Melissa McCarthy knows how to throw herself into her comedy. Physically, emotionally, she goes all out. People who saw her onstage at the Groundlings knew it. But you didn't really see it on-screen yet. She was mostly known for playing the lovable cook and best friend, Sookie St. James, on Gilmore Girls. Then she had landed a titular role on the CBS show Mike & Molly, which won her an Emmy. In 2011 she got a part in Bridesmaids. And her horizons have only expanded from there.
McCarthy's become a film star, mostly in roles similar to her character in Bridesmaids. Maybe a little crass, maybe a bit of a hot mess. She starred in, her husband Ben Falcone directed, and they both wrote the new comedy Tammy.
Tammy follows a midwestern woman whose life is a mess. So she goes on a road trip with her alcoholic grandmother, to get out of her home town for good.
McCarthy and Falcone met in comedy improv classes, bonded, and eventually became partners both in business and in life.
They'll talk about their high school days, including Melissa's goth phase, their fateful meeting in the Groundlings, and what it was like getting Kathy Bates to play a role that was literally written for her.
Linda Holmes and Glen Weldon of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour stop by to recommend some of their all-time favorite reads.
Glen recommends the manga series called Oishinbo, translated as 'The Gourmet'. It's about two rival newspapers competing to create the perfect Japanese meal. He suggests starting with the volume about sushi.
Linda recommends The Devil's Candy by Julie Salamon, a book about the film production of Bonfire of the Vanities. Salamon was granted unlimited access to the film set. The takeaway? Sometimes folks don't set out to make a bad movie, it just kind of happens.
You can hear Glen and Linda each week on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, and find Linda's writing on NPR.org's Monkey See blog.
Davy Rothbart, Point Guard of FOUND Magazine, shares some of his favorite "finds." He'll share some of his favorite ephemera: to do lists that include items like "hook up with Jen" and "create a circuit of pirate radio stations in the Traverse City area."
Randy Sklar and Jason Sklar are stand up comedians. They're also twins. Their work isn't about their twinness, though. In fact, outside of the two of them looking the same, they barely mention it. But it's integral to what they do. Most double acts are about contrast, the Sklars are the opposite.
They diverge, they come back, and all in the service of releasing a firehose of jokes. The pair have been doing comedy together their entire adult lives. They have their own podcast, Skarlbro Country, they hosted their own TV show on the History Channel, and have racked up lots of movie and TV appearances.
They'll talk about why they didn't want to do bits about being twins, why they wanted to combine comedy and sports on Cheap Seats, and how if they were part of the same person, well, Randy's the head and Jason's the heart.
For over fifty years, Fred Willard has played ignorant, self-absorbed buffoons that are impossible not to laugh at. He's a master improviser and comedian who started with his comedy duo, Greco and Willard, and moved on to work with the Second City and improv groups The Committee and the Ace Trucking Company. Today, he's probably best known and loved as one of Christopher Guest's troupe in films like Waiting For Guffman and Best In Show. Willard can be seen in Jeff Garlin's new film Dealin' With Idiots.
Willard tells us about drag-performances in his military school, the real life inspiration for his improvised comedy, and being the exact opposite of the happy-go-lucky optimists he plays on screen.
It's not easy to sum up the booming career of writer and director David Gordon Green. While he's best known for his slacker-comedies such as Pineapple Express and the HBO series Eastbound and Down, he also makes films that are sentimental, cerebral, and poignant, like George Washington and All The Real Girls. His new film, Prince Avalanche, starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch, is somewhere in between.
David talks to Jesse about his love for camping alone in the woods, his affinity for characters like Kenny Powers (who are likeable in spite of everything they say and do), and how it felt to direct a cinema legend like Clint Eastwood.
Love it or hate it, Robin Thicke's number-1 with a bullet single "Blurred Lines," and its accompanying NSFW music video, have been impossible to avoid these past few months. But Jesse is here to tell you that there is more to Robin Thicke than cowbell laden beats and dancing half-nudes--and it starts way back in 2002 with his neo-soul debut album Cherry Blue Skies (re-released in 2003 as A Beautiful World).
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Matt Walsh is a longtime MaxFun hero. He was a founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade and has performed in a wide range of popular comedy features including The Hangover, Due Date, and Old School. He also has an impressive resume in television comedy including a turn as a correspondent on The Daily Show and stints on many of our favorite shows, including Community, Children's Hospital, Human Giant, Apt. 2F, Reno 911 and, of course, the Upright Citizens Brigade.
As his resume suggests, he is one of the top improvisational talents working today.
Most recently, Walsh made his directorial debut with the movie High Road. The film is composed of largely improvised dialogue and features a cast of top comedic talents including Ed Helms, Joe Lo Truglio, Rob Riggle, Horatio Sanz, Lizzy Caplan, Abby Elliott, and Andrew Daly. It's a very funny and clever coming-of-age road picture that I know our listeners will love. It's available now on DVD and digitally on iTunes.
Last week, Walsh took a few minutes out of his schedule to talk with me about the film.
Rebecca O'Malley (RO): I don’t think so. I was there, but I don’t think we met. It was a lovely time, though. I was so glad that you could join us.
MW: It was a tremendous event. Tremendous.
RO: Glad you enjoyed it! I know that High Road is the first film that you directed. How long had you been developing the concept and the script?
MW: It was a screenplay that I had written four years ago with a friend of mine, Josh Weiner. We spent a couple of years working on the screenplay. About a year after we decided that no one was going to make it, I decided that I would direct it myself. Initially, I was willing to do it for free; but we were eventually able to raise some money for the project. And about a year after that, we boiled it down to an outline.
RO: If you have worked on a story for that long, how difficult is it to let your actors take charge of the dialogue. Did the movie start out as fully scripted?
MW: When we wrote it initially, it was completely scripted. All of the dialogue. Then, when I decided to make an improv movie, I borrowed the story from that. I deleted some of the side characters and made it simpler.
RO: Why did you decide to use improvised dialogue?
MW: In my personal experience, the comedies that I have done that have been really fun have allowed for a certain amount of improv time. You’ll shoot the script – and then you get to play with it. And I had long been wanting to direct an improvised film. I had been involved with an improvised television show and I really enjoyed the process. So I felt I had a really good handle on it. And I’ve long been a fan of the genre – Christopher Guest movies, etc. And I’ve had so much exposure to improv during my lifetime that I felt it was something that I wanted to do. I wanted to crack that problem – delve into that challenge. So I’ve wanted to do it for a long time. And the material was very appropriate. As we had written it, I started to think of all the people I knew who could play the specific characters. The screenplay became a 120-page character description.
RO: Was the main character based on any person or persons that you have encountered in your life?
MW: Yes. I did have a friend who was a part-time pot dealer in Chicago. He was very talented – brilliant. But he had become stuck because he took an easy choice and ended up doing it long than he wanted to. And had he stayed there, his life may not have panned out very well. But he did step away from it and now he’s a successful person. But none of the other characters are taken from our lives. Though the game Milky Milky Cakey Cake - which is mentioned in passing - is based on a real thing.
MW: You’ve seen the film?
RO: Yes! And of all its elements, I never would have predicted that one as having some basis in your actual experience.
MW: A friend of mine was in a band in high school and a father of one of the band members was abusing a substance one night. While doing so, he offered to have the boys stay at home with him one night and play "milky milky cake cake". It’s a game where you get a sheet cake, create a hole in the middle, and pour milk into it and eat it until all of the milk and cake are gone.
RO: That’s weirdly wonderful.
RO: One aspect of the film that I really enjoyed was the documentary-style camera work. It made the story feel very intimate. Why did you choose that approach to filming?
MW: First, a documentary crew can capture spontaneity better than others in their field. Anything can happen when you are creating an improv film. So I needed a crew that was experienced with being limber and ready to go. There weren’t many set up shots. They were capturing things as they happened. I had seen a film called Darkon which was a documentary about live action role players. And Hillary Spera is the woman who had shot that. I was lucky enough to get her for this film. The performances in this film are very real and natural. And documentary style helps to capture that feeling.
RO: I also read that you asked your actors to do improv work for character development – including theater work on scenes that were not part of the film. Can you tell me more about that?
MW: We did two weeks of theater camp. We went into the UCB theater and worked with the main characters pretty much every day and ancillary characters only for a few days. We wanted them to understand their back story, their world and their relationships. We also wanted to develop the proper tone for their dialogue. So we did, for example, classic interviews where I would ask them a half hour of questions. And then we would discuss the results to try and discover what was true about each character and what part of our discovery might naturally come up during the course of the film . We also did fun scenes that would never happen in the film. And we put groups together – like the band – so they would have a rapport and their friendships would feel natural and true. Improvising scenes did help their chemistry.
And then Dylan O’Brien, who played the young boy, had had no improv experience. So it was a boot camp for him. I had plugged him into an intensive UCB course in addition to this two week theater camp. All to prepare him for suddenly entering the big leagues of improvisation.
RO: That’s impressive. I’m sure many actors would have found that intimidating.
MW: Yes – and he was great. He was a solid comedy fan – starstruck with everyone he met.
RO: Who wouldn’t be? After you completed camp, how did you go about rehearsing the actual scenes? How does that work in an improvised film? How do you keep the scene fresh?
MW: In the theater rehearsals, we never did any scenes from the film in order to preserve spontaneity. Occasionally, though, there were jokes that we would come up with during rehearsal that we would keep. Or that I would remind the actors about on set. But once we were on the set – it was pretty traditional. I would talk to them about the scene and we would rehearse it in order to familiarize everyone with the blocking and the staging. And then we would shoot the wide. Hopefully, we would get it after a few takes and then everyone would feel comfortable with the rhythm. Then, if there were elements that were popping up that were new and funny, as we went in for singles and closer coverage, we could do multiple takes and multiple variations on it.
RO: Well, the end product is wonderful and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I want to thank you specifically for including the concept of a White Stripes cover band in the film. Extremely funny.
MW: (Laughs). My friend and co-writer, Josh, is obsessed with them. So he got me hooked on that idea.
This week, actor, writer and comedian Janet Varney is guest hosting for Jesse! Janet is one of the hosts of the long-running segment Dinner and a Movie on TBS, a writer for the DVD commentary series Rifftrax, and is one of the co-founders and producers of SF Sketchfest (an amazing celebratory festival of comedy in San Francisco).
Danny Pudi is an actor and comedian best known for his role as the pop culture-obsessed Abed Nadir on the NBC show Community. He talks to us about working on a show that's as much fun to shoot as it is to watch, connecting his Indian and Polish heritage to others through mustaches, and working improv comedy into a scripted show (among other things!). Community returns with its season premiere on September 22nd at 8/7c.
Ever wonder what happens inside a real master class with a legendary improv teacher like Matt Besser of the Upright Citizens Brigade? Well continue to wonder, because this video is a joke version of that.
Conan writer and past Sound guest Brian Stack was a 19-year-old intern at a community TV station when he made this eight-minute profile of Del Close in 1986. Close, if you don't know, remains the great hero of long-form improvisation. Stack accidentally set the camera to black and white, so the whole thing has an oddly artsy look. A remarkable and irreplaceable artifact.