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Guts Before Six Packs: Why Flab Is Funny

Guts Before Six Packs: Why Flab Is Funny (photo)

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Two movies I saw in the last couple weeks threw something into relief for me: comic leading men are in danger of getting too buff to be funny. Let me explain why. The movies in question were last year’s “Going the Distance” and the just-released “Cedar Rapids.” Both try to wring laughs from uncomfortable situations involving heroes in the nude. One works, and one doesn’t.

In “Going the Distance,” Justin Long plays Garrett, a music executive with a long distance girlfriend named Erin (Drew Barrymore). In preparation for their first date in months, he decides to get a spray tan for the first time in his life. A disinterested attendant shoves Garrett into a private tanning room, but her vague instructions aren’t enough. When the spray machine begins to start on its own, Garrett freaks out. He’s not quite ready for his tan — is he supposed to wear his underwear during the spray or not? — which gives us the scene’s punchline: Long, in his birthday suit, covering his junk and his butt with his hands, screaming for help and freaking out about how terrible the tanning spew tastes.

“Cedar Rapids” stars Ed Helms as Tim Lippe, a sheltered insurance agent from Wisconsin who’s sent by his boss to represent his company at an insurance conference. The man he particularly needs to schmooze is conference president Orin Helgesson (Kurtwood Smith), who determines the winner the prestigious “2 Diamonds Award.” After a workout in his hotel’s fitness center, Tim bumps into Helgesson coming out of the locker room shower. Helgesson loses his towel so Lippe does likewise. Hence our punchline: an entire conversation between these two totally naked men about everything in the world except the fact that they’re naked.

Like I said: similar scenes. But the one in “Cedar Rapids” is funny and the one in “Going the Distance” is not. There are a couple of differences between these two sequences, but none greater than the fact than Helms and Smith are schlubby and unshapely while Long is buff.

There are some genres in which big muscles and proper physical grooming are important: action films, probably; porn, definitely. Not comedy. There isn’t anything funny about muscles unless you use them to make fun of the humorlessness of people with muscles (see: Ben Stiller as jacked movie star Tugg Speedman in “Tropic Thunder”). Long’s muscles aren’t there for meta commentary; they’re there, I suspect, because he had a couple of nude scenes in the film and he wanted to look good in them. That’s both totally understandable and totally antithetical to physical comedy, the art of being funny while looking stupid.

Long committed a cardinal comedy sin: putting vanity ahead of stupidity. Even if we ignore the fact that a record executive who never goes to the gym shouldn’t look like a Chippendales dancer, the scene should be funny because Garrett is so uncomfortable in this alien environment. But without his clothes, Long looks like exactly the sort of body-conscious meathead who knows his way around a tanning salon. And he’s already pretty bronze before he hits spray.

A comedian’s body should be his weapon, not his shield. Will Ferrell runs marathons, but not when he’s doing body humor in one of his films because when he streaks down the road, it’s a lot funnier if he doesn’t look like a marathon runner. That’s why the comparable scene in “Cedar Rapids” gets so many more laughs. Even though we actually do see Tim Lippe working out, his body still looks like that of a regular guy: saggy and undefined. Helms’ physique is an endearing sight. It fits the character, and it enhances the delightful awkwardness of his nude confrontation with Kurtwood Smith, whose body is even more saggy, even more undefinned, even more covered in scraggly, unsightly hair. As a general rule of comedy, any aspect of the human body that can be described as “unsightly” is funny.

I’m not blaming Justin Long here; he’s good in the rest of “Going the Distance.” I’m merely using him as an example of an ongoing change among comic leading men. Sure we’ve always had handsome comedians — Cary Grant was good looking and funny. And I’m well aware that a big part of the pleasure of movies is the pleasure of looking at pretty things. That’s why we have movie stars. But the pleasure of pretty is not always compatible with the pleasure of funny. And as more and more fitness-obsessed leading men rush to get into incredible physical shape, the kind that’s unattainable for anyone who doesn’t have a trainer, a nutritionist, and four assistants, they get further away from the core values that make them funny. Visualize the Justin Long tanning scene with a young, scrawny, pasty Woody Allen and you see what I’m talking about.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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