answered by noting, “As digital games enter the cultural pantheon alongside literature, film and other media, it’s important to create context for their distribution and experience beyond a box on a shelf or a slot on a Xbox Live Arcade release schedule. There has to be a curated kind of space and Babycastles is both a symptom and a cause of the rise of indie games.”

Brandon Boyer agrees, adding hat Babycastles is part of a larger movement happening in many cities. “Toronto has its Torontron and Seattle, Austin are trying to set up similar things. Places like this take everything back to the 1980s, when there still were communal spaces for playing games together,” he says.

The IGF chairman chose these seven games because he knew they would show well “in a noisy space with drunk people.” “Super Meat Boy” and “Continuity” are already playable in the wild, but Boyer also included highly anticipated games that aren’t out yet like “Monaco” and “Tuning.”

Rumors of a New Year’s Eve party ran through the room on Saturday night and Salahuddin wouldn’t say if such a thing was in the works. I asked him if he and his partners would consider another run in Manhattan once this residency ended, but he answered that “After this, we go to sleep and die.”




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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GIFs via Giphy

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.


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.