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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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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