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Comedian Jim Norton reflects on his fallen friend Patrice O’Neal

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By his own admission, Patrice O’Neal was something of a professional bridge-burner, but he was also an incredibly talented comedian who had a lot of friends. Unfortunately, it’s only since his death in November of 2011 that O’Neal has begun to find the kind of recognition that he deserved, but which through accident or design eluded him. But after the release of his posthumous concert album Mr. P debuted in early February 2012, O’Neal’s friends and colleagues mounted a campaign to pay tribute to his achievements and garner him new fans. I

FC recently caught up with longtime friend and fellow comedian Jim Norton to talk about O’Neal; in addition to talking about how the two first met and got to know one another, Norton revealed how O’Neal assembled his confrontational, off-the-cuff material, and explained he managed the difficult challenge of being both a populist entertainer and a “comedian’s comedian.”


IFC: Just talk about everything that sort of surrounded the release of this posthumous album of Patrice’s, and how you feel about it being put out.

JIM NORTON: Well, Patrice actually picked the set, so, I mean, this was the one he wanted released. This is the one that he was happy with, you know what I mean? It wasn’t like a vintage routine and most of the work was done before he died. I mean, it’s very depressing that he’s getting all these accolades in death. He was starting to get them in life. And he totally deserved them – I mean, he’s such a great comedian and then he dies and then everybody’s like, “Oh, my God. This guy was great.” But it’s a shame that the public didn’t catch on a little bit sooner. So from that stand, I’m very, very happy that it’s getting recognition.

IFC: How did the two of you sort of initially meet and then develop a friendship? Was it just a matter of being on the same sort of comedy circuit, or were there other circumstances?

NORTON: Yeah, I mean, we met doing a college gig. We were both performing at a college; we both bombed. He thought he did well; he didn’t. You know, I thought he was an ass when I first met him. Most people didn’t like Patrice when they first met him, because he was very aggressive and I guess just probably being in the area a lot with the same friends and he became one of my best friends. He made me laugh. He was undeniably funny and I think I made him laugh, and if someone makes you laugh, you kind of want to be around them because comics are used to making people laugh. When you find someone that makes you laugh, you kind of want to around them. So that was my initial attraction to him, that even when I first met him I thought he was an ass, I knew he was funny.

IFC: There are a lot of comedians who sort of champion a certain artist as “the comedian’s comedian.” What exactly does that mean? What do you think is the distinction between the way your sensibilities are maybe sharpened as a result of being a comedian and those of maybe normal comedy fans?

NORTON:Well, audiences will laugh at a lot of things that comedians won’t. You know, a comedian’s comedian is just that — it’s a guy who’s original and funny and can make comics laugh. I mean, sometimes an audience will love a comedian’s comedian. Sometimes they hate them. You know, you have to be careful, too, when you’re in that –it’s like to make other comedians laugh, you don’t want to go on and purposefully alienate the audience, or purposefully bomb, because then you’re the hits guy that only comedians like. Patrice never did that. He was genuinely funny and he would smash comedians as hard as he would smash audience members. But to me, he was a true example of that — he wasn’t a guy who bombed in front of real crowds and comics thought it made them look clever to like him. That’s not what it was with Patrice. He was genuinely funny.

IFC: What sort of relationship did you guys have? Could you be honest with him and tell him his set didn’t go well?

NORTON:Oh, no. It was ball breaking. I mean, I totally laid into him – again, it was just two comics fuckin’ with each other, but I had agreed to drive him back to New York. So I think we kind of got along in the car, but I just don’t remember, it was so many years ago. You know, but it wasn’t supportive like hey, you did a good job. But I knew how much he liked me and he knew how much I liked him, and again, we made each other laugh, and that to me is the greatest sign of respect comics could have for each other. You don’t need to always be upfront with each other — like he never needed me to tell him, “hey, Patrice, I really like you,” because he knew I did. I mean, I wouldn’t have reacted to him the way I did if I didn’t love him and he knew that.

IFC: Do you feel the public and the media pays attention to comedians now as opposed to maybe 10 or 20 years ago? Do you think that has anything to do with the fact that it’s just now that Patrice is really starting to get the recognition he deserved?

NORTON: Well, the difference between now and 15 or 20 years ago is they pay attention now because they want to catch you saying something that you’ll get in trouble for and that they can write about. Years ago they would talk about being funny, like [Don] Rickles did racial jokes, he broke walls, and they understood you were being funny, but now when you do something like that they take the sound out, asking, “is this hate speech?” You know, it’s really a dismal. So it’s not surprising to me. And see the thing was, he wouldn’t say anything they could catch him on; he didn’t give a shit. He would be upfront. He would almost un-blackmailable in a way, emotionally. So there was nothing for them to catch him on, so they just didn’t take notice and he wasn’t famous enough for them to have just noticed without something grabbing their attention. If that makes any sense.

IFC: Yeah.

NORTON: Like Adam Sandler’s a famous guy. So as a comic he was famous. On Patrice’s level coming up or my level, the way they’re really different to notice you is for them to see you say something you shouldn’t say to get you in trouble. And that’s the main way for them to notice you until you get big through other means. I don’t know if I’m explaining myself at all but I think that’s a part of it is he didn’t get the accolade beforehand because he wasn’t saying anything that they could use to further what they were interested in, which is, you know, writing about people’s sensitivities. I’m not speaking from the point of paranoia either; I know that that sounds like all crazy, but I really don’t think that.

IFC: How much did you know about his creative process in terms of the way that he would assemble his material?

NORTON:He would think of things and he loved to talk things through. Like he loved to debate about men and women and race and he loved a good argument, but on stage he really didn’t write a lot down. He would just kind of let himself kind of flow and he would prepare, but honestly I think he just worked it out on stage and I think that was his main [technique]. I’m sure he’d think about it and talk about it offstage, but I think his main way of working that out was just going up on stage and fuckin’ just throwing it at the audience and seeing what they thought. Or despite what they had thought.

IFC: Do you find that approach to be particularly unique, or is that the way many comedians put together their routines?

NORTON: I work the same way; I prefer to work it out on stage. I go up with an idea, but you have to be on stage a lot to do that, to remember it the next night. But no I prefer to do that, too. I’m not really great at writing things down unless for a roast or a particular event.

IFC: Gotcha. Well, what then is sort of coming up for you, be it in the context of this or just sort of in your career sort of separate from it?

NORTON:I’m shooting — I have a show in Cleveland in the end of April, an hour stand-up special and I have a CD, which I’m going to release but I’m actually going to wait a while because it’s not really important. I mean, whenever it comes out, it comes out, but it will be awhile. But that’s all I’m really working on. I mean, right now I’m in LA and doing another [show] Monday, so I’m really concentrating here on this special and I want it to be good.

IFC: Have you done any other sort of events or made specific efforts in terms of promoting his album and giving it some attention?

NORTON:Well, just the radio show. I mean, the article in Rolling Stone — just interviews and radio promotion, because he was on that shit all the time. But every comic is doing it. Every comic is talking about it in interviews and stuff. So, I think it’s just kind of mass effort.

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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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