Talking ‘Middle Man,’ ‘Parks and Rec,’ and Second City with Jim O’Heir

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Photo: Cullen Tobin

“Jim O’Heir, best known for playing Jerry Gergich, the lovable object of mockery on Parks and Recreation, has made a surprising jump to star in the new indie dark comedy, Middle Man. O’Heir plays Lenny, a straight-laced accountant with dreams of becoming a standup comedian. But Lenny has a big problem — he is not funny. Nonetheless, when his mother suddenly dies leaving him nothing but debt and her ‘53 Oldsmobile, he quits his job and heads to Vegas in search of fame. But along the way, a mysterious hitchhiker (Andrew West) lures him into a desert-town killing spree with dark and twisted results – as the bodies pile up, Lenny becomes funnier and funnier on stage.

In the world of standup comedy, a Middle Man or “middler” is someone who comes on stage after the opening act and before the headliner. As Middle Mandirector Ned Crowley describes, “They are usually someone who has lost the hope and optimism that a fresh naïve opener still has. We all know middle men (and women) in life; people who are trapped in their jobs or relationships, with no hope of moving forward to their goals or backward to their innocence.” Middle Man the movie craftily explores our society’s obsession with fame and increasing taste for caustic comedy. O’Heir and Crowley have been good friends for thirty years, since their days performing at Second City. Crowley wrote the film with his friend in mind nearly a decade ago, but it took O’Heir’s rising profile to get it off the ground. I talked to O’Heir about his early days in comedy, life after Parks and Rec, and his personal relationship to fame.”

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Maria Bamford Wants You to Know You’re Doing Great

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In her sublime new Netflix standup special, Old Baby, premiering on May 2nd, Maria Bamford performs a comedy set in increasingly larger venues. What begins as a few jokes in front of a mirror, progresses to a living room, onto a bowling alley, and so on, until she goes out with a bang on a big stage. The special is sparkling, her jokes are original, and her audience grows more hysterical with laughter as the size of the performance venue expands and shrinks. She is truly magnificent.

Maria Bamford is my favorite comedian. I admire everything she stands for as a comic and as a human being, and told her so in stream of barely intelligible gushing at the beginning of our interview. I rarely find myself star struck these days, but Bamford is special. Her comedy has served as somewhat of a lifeline to me during particularly dark times, and I was determined to repay her with a good interview. My enthusiasm was profuse and unsettling, but she accepted it with grace. Stephen Colbert may have proclaimed her to be his favorite comedian on planet earth, but she is my favorite comedian in the history of the universe and I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to express my sincere gratitude and adoration.

I asked Bamford several relevant questions about her comedy special, but then, throwing caution to the wind, I dove in with the 36 questions. If you’re not familiar, the 36 questions refer to a study by the psychologist Arthur Aron (and others) that explores whether intimacy between two strangers can be accelerated by having them ask each other a specific series of personal questions. I had recently read Mandy Len Catron’s Modern Love essay, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This,” and thought if there was ever a moment to accelerate intimacy, this interview was it. I asked Bamford if she’d heard of the 36 questions. She had. With genuine excitement she exclaimed, “let’s fall in love!” And we did. Or at least I did. Again.

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Meet Mindy Tucker, the Eyes of New York Comedy

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“Photographer Mindy Tucker has been shooting comedians for nearly a decade. In that time, Tucker has captured a massive photographic record of performers, shows, and parties in venues all over New York. Her “Year in Comedy” series features people from across the spectrum of experience, ranging from comics who are just starting out to big household names. Tucker took some time to talk about where she’s been, where she’s going, and to reflect on the thrilling moments she’s witnessed behind the lens on the New York comedy scene.”

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Inside the New Season of HBO’s ‘Animals’

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“Phil Matarese and Mike Luciano created, write, direct, and voice each episode of the animated series Animals on HBO. The duo might still be creating branded content for an advertising agency in NYC if not for the pigeons preening outside of their SoHo office window. Inspired by the city birds, they made an animated short film, giving the pigeons dry humor and personalities. A version of the pilot episode “Pigeons” won Best Comedy Pilot at the 2013 New York Television Festival and caught the attention of Mark and Jay Duplass, who signed on as executive producers. In season 1, Matarese and Luciano imagined and animated an inner life for flies, cats, squirrels, turkeys and more. Season 2 of Animals debuts on HBO tonight with a host of new creatures and crises. Phil and Mike took some time to reflect on the wild life.”

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Andy Daly on Wrapping Up the Wonderfully Dark ‘Review’

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“Comedy Central’s dark comedy Review is returning for a short third and final season. On the show, Andy Daly plays Forrest MacNeil, an idealistic dork who hosts a TV show, which is also called Review. “Life!” Forrest announces as each episode begins. “It’s literally all we have. But is it any good?” Rather than featuring judgments of books or movies, each segment of Review revolves around Forrest trying out new life experiences, each of which is suggested by his viewers. Forrest takes his responsibility to his audience seriously, boldly reviewing experiences like “divorce,” “addiction,” and “murder” that destroy his life. Season 3 reaches new depths of comedic darkness as the show wraps with a wonderfully funny and satisfying conclusion. Andy Daly took some time to reflect on his experience co-creating and starring in Review.”

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Inside Season 3 of ‘Man Seeking Woman’ with Creator Simon Rich

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“In the third season of FXX’s surreal romantic comedy, Man Seeking Woman, show creator Simon Rich decided to settle down and explore the complexities of a long-term relationship. MSW protagonist Josh (Jay Baruchel) finally meets his match in Lucy (Katie Findlay) and together they grapple with fidelity, ranch dressing, meeting the parents, sex-addict forest creatures, and a child who has a sixth sense for failure. Tune in for the season finale, “Blood,” airing tonight at 10:30pm ET to see what happens when Josh and Lucy get married. Simon Rich took some time to talk about the making of MSW season 3, his former writing life on SaturdayNight Live, and his fear of yaks.”

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Ron Funches Isn’t Powerless

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“The enterprising and lovable Ron Funches says he pitched his own character to play on the new NBC series Powerless, billed as the first comedy set in the DC Comics world. The show stars Vanessa Hudgens and the staff (played by Danny Pudi, Alan Tudyk, Christina Kirk, and Jennie Pierson) of an insurance company specializing in products to protect defenseless bystanders from the collateral damage of Superheroes and Supervillains. Much like the real Ron Funches, the character of Ron the IT guy on Powerless is a perpetually cheerful and optimistic sunbeam, shining through a sea of cynics. Funches took the time to talk with me about superpowers, hoop dreams, and goop.”

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