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The 10 essential Steve Martin comedies

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Steve Martin is a marvelously unique talent, in that he cut his teeth on wacky prop comedy, hit the big time with brilliantly stupid movies, and has aged into being a fiercely astute intellectual who can run the gamut between smart and dumb humor with relaxed ease. Lately, some of his movie choices have been somewhat less than well-received, but they help fund his art collection and his ability to spend a lot of time out on tour playing his banjo with various musical outfits. He’s won Emmys and Grammys. He’s truly one of a kind, and we shouldn’t ever forget the fantastically funny movies he’s made in the light of the Sgt. Bilkos.

Here’s a rundown of ten essential Steve Martin comedies that should help you understand how great the man is – and this doesn’t include his interesting dramas like “Shopgirl” and “The Spanish Prisoner,” or his surprising cameos in “The Muppet Movie” or “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” As an addendum, if you can track down the VHS copy of Steve Martin Live!, you can see him at the peak of his brilliant stand-up career – although it’ll be much easier to find his albums – Let’s Get Small and Wild and Crazy Guy.


1. “The Jerk” (1979)

The breakthrough film he wrote remains one of the best film comedies of all time, constantly managing to be intelligent and dopey at the same time. The meandering saga of the dim-witted but good-hearted Navin R. Johnson, born a poor black child, as he wanders the country never stops being absurdly hilarious. Working for Jackie Mason at a gas station, becoming the target of a deranged M. Emmett Walsh, becoming carnival personnel, falling for Bernadette Peters whose young nephew wears a t-shirt that says “Bull Shit” on it, stumbling into unimaginable riches, being brought low by Iron Balls McGinty… every moment has something sublimely ridiculous about it. Despite being able to hire his own personal disco dancers, this comedy remains ageless.


2. “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” (1982)

This was a concept that wouldn’t work in lesser hands, but Carl Reiner had proven how well he understood Steve with “The Jerk,” and thus, splicing a bunch of old film noir flicks together around him to craft a ridiculous soft-boiled detective story works hilariously well. The adventures of Rigby Reardon and his mysterious and stunning bullet-sucking femme fatale Rachel Ward also include appearances by Humphrey Bogart, Vincent Price, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and every star from the 1930s you could think of, and it’s a pitch-perfect satire of all those beloved tropes. One of the best lines in the narration that exemplifies that: “Carlotta was the kind of town where they spell trouble T-R-U-B-I-L, and if you try to correct them, they kill you.”


3. “All Of Me” (1984)

Steve Martin’s gift for physical comedy is on full display in this fantasy comedy wherein he’s an attorney who has to share half of his body with the spirit of a rotten, eccentric malcontent played by Lily Tomlin. Arguing with himself in public, the right half of his body walking like a dignified woman and the left as his normal self – it’s got plenty of the zaniness that made him famous, but the deeper relationship between the two people in one body also marks the beginning of his maturation into more intelligent, realistic character work. Yes, even though he’s half-possessed by a ghost.


4. “Three Amigos” (1986)

While it was initially greeted with mixed reviews, the undeniable goofiness of this team-up of Steve Martin, Martin Short and Chevy Chase has endured as a beloved favorite. Three washed up cowboys from the silent film era journey to Mexico to work with the infamous (that means “more than famous!”) El Guapo, not realizing they have actually been called upon to save the innocent town of Santa Poco from the nefarious shenanigans of a criminal they believe to be a showman, and the result is funny hijinks with a bit less of a manic tone than some of Martin’s earlier comedies. Still, the plethora of weirdness is wonderful, such as when Chevy Chase’s Dusty Bottoms accidentally kills the Invisible Swordsman.


5. “Roxanne” (1987)

The maturation continues with a contemporized adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac, featuring Steve playing C.D. Bales, a fireman somewhere in the Pacific Northwest who’s charming, smart, tough, quick-witted and eloquent, and yet sports a nose so cartoonishly large that it hinders his confidence with women – Daryl Hannah in particular – despite the fact that everyone in town loves the guy (and knows better than to bring up the schnoz). However, he woos her through a handsome and friendly, yet dopey fellow fireman passing the words off as his own. It’s romantic comedy with a much less obnoxious feel than much of what falls in this genre, showing just how well Martin can step into the shoes of a leading man without being boring.

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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.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.