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DID YOU READ

Gore Vidal: The Last Patrician Comedian

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“A narcissist is someone better looking than you are,” is one of the many quips that made Gore Vidal one of the funniest men on the planet during his lengthy sojourn. Of all the documentaries about comedians at the Tribeca Film Festival this year – Richard Pryor, Moms Mabley, immediately come to mind – it is the documentary about Gore Vidal, “The United States of Amnesia” that made on me the strongest impression.

What’s that? You never thought of Gore Vidal as a comedian, per se? Perhaps more of a literati, a polemicist, an intellectual, you say? And yet it is impossible to extricate the comedic side, the acid wit, from the politics. Go ahead: I dare you — try. Have you ever heard Gore talk about human sexuality? Have you ever heard Vidal describe Charlton Heston’s limited acting range? Gore Vidal, particularly on the lecture circuit, was one of the smartest stand-up comedians of all time, employing impersonations as well as improvised skits illustrating, always, the stupidity of politicians. The stupidity of the ruling class – which Gore was born into – is his favorite target. It was with the honey of comedy that Gore administered his medication, a frank political populist message delivered to the masses. Vidal was “occupying Wall Street” decades before the movement sprung up around him and he was still preaching its gospel after everyone went home.

The film begins on a morbid note: Gore, intoning with that patrician accent, as he stands over the grave he will soon occupy in Washington DC. The tomb is half full, already occupied by Howard Austen, his partner of five decades. The film doesn’t remain as maudlin throughout. The cinematography, as well as archived film footage from a memorable life on two continents (Ravello, Italy; Venice; Beverly Hills) as well as interviews with friends and sometimes foes – Vidal had quite a few of those — is beautifully done. The film features candid vérité footage of Vidal in his final days, and while he is brilliantly witty, there is also a sense of sadness because he is about to die, that he doesn’t believe in an afterlife, and that the country he loves so much – these United States – is in rough shape.

At the screening during the Tribeca Film Festival rarely a minute went by without Vidal’s on-screen commentary eliciting raucous laughter from the knowledgeable fans, critics and VIPs assembled. Even Robert DeNiro, the festival’s founder, has said that the film stands out. Nicholas Wrathall, the film’s director, had full access to Gore Vidal’s last months and captures the man in full, winding down his worldly affairs, moving out of his house overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Ravello, Italy because he can no longer walk unaided. The film briefly looks backwards at Vidal’s vivid life. But Wrathall mainly focuses on the last days, allowing Vidal and his contemporaries to give their impressions of his life and times. It is like Gore presiding and present at his own wake. That is something that every author craves.

The cinematography is exquisite. The directors of photography: Derek Wiesenhahn, Joel Schwartzberg, Armando De’Ath do a fine job of capturing everything from that gloomy cemetery in Washington where the film begins to the unique natural light of Venice. Everything is gloriously vivid, and the archival footage blends seamlessly into the meat of the film, the present, where Gore Vidal is getting ready to exit stage left.

Gore Vidal was, in many ways, the last patrician comic. . “As I looked back over my life,” Gore Vidal once said, “I realized that I enjoyed nothing–not art, not sex–more than going to the movies.” When he died, at age 86, in 2012, Nicholas Wrathall was still editing this documentary. It is to all of our benefit that this winding down of affairs was captured for posterity. Vidal’s lived an extraordinary life on two continents: he wrote great books, he threw legendary parties, he spoke great truths honeyed with a sparkling wit. Nicholas Wrathall had the luck to be at the right place at the right time, but also the great skill and the help of solid collaborators to present the Gore Vidal story.

Are you a fan of Gore Vidal? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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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