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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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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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