Best known for his standup in the United Kingdom, Romesh Ranganathan was working as a high school math teacher before deciding to pursue his lifelong passion for comedy. Over the course of five years, Romesh went from performing pub gigs to becoming one of the UK’s most popular performers. After selling out theaters all over England and touring Australia, he decided to move his wife, mother, and three kids to Los Angeles and try to make it big in America. He recently made his late night standup debut in the US on The Late Late Show with James Corden, and he set the bar high for himself straight out the gate by buying the 5,900-seat Greek Theatre in Los Angeles to put up a show he’s calling Romesh in America, which takes place tomorrow night. He hasn’t sold too many tickets yet, but he hopes if he builds it, they will come. I talked to Romesh about his Sri Lankan heritage, making the jump from teacher to comic, and how US audiences compare to the UK.
“Although Ken Marino says he learned nothing about how to be a Latin lover while directing How to Be a Latin Lover, he enjoyed collaborating on the development of such an outlandish character. The movie follows Maximo (Eugenio Derbez), an aging playboy suddenly dumped by the older woman he married for money. With nowhere else to turn, he moves in with his estranged sister Sara (Salma Hayek) and her 10-year-old son, Hugo (Raphael Alejandro). Determined to return to the lap of luxury, Maximo uses Hugo to meet a rich widow (Raquel Welch) —and learns the hard way that love and trust must be earned. Along his journey he meets Cindy, a frozen yogurt enthusiast/crazy cat lady (Kristen Bell) and two bullies (Rob Riggle and Rob Huebel) who squeeze him for cash. His best friend Rick (Rob Lowe) is the only one who understands him as a fellow connoisseur of wealthy older women.
How to Be a Latin Lover is now available on Digital HD, Blu-ray, and DVD. Marino can also be seen in front of the camera this summer on Netflix reprising his role as Victor in Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later. I talked to Marino about wrangling cats, driving trucks through houses, and hypnotism.”
“The feminist Canadian sketch comedy series Baroness von Sketch Show has made a splash on the CBC and graces American airwaves on IFC tonight at 10:00pm. The half-hour show is written by and starring Meredith MacNeill and Second City alumni Carolyn Taylor, Aurora Browne, and Jennifer Whalen. Hilarious, smart, and original, the sketches vary in length and never fail to entertain. I talked to the talented bunch about the vibe of their writers’ room, their most humiliating moments as performers, and pigeons.”
“Jeff Baena says his fascination with medieval times (the historical period, not the dinner theater) inspired his latest film, The Little Hours. The story follows three young Tuscan nuns (Alison Brie, Kate Micucci, and Aubrey Plaza) as they cope with tedious life in the convent. When Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) brings on a new hired hand (Dave Franco), a handsome young servant forced into hiding by his angry lord, the repressed nunnery “erupts in a whirlwind of pansexual horniness, substance abuse, and wicked revelry.” As if the cast weren’t stacked enough, comedy greats Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, Adam Pally, and Nick Offerman build further on the film’s unusual premise and hilarity. I talked to Baena about career beginnings, shooting in Italy, and life in the convent.”
“Andrea Savage (Veep, Episodes, Dog Bites Man) created and stars in ‘I’m Sorry’, a new half-hour comedy on truTV. Tired of being offered boring, distressed, sexless mom roles, Savage set out to write a character she’d be proud to play on a show she’d love to work on. I’m Sorry follows the “seemingly confident, together comedy writer, wife and mom Andrea, who comically exposes her inner immaturity and neuroses through unexpected life situations” and is executive produced by The Lonely Island, Will Ferrell, and Adam McKay. Savage assembled a cast of her favorites including Judy Greer, Jason Mantzoukas, Nick Kroll, Paul Scheer, June Squibb, Martin Mull, Lizzy Caplan, Jamie Denbo, and Kulap Vilaysack. I talked with Savage about breaking the sitcom mom stereotype, bringing her own mom to set, and alternative life paths.”
“Decades before writing The Comedians, a deep dive into the history of American comedy, Kliph Nesteroff was a young standup working out his set in small town Canada. Nesteroff revisits the plight of current amateur comedians as the host of Funny How?, a new Viceland series premiering this week. Nesteroff shadows rookie comics from all walks of life and chats with veterans like Dave Attell, Mike Birbiglia, Rhea Butcher, Cameron Esposito, and Pete Holmes about bombing, killing, and making it in comedy. I talked to Nesteroff about his first standup experience, queer comedians, Christian comedians, and everything in between.”
“After years of performing standup comedy and making funny videos, Heather Fink struck out on her own as a writer/director. Paying the bills by day as a boom operator and sound utility, Fink got to work dreaming up her first feature film. The end product – Inside You – is a hilarious romantic comedy about Ryan (Marshall Stratton) and Stephanie (Fink), a long-term couple that switches bodies after the use of a magical (and frightening) sex toy. The pair set out in their new bodies to discover the wonders of the opposite sex and gain insight about their relationship in the process. Fink takes the Freaky Friday trope and turns it on its head, creating clever protagonists who avoid easy gender stereotypes and play against audience expectation. I talked to Fink about making movies, feminist agendas, and growing up funny.”
Photo: Mindy Tucker
“Lizz Winstead (co-creator and former head writer of The Daily Show) has put her passion for politics to work. After founding Lady Parts Justice League, “the first not safe for work, rapid response reproductive rights messaging hub that uses comedy, culture and digital media to sound an alarm about the terrifying erosion of reproductive access so people will get off their asses and reclaim their rights,” Winstead decided to take the show on the road. In May, LPJ launched the Vagical Mystery Tour, a 16-city national tour to bring comedy, music and activism to cities with some of the strictest birth control and abortion laws including Witchita, Indianapolis, Omaha, Birmingham, and Louisville. Guest comedians such as Aparna Nancherla, Gina Yashere, Maysoon Zayid, Helen Hong, Alonzo Bodden, Joyelle Johnson and more perform sets followed by a talkback after the show. At each talkback, local abortion providers and activists make the needs of their clinic known, giving an opportunity for the audience to step up and volunteer. The comedians also jump in on the outreach, pulling weeds, fixing fences, and raising morale at the clinics. I talked to Winstead about reproductive rights, the horrors of the Senate GOP healthcare bill, and bringing comedy to the deep South.”
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.”
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.