Hysterical on FX: Press Conference with Female Stand-Up Comics

Posted on March 29, 2021 at 7:00 am

Copyright 2021 FX

Hysterical” is a new documentary about female stand-up comics premiering April 2, 2021 on FX. Director Andrea Nevins (Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie), journeys backstage and on the road with veteran comedians, rising stars and novices to discover how an intrepid group of boundary-breaking females are changing the game and exploring what it takes to become the voices of their generation and their gender, featuring Kelly Bachman, Margaret Cho, Fortune Feimster, Rachel Feinstein, Marina Franklin, Nikki Glaser, Judy Gold, Kathy Griffin, Jessica Kirson, Lisa Lampanelli, Wendy Liebman, Carmen Lynch, Bonnie McFarlane, Sherri Shepherd and Iliza Shlesinger.

I was lucky enough to attend a press conference with Nevins and some of the comics featured in the film, where new talked about “cancel culture,” hecklers, turning real life into comedy, and why no one should film their acts with their phones. Some highlights (lightly edited for clarity):

Adapting — or apologizing for past jokes that are now considered inappropriate:

Judy Gold

It was way different, and I think it’s because we thought differently then. So, things that were funny then, because of the way we’ve evolved, aren’t as funny now. If you take the way we think now and apply it to some comedy from 30 years ago, you’ll say, “Oh, that’s not funny. Why are they laughing?” It was a different world. I personally never really edited myself, but my rule is that you can talk about anything, any topic no matter how horrible as long as it’s funny. You have to craft a joke about it. You can’t just spew racial epithets or stereotypes. You need to use them wisely. And, also, if you are talking about something horrible that happened and you are crafting a joke about it, it doesn’t take away the sadness and the horror. It actually acknowledges that it happened, and you are sort of finding — a joke is a buildup of tension and then a release, and oftentimes people — you know, I think it’s going to happen with COVID — people are so tense, and they want a release. They want to laugh. They want to say, “Oh, I needed that.” It doesn’t make it — it doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t cheapen whatever, you know, the topic is.

Copyright FX 2021

Bonnie McFarlane

I think everybody has jokes that you feel guilty about. I have a joke where I say “tranny,” and it still gets played on Sirius, and it makes me cringe so hard. But it wasn’t, like, negative in that way,
but it’s still using a word that I would never use now. So, we learn. We grow. You are making jokes about the times that you are living in, and that’s all you can do. You can’t see into the future about what’s, you know — maybe there will be a time where we are not allowed to make fun of dogs.

Sheri Shepherd

I mean, what I find is very hard is, in the past — you know, it’s always an evolution of being a stand-up comic, and in the past, you said what you said in the past because that’s where you were then. What I find very troubling now for comics is we are not allowed to say anything. You get on that stage, and that was the thing. With comics, we were the one that told the emperor that he was not wearing any clothes, and we were the ones that were allowed to get on stage and say something. Like Judy said, as long as it was funny, go ahead and put it out there. But now, as a comic, getting on stage, what I am tired of dealing with is “Oh my gosh. That was offensive to me.” “Oh my gosh. You said this.” Look, I’m a comic. The way we view the world is in a very skewed — through a very skewed filter. That’s what makes us get on this frickin’stage every night and say what we say. So that’s what I find
troubling for us in what we do today in this world, that if you say something, you’ve got to be scared that now you are not going to get booked or that TV show is going to come on, and you are going to go, “yeah, you know, you offended three people, and now they are writing letters.”

Jessica Kirson

I don’t feel guilty for material I’ve done in the past because I know it always has come from a loving place and because, at the time, I felt like it was okay. And there’s things I don’t do now or say now because I don’t feel it’s right and it feels wrong, and I don’t do it anymore. There’s times when I’ve said stuff to audience members where I felt guilty because I felt like I was too harsh or said things that I regret, but I’ve said things at the time that I felt were appropriate. And, again, there’s things I censor myself with now because, in my gut, it feels wrong to say them.

Bringing your painful experiences to the audience

Sherri Shepherd

When you are going through something painful or difficult and you bring it up on stage, there’s a chunk of the audience that can relate to it because they’ve gone through it. My husband cheated on me and the girl got pregnant. And I talk about standing over him, and I was ready to bash his head in with a lamp, but because I got it from Target, it wasn’t heavy enough to kill him. And that’s when I realized, that’s why white people buy antique lamps, because the base will actually crush a skull.

The sheer number of women that came up to me and went, “I hurt so bad from infidelity, and the fact that you were able to talk about it and make me laugh about wanting to kill my husband and what I’m going through,” I think it’s freeing for some people to be able to laugh at it. And the more authentic you are about your life, the less people can steal your stuff because it’s authentic to you.

Carmen Lynch

New York is great too because we are all in therapy. So, it’s a very therapy-centric place. So, we just take that stuff, and we throw it on stage. And it feels good, but it’s also original material, and people can relate.

Marina Franklin

It’s also very healing. It’s a healing journey. I mean, for me, that was the first time I ever had to talk about the fact that I could possibly die . But it was moments like that that you realize that you were always meant to be a comedian too because when you have real intense moments like that and you can make people laugh with it and it makes you feel good and it makes them feel good — because you constantly go through this stage of wondering if you are actually that comedian, and moments like that, it self-validates. I don’t know if that’s a word, but that’s what it felt like. And it was amazing to have a young woman approach me and say, “Thank you for doing this because people don’t know that people going through breast cancer and treatment, that they laugh and that we need laughter. And I brought my friend to your show just so she could see it.” And, so, it becomes this community that can laugh with you.

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Television

Interview: Michelle J. Li, Costume Designer for Shiva Baby

Posted on March 28, 2021 at 8:00 am

Copyright Neon Heart 2020
“Shiva Baby” mostly takes place at a reception following a Jewish funeral, which means costume designer Michelle J. Li had to find a way to make a lot of characters dressed in black look distinctive. An except from our interview for the Alliance of Women Film Journalists:

NM: It must be a challenge to do a movie where pretty much everybody is wearing black but you still have to make these characters distinctive and visually interesting.

MJL: Of course, at a shiva, the main color is going to be black. Emma and I spoke about it a lot. We as the consumer, think of black as one color. There are many, many different shades of black. There are warmer blacks, there are cooler blacks, and depending even upon the type of fabric, black absorbs light or reflects light.

When you put black in front of the lens, it becomes such a dark void, and you can lose a lot of definition from the silhouette of the character. I was really conscious about making sure that the texture and the pattern of whatever costume piece I was using really was the defining point that could help bring more interest into making it black, but interesting.

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Behind the Scenes Interview Jewish

Interviews: The Cast of A Week Away

Posted on March 27, 2021 at 7:09 am

Copyright Netflix 2021
I had so much fun talking to the four young stars of A Week Away for The Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Bailee Madison (who also co-produced, at only age 19!), Kevin Quinn, Kat Conner, and Jahbril Cook talked to me about their favorite camp activities, the advice they would give their characters, and what they hope people will take from the film. An excerpt:

Minow: The characters pack a lot of activities into a week! Which was your favorite?

Quinn: There was a day that we were filming a montage of sporting events around the camp. And we did everything from bag toss to pie-eating contest, to tug of war. And I think that was the most fun for me because I actually forgot that the cameras were rolling at one point, which is a good day in any actor’s career. We’re just having fun.

Madison: We were drained that day. I remember when we were finished filming, we were like, “I’m exhausted.” And then I went home and I was FaceTiming my mom and I said, “I’m so tired today. She asked, What did you do?” When I told her, I thought, This just sounds like a really fun day.” And it was. But yeah, we got really into it.

Conner: The scene was cut from the movie but we got to do a zip line, and that is one of my favorite things ever. But we only had one take. But if I could go back, I want to do it again.

Cook: Yeah, that was super fun. There were a lot of things that we didn’t get to do, that showed up in the movie but we didn’t get around to it. One of them in the dive sequence George gets launched off The Blob and I was looking forward to that the whole time. The Blob was just out there on the lake and we could see it every day. But then on the day, unfortunately, they hit me with the bad news. They said, “Doing your hair is too much of an ordeal so you can’t get it wet because we don’t have time to do it again.” And so, I climbed out onto The Blob, and I had to do this shimmy maneuver on the big wooden structure to get the shot and then I had to shimmy back off without getting wet.

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Actors Interview

Great Characters! New York Magazine’s List of Today’s Best Character Actors

Posted on March 25, 2021 at 10:38 am

I love character actors, and was delighted to see New York Magazine’s great list of today’s best,  As the terrific documentaries “That Guy…Who Was in That Thing” and “That Gal…Who Was in That Thing” show, character actors have the tough job of being perfect every take, because the star’s best take is the one they will use, and handling a lot of expositional dialog so that the star can stick to the quips and quotable lines.

NYMag’s list is excellent, with some of my favorites, including Brian Tyree Henry, Beth Grant, Jason Mantzoukas, Rob Morgan, and Fred Melamed. Honestly, every one of the 32 on the list is a favorite of mine, someone whose name in the credits makes me smile in anticipation. Here’s to character actors!

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Actors Great Characters

The Movies That Inspired Screenwriters To Write Their Own

Posted on March 23, 2021 at 11:23 am

Copyright 1997 New Line

LA Magazine has an entertaining article about the movies that inspired screenwriters to write their own. Several of them pointed to representation that communicated to them for the first time that it was possible for someone like them to work in show business. Felischa Marye of “13 Reasons Why” said it was the Black romances of the 90s like “Love Jones” and “Love and Basketball.” Some talked about the films that excited them as children, like Dustin Lance Black (“Milk”), who remembered seeing “ET” at age 8.

E.T. was centered on a single-parent home, its middle child, Elliot, in desperate need of connection, hope, friendship, love, and to my young mind’s eye: a father figure. He was my age. Like me, a middle child. And like him, I had no clue where my dad was. I had never connected with anyone in a film the way I did with Elliot that day. Because, unlike the solitary experience of watching TV at home, I wasn’t the only one laughing and gasping. Everyone in the audience was. Often in unison. For those treasured two hours, I knew I wasn’t alone. And for a shy boy who was certain he was too strange for this world, there was no better medicine than to learn that my heart beat in similar fashion to others’.

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