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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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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