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Charlyne Yi Uncrumples “Paper Heart”

Charlyne Yi Uncrumples “Paper Heart” (photo)

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Los Angeles-born comedienne Charlyne Yi seemed so adorably unassuming as one of Seth Rogen’s stoner buds in “Knocked Up,” in which she memorably comments to the pregnant Katherine Heigl: “You must be angry at the baby whenever it steals your food, huh?” But the 23-year-old funny girl couldn’t spend her life as a couch potato if she tried, since she’s also busy as a performance artist, musician, writer and painter — sometimes all at the same time, depending on which of her live comedy shows you’ve experienced. In director Nicholas Jasenovec’s feature debut “Paper Heart,” (which Yi co-wrote, executive produced, composed music and designed puppets for) Yi plays herself, sort of. Not so much a mockumentary as it is a doc-narrative hybrid, the film sees her on a quest to discover if there is such a thing as true love, which she doesn’t believe in. Traveling with her filmmaker friend Nick (as in Jasenovec, but played onscreen by Jake Johnson) to meet real-life romance novelists, scientists, bikers and kids — all of whom have their own interpretations of love — Yi ultimately meets and begins a relationship with “Superbad” star Michael Cera, which gets complicated when the cameras don’t stop rolling. I spoke with Yi by phone, who introduced herself by telling me she had just gotten out of a drum circle.

You were just drumming?

Yeah, we had an interview where part of it was being in drum circles. It’s pretty fun, actually. I didn’t know how it was going to go. I have really bad rhythm, but I tried to play quietly.

In “Paper Heart,” you play a semi-fictionalized version of yourself. How different is that Charlyne compared to the Charlyne I’m talking to now?

The one on screen, she doesn’t really figure out how she feels sometimes. Her actions define her, and she’s more closed off. I think the real Charlyne constantly talks about how she feels. [laughs] Maybe too much. I would never sign up to film my personal life. Also, strangely, in order for me to play myself, Nick — the director — constantly had to remind me to calm down. I guess my mannerisms are too broad in real life. It’s weird, for me to play realistically, I have to not be myself.

The film won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance, except it’s partly a documentary. Similarly, your comedy career is a hybrid of stand-up, performance art, music and magic. How hard is it to get the word out there when things aren’t so neatly compartmentalized?

It would be easier if it was just black and white — just one thing, you know? But because it’s much more than that, it’s hard for us to talk about. Even [while] pitching our film, people couldn’t wrap their heads around it: “So you’re playing a version of yourself, but you’re really yourself when you make a documentary? And it’s half-true, half-fiction, and everyone’s playing themselves itself except for Nick, who is played by Jake Johnson?” It was difficult trying to convey what our film was, as well as whenever I perform. Sometimes people ask me, “You do stand-up?” I try explaining what I do, and I don’t think they really get it. So: “Yeah, I do stand-up.” I wish there was one word to express what I do — that way I don’t sound arrogant. Whenever I say I’m a performer, people think I’m a performance artist: “She paints herself white and pretends to be a flower.” [laughs]

08042009_PaperHeart1.jpgAre you as jaded or agnostic about love as the Charlyne in the film?

I think the character isn’t jaded — she’s skeptical about love. In the voiceover in the beginning, the point of making the film and capturing these love stories is to maybe find hope. No matter how jaded they seem, that flicker of hope cancels out any harboring of feelings of negativity. It’s not like she’s setting out to make a documentary to prove that love didn’t exist. She’s actually trying to do the opposite of that.

As far as me, I think the difference between [myself and] my character onscreen is more exaggerated. I was questioning myself, not because I’d been hurt or anything. It was more like: “Hmm, I wonder how we know because I’d never been in love.” I was 19, I’d dropped out of college and started performing a lot. Most of my time was invested in working at Wal-Mart and performing in comedy clubs with 40-year-old men, who were my friends. A lot of them are single, and it’s weird how people used to get married at a young age. My parents got married in their early 20s, a lot of my friends’ parents did too, and I was questioning: “Is that what’s going on now? In this generation, people are getting married when they’re older?”

I remember coming home one day, turning on the TV, and there were all these dating reality shows, and you see a man in a jacuzzi, making out with two women. Ew, is that what I’m supposed to be doing? I think I’m more naïve than anything. It was a panic attack for me: am I ever going to find anyone because I only hang out with old people? I don’t think that’s very surprising. Everyone questions love, whether it’s real, and can you still find it in some point in your life. I wouldn’t say I’m jaded.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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