I’ve loved Rivers since I first saw her on Kathy Griffin’s My Life on the D-List in 2007, the same year Britney Spears shaved her head and Lindsay Lohan posed for her first mugshot. Rivers lacked decorum, which is a fancy way to say she believed in cursing in public. For years, I’ve wanted to interview Rivers, and a few weeks ago, I learned I finally would speak to the grand dame herself. In between making fun of Fashion Week guests’ hideous outfits on Fashion Police, she would have sat down for an interview with me.
But then she stopped breathing during surgery on August 28 and died a week later on September 4 in New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. She was 81.
Joking about Rivers’s death may seem tacky, but that’s what Rivers would want us to do. Shortly after her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, killed himself, Rivers went to dinner with her daughter, Melissa, at Spago. Looking at the prices on the menu, Rivers reportedly said to Melissa, “If Daddy were here and saw these prices, he’d kill himself all over again.” They burst into laughter, and the other customers looked at them like they were insane.
But as one of the first ladies of comedy, Rivers understood that humans—especially outcasts like women and gay men—must laugh at unfortunate circumstances if they want to survive.
When I said I was going to interview “Weird Al” Yankovic this past weekend, people asked me how he was going to find the time. The guy is everywhere right now. I was a little confused myself about how he could possibly squeeze in a casual conversation in the lounge at The Standard Hollywood, a hotel on the Sunset Strip.
It wasn’t until I actually saw him stroll into the lobby that I really believed the All-Time King of Song Parody, and reigning Emperor of the Internet could take a moment away from darting all over the digital landscape to talk to the likes of me. He had an entrourage of one in tow: Jay Levey, his manager, creative soulmate and director of UHF (a movie that was released 25 years ago yesterday). Jay is a small, taciturn, businesslike man who puts Al’s elastic, always-on persona in stark relief.
But when Yankovic sat down wearing low-key, normal people colors, it was clear that he wasn’t out of breath, and he was capable of devoting his full attention to an interview. I couldn’t help but ask how this was possible.
"I have to say, the synchronicity with the release of ["Mandatory Fun"] is pretty mind boggling even before we get into all that," he said. "I had been doing all sorts of promotional stuff, like, months and months before I even knew I had an album coming out, and everything started to happen right around the time of the release." He was referring to his recent appearances in other people’s work: "Epic Rap Battles of History,” where he rapped with animal agression while dressed as Isaac Newton, and Drunk History with Derek Waters, in which he played Hitler.
But he emphasized that some of his recent everywhere-ness was happenstance, his performance as Hitler being a prime example. “It tied into the whole totalitarian theme on the album art. And there are things that are coming out over the next few weeks, like ‘Hotwives of Orlando.’ I did a little bit on that show, and that came out the same day as the album. All this stuff is sort of happening, y’know, at the same time.”
It all started with one drunk night. Actor Jake Johnson, the dude who plays Nick on New Girl but has also been in seemingly shitty, but actually funny movies like No Strings Attached and 21 Jump Street, was playing quarters with his fellow-actor friend Derek Waters. Johnson was wasted and decided to tell Waters a story about Otis Redding.
The next day Waters and his director friend Jeremy Konner (who was Jack Black’s assistant at the time) called up Johnson with the premise for Drunk History: You get belligerently drunk and tell that same Otis Redding story. They’ll film it, get re-enactors to play the historical parts and it will be a viral YouTube success.
Jeremy was right.
In 2008, the show gained an audience on VICE’s very own VBS.tv as Waters and friends drunk-told historical stories like Ben Franklin discovering electricity and the duel of Hamilton and Burr. It was picked up by Funny or Die. I remember back in high school when my best friend showed me the Alexander Hamilton YouTube clip and I thought it was the funniest video to hit the internet since “Daughters.” It was a glorious time in the beginning stages of online comedy when Childish Gambino was still a very funny Donald Glover and no one quite knew how comedy would progress from five-minute YouTube bits. Last year,Drunk History became a full-fledged 30-minute anthology show on Comedy Central teaching little-known history to the masses. Tonight, it begins its second season.
The rise of Drunk History from YouTube clip to Comedy Central tells us something very remarkable and comforting about American culture. You can attain the riches, fame, and promise of Hollywood by being a little funny, getting very very drunk, and having just a bit of ambition. As the Supreme Court allows religious employers to reign free over the contraceptive rights of their female-employees, at least we have this beautiful and comforting reality—getting drunk and knowing random historical tidbits is still one of the quickest ways to the top. The American dream at its finest.
Ahead of the show’s season two premiere, I sat down with Konner as he ate a burger and fries to talk about getting drunk as a teen and hanging out with Michael Cera, who is apparently perfect at everything. Learn from Konner and never let anyone turn you away from your weirdest, least socially acceptable goals.
Do you drink while filming? Jeremy Konner: Derek [Waters, host of Drunk History] will get fucked up. When we did it for the web, I totally would because it felt like camaraderie. I wasn’t wasted, but I was drinking. We were all drinking. You don’t want to drink alone. Then for the first season, we were like yeah everyone will be drinking together it’ll be great. But we had a crew. Then the crew started being like, then we’re all drinking! It was like, wait, cancel this plan. This is a bad idea. It was around that time that you’d just see crewmembers wandering off.
Do you remember the first time you drank? I remember the first time I got wasted. It was during the summertime. I was about 14, hanging out at my friend’s parent’s house. We went upstairs and he had a handle—that’s what it’s called right?—of vodka and he was like, “Should we try some vodka?” I was like, “Yeah, let’s try it.” I did a shot and I was like, “Oh that’s the worst thing! Oh my god! I’m in so much pain! That was terrible! Ok, one more.” We did it again and I was like “Ah!” but it wasn’t quite as bad. And then the third it was like, “That almost tasted like nothing.” And then the fourth it was like, “Now it’s like water.” At this point I was the smallest kid in my class. I weighed 90 pounds. I was tiny. He told me that in the end I probably had 16 or 17 shots.
Tom Green Looks Back on ‘Freddy Got Fingered,’ the Most Underrated Film of All Time
In 2001, Tom Green was arguably the most popular comic performer in America. He had an MTV show, co-starred in the hit college comedy Road Trip, and somehow crafted a successful song out of the idea of putting your ass on things called “The Bum Bum Song.” He was on top of the world, but as is often the case with these things, it got real messy—like “Rip Torn getting cummed on by an elephant in Pakistan” messy.
Green starred, co-wrote, and directed Freddy Got Fingered, a movie that features Tom licking an exposed broken bone, ripping open a deer and wearing its skin like a coat, and masturbating an elephant to the aforementioned explosive climax. It was not what Hollywood insiders would call a “four-quandrant movie.” It was really the only movie Tom Green could make, because it was the only movie Tom Green wanted to make.
Now, with a new talk show on Axs.tv and a career touring as a stand-up comic, Tom invited me to his home in the Hollywood Hills to discuss the creation of a transgressive masterpiece. We talked over expensive Belgian beers for almost two hours, the results of which have been condensed (all of my belches have been removed) into the below.
VICE: Was there a thing in particular that you said or did that convinced people with money to make a movie that the system would never make? Tom Green: The hardest part about Freddy Got Fingered is that we got people to go along with it. It was a combination of the success of the TV show, the success of Road Trip, and my stubbornness.
So you just say no, and no is an answer they don’t get often. Pretty much. There’d be arguments. There’d be fights. They’d call my manager, my manager would call me, but no one wanted to say no to me at every single step of the way. But at that time, people were really excited about the TV show. They really wanted to put the movie out. So I really had some power at that time. I think a lot of people would have rolled over. When fights and arguments got to a certain point, a lot of people in that position, unlike me, had probably grown up in Hollywood and grown up around this “just say yes” mentality. You don’t argue with the studio. You just say yes. We dug our heels in and we did it.
It was the perfect storm of opportunity and desire to make a crazy movie. I was being offered these other movies. I didn’t really want to make them, but I did see the opportunity to make the movie. We would stay after work when we were at MTV in New York, my friend Derek and I. It took us about a month of writing every night. There were 10 scripts sitting on my desk from major studios, and they all wanted me to make them, these piles of paper. And I thought, why don’t we just make a pile of paper, send it to them, and say, “This is the one we want to make.” It was a very unique position to be in. Not many people get that chance to have multiple studios wanting you to make a movie with them.
As you’re sitting there with Derek and you’re going through this late at night, and you come up with ideas that are very out there, was there ever a moment where you thought, “should I jerk off the elephant or not?” There’s always moments like that. I don’t remember specifically what they are, but I’ve never done anything that I have ethical or moral problems with. We never made fun of people who are less fortunate. We’d rather take on authority. It was more about making fun of movies. The whole point was that we were going to make each scene so over the top.
This Week in Racism: The #CancelColbert Debate Is the Funniest Thing to Ever Happen
-If there’s one thing I believe the human race can totally agree on, it’s that comedy only gets better the more you dissect it. For instance, the classic joke, “Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side,” surprises the recipient of the joke with its literal, non-punchline. It’s a pure form of anti-comedy, the “Nick Cannon in whiteface" of one-liners. Isn’t that joke so much funnier now that I’ve explained it? I thought so.
Last week was a real golden age of comedy, thanks in no small part to the#CancelColbert controversy. Like with all the best art (textbooks, CliffsNotes, the Transformers movie series), the meaning needs to be super clear, or it’s not good. That’s not a suggestion. That’s, like, a rule.
Writer/activist/excellent comedian Suey Park and TV personality/white person Stephen Colbert both learned this powerful lesson through the course of last week’s controversy over Colbert’s joke about the Washington Redskins’ Native American outreach foundation. The Twitter account for The Colbert Report tweeted an out-of-context quote on the subject that contained a racial slur against Asians. That caused Park to create the #CancelColbert hashtag and blow up the internet for a few days. Conservative pundits, often the ones getting accused of racism, jumped at the chance to give their hybrid-driving competition a taste of their own medicine. You go, Michelle Malkin! You’ve really earned it.
Eventually, Colbert went on his show and explained that what everyone was upset about was a joke, specifically a satirical dig at Redskins owner Dan Snyder’s insistence on his football team having a racially insensitive nickname. At that point, the joke took off, growing from a mildly amusing larva of social commentary into a full-blown comedy butterfly. And yet… something was missing. What if there was yet another layer of sarcasm at play here? What if… Suey Park was just kidding the whole time too?
Shit’s about to get real.
In an interview with popular comedy blog Salon.com, Suey Park explained—in agonizingly funny detail—how she’s actually a fan of Colbert and that she was merely trying to point out how white people are allowed the benefit of context, but minorities don’t receive the same privilege. Allow Ms. Park to explain further:
"A lot of white America and so-called liberal people of color, along with conservatives, ask, “Do I understand context?” And that’s part of wanting to completely humanize the oppressor. To see the white man as always reasonable, always pure, always deliberate, always complex and always innocent. And to see the woman of color as literal. Both my intent behind the hashtag and in my [unintelligible] distance, is always about forcing an apology on me for not understanding their context when, in reality, they misunderstood us when they made us a punch line again. So it’s always this logic of how can we understand whiteness better, and that’s never been my politics. I’ve always been about occupying the margins and strengthening the margins and what that means is that, for a long time, whiteness has also occupied the margins. Like, people of color get in circles with no white people in the room and we see that whiteness still operates. So I think it’s kind of a shock for America that whiteness has dominant society already, it also seeps into the margins. What happens the one time when the margins seep into the whiteness and we encroach on their space? It’s like the sky is falling."
I’m not sure who’s being misunderstood, who’s lacking context, or what “margins seep into the whiteness” means (maybe a Sarah McLachlan lyric?) What I do know is that the above block of text is very, very funny. I encourage comedians everywhere to explain themselves more. Based on the media’s fixation with this story, it seems like a sure way to up your Klout score. HILARIOUS
In the latest in the ongoing Back & Forth series, metal god Matt Pike of Sleep/High on Fire sits down with comedian Rob Delaney on a recent trip to Los Angeles. The pair met to discuss hard hitting topics that ranged from newly minted sobriety to bulldozing guitar riffs to kale and cholesterol, taking many stops in between. Did you know there is a time that it is socially acceptable to shit yourself? Matt Pike explains in the video above.
Clowns Without Borders Go Into War Zones Armed Only with a Smile
In July 1993, a clown from Barcelona named Tortell Poltrona traveled to war-torn Croatia to do his act at a refugee camp. He had his doubts about how his performance would be received, but after an unexpectedly massive crowd of over 700 rapt children showed up to watch him, he left convinced of the value of comedy in crisis and conflict areas. That trip inspired Poltrona to found Clowns Without Borders, an organization devoted to bringing humor into lands where clowns usually dare not tread.
A year later, the internationally renowned clown Moshe Cohen, who had been bringing men and women with red noses and oversized shoes into dangerous places since 1990, opened an American chapter of Clowns Without Borders. Although it remains one of the organization’s smaller chapters (CWB has a presence in nine countries and is especially well established in France, Spain, and Sweden) and has only one part-time paid staffer, Clowns Without Borders USA now includes a board of 13 clowns, four logistical volunteers, and 30 active performers, some amateur and some professional.