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Bill Murray teaches us how to leave the room.

Bill Murray teaches us how to leave the room. (photo)

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We’re living through a golden age of Bill Murray interview — which is to say he’s actually doing them. On TV, Letterman‘s the only host sharp and pissy enough to keep up with a guy whose public appearances almost always involve some kind of performance art element.

Many comedians have a reputation for being self-loathing and/or hard to deal with; Murray, though, is almost scary, as in the much-bandied-about story where Murray comes up to someone in a park, puts his hands over their eyes, then says “no one will ever believe you” and walks away.

Even when he’s inexplicably serving drinks to the SXSW crowd, there’s something there a little hard and off-putting. If Murray had been born 20 years later, he could’ve given Vincent Gallo a run for his money.

As Dan Fierman notes in his GQ interview with Murray, the man has “sat down for exactly four prolonged media encounters in the past ten years.” After his own encounter had gone on for long enough, Murray “decided the interview was over and was gone. As best as I can tell, he was not fucking with me. But who knows?”

No one does, really. Still, for a man who often treats his TV appearances as a semi-hostile game, the GQ interview is very straightforward. He doesn’t tell a single joke, which clarifies a lot. It turns out that Murray’s special brand of candid response (the result, we presume, of not having a handler to tell him to hold his tongue — what does he have to fear?) is inherently hilarious.

His long explanation of how he came to be involved in the “Garfield” movies is despairingly eloquent, a study in profane resignation (“It wasn’t written by that Joel Coen“). He mentions how “Kung Fu Hustle” blew him away and how Elvis Mitchell changed his life (really!).

But hanging over everything is his SNL time; specifically, the knowledge that he’s been the most productive survivor of the early years. John Belushi’s dead (he can’t even remember exactly how many years it is), Chevy Chase is back on “Community” after an indefinite direct-to-DVD purgatory, Dan Aykroyd’s ranting about UFOs on CNN and as for Garrett Morris, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman and the rest of the gang… well, you get the idea. Murray’s the last man standing.

There’s a point to Murray’s elusiveness, game-playing and willingness to leave without a second’s notice. It’s about dignity — as he points out, he’s “retired” a few times (the “Ghostbusters” money surely doesn’t hurt).

07192010_larger.jpgIn the ’90s, he carried otherwise unremarkable movies to moments of inspiration (and if you don’t believe me, watch him somehow survive the man-bonds-with-elephant movie “Larger Than Life” with a few laughs intact). Then he was a sad arthouse man, and now he’s entered another phase, one in which his public persona takes up just as much (if not more) cultural space than his movies.

That’s what leaving the room with dignity is about: his once equally talented colleagues couldn’t figure it out, so they had to burn out publicly. Over the years, Murray’s made himself more opaque and menacing. He’s a comedian who inspires love and fear in almost equal measure. And that’s how you get to leave the room whenever you want: because people don’t want you to leave yet, and you scare them just a little.

[Photos: “Get Low,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2009; “Garfield,” Twentieth Century Fox, 2004; “Larger Than Life,” MGM/UA Home Entertainment, 1996]

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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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