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Review: “Norm Macdonald Live”

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No one will ever accuse Norm Macdonald of “selling out.” He does not quite play well with others — he never got along, for instance, with “Saturday Night Live” castmate Chris Kattan. His takedown of Courtney Thorne-Smith on Conan is classic Norm Macdonald: unwarranted, bloodthirsty, wholly inappropriate and, one cannot fail to note, pretty damned funny. Norm was and is fearless, even blasting his corporate masters at NBC on their own airwaves. But it was his feud with Don Ohlmeyer, then-president of NBC’s West Coast division, that was legendary. Macdonald always claimed that he was taken off “SNL”‘s Weekend Update because of the glee in which he dug into O.J. Simpson, a personal friend of Ohlmeyer, during the infamous murder trial. “That touched off a nasty feud that had Mr. Macdonald appearing on CBS’s late-night show with David Letterman (another former NBC star who has a feud going with Mr. Ohlmeyer) and on Howard Stern’s syndicated radio show,” wrote Bill Carter in the New York Times in 1998. “Mr. Macdonald berated Mr. Ohlmeyer for dismissing him, saying that Mr. Ohlmeyer objected to his often vicious barbs about O. J. Simpson.” It is never a good look when the paper of record is doing stories on internal frictions between on air talent and corporate executives. As a result of his independent, uncontrollable nature, the television and film industry has not been kind to Norm Macdonald. Still, Norm has a special place in the hearts and minds of those of us who love our comedians with a rebellious streak. Norm Macdonald is a outlaw that happens to have something a cult following among comedians.

Podcasting is, of course, the natural logical progression for someone in the key of Norm. Norm Macdonald’s YouTube channel talk show, which is on every Monday night, had its premiere yesterday with co-host Adam Eget. The set is busy, with lots of clocks and Pop-ish art and sculpture about. The tone is highly informal — Norm wore a rumpled flannel shirt for the debut — as well as chatty and sometimes rambling. It is, one imagines, the sort of conversation comedians might have at a bar after a show, only without the adult beverages. “Norm Macdonald Live” had on Dave “Super Dave” Osborne (who also has his own YouTube channel) as his first guest. At about an hour and twelve minutes, Norm is still — though older, pudgier and grayer — a comedic force with which to be reckoned. He did not quite disappoint.

“Norm Macdonald Live” was a bit rough around the edges. This is, to be fair, what is to be expected in any debut effort. Young comedian Adam Eget, clearly a close friend of the star, has not yet established his voice on the show. Again, to be fair, Eget was on with two comedy legends: Super Dave and Norm. Any young comedian in the same position would probably opt to sit back and listen to the Wise Men speaking, absorbing their collective comedic wisdom. Unfortunately, in hanging back, in receding into the scenery when focusing questions needed to be asked, Eget comes across more as decorative set furniture than as co-host. Our loss.

It is interesting to see Norm working without a studio audience. His audience interactions and the peculiar way in which he navigated the crowd at “SNL” and, later, at “The Sports Show with Norm Macdonald” were an integral element to Norm’s success as a performer. His choppy, arrhythmic style — inappropriate jokes punctuated with measured pauses — played fantasically to an audience that wasn’t quite sure it should even be laughing at what was just said. Is it ever, for example, okay to laugh at an O.J. bloody murder joke? But what if the joke is laced with moral outrage over the fact that O.J. got away with bloody murder? “Norm Macdonald Live” did not have an audience and one could not help but notice that some of the old Norm magic was missing. Not that Norm needs an audience to be funny, he naturally is, of course. But “Norm Macdonald Live” would probably be a much more interesting experience with a studio audience in place. Then again, we are, after all, in an age of YouTube. And studio audiences themselves might just be a thing of the past.

Again, our loss.

What do you think of this new look at “Norm Macdonald Live”? Are you excited for this movie? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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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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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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