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DID YOU READ

Have comedy, won’t travel

Have comedy, won’t travel (photo)

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How do you like your comedies? Gross-out? Witty? Physical? Well however you like them, I hope you like ’em cheaply produced, because that’s how you’re going to get them for the foreseeable future, according to a report in The Los Angeles Times. Ben Fritz writes that several factors — most notably the decline in DVD sales and comedies’ relative unpopularity overseas — have forced Hollywood to drastically scale back on their budgets. The days of $50 million dollar plus budgets for comedies may be coming to an end, replaced by more films like “Bad Teacher,” which was made, according to the Times, for just $19 million, including $1 million for star Cameron Diaz (as opposed to her $8 million fee for last year’s “Knight and Day”).

My first reaction is “Well, duh.” Why in the world do you need $50 million to make a comedy anyway? You don’t. Comedy is one of those rare cinematic commodities that can’t be improved by throwing money at it. If your giant transforming robots don’t look so hot, you can pay for better special effects. Other than paying for a better screenwriter, how else can you throw money after comedy? You can’t.

But there’s a bigger problem here, one that’s been on my mind since I wrote that piece about movie stars last week and spent a lot of time looking at the recent international grosses, and that’s this idea that a lot of American comedies don’t gross well overseas. And since foreign box office is becoming more and more important, that has made comedies less and less desirable for studios. As a test case, let’s look at some recent films by Will Ferrell and compare their American and foreign grosses. I’m excluding teeny tiny movies like “Everything Must Go,” just because those are a different story altogether. All numbers come from Box Office Mojo (where else?):

“Megamind” (2010)
AMERICAN BOX OFFICE TOTAL: $148.4 million
FOREIGN BOX OFFICE TOTAL: $173.4 million

“The Other Guys” (2010)
AMERICAN BOX OFFICE TOTAL: $119.2 million
FOREIGN BOX OFFICE TOTAL: $51.2 million

“Land of the Lost” (2009)
AMERICAN BOX OFFICE TOTAL: $49.4 million
FOREIGN BOX OFFICE TOTAL: $19.3 million

“Step Brothers” (2008)
AMERICAN BOX OFFICE TOTAL: $100.4 million
FOREIGN BOX OFFICE TOTAL: $27.6 million

“Semi-Pro” (2008)
AMERICAN BOX OFFICE TOTAL: $33.4 million
FOREIGN BOX OFFICE TOTAL: $10.4 million

“Blades of Glory” (2007)
AMERICAN BOX OFFICE TOTAL: $118.5 million
FOREIGN BOX OFFICE TOTAL: $27.1

With the exception of the animated “Megamind,” Will Ferrell’s movies do not travel well abroad. They routinely (and kind of shockingly) draw 75% of their total worldwide earnings in the United States alone. Whether Ferrell’s movies are hits (like “Blades of Glory”) or flops (like “Last of the Lost”) here hardly seems to matter. Winner or loser, they’re always losers overseas.

This isn’t true of all American comedians. Adam Sandler regularly grosses just as much overseas as he does in the U.S. (his last film, “Just Go With It,” made $103 million domestically and $111 million internationally.). I guess Cajun Man is funny wherever you are.

I completely understand the reasons why some comedies don’t survive their exportation. Filmmakers like Judd Apatow are working with particular phrasings of language and culturally specific touchstones. Part of the reason American audiences love those movies is because they speak to some fundamental part of the American experience, one that some international audiences might not be able to relate to. Unfortunately, what makes these movies worth seeing here is the same thing dooming them at the foreign box office.

But just because I understand this phenomenon doesn’t mean I like it. This is just the latest and maybe the most frustrating example of the mass mainstreaming of American movie culture. It’s not enough to for a movie to be good, it has to translate too. Giant transforming robots translate. A God with a badass magical hammer translates. A joke about Michael McDonald playing on an endless loop in box electronic stores doesn’t translate. It’s almost as if we’ve returned to the silent era of film: dialogue is out and visual storytelling is in. These aren’t sound films; they’re noise films.

Let’s hope this only means the shrinking of comedy budgets, not the removal of comedies from Hollywood development slates altogether. I’m a little worried that some day they’ll be gone completely, or replaced by comedies starring the robots from “Transformers.” Or maybe we’re approaching a dystopian world where all movies star the robots from “Transformers”: “Transformers” comedies, “Transformers” romances, “Transformers” eco-docs.

Okay, so maybe that last one would be kind of interesting.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.