2009: A Year’s Worth of Interviews – The Top 100 Quotes

Some people think that the life of a work-at-home entertainment writer is one of the most lax jobs out there, since the perception is generally is that all you do is sit around and watch DVDs, occasionally venture out of the house to see movies or concerts, and then sit in front of the computer and write about them. Okay, it’s a fair cop. But when you throw interviews into the mix, there’s a bit more work involved. First, you’ve got to get the interview (they aren’t always handed to you on a silver platter), then you’ve got to do the research to make sure that you can ask some halfway knowledgeable questions, and after you conduct the interview, let’s not forget that you’ve got to transcribe it, too. In other words, yes, there really is work involved…and when I went back and discovered that I’d done well over 130 interviews during the course of 2009, I suddenly realized why I’m so tired all the time.

For your reading enjoyment, I’ve pulled together a list of 100 of my favorite quotes from the various interviews I conducted for Premium Hollywood, Bullz-Eye, Popdose, and The Virginian-Pilot this year, along with the links to the original pieces where available. As you can see, I had some extremely interesting conversations in 2009. Let us all keep our fingers crossed that I’m able to chat with just as many fascinating individuals in 2010…

1. Pamela Adlon: “In the first season (of ‘Californication’), when we had the threesome with the nipple clamps, I was, like, ‘I don’t get this, I don’t know how you’re gonna do it.’ And then, all of a sudden, there’s a crane with a camera hanging over our heads, and you’re, like, ‘Okayyyyyyy. But how are you gonna sell this? How are you gonna make it work?’ And they ended up shooting it brilliantly, cutting it together, and it just all ended up working without me having to compromise my own personal morals.”

2. Jonathan Ames: “After my first novel, my mother said to me, ‘Why don’t you make your writing more funny? You’re so funny in person.’ Because my first novel was rather dark. And I don’t know, but something about what she said was true. ‘Yes, why don’t I?’ Maybe I was afraid to be funny in the writing. But since then, seven books later, almost everything I’ve done has a comedic edge to it.”

3. Ed Asner: “I loved journalism until the day my journalism teacher, a man I revered, came by my desk and said, ‘Are you planning on going into journalism?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘I wouldn’t.’ I said, ‘Well, why not?’ He said, ‘You can’t make a living.’”

4. Sean Astin: “When somebody brings up a movie (of mine) that I haven’t heard about in a long time, I feel like a 70-year-old pitcher at a bar somewhere, and somebody walks in and says, ‘Oh, my God, I was in St. Louis and I saw you. You pitched a shutout.’ It’s real. I really did do that, because someone today remembers it.”

5. Darryl Bell: “The legend of ‘Homeboys in Outer Space’ has become much more incendiary than the actual show. It’s funny how I usually challenge most people who talk about how much they disliked ‘Homeboys’ to name me five episodes. Most of them can’t, because they just bought into the ‘oh, it’s awful, just the title. Oh, it’s terrible.’ What’s interesting is that I had a great conversation with Chi McBride, who was doing ‘The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer,’ which, if you want to talk about in terms of the imagery of what was wrong, that show was much more infamous than ‘Homeboys.’ Yet it’s not remembered in the same way because the title didn’t grab you in the same way. I remember Chi pulled me aside and he was, like, ‘Look, everyone who is criticizing what you’re doing would take your job from you in two seconds. All of them. So all I can tell you is that this is one blip on both of our careers, and we are moving on.’”

6. Adam Campbell: “For some reason, people always pick on the British sensibility, and we always come across as stupid, but remember: we used to run this country!”

7. Nestor Carbonell: “Let me make this perfectly clear: I do not wear make-up, and I do not wear eye-liner. This is something I’ve had to deal with my whole life. I remember I was in college in Boston, I had a commercial agent, and they sent me out for some print commercial stuff. And they called me into the office and said, ‘Look, we called you in to talk to you because we just want you to know that…well, we don’t think you need to wear eyeliner.’ And I’m, like, ‘What?’ ‘Yeah, it’s okay, you don’t have to wear it for print ads.’ ‘No, I’m not wearing eyeliner!’ And I kept dabbing my eyes and saying, ‘Look! No eyeliner! I’m not wearing any!’”

8. Elaine Cassidy: “The last two days of shooting (‘Harper’s Island’) was probably the most hardcore, the coldest anyone has ever been. It was like your head was freezing, and my motivation for most scenes was, ‘The minute this scene is over, I’m heading straight over to that heater to get warm.’”

9. Chris Cornell: “I started as a drummer, so I sort of took on singing duties by default. I had sung backgrounds and some lead vocals from behind the drums in different bands that I’d been in, and I’d gotten great responses for the songs I would sing. I really started pursuing the possibility of being a lead singer based on the fact that I was working a full-time restaurant job and then playing gigs at night, hauling drums around. One day, it just dawned on me that, ‘Hey, I could be in a band and be the singer, and it would be a lot easier!’”

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Weekend at the Multiplex (Updated)

Christian Bale contemplates his eyelineHey folks. Now, if anyone out there remembers the series of “Multiplex Mayhem” posts I was writing back in the dark days of the late, late Bush Administration, I’m returning in a different, and briefer form. For this week and next, I’ll be covering the weekend box office, and then, starting next month, there will be more from me on movies in general here, and that’s all I’m saying for the time being.

This big movie Memorial Day weekend, though no longer the official start of summer movie season, brings us too major tentpole releases from the big studios: Warner’s “Terminator Salvation” and Fox’s “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.” The PG-13 Terminator reboot attempt is directed by McG, who Bullz-Eye’s Jason Zingale (who kinda sorta liked the movie) terms a “poor man’s Michael Bay.” Other critics were less charitable, and the film is getting easily the worst reviews in the entire history of the “Terminator” franchise, with the Rotten Tomatoes crowd giving it an underwhelming 35% “fresh” and generally seeming a little angry with star Christian Bale for walking into their collective eyeline. Not that any of that will matter to weekend grosses — and I do expect this to be the big winner of the long holiday weekend. However, if audiences agree that it really is inferior to prior “Terminator” flicks, it’s possible there will be a bigger drop-off later than expected. Still, at last night’s midnight’s screenings, it raked in a cool $3 million from the Red Bull drinking legions.

The sequel to 2006’s entirely unacclaimed “Night at the Museum” should also do well regardless of notices because it combines the only sure formula for box office success — a kid-friendly production that offers something, anything, to parents as well. In this case, Ben Stiller and a very strong supporting cast, even if the result had Roger Ebert squirming in boredom and remembering one of the truer critical refrains of all time:

I found myself yet once again echoing the frequent cry of Gene Siskel: Why not just give us a documentary of the same actors having lunch?

Still, the parents I know are mostly grateful for any movie that doesn’t involve CGI rodents eating their own feces, and at least this one encourages kids to go to museums.

And there is another option, that is the latest, at this point entirely unreviewed Wayans Brother’s spoof film from Paramount and MTV, “Dance Flick,” which at least has a reasonably funny trailer and Amy Sedaris (sister of writer/public radio superstar David Sedaris, frequent comedy companion of Stephen Colbert, before he was having portions of space stations named after him). Carl DiOrio says it will do well if can break out of the euphemistic “urban market”? Young folks looking for a comedy will likely go if they can’t get into something else, but something tells me that both “urban” people and their paler “suburban” friends will have other films to watch considering that, new releases aside, “Star Trek” and “Angels and Demons” are still very strong at the multiplex.

In limited release, we have Steve Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience” starring thinking man’s porn star Sasha Grey in a sexy but non-porn role which makes it something of a must for cinephile horndogs the world over. And because I’m the retro-guy who occasionally likes the same movies your grandma does, I feel compelled to mention both “The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story,” about the guys responsible for the vast bulk of the pre-“Little Mermaid” Disney songs, and the Noel Coward adaptation “Easy Virtue,” which looks like it would go down very well with a nice dry martini made with a good, dry English gin. But you’ll want to see Sasha, won’t you?

UPDATE: Apparently some disagree with what I thought was a conventional-wisdom friendly guess about the weekend’s winner, since “Terminator” is such a time-tested franchise. Nikki Finke says it will be neck and neck but those famed “insiders” are predicting immense numbers for “Museum.” We’ll see.

  

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Make ’em Laugh: The Funny Business of America

Simply put, the three-DVD set of PBS’ six-part special on comedy in America is a must-have for any fan of comedy. Hosted by Billy Crystal and narrated by Amy Sedaris, “Make ’em Laugh” traces the origins of the wiseguy, the oddball, the breadwinner, the satirist, the pratfaller, and the groundbreaker in incredible detail, combining footage of the masters at work (both movies and TV) with interviews of dozens of comedians, writers and producers. (Holy cow, was Jack Benny’s writing staff an All-Star lineup of funny.) It’s all very informative, but if the set has one flaw, it’s in each show’s tendency to stop the timeline around 1989, which results in the omission of several prominent modern-day comedians (Bill Hicks, Patton Oswalt and Sarah Silverman, to name a few). That will happen, of course, when trying to condense 80 years of comedy into six hours. Each disc also contains extended interviews with dozens of comedians, and a couple bits of guys telling their favorite jokes. Great stuff, across the board.

Click to buy Make ’em Laugh: The Funny Business of America

  

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TCA Tour, Jan. 2009: “Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America”

Dying is easy, and comedy is hard, but if you really want hard, try putting together a six-hour documentary about comedy in motion pictures and on television without having someone complain about what’s been left out. Can’t be done…and hasn’t been done, if I’m to be perfectly honest. There’s just too much comedy out there. But with that said, PBS’s effort, “Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of Comedy,” is a damned good attempt at accomplishing the feat, and more importantly, the show’s executive producer, Michael Kantor, is fully willing to concede the impossibility of covering everything.

“Max Welk, who was one of our consultants, is maybe 90 years old, kept saying the two funniest people he ever saw were Jack Benny, who could walk on stage and say nothing and an audience would laugh, and Wheeler and Woosley,” said Kantor. “Jeff Abraham lobbied for the Ritz Brothers. So it was very difficult. Rather than tell the kind of…not standard story, but natural story of, okay, here were the different studios that sprang up and we’ll march chronologically through the silent film era, we decided that a comedy series needs to be surprising and the audience, the viewer, would enjoy it more if they were a little taken aback by the next story, perhaps Paul Lynde following Redd Foxx. It’s surprising, ‘Well, where are we going?’ So we tried to hue to the framework that way rather than comparing, you know, Charley Chase with Harold Lloyd with Buster Keaton. I almost interviewed Rudy Ray Moore, who lived — just died, actually — lived in Vegas. He created Dolemite. And I kept thinking, ‘God, this is an amazing story. It deserves its own AMERICAN MASTER special.’ But it kind of didn’t fit into the six different episodes we created.”

As for the narrator of “Make ‘Em Laugh,” Amy Sedaris made a point of noting that Buddy Hackett didn’t end up making the final cut, either. (There is, however, a quick cut to a shot of Jerri Blank, from “Strangers with Candy,” which made her happy.) Kantor seemed apologetic about the omission, but he explained, “The goal was, once, with a team of consultants, we’d figured out that these six categories or archetypes or – call them what you want — genres that reflected different aspects of American culture were the ones we were sticking with, we wanted to tell the best story we could. And that’s why poor Buddy Hackett didn’t make it.”

Kantor said it was also an issue when it came to trying to figure out what classic clips would fit into the proceedings without feeling shoehorned in.

“There were a couple of sitcoms that we really wanted to include, but we just didn’t have time for,” he said. “One was ‘The Odd Couple.’ We reference it in passing. You see someone talk about it and yet it seemed to so clearly speak to a moment in time where divorces were happening in America and yet we couldn’t give it as much weight, as maybe if we had 72 minutes in an hour, we would have wanted. And Richard Pryor had the ill-fated ‘Richard Pryor Show,’ he only did four of five episodes, and he does this great speech where he’s a black President,” said Kantor. “And it felt like, ‘Boy, wouldn’t that be interesting to sneak in?’ Robin Williams is standing in the back. But that wasn’t for cost or any other reason. It was just the arc of the Richard Pryor story; it didn’t hold. My job as a documentary filmmaker is how to tell the best overall story. Maybe like a baseball manager: you might have a great hitter, but he doesn’t fit in perfectly, so you’ve got to trade him.”

Despite Buddy’s omission, Sedaris enjoyed working on the special and acknowledged that it proved to be an educational experience for her.

“I was never a big Charlie Chaplin fan – I liked Buster Keaton – and it made me appreciate him a little bit more,” she said. “Phyllis Diller, I loved. She made her own clothes, dragged her kids along with her. She really magnified the fact she was unattractive, and I love that. And Mae West. I was never a big fan of Mae West, but I didn’t realize she wrote all that stuff, and I didn’t know about all the problems that she had. And that made me appreciate her. And Jonathan Winters, I love that whole section because he…it seemed like he had a mental disorder and yet embraced it, because his humor came from his characters, and that’s what I always find funny: the characters.”

“Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America” begins airing on January 14th and continues on Jan. 21 and 28.

  

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