Tag Archives: Steve Carell

Happy Birthday, Mel Brooks!

I was flipping channels and caught the end of the Get Smart movie starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway, and while it was mildly entertaining, I couldn’t help think how it paled in comparison to the brilliantly written series.

Of course, I can watch that whenever I want – a majestic box set.

And it made me miss Mel Brooks. Yes, I know he’s alive, and a spry 85 at that (pickles are nutritious, you know). But Woody Allen keeps spitting out films at a rapid pace, occasionally hitting the high marks again. But he’s long since given up zany comedy. Most of today’s comedy films are so broad and cliché that they quickly fade from memory. But the world of today is a crazy, insane place. We need crazy, insane comedy.

We need Mel Brooks now more than ever. I know he has lost so many of his reliable company; Harvey Korman, Marty Feldman, Dom DeLuise, Rudy DeLuca, Madeline Kahn, Ron Carey and Kenneth Mars have all left this mortal coil.

But as Mel himself would say, “we have much to do and less time to do it in.”

Happy Birthday, Mel! Now get busy

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Ricky Gervais: Golden Balls

Thank God for Ricky Gervais, even if Ricky is an athiest.

Gervais, as he did last year, relentlessly skewered any pretense of dignity that some think the event has. Although it has been elevated to major award status, the fact remains that it’s just one more opportunity for Hollywood to pat itself on the back and ensure global domination of its main export, the American film. So widespread is its reputation for bribery, favoritism and hero-worship that even Robert DeNiro took several shots at the HFPA when receiving its highest honor.

I had to laugh when reading reports this morning chastising Gervais for being irreverent and mean-spirited, and I was astounded to see that some didn’t even find him funny. Are you kidding me? Aside from a couple of good podium moments (David Fincher, Jane Lynch) and two good introductory bits (Robert Downey Jr. and the always-gold Tina Fey/Alec Baldwin combination) the show was an insufferable snore-fest. When he was off-screen for close to an hour, the show dragged. There were no huge upsets in the film categories (Paul Giamatti and Melissa Leo being the closest thing to surprises) and as usual the attendees were more interested in socializing between announcements than paying attention to the proceedings. If they’re not focused, why should I be?

Ah, but when Gervais was at the podium, they had to focus, because he’s fearless; you never know what he’s going to say and when. Are people really upset that he inferred that Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen and Robert Downey Jr. have had personal issues? Was poking fun at some of the turkeys in a film resume really that insulting to a famous actor? And the joke about the omission of Jim Carrey’s performance in I Love You Philip Morris was brilliant; a one-two punch that savaged the voting board for its inconsistent temerity regarding homosexuality and launched a dig at pushy Scientology salesmen Tom Cruise and John Travolta

Also not nominated: I Love You, Philip Morris. Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor. Two heterosexual actors pretending to be gay. Sort of the complete opposite of some famous Scientologists then…My lawyers helped me with the wording of that joke.”

Most of the celebrities seemed to get it; Downey countered with a great quote (“Aside from the fact that it’s been hugely mean-spirited, with mildly sinister undertones, I’d say the vibe of the show is pretty good so far, wouldn’t you?“) and even long-suffering Office doppelgänger Steve Carell dutifully played the fall guy for what must be the hundredth time. Only the HFPA President seemed truly miffed – or maybe his comic delivery just sucks – but I think he has bigger problems than a temporary insult most people will forget faster than they forgot his name. Perhaps those who didn’t laugh prove the old adage that “the truth hurts“, because the Sex In The City actresses are long in the tooth, Cher is not a hot commodity in 2011, and Tim Allen, nice guy that he is, doesn’t have a resume like that of Tom Hanks.

But there were some painful moments, too. I love Robert DeNiro, and few actors have had the kind of career he has assembled (even discounting most of the past decade). But anyone who has seen him on Saturday Night Live knows that he is abysmal when reading cue cards, especially when it is comic lines obviously written by someone else. It started awkwardly enough, dove into some racist territory and ended with a fairly creepy reference to Megan Fox. Within the speech there were some pretty great barbs deflating the HFPA, but it was as painful to watch as…well…Little Fockers, for one.

The biggest surprises of the evening were on the TV side of the fence; 30 Rock going home empty-handed, Modern Family losing to Glee (when their sophomore seasons have been such polar opposites, quality wise) and the lovely but absent Laura Linney grabbing the honor for The Big C. I was thrilled that Chris Colfer won for Glee; they handed him the ball this year and he really ran with it. Ditto Katey Sagal – not only finally getting noticed for her amazing work on Sons of Anarchy, but getting to take home the award.

The Observer from Fringe alongside Edgar Winter

So how did I do? Seven out of ten, but missing on three biggies. I guess the best movie can’t direct itself, but I think Nolan’s film was a superior effort. Loved seeing humble Colin Firth win, although if he stuttered during his speech that would have been much funnier. And I’m thankful that Natalie Portman won but was surprised by Paul Giamatti’s win, although he’s always good for a great speech, even when they censor the first ten seconds of it. The censors were uneven with their cut-offs and their music cues, but what the hell, I’ll be back next year to watch.

If the HFPA has even one-tenth the balls that Gervais does, so will Ricky.

The list of nominees and winners is here.

Here’s a link to a great page that lists the major category winners for the Critic Associations and provides a schedule for (and links to) all of the award ceremonies. Next up are the BAFTA nominations on Tuesday, with the Academy Award nominations the week after.

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Happy Birthday, Jon Stewart

The quality of a man is determined by the company he keeps.

A successful man makes those around him better.

Jon Stewart must be a successful, quality guy. The Daily Show has won fourteen Emmy Awards in the category of Comedy, Music or Variety Series- six for Outstanding Writing and eight consecutive awards for Outstanding Program. He and his staff of writers have obviously been doing things right since 1999. I mean, I like Craig Kilbourn, but the only time I associate hm with the program is when consciously recounting the history of the program, even though it was his attitude behind the host’s desk that set the stage for Stewart’s success. So thanks, Craig!

Speaking of springboards to success, thanks again John. Thanks for John Oliver and Samantha Bee and Larry Wilmot and Stephen Colbert. Thanks for Steve Carell, Ron Corddry, Wyatt Cenac, Rob Riggle, John Hodgman, Rachael Harris and Ed Helms.

And – I must bow when I say this – thank you for Lewis Black.

Thanks for your blatant admission of being a comedian and not a newsman, yet presenting a more interesting, informative and well-balanced news show than all of the other networks combined. Thanks for not backing away or backing down, and especially not cracking from the sheer volumes of lunacy that surround us every day. Thanks for using humor and satire like a sword and a beacon, to cut through the fog and a to illuminate our social frailties and political illnesses.

 Thanks for constantly poking holes in the airbags that are Fox News and MSNBC and somehow making Comedy Central a far more credible source for news and information than two of the most highly funded global organizations in the news business.

Thanks for making me laugh…and think.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Stewart. Here’s your moment of Zen.

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Happy Birthday Don Adams

Don Adams died five years ago today.

Get Smart was one of the funniest television shows of its time, combining puns and double-entendres with great sight gags. Of course, they had a ripe playing field to run around on. Spy movies were big at the time – from the apex of the James Bond films to the more serious (and better scripted) classics like The Ipcress File and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

Of course, with writers like Buck Henry and Mel Brooks, how could it not be funny? Catchphrases “Would you believe?”, “Missed it by that much!” and “Sorry about that, Chief” became part of the lexicon. It’s no accident that Steve Carell played the Maxwell Smart role in the recent big screen adaptation; both comic actors have a knack for sarcasm and deadpan humor. By more or less playing it straight, their buffoonish characters are that much funnier.

Adams’ distinctive voice was also immediately recognizable as the lead character in a pair of well-known cartoon classics – Tennessee Tuxedo and Inspector Gadget. Not much acting there – each sounded exactly like Maxwell Smart hiding behind an animated costume, which made watching either of them a surreal experience for me.

But sometimes lightning in a bottle is just that. The Get Smart films Adams made were amusing but paled in comparison to the show, as did the Carell film (which had its moments but completely blew the tone). Adams and Barbara Feldon even tried to re-launch the series  thirty years after the initial program debuted (with Max as chief!) but it  floundered and died. Thankfully, the studios finally released the complete set of the original Get Smart episodes two years ago…it’s amazing how much of it holds up after forty-five years.

Don Adams Wikipedia page

Get Smart on DVD

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Second City, Twice

It’s probably just a coincidence that Eli and I were talking about SCTV the other day, because she had no way of knowing I had just picked up a couple of books about The Second City (one about the history of the theatre; the other about the television show).

I hadn’t planned on reporting for Jury Duty on the first day of Summer, but having been through the drill before I knew that I’d probably have to kill a little bit of time. As it turned out, it was a good thing I brought both books.

The first was one I had read before, an insider’s recollection by Dave Thomas about the show, the cast, and how it all came together called SCTV Behind The Scenes. Thomas weaves personal observations with interviews with others into an engaging narrative about the origins of the program as well as the camaraderie – and sometimes rivalries – between the cast members. In doing so he is unflinchingly honest about his own myopia and drive which sometimes placed him at odds with fellow actors and staff while trying to put the show first.

There’s a lot of inside peeks at the process of turning writing sessions into post-produced pieces for air; how despite comparisons to Saturday Night Live the shows were really apples and oranges; how dedicated behind-the-scenes people from makeup artists to producers were usually in way over their head but delivered anyway. Despite the incredible difficulties involved in staging and (mostly) selling the show, their ability to self-create in a vacuum without regard for ratings or network input led to what most of them consider the artistic peak of their careers.

Behind The Scenes is already fifteen years old but still a wonderful read and a must for any SCTV fan. It’s a vivid reminder of how blessed we were to have a company with such creative minds cranking out truly original material. There’s a great essay from Conan O’Brien where he describes the impact the show had upon him. He felt for the first time that a comedy program was speaking directly to him while refusing to dumb it down for the masses; it was a logic that he would carry forward and use in his own career. (And his story about first meeting John Candy is both funny and a heart-warming tribute to both men.)

Unscripted, written by Mike Thomas (A Chicago journalist, no apparent relation to Dave) is a 2009 book that presents a fascinating history of the Second City theatre framed within quotes from its creators and participants. Although the Chicago side of the story dominates – as it should – Thomas pays great tribute to the Toronto establishment and sheds light on the many road shows and other city-based affiliates.

If you’ve read Live From New York by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller – among the best tomes on Saturday Night Live – you’ll be familiar with the structure that Unscripted utilizes. Both authors conducted a bevy of interviews and weave quotes and anecdotes from the insiders to tell a chronological story. It’s an effective technique – as if a group of famous people are gathered in one room and they decided to tell you the history of their theatre in a round-robin format.

And we’re talking famous people.  A fifty year history, from early stars like Alan Arkin,  David Steinberg and Robert Klein to the recent TV pipeline of comedians Tina Fey, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert. Most of the better cast members from Saturday Night Live. Ensembles from classic sitcoms from Cheers to 30 Rock. Actors like Peter Boyle. Stand-up comics like Joan Rivers. Of course, many will gravitate towards the bittersweet stories of the departed legends John Belushi, Chris Farley, and John Candy as well as famous stars like Bill Murray and Mike Myers who parlayed their improv training into huge careers. The list of Second City alumni is daunting.

But Thomas also lets us get to know about important innovators like Del Close, Bernard Salkins, Andrew Alexander and Joyce Sloan, whose work behind the scenes saved the company many times over. It’s great storytelling, albeit using the words of others. I laughed out loud several times, caught up in everything from great backstage anecdotes to quotes that just killed me. (My favorite – one performer recalling that a sketch bombed so badly “you could hear a mouse shit!”)

It’s fun to read about Second City and its history, but it’s great to know we can take in a live performance and revisit the brilliant television show on DVD.

Info about Unscripted at the Mike Thomas webpage.

Dave Thomas Wiki page

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