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Amy Poehler's 'Yes Please' Is the Best Non-Self-Help Self-Help Book Ever

Before I can start my thoughts on Amy Poehler’s Yes Please (Dey Street Press, out today), I have to put aside Professional Writer Voice and make a confession: I love self-help books. I’m not talking about the ones that promise if you just think positively piles of money will magically appear. I mean the ones that urge us to be better people, that gently tell us it’s slowly inch-by-inch going to be okay and that it helps our hearts to be kinder to others and to ourselves. I have an entire shelf of them. If there’s a Brene Brown book to be had, I own a dog-eared, heavily-underlined copy, [...]

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The TV Networks' Comedy Depth Charts

How committed are your favorite TV networks to making you laugh? While some networks are happy to stick with a tried and true formula, others are being forced to experiment this season. What’s going on with the rise of the romantic sitcom? Who’s doubling down on family fare? Where should you look for your favorite canceled shows? We’ve examined the comedies the networks and cable have to offer this 2014-2015 TV season to see which network offers the most in quantity, which offers the most in quality, and who’s taking the biggest risks.

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Saturday Night's Children: John Belushi (1975-1979)

Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 39 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member every other week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.

SNL's first party monster legend was a Chicago boy born to Albanian immigrants — a short, squat, blue-collar popular kid whose fierce presence dominated everything from the high school football field to the improv theater stage and, during his final years, the silver screen. Many of the late John Belushi's friends and former collaborators have attempted to describe the man behind the SNL icon [...]

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Sarah Silverman's Racy Return to SNL

SNL shifts into a different gear when a comedian hosts the show. In the early days, comic-hosts like George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Steve Martin were every bit as much a part of the show's countercultural brand as the cast members were. 40 years later, SNL has become part of the mainstream, with a product so formulaic that today's most innovative comics define themselves by how different they are from the comedy institution and the network TV legacy it represents. Popular comedians often struggle to bridge the gap between their delivery and the SNL machine, where the multicam format and demand for immediate laughs often leave little room for nuance. Sometimes the two are incompatible, like when [...]

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The Confusing Origins of David Letterman's Top Ten List

The following excerpt reprinted with permission from Brian Abrams's new book AND NOW…An Oral History of "Late Night with David Letterman," 1982-1983, which is currently available to purchase at Amazon Kindle Singles.

By the summer of 1985, head writer Steve O’Donnell was no longer scouring for new personnel to come up with remote concepts and “Viewer Mail” pieces. (Monologue material stayed plentiful, as staffer Gerry Mulligan continued to oversee that part of the show.) Including co-creators Merrill Markoe and David Letterman, 13 individuals populated the writers’ room, and submissions from prospective writers continued to stack high on O’Donnell’s desk. An unassuming 23-year-old Tufts University grad named Rob Burnett [...]

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The Economics of Internet Comedy Videos

Funny videos on the internet come from a plethora of sources, from established internet studios to TV networks to independent comedians. But how do comedy production studios fund their internet comedy videos? There’s no simple answer. In fact, one of the first answers I heard was “Our funding comes from everywhere.”

However, as I talked to representatives from CollegeHumor, Funny or Die, Jash, Above Average, UCB Comedy, and Comedy Central, a lot of common themes came forward. Branded content funds more than you think. YouTube revenue funds less than you think. Comedy studios, like everyone else, earn money so they can fund passion projects. Incubating new talent is also a [...]

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The Enduring Legacy of Phil Hartman

As much as Phil Hartman's work and influence lives on, the Ontario native has so far escaped the kind of mainstream legacy re-appraisal that so many other late standups and sketch players have enjoyed.

You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman, which takes its name from the catchphrase of The Simpsons mainstay Troy McClure (voiced by Hartman), aims to right that. The long-overdue appreciation of Hartman's genius, which will be published tomorrow by St. Martin's Press, looks at the arc of his career — from his little-known stints as a rock 'n' roll roadie and album-cover designer to his comedy work with the Groundlings and beyond — as well as [...]

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Dramedy and the Grim Future of Comedy

In a recent Salon interview, Bob Odenkirk warns aspiring writers to “get out of comedy, because it’s about to collapse.” Sketch comedy, he says, is having its time in the sun now — what with YouTube, Comedy Central’s burgeoning lineup and the legions of theater sketch teams popping up all over—but the market is becoming saturated. What’s next then? He suggests that once the market tires of short sketches, it may turn to more long-form, dramatic material. “I do think that after sketch comes story,” he speculates.

And when you look at the TV landscape, that makes sense. (Plus, Odenkirk’s been ahead of the game for years. Why wouldn’t [...]

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Bill Hader's 'SNL' Master Class

You can judge how great a past SNL cast member was by the void they refill when they return to the show. Maya Rudolph's hosting gig in 2012 reminded viewers not only how irreplaceable of a triple-threat talent Rudolph is, but how colorless (in every possible meaning of the word) the cast seemed in her absence. Andy Samberg's return last May revealed the cast remained short of a goofball viewers seemed to like, even if the show could still produce amazing video content without him. If SNL needs to know what it's missing, it needs only bring back an old cast member to highlight the weak spots.

Bill Hader returned [...]

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'SNL,' the Groundlings, and the Parallel Thinking Excuse

Members of Los Angeles' famed Groundlings theater company have made headlines by accusing SNL of lifting their sketch during last weekend's Sarah Silverman episode. The piece in question, "River Sisters," featured Silverman, Cecily Strong, and Sasheer Zamata as a Tina Turner tribute act performing "Proud Mary" on a crummy river cruise, which many have noticed bears a strong resemblance to a sketch that has been running at the Groundlings for several weeks, with Kimberly Condict and Vanessa Ragland as identically-dressed Tina Turner lookalikes, similarly bemoaning their careers to the song (except in a casino). Groundlings teacher Ian Gary claimed that SNL writers have plagiarized "many, many" of the theater's bits in the past, with victims too [...]

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The New Airplane Food

“So, yeah, Colorado, way to legalize it! Do we have any pot smokers here tonight? . . . Alright.”

With some variation, this has been the introductory line or segue of almost every touring comedian I’ve seen in Denver over the last year. Sometimes this leads them into a hilarious bit filled with wisdom and color and authentic misdirection — but most of the time it’s just an I-was-so-stoned-when-I-shouldn’t-have-been yarn involving junk-food and a cop. Maybe this is just the case in Colorado, but it feels to me like marijuana jokes are slowly becoming the airplane-food humor of today’s comedy: We’ve heard a lot of these jokes, so this one [...]

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Louis C.K.'s 'Dianetics': Inside His Weird and Wild Three-Hour Radio Show

Twenty-six minutes into a three-hour advice show Louis C.K. hosted in 2007, a guy named Blake calls up. Blake says he’s driving solo from Dallas to Oklahoma City that night and wants to know if Louie is going to just keep fucking around, or if he actually has anything good planned. At the end of the three hours Blake calls again, about to arrive in Oklahoma City, and says it’s been an “amazing ride.” I want to argue that Blake is being an understating piece of shit here, because this show is like…well…it’s like… REALLY amazing! It’s like the most Louis C.K.-y thing ever, and on top of that: it’s good. [...]

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Need an Action Figure of a Dead Loved One? Meet Jeff Staab

Can’t Take It With You #4: Jeff Staab, Proprietor of Cremation Solutions

When it comes to grief, what’s meaningful and what’s creepy is often a matter of largely unpredictable personal preference. I recently came across a website selling 12-inch poseable action figures that are customizable to resemble a dead loved one, whose ashes you can also get sealed inside. After an initial reaction that was something along the lines of "oh HELL no" and a swift x-ing out of the browser window, a minute later I found myself back on the page, scrolling through all of the options: "Trendy Male," "Casual Female," "Male Grey Suit," "Nice Nurse," "Karate Male/Female."

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Exploring the Hidden Racist Past of the Looney Toons

I have an uncomfortable confession to make: I have never liked the Looney Tunes. Despite the cultural pervasiveness of these characters, and a lifelong love of animation on my part, they’ve always struck me as annoying, repetitive, and boring—for all the pandemonium that Bugs Bunny and his ilk ostensibly represent, their chaos is bland, their destruction is predictable, and their lineage is corporate.

To be fair, my exposure to Looney Tunes at the time bore that out pretty well: I grew up in the age of Space Jam and the slew of jerseys, sneakers, McDonald’s toys, pogs, and cookie jars that film spawned. Today is no better, with the [...]

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Getting Personal with Jonathan Katz

Interviewing Jonathan Katz is an interesting experience, especially when doing so over the phone. After all, most of us know him from the animated sitcom he created, wrote and voiced in the 90’s, Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the series and is being celebrated with the release of a new album, Dr. Katz Live. Speaking to Katz over the phone was like talking to the Doctor himself. In fact, at times I caught myself opening up to him as if I were in an actual therapy session. Perhaps this is from his inquisitive nature and because he was genuinely interested in learning more about [...]

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Watching Roseanne's Early Standup and Secret Sitcom Pilot

Before we begin, I must first make a confession. My knowledge of Roseanne Barr's comedy is based solely on my memories of watching her sitcom as a kid in the 90s, and that time she screamed the national anthem. But in a way, my lack of knowledge has perfectly primed me for the subject of today's article. Today we're going back to 1987 to watch a proto-version of Roseanne, which was, for many, our introduction to this singular comedic voice.

What's most interesting about The Roseanne Barr Show is that it is a standup set within a show, within a show. Let me explain. Layer number one is [...]

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Inside the Silly, Dark, Intelligent Tweets of Molly Hodgdon (@Undeadmolly)

Molly Hodgdon lives in Vermont. She’s currently in grad school studying criminology and is a contributing writer for Rifftrax. On Twitter, Hodgdon goes by the name Molly Manglewood, or simply @undeadmolly. Her tweets meld the macabre with observational humor and silliness. I recently asked Hodgdon to elaborate a bit on three of her favorite tweets, and she spoke with me about her pet turtle, her reasons for adopting a pseudonym, and the importance of conversation on Twitter.

Cannibalism! It's as easy as making candy from a baby.

— Molly Manglewood (@undeadmolly) June 17, 2013

Hodgdon: I like jokes that take a familiar phrase and give it [...]

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The 20 Greatest Standup Specials of All Time

Modern standup has been around in one form or another since vaudeville, but it’s only been since the late ‘70s that the standup special has gained traction as the crowning achievement of a successful comic. Fortunately, the beginnings of the standup special were as fertile as rock ‘n’ roll’s birth 25 years prior, with many of the all-time greats setting templates right from the start.

The material always comes first, of course, but as a video document of a honed act it’s also important to appreciate the visual elements — the framing, editing, and backdrop — and how they enhance or detract from the pacing and quality of the jokes.

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'SNL' Review: A New Hope with Chris Pratt

The seasons have certainly changed at Saturday Night Live. The show's 40th season began with an episode that hardly resembled a season premiere, with little pomp or circumstance over SNL's impressive four-decade lifespan, and in its place a straightforward night of comedy that reflected a show well adjusted to its new lineup. Nerves did occasionally get the better of the performers—especially first-time host Chris Pratt, who coasted on his signature goofy charm, flashing that Andy Dwyer "oops" face a few times—but overall the episode charged forward with a leaner (and more colorful) cast, and a greater confidence in its sense of humor.

We aren't out of the woods just yet, though. SNL's live sketches suffer from the same [...]

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Saturday Night's Children: Chevy Chase (1975-1976)

Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 39 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member every other week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.

As much as SNL's debut season cast needed to mesh and support each other during the early years, they also needed to set precedents for seasons to come — such as abandoning the show for wider Hollywood success. Chevy Chase wasted no time setting such a precedent, leaving the show not long after his very first season; he was originally hired as a writer [...]