I Bet I Would Really Like the Second Season of ‘Other Space’

Recently I was in a bookstore, where I overheard one employee making fun of another’s embarrassing taste in comedy. “So you have like, a dumb sense of humor,” she said, “This is really revelatory.” The TV show she thought was so laughably bad was Broad City. Her coworker weakly tried to defend what some might call The Best Most Important Comedy I Can Currently Name Particularly When, Like Now, I Am Dumbed with Rage by How Smug This Store Clerk Was, but the girl stopped him. “I watched the pilot?” As if she had minored in Bevers Studies at NYU. “So, I got it.”

I think we can all agree, as reasonable human media consumers, that we should not be able to judge a show by its pilot (and also that the pilot of Broad City is great, and that that store clerk is probably now dead from her own self-satisfied wrongheadedness, having walked directly into traffic because she thought she knew where she was going but thanks). In many later-great cases, shows can’t even be judged by their abbreviated first seasons — the first six Offices, the first six Parks and Recs, even the first five Seinfelds. When comedies are heavily character-based, reliant on audience familiarity and actor chemistry, they necessarily take time to gel.

This brings us to Other Space and its 8-episode first season, currently streaming on Yahoo! Screen.

Some appetites (mine, maybe yours?) were whet for Other Space after reading the New Yorker’s profile of Allison Jones. Jones is a low-key comedy icon, the casting director responsible for the big breaks of everyone from Seth Rogen to Jonah Hill to basically the whole cast of The Office. The New Yorker followed her as she cast Other Space for her dear old friend, Ghostbusters: The Lady Reboot director and Freaks and Geeks co-creator Paul Feig. She was tasked with assembling a top-notch cast of relative unknowns to play Captain Stewart Lipinski and his inept, young crew, and she did it. Really well.

But, as The Office, Parks and Rec, and Seinfeld proved, that is just the first step. And I bet the second season of Other Space would really be something to talk about.

‘Last Week Tonight’ Makes America’s Crumbling Infrastructure Sexy Again

Last night’s Last Week Tonight took a closer look at the crumbling infrastructure in the United States, from the thousands of uninspected dams across the country to bridges in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and New York that could realistically collapse at any minute: “When we’re at a point where the Secretary of Transportation is struggling to decide between using the word ‘unsafe’ and the word ‘dangerous,’ we might have a problem worth fixing.” Since no taxpayers or politicians seem interested in the very unglamorous job of routine road maintenance, Last Week Tonight enlisted the help of stars like Edward Norton, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Steve Buscemi to film an intense thriller called Infrastructure with the hopes of making the issue sexy enough for people to start caring about again.

Should All Standup Comics Write Their Own Jokes?

I was thirteen when I first saw a comic glance at his notes on stage, and I remember wondering why I was surprised to see this. Did you think he was making all this up on the spot? I asked myself. Well, I guess I did. Years later, when I began regularly attending comedy shows and would end up seeing the same set a dozen times a year, I began to have a similar feeling. What, I again asked myself, did you think comedians come up with a new routine for every show? Well, I guess I did. After all, isn’t that the rouse that so many standups employ in their act, that this is all a spontaneous, one-sided conversation?

Young fans of standup inevitably go through these revelations. At some point, we develop the moxie to learn that the character a comedian is on stage isn’t necessarily who they are off-stage (though sometimes they can be, for good or ill). Even though I’m a child of the indie-comedy generation, I still have no problem accepting a certain amount of theater and artifice in someone’s set.

Though if that’s the case, why do we get so punk-rock preachy at the idea of a standup comedian not writing their own jokes?

Zach Woods Has a Lot of Beefs (Not Really)

Season 2 of the Golden Globe and Emmy nominated HBO series Silicon Valley premieres this Sunday night. As a primer, I talked to actor and improviser Zach Woods, who plays Donald “Jared” Dunn on the series. Woods, who started improv at UCB at the age of 16, has had standout roles as Gabe Lewis on The Office and more recently, as Zach Harper on the USA series Playing House. We talked about the dynamic of the Silicon Valley cast both on and off the set, the expert craftsmanship of Mike Judge and the intricacies of playing awkward characters.

Inside the Boom and Bust Cycle of Standup Comedy with Jordan Brady

Jordan Brady’s love of comedy has carried him through two great comedy “booms” and “busts” over the past 30 years. Although he was a highly active comic during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Brady’s interests turned towards directing and producing. His experience in comedy and love for the art of stand-up led him to make I Am Comic in 2010, which presents deeply personal and insightful interviews with comedians such as Louis C.K., Phyllis Diller, Jim Gaffigan, Janeane Garofalo, Sarah Silverman, and Dave Attell.

More recently, in 2014, Brady released I Am Road Comic, which focuses more specifically on the unique issues that face comedians who take their act on the road, often to diverse and unpredictable venues around the country. This time around, Brady gathered interviews with comics like T.J. Miller, Maria Bamford, Pete Holmes, Marc Maron, Doug Benson, Jim Norton, Judah Friedlander, Alonzo Bodden, Jen Kirkman, W. Kamau Bell, Nikki Glaser, and Kyle Kinane to recount their experience of “the road” as comics come to know it. He presents road comedy for what it usually is: a march into a small, unfamiliar town, in a strange bar, where nobody who knows who you are.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Brady over the phone about his experiences on the scene through the bang and bust of the ‘80s and late ‘90s, where he thinks the scene is now, and what really makes for a great comic.

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 huge part of comedy work, and that adds an extra line to the budget.

So let’s take a closer look at how some of the major comedy production studios fund their internet comedy videos, as well as how a few indie comedy teams gets work done.

Derrick Beckles and the Art of Weirdness

Derrick Beckles has made his career out of pursuing the subversive and strange. Growing up in Canada, Beckles was inspired by the absurdity of infomercials and paid programming, eventually creating TV Carnage, a compilation of bad clips from public access shows and infomercials. In addition to creating these compilations, Beckles has directed several music videos, helped shape the humor in VICE, and is currently working on a sitcom called The Hopes in which Courtney Love plays his wife. I spoke with Beckles about his eclectic jobs, being accessible to mainstream audiences, and his current stint as host of Hot Package. The second season of the show airs every Friday at 12:30 a.m. on Adult Swim.

It’s becoming more common to make comedy shows that are intentionally poor in quality, but you’ve been interested this type of programming for a while. What got you into this?

I was in my parent’s basement in Canada and Canadian TV is especially interesting, in many cases mind-blowingly shitty, in ways that are magnificent. So I would start taping stuff with friends, putting them together on tapes when I was a kid. It just kind of blew up. I was doing them on my own and then I was making them for friends and they started trading them. I was doing it anonymously for years and then I started developing this editing style. These Canadian TV shows and public access shows were really weird or wrong, but they were so differently weird or wrong that I really became attracted to a specific kind of wrong that people were achieving. There’s the standard shit on TV, that popular bad TV. I completely stayed away from that stuff and sought out really weird specific stuff. I used to do it with a good friend of mine in Toronto. We would constantly search for specifically bad TV. And the more earnest the performances were, the more we were attracted to it.

The Subtle Brilliance of Jill Soloway’s ‘Transparent’

Transparent, Amazon’s foray into the Netflix-infested waters of quality internet binge watching, is deservedly the most critically-lauded show of this Fall television season (and was just renewed for a second season). Created by writer/director Jill Soloway (writer/producer Six Feet Under and The United States of Tara, writer/director Afternoon Delight, which won a directing award at Sundance in 2013), the show centers around the Pfefferman family, an affluent Jewish LA clan whose patriarch Mort (Jeffrey Tambor) comes out as transgender and begins to live as Maura in her late 60s.

Directed mostly by Soloway herself, (with the exception of three, credited to Nisha Ganatra), the direction in the show is strong and incredibly consistent, marked by what Emily Nussbaum refers to in her piece on the show in The New Yorker as “mildly funky pacing” of the current era of indie film/TV direction stylistic crossovers we are seeing particularly in comedy, with shows like Girls and Louie. However, a key difference between Transparent and those other shows is that Soloway is not a character, neither in physical or representational form. Rather, Soloway knows all of her characters extremely well, she knows them like family, and in the way one knows family, she allows them to speak for themselves and expose their own flaws. She is not at all precious about her characters and at times early in the series she can be downright misanthropic, allowing the whole ensemble (minus the consistently heartbreaking, inspiring, astonishing Maura) to tread deeper and deeper toward the brink of unlikability.

Keeping Your Childlike Enthusiasm Alive with Janet Varney

Janet Varney’s positive and generous attitude might be best exemplified by her Nerdist podcast The JV Club; in it the actress, producer, and writer interviews women in entertainment (and this summer, men) about their experiences growing up and how their formative teenage years influence their work and who they are today. In her often funny and sometimes emotional conversations Varney exudes warmth and an earnest curiosity to understand and share her guest’s stories with her audience.

As a comedic actress Varney has made a variety of guest appearances in shows and movies like Kroll Show, How I Met Your Mother, and Key and Peele, but she might be best known to alt comedy fans for her work on Burning Love, in which she played the disinterested lesbian love interest of Ken Marino’s pompous bachelor.

Varney also founded SF SketchFest with Owen David and Cole Stratton. The festival celebrated its thirteenth year in February with shows at nearly two dozen Bay Area venues.

This summer Varney has appeared on the relationship comedy You’re the Worst and stars in the animated adventure series The Legend of Korra, which released its third season finale online on Friday.

I recently talked with Varney about The JV Club, Korra, SF SketchFest, and interacting with fans.