DID YOU READ

Jon Lovitz Bets on “Casino Jack”

Jon Lovitz Bets on “Casino Jack” (photo)

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It’s not unusual to hear that Jon Lovitz is the funniest part of a movie. It’s more so to discover that that movie isn’t a traditional comedy — it’s “Casino Jack,” George Hickenlooper’s caper-like take on the downfall of Jack Abramoff and the director’s last before his death in October at age 47. Lovitz plays Adam Kidan, Abramoff’s partner in a scheme to buy a casino cruise line in Florida. Unlike lobbyists Abramoff (played by Kevin Spacey) and his protege Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper), Kidan is not in the business of self-delusion about his own nature. He’s a former mattress salesman with mob ties who likes strippers, cocaine and frank talk, and in a story in which so many of the figures involved have convinced themselves that their greed somehow works toward the greater good, Lovitz’s character is a breath of fresh air, an unabashed, amusing sleazebag. I got a few minutes to talk to the former SNL member about “documentary film acting,” faith and his stand-up work.

Adam Kidam isn’t as familiar a figure to the public as Jack Abramoff, how close did you feel you had to stick to him as…

…a real guy? I didn’t, because, like you said, there was hardly any stuff. I went on the internet, and there were a couple of pictures and footage of him walking, so I used that. I read the story, a couple quotes of his, everything that happened, but mostly I based it on the script and worked it out with the director, George Hickenlooper. He died, it’s horrible. He really made the movie, and I just — I feel very grateful that he left in all my scenes. You plan a whole character with all the scenes in mind when you read a part, and then you go to the movie and they cut a lot of the scenes, and you’re like “Uh? Now that’s not funny because they cut that, and no one know why I’m doing that…” With this, he left them all in, which I’ve never had before — I was thrilled. I got to make a whole guy.

I did the movie “Happiness” with Todd Solondz, and he was great to work with, but in the script I had three scenes — the first scene, one where I dropped the girl off and a third where I commit suicide. And I go “This is going to be dramatic, what’s more dramatic than that?” And then they kept the first scene and cut the other two. It’s his movie, his story to tell, but I was disappointed that the other two got cut, because then it would have been a character with a beginning, a middle and an end.

12232010_casinojack3.jpgDid you see the sequel, “Life During Wartime”?

I haven’t seen it, but I know Paul Reubens [who took on the role Lovitz played in the first film]. He actually called me and said “You know, I feel weird and honored, I’m playing your part.” I’m like, “What, are you kidding? Paul, I’m flattered you’re doing it.” I went to the Groundlings when I was 20 — someone recommended me to go and see him, Pee-wee Herman. He said he kind of imitated me [laughs].

How did you approach acting in a film that’s more of a drama than is typical of your work on the big screen?

I actually studied straight acting for ten years, I was a drama major at UC Irvine, here in New York I did an Oscar Wilde play. But when I was 25, I concentrated on the Groundlings. So I know acting, I just decided to concentrate on comedy. Ralph Levy came to [my acting] class to teach comedy for a summer, he used to produce and direct “The Burns and Allen Show,” “The Jack Benny Show.” I did a scene for him, and he said “Where’s all the stuff you did at Irvine?” I said “It’s the same?” “Of course it’s the same!” You do all the things you do in drama, and add the comedy on top of it. You the actor know it’s funny, but the character should be oblivious.

I hadn’t done a movie in a while, we’d be on the set and George kept saying “That’s good. Less, less.” And I finally said “You want me to do documentary film acting?” And he goes, “Yes.” Which is a term I kind of made up — how can you act in a documentary? I said that because he had made documentaries, and he knew what I meant, which was — you’re watching a documentary, and they’re interviewing, say, a farmer, and he’s having a tough time, he might lose his house, you’re like “Holy shit!”

12232010_casinojack2.jpgIf you said that guy’s an actor, he’s not really a farmer, well, that’s the best actor I’ve ever seen. You can’t tell the person’s acting, but at the same time you’re riveted. And that’s what film acting is, and it’s really hard to do because the camera picks up everything. That’s why there’s very few great actors — and I’m not talking about myself. [laughs] There’s Kevin Spacey, he was amazing. You have ten different things that you want to bring to each scene, you attempt that, but he does it.

As he plays Abramoff in the film, the character is a performer too. He’s convinced himself, rationalized away all the terrible things he’s doing.

Right! That’s why I say he’s a fake Jew.

Yes — he’s very devoted to his religion, but doesn’t absorb any of its moral lessons.

Exactly! Judaism especially is about trying to do the right thing morally. That’s why you have the Torah and the Talmud, which is 12 books of scholars asking questions — what does this mean, in a moral situation? What do you do? And then they have the Mishnah, which is 64 volumes of questions about the Talmud, it’s endless. That’s why I say “You fake Jew, you’re saying you’re all moralistic but you’re not,” but he keeps justifying it. In the movie — I don’t know the guy personally.

I know you’ve gotten into stand-up, and you have the comedy club in Universal City. Can you tell me about that, particularly coming as you have from an improv background?

I used to do Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce’s routines in my dorm. When I got “Saturday Night Live,” Dennis Miller goes “You could be a stand-up!” It was something I always wanted to do. About seven years ago the movie roles were drying up, and I said to my agent and manager “Can you get me work? I’m going to run out of money in a few years.” I wasn’t broke, but… They go “Why don’t you sell your house?” That was their answer. And one was building a mansion and the other was moving into one. So I thought, I have a better idea, I’m going to learn stand-up and fire both of them.

12232010_casinojack4.jpgIt motivated me to do something, to face my fear of something I always wanted to do but was too afraid to. I would get on stage and my heart would be pounding in my chest. I went to The Laugh Factory and said to Jamie Masada “You got to force me on stage. I want to do this.” He said “Okay, you’re on in 20 minutes.” It was the only way I could do it. Everyone was 15 years younger than me. But Dane Cook is at that club all the time and he was very supportive and encouraging, and that helped a lot.

Who’s working the stand-up circuit these days that you think is worthy of attention?

I did a Showtime special where I got to present four guys and I think they’re all great. Ian Bagg, Daryl Wright, Al Del Bene, who’s currently opening for Dane, and Quinn Dale. The special’s called “Jon Lovitz Presents,” and those four guys… they’re all great.

“Casino Jack” is now playing in theaters.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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