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Josh Radnor Talks “Happythankyoumoreplease”

Josh Radnor Talks “Happythankyoumoreplease” (photo)

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No sooner than I sat down with Josh Radnor does he tell me that he’s going to give me an exclusive, as he scrolled through his smartphone. “I just found out I’ve been named to my high school’s hall of fame,” he says, clearly taken by the honor with a smirk that suggested a mix of nostalgia and bemusement. Oddly enough, it’s somewhere in between where “Happythankyoumoreplease,” Radnor’s debut as a writer/director, resides.

Not easily described as either a comedy, a drama or the usual variation thereof, Radnor’s graduation into film after years of starring on “How I Met Your Mother” is a bit more melancholy than one would expect from its emphatic title, tracking the lives of five New Yorkers all having to let go of considerable baggage if they are to face the commitments standing in front of them. Since Radnor wrote the film to star in himself, naturally he has the most on his plate as a creatively-blocked novelist who takes in a young boy he sees abandoned on the subway around the same time he becomes smitten with another stray (Kate Mara), a waitress he meets at a local pub. Meanwhile, his alopecia-stricken best friend (Malin Akerman) fights off the advances of a well-meaning but plain-looking co-worker (Tony Hale) and his sister (Zoe Kazan) fears her longtime boyfriend’s desire to move to Los Angeles.

Whether they’re successful at charting a new direction for their lives is something that needs to be seen in the film, but it’s clear Radnor’s own turn behind the camera has been, already having garnered an Audience Award at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. Thankfully, after a yearlong delay that can be attributed to a change in distributors [from the nascent Hannover House to Anchor Bay], audiences outside of Park City will have the chance to see it and I caught up with Radnor recently to talk about what went into making his directorial debut.

Are you relieved the film is finally coming out? It seems like it must be frustrating to do everything right, coming out of Sundance, and then discovering you need to find another home for your film.

I always had great faith that it would come out. I knew, given the Sundance reception and we kept winning audience awards at festivals, I felt like this is a movie that audiences respond to and someone’s going to want to put this out and get it to an audience. So there was confusion in the midst of it, but Anchor Bay picked us up a few days after we left the other distributor, so it was kind of immediate. It was a very smooth passage into this other [distributor]. Then the delay happened, which has actually been fine — it’s almost like you get to spend another year at home with your kid before he gets to go to school. There’s a sweet time before it’s released before the world gets ahold with it, so I got to spend a little more time with the film, which was okay with me.

03032011_Happythankyoumoreplease1.jpgThe end credits note a bunch of actors (including Chris Messina, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Westfeldt, Sarah Chalke, among others) that “participated in readings of the script…and helped immeasurably in its development.” As an actor yourself, do you think you developed the film in a different way than if you were strictly a writer and how did those readings impact the film?

The first reading I did was in New York with, I think, I had 80 pages or something. It was like two acts of the movie and every time I would hear it out loud, I would hear what was working, what wasn’t working, what needed to be addressed and then actors actually have really good instincts about story and about structure because they’re inside the script and kind of feel like “oh that didn’t feel right.” So I ended up doing about seven readings and they were all so helpful, both in New York and L.A. — it was really fun too, to gather all these great actors together and just hear this thing you had written take on some other life in the room. But the process of doing the readings was so invaluable to me that I felt like I wanted to thank them at the end. No one obviously did it for anything other than some wine and some crackers, but I wanted to tip my hat to that whole process because it felt important to me.

It just seemed like a different way of approaching a film.

It’s more because I come from the theater where you do a lot of readings, you do a lot of workshops. Before it’s on its feet, you might do like a one or two-week workshop where you just show it to people where you still have scripts in your hand and it’s a more fluid process where you allow it to be in process rather than a finished product, so I just learned a lot about the movie and I learned that I should probably direct a movie from those readings.

The script made the Black List and there’s usually some frenzy surrounding that. Were you hearing versions of it from other directors that made you think I really should do this?

I never had an extensive conversation with a potential director on it, so I didn’t really hear about other people’s visions. It was more my vision of it was so strong and so sharp that I felt it was probably best for me to assume to reins of the whole thing.

Other actors sometimes describe the transition from doing comedy on TV to film as being a bit rough since it’s a different rhythm. Did you actually find that affecting what you did as a director or writer?

It’s hard for me to say what this is. It’s certainly not a straight-up comedy because there’s moments of real genuine feeling and anguish and all those things and it’s also certainly not a tragedy. There’s a happy ending to the whole thing. So as a writer, if a scene was a little mopey, I would feel it was time for a joke and if a scene was really funny, I would try to end it on maybe a more somber note. But that was more reflecting what I feel what life is, which is both tragic and comic in equal measure on some level.

03032011_Happythankyoumoreplease2.jpgOn a multi-camera sitcom, you’re beholden to a certain rhythm when it comes to laughs. Like 20 seconds go by, you’re going to have a laugh. I think one of the things “How I Met Your Mother” does really well is it balances that, where we’ll go to some really serious terrain and we’ll let it live there for a while. And it’s bold in the world of sitcoms for a show to do that. That said, a movie gives you a lot more latitude in that I didn’t have to have laughs in a scene at all. And that’s okay because things aren’t funny all the time.

After seeing the film, the title makes perfect sense, but did you worry with something quirky announcing your film like that, along with some of the other superficial elements of the plot that scream “this is an indie film” that you were putting a target on your back?

I don’t know because I don’t feel like a great student of indie film. It’s not like I thought, “Demographically, I think there need to be more films about young people in urban environments!” I didn’t think that and I don’t think that. But I knew this was a story I wanted to tell and I’m not a cynical person. I think a lot of indie films get really dark and if I was doing any kind of subversion, it was flipping that on its head. But I think a lot of people go in expecting the film to be one thing and it’s really not that thing and most of those people are pleasantly surprised by that.

“Happythankyoumoreplease” opens in New York and Los Angeles on March 4th.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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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