When it comes right down to it, Joe Rogan will always be a stand-up.
He may have served as a electrician of the '90s cult sitcom Newsradio, a replacement host for The Man Show, a UFC commentator and, most infamously, the host of the extreme reality show Fear Factor. But the man still takes pleasure performing his wild-eyed, button-pushing brand of stand-up. And when he isn't standing up riffing and ranting, he's sitting down, still riffing and ranting, as host of the podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience.
Rogan, 45, talked to the Indy about his career, his infamous stint as a "joke thief crusader" and what him decide to do hosting duties for the recent (and recently canceled) Fear Factor reboot.
INDY: It looks like you've been doing a lot more theaters now, including the Memorial Auditorium tonight. How has that been from going to the clubs to hitting the theaters?
ROGAN: It’s been great. Well, the transition has slowly taken place from my last Spike TV comedy special that also aired on Comedy Central. From then on, I started moving into theaters. I did a lot more theaters from then on. And, then, the podcast started happening. And, because of the podcast, I’ve been able to do much, much larger venues because the podcast has done really well. It’s better than any radio show that I’ve ever been on or anything else that I’ve ever used to promote things. The podcast has been much more successful at getting through to people.
How did the podcast start?
Well, it was never a conscious thought. It just happened. It was one of those things where we were screwing around with Ustream, just on a laptop, and we, you know, would let people ask questions and we would just talk and we just did it for fun. And, then, we said, “Alright, we’re gonna do this every week. Every Monday, we’ll see you guys here and we’ll do this, little Ustream thing.” And, then, it built up and, then, we started putting it on iTunes. And, then, from then, it just became this snowball that we were not just pushing, but we became a part of the snowball. And we became caught up in the momentum of it all. And that’s kind of where we find ourselves right now.
The comedy of the idiot man-child has been a running theme in American movies of late, with an endless parade of films celebrating the joys of perpetual adolescence. The 2010 Danish hit KLOWN, new to DVD and Blu-ray this week, proves that the trend isn't a strictly American phenomenon, and there's plenty of room to riff on the theme.
Written by and starring Danish TV stars Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen, the film is based on a sitcom in which the actors play exaggerated versions of themselves. It's similar in approach to the very funny 2010 comedy The Trip, in which U.K. comics Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon also play slightly distorted versions of themselves.
Like The Trip, Klown is also a road movie. When Frank gets in trouble with his girlfriend, he kidnaps her 12-year-old nephew Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen ) in a misguided attempt to prove that he's father material. Frank brings Bo along on a canoeing trip with his pal, the dangerously horny Casper, who doesn't want to drag a kid along as he chases women and liquor.
The weekend holiday progresses and the poor decisions pile up. Our intrepid trio stumble their way through campgrounds, brothels, hospitals, prison and increasingly uncomfortable sex, drugs and pedophilia jokes.
The humor in Klown can be really and truly offensive, but it's all so clearly designed to provoke that it plays like a spectator sport. You get hooked on finding out just how far the movie is going to go. There's also an essential sweetness underneath that takes the edge off as Frank and Bo develop a bond among all the madness.
WARNING: Trailer NSFWDAE (Not Safe For Work in Denmark or Anywhere Else)
In any case, the movie is genuinely funny — one of the best comedies to come to home video this year — so long as you're willing to roll with its mix of awkward social scenarios and raunchy shock humor. The standard line about Klown is that it's Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm crossed with The Hangover. That's about right, actually.
@ Durham Performing Arts Center
Even if you’ve never heard of Brian Regan, the minute you see him perform, you immediately fall in love with the guy.
A 30-year veteran of the stand-up scene, the Miami-born, Vegas-based comic is well-known for his clean but still utterly uproarious stand-up. His humor has definitely given him not just fans but famous fans, like Jerry Seinfeld (who drove him around during an episode of his Web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee) and Marc Maron (who had him as a guest on his WTF with Marc Maron podcast).
The Indy asked 54-year-old Regan, who’ll be performing at Durham Performing Arts Center on Saturday, a few questions about what it’s like being one of the funniest, most reliable working comics out there.
INDY: How long have you been doing stand-up?
REGAN: Oh, wow—about 31. [laughs] That sounds like forever. But I started in 1981, down in Ft. Lauderdale, at a comedy club.
How does it feel knowing that you make guys like Jerry Seinfeld and Marc Maron laugh?
Well, you get to write a lot of checks, man. I gotta write checks out to Jerry Seinfeld and Marc Maron and all these people for these kind words. [laughs] No, it means a lot to me, you know. Making audiences laugh is certainly a big thing for me, but knowing that other comedians like what I do—at least some of them—that means the world to me, you know. It’s a high compliment when people who do what you do like what you do. So, it’s a great feeling.
One of the things that’s great about your comedy is how you’re very physical, contorting your face and body in various, cartoonish ways. Sometimes, you get a sense of balletic gracefulness in your stand-up.
Well, first of all, I appreciate the compliment. I guess the reason why my comedy is physical is because, basically, they’re little vignettes, you know. A lot of my jokes, if you will, they’re like these little, tiny plays, with me and another character or me and an inanimate object. So, it’s me and the eye doctor or it’s me and a flight attendant or it’s me and an ironing board or it’s me and a microwave oven. And the only way for the joke to work is for me to act it out. So, there’s where the physicality comes in. I’m just trying to live the joke out as truthfully as possible when I’m onstage. And, if I don’t, it doesn’t pop nearly as well.
You’ve often talked about how amateurish you were back in the day, relying on props and what not. Today, you’re a comic that appeals to all ages. How would you explain getting audiences on your side as a comedian these days?
Well, for me, I try not to figure out what my audience would like or what they’re looking for, because it’s too hard for me to know what everybody in the world is thinking, you know. So, I just try to figure what I wanna say and what I wanna do and, you know, I like to do clean comedy and observational comedy and everyday kinda stuff, just because it’s what interests me. It’s what makes me laugh. And, you know, the fact that audiences seem to like it as well certainly is a big thing for me. It’s like, wow, now I can make a nice career with this. But, to me, it’s sort of, um, I’m lucky, in that what I like to do anyway is what people seem to respond to. So, I’m just fortunate.
Those who complain about the proliferation of these types may consider themselves lucky that they never encountered 30-year-old paperboy Chris Peterson.
Chris, the alter ego of actor Chris Elliott, was the star of the late, great Fox sitcom Get a Life, which ran from 1990-92 and has finally been released in its entirety on DVD as Get a Life: The Complete Series from Shout! Factory (previously, only a few scattered episodes were available on now out-of-print discs due to music rights issues).
But instead of lying around a filthy apartment with a bong or coming up with slang terms for the female anatomy, Chris’ path was far more whimsical and destructive. Over the course of the 35 episodes of Get a Life, he nearly drowns in his shower after assembling a mini-sub he ordered from a comic as a child, violently crashes a fashion show, inadvertently drives his childhood friend away from his family and reverts to savagery after eating hallucinogenic berries on a camping trip.
By the end of the series’ run, he’s also engaged in mind-switching, temporarily developed psychic powers, encountered a pudding-spewing space alien, traveled through time with the help of self-mixed “Time Juice,” and won a series of international spelling bees with toxic waste-enhanced intelligence. Most of these adventures end with him shot, stabbed, poisoned or blown to pieces, but by the next episode, he’s up for more disasters.
Get a Life ran during the early days of Fox, where the network distinguished itself with such left-of-center comedies as Married… with Children, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, In Living Color and of course The Simpsons. It managed to somehow be stranger than any of those shows, shot like an old-fashioned sitcom with a laugh track, then twisting stock sitcom plots into surreal, sometimes disturbing pretzels. Viewers might have gotten a clue from the opening credits, set to R.E.M.’s “Stand,” where the innocent image of a paperboy on his route gave way to reveal Elliott’s flabby, bearded form hurling papers from his tiny bike.
Rather than the endless pop-cultural riffing and shock-oriented humor of such Seth MacFarlane series as Family Guy that have come to dominate Fox’s airwaves, Get a Life allowed its weirdness to speak for itself. Chris’ parents were played by Elliott’s real-life father Bob Elliott, who’d developed his own surreal comedy as part of the Bob and Ray comedy team, and Elinor Donahue from Father Knows Best, as deadpan, indifferent figures always seen in their bathrobes at the kitchen table.
By the second season, Chris moves out (his parents then fill his old room with concrete) and moves into the garage of a gruff ex-cop played by Brian Doyle-Murray, who introduces him to such vices as the lucrative world of corrupt health inspectors. According to series co-creator David Mirkin in a call from his office in Los Angeles, had a third season been produced, Chris would have become a homeless drifter, “and every week he would have touched someone else’s life, and made it a little bit worse”.
The abbreviated second season saw a writing staff that included Bob Odenkirk (later of Mr. Show and Breaking Bad) and future Oscar winner Charlie Kaufman (appropriately for the Being John Malkovich scribe, the real Malkovich was a Get a Life fan, according to Mirkin).
Their warped chops are apparent on their scripts (Kaufman wrote the “Time Juice” episode), but a rewatch of the episodes reveals the show’s dark, bizarre tone is present from the very beginning—it simply gets even darker and more bizarre as it goes on. By the end of the second episode, Chris’ deluded efforts to become a male model (don’t ask) have ended in him crashing a runway show, which he narrates in a rapturous voiceover while shoes are flung at his head and police cart him away. “To him, that’s a triumph,” Mirkin says. “We originally thought of him as an adult Dennis the Menace.”
From the show: Chris, as male model "Sparkles," is horribly exploited when he's expected to pose topless.
This week's Cognitive Dissonance Double Feature begins with THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, a twisty and postmodern horror movie from writer/producer Joss Whedon and his posse. New this week to DVD and Blu-ray, the film has been available via select video-on-demand for a while following its theatrical run this summer.
Whedon co-wrote the script with director Drew Goddard, a collaborator from back in the days of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Cabin shares some tonal DNA with Buffy and its mix of horror, comedy and imaginative rethinking of geek culture tropes.
The film begins with a puzzling sequence of cross-cutting premises. Two mid-level government functionaries (the perfectly cast Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) appear to be planning some sort of covert operation from a high-tech underground bunker. With their lame office wear and bureaucratic banter, they look like the guys who get coffee for the real Men in Black.
Meanwhile, across town, a group of good-looking college kids load up the RV for a vacation to a remote, yes, cabin in the woods. The teens are straight out of slasher movie central casting: the blustery jock (Chris Hemsworth), the randy girlfriend (Anna Hutchison), the brainy guy (Jesse Williams), the wisecracking stoner (Fran Kranz) and the virginal good girl (Kristen Connolly).
What happens from here is hard to describe without giving too much away. But it's safe to say that Whedon and Goddard have cooked up a playfully bloody project that's both a satirical attack on lame torture porn movies and a notional reboot of the old-school slasher films that predated them.
The cabin in question turns out to be something more than a cabin, and the suits at HQ something more than bureaucrats. The filmmakers have a lot of fun playing with the horror genre's creepy Puritan subtexts — where slutty girls are punished, drugs are a gateway to head trauma, and sex equals death.
If strange be the tales that are invoked by strong drink, the National Theatre of Scotland has ginned up a production to match in The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart.
But if any expect the gravitas of Black Watch, the Iraqi War documentary drama which got our nod for five stars when the company performed here last February, they’re in for a shock. Instead, playwright David Grieg’s 2011 tall tale about a prim young scholar’s tryst with the Devil during a small-town academic conference is a whopper worth telling over drinks in a pub.
And that is exactly where Carolina Performing Arts endeavors to place it: They’ve rented out the Back Bar at Top of The Hill for the production, which runs through Thursday night. If the second-story bunker of chrome, concrete and brick lacks some of the soul required for the gig, that was provided, quickly enough, by the quintet of performers who constituted not only the show’s cast, but its band as well.
After Annie Grace’s chilling rendition of the folk song “The Twa Corbies (The Two Ravens)” establishes the tone, the crew indulges Grieg’s mischievous, rhyming discourse—appropriate enough for a title character who studies folk ballads only to find herself supernaturally stuck in one before the night’s through. A brief sample: After describing Prudencia’s father’s penchant for odd quests which would now qualify as autistic spectrum, we learn,
“Whatever he was — whatever his spectra —
Prudencia’s complex was Elektra.”
Melody Grove’s buttoned-down reading of Prudencia finds inevitable contrast with actor Andy Clark’s average-guy take on Colin Syme, her academic nemesis. Though most actors play multiple roles, it’s unclear why Wils Wilson directs a no-nonsense David McKay to split the lines of The Man Downstairs with Clark. The choice turns Clark into a demonic subordinate—and a separate character which never appears in Grieg’s script.
While karaoke night in a Kelso pub devolves into a boozy bacchanal for the rest of these Profs Gone Wild, Prudencia makes of Hell a sort-of heaven, before a crisis provokes intervention and the possibility of rescue. Yes, things get entirely too silly when audience participation is taken to a bit of an extreme; a hapless viewer who volunteered as a minor character is gifted with a lapdance in midshow. And a rewritten and, unfortunately, reiterated “Guantanamera” proves to be the one tune this group cannot sell the whole night long.
Still, this Strange Undoing remains a wild ride that occasionally rises to the poetic in its sensibilities as well as its verse. Well worth a round of drinks, or maybe two. Sláinte mhath!
Those words have already summoned the disgust of fans, admirers and even Simone family members, who don’t think casting the light-skinned, Avatar ingénue as the late, legendary artist is a good idea.
The New York Times recently reported that one woman posted an online petition that called for the producers of an upcoming biopic to cast someone who could pass for the darker-skinned Simone. Meanwhile, Simone Kelly, Simone’s daughter (who wrote on Simone’s official Facebook page that the project was unauthorized and Simone’s estate was not asked to participate in the film), stated she would have preferred Oscar nominee Viola Davis or Kimberly Elise as acceptable Simone stand-ins.
Durham playwright/ poet Howard Craft already thinks the casting of Saldana is “the worst casting in the world.”
“I know I like Zoe,” says Craft, “but she’s no Nina Simone.”
Craft should know who would be essential to play Simone, a native of Tryon, N.C., considering he’s written a one-woman play about the woman that will run this weekend at UNC’s Sonja Haynes Stone Center, as part of a retrospective exhibit on Simone.
Both the play and the exhibit are titled Nina Simone … What More Can I Say? Beginning tonight, the exhibit will be on display until Nov. 30. Culled from three different collections (including a collection from her brother, San Diego civil-rights activist Dr. Carrol Waymon), the exhibit will feature photos, LPs, even correspondence between her and her brother.
According to Stone Center director Joseph Jordan, this is a chance for people in her home state to discover Simone and her legacy. “She’s one of those people that you could arguably go over to France or London, and those young people there, as well as the general public, would know more about her than we do,” says Jordan.
“So, in a lot of ways, she’s sort of that story in the African-American community—whether it’s Paul Robeson, whether it’s James Baldwin—that, every now and then, we discover these individuals. And she’s one of those people that we think should be rediscovered and never placed away again.”
The play, on the other hand, will only have two shows this weekend: Saturday night at 7 and Sunday afternoon at 2. The play, which stars actress and vocalist Yolanda Rabun as Simone, is a one-woman show that Jordan says will be both autobiographical and speculative.
“In other words, what if she was alive today?” muses Jordan. “What if she could Tweet, you know, with all of the stuff that’s in her head? So, you see all of those kinds of speculative items in this theater piece.”
Craft worked on the play for several months, reading autobiographies as well as pulling up articles and looking at interviews and performances Simone did. It was a challenge that led to many fascinating revelations.
“I mean, she done shot a couple of people, dog!” exclaims Craft. “So, her life is so expansive, the challenge is trying to figure out what parts to pull out that contain the best picture of who she was as a person. And the play is my attempt at that.”
Ultimately, the entire exhibit is both a tribute to Simone and a lively example of how the woman inspires and influences to this day. Hell, Meshell Ndegeocello’s new album, Pour une ame souveraine (For a sovereign soul): A dedication to Nina Simone, is a straight-up Simone salute, containing 14 Simone tracks.
“By and large, we didn’t do this for it to be a history lesson,” says Jordan. “This person’s work is much too alive to say that it’s only a history lesson, all right? It’s a little bit more than that.
The weird array of home video releases in any given week is stunning. Those few mainstream titles that cycle through Redbox and Blockbuster are just the tip of the iceberg. Every Tuesday brings a flood of material on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download — foreign films, classic reissues, independent movies, TV collections, concert films, documentaries, kids' programming, sports packages, cartoons, stand-up comedy specials and a surprising number of obscure educational titles.
And that's not even counting the hundreds of, um, specialty films you can order from boutique distributors. My tastes run to a certain subset of Gothic S&M you have to mail order from Berlin. But, you know, to each his own.
Two new releases this week suggest the variety of choices out there, even just within the mainstream end of the spectrum.
By most metrics the biggest movie ever made, TITANIC is out in the marketplace yet again, this time in a DVD/Blu-ray/digital package with another helping of previously unreleased extras. Director James Cameron has pioneered a new model of distribution in which his movies are rolled out in iterations, among various platforms, over a period of years. He knows what he's doing — this summer's theatrical re-release of Titanic in 3D grossed nearly $60 million.
Still, Titanic is an undeniably great movie, a sweeping love story and epic tragedy in the old Hollywood tradition. The new retail package is very generous. The four-disc set includes high-def and standard (DVD) copies of the film plus (deep breath …) two new documentaries, 30 deleted scenes, 60 behind-the-scenes features, three different commentary tracks, photos, storyboards, schematics and random goodies like SNL's Titanic skit and the handy time-saver Titanic in 30 Seconds. The re-release is also available in a four-disc Blu-ray 3D set, or two-disc DVD-only set.
The package marks the first time Titanic is available on high-definition Blu-ray and digital download. I watched it again — well, the second half — and it really does look and sound terrific. It's certainly possible that I cried a little at the end. Amazing. I know exactly what that movie is doing, and how it's doing it, and it still gets me every time.
We think of Homer as the first bard, the beginner of dramatic storytelling. But storytelling is as old as dirt: ancient, the collected dust of time that retains the human imprint. From dust to dust we go, and from the dust we live on as stories. Ray Dooley as The Narrator in the bleak ruins of An Iliad seems beyond time, even as he relates the story of Homer’s Iliad, the mighty battles just before the sack of Troy. Dooley drifts on to the stage, looking like any aging white guy who’s been on the road for a few hundred thousand years, his ragged clothes the colors of brush, dried mud and sweat. He stumbles around the dirt and debris onstage, mumbling in Greek, trying to remember what story he’s on for tonight.
The Narrator finally beckons to someone in the front row for a program and sighs upon reading it. He’s a tentative teller, doesn’t really want to go into all that again. Rage. Hubris. Blood. Warriors at war. Women on the ramparts, watching. The interference of the gods. Character in the face of inescapable destiny. Yet he is fated to tell that story yet again, and you know this fate will go on forever. He is at the mercy of the Muse.
The Narrator may be reluctant, but playwrights Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare are very eager. They want us to know the now of the story, as well as its everlastingness in the long litany of wars, and give The Narrator many contemporary examples to convey understanding of how big and how long this famous battle really was, and ways to understand on our own terms some of the emotions that drove it.
Dooley, working with guest director Jesse Berger, makes these explanatory interludes some of the most intimate and excoriating moments of the play. And, of course, these are the moments that make the production a play, rather than a storytelling session. It is hardly surprising that An Iliad won a special citation for this combination at the 2012 Obie Awards.
Ray Dooley is surely the most accomplished of the many fine actors working in this area, and this is a rare opportunity to see him working alone on the stage. He is superb in ensembles, but here he performs the special feat of maintaining his time-travelling Narrator and the nuances of The Narrator’s weary emotions, while simultaneously evoking the story’s protagonists and their dusty, blood-soaked world. Agamemnon and Priam, Hector and Patroclus and Achilles—and Achilles’ various armaments—vivify before us. Made only of words, they roar and dazzle and awe.
This short run of An Iliad that opens this PRC2 season follows the marvelous Penelope that closed last season’s run of new plays in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre. Playwright and actress Ellen McLaughlin turned The Odyssey inside out in an innovative contemporization of the ancient story. She also maintained her modern Penelope’s character while evoking others, but she also added a breathtaking layer of complication by at times becoming the Chorus, singing lines she’d just spoken elsewhere on stage, to musical accompaniment. For An Iliad, there’s no live music, but several pieces of delicate and haunting sound by Ryan Rumery that re-sensitize one to the violent story. Seth Reiser’s well-considered lighting also helps keep us a little off-balance and emotionally available to its power, as The Narrator unfolds it in Marion Williams’ costume and set.
An Iliad is a very tight piece of theatrical work, and a powerful beginning for the fall theater season. It is most highly recommended. Maybe we will get really lucky and PRC will bring it back in rotation with Penelope, but don’t hold your breath. This show closes Sun., Sept. 9.
In 1922, Ernest Hemingway's wife Hadley was traveling from Paris to Switzerland by train when she made a rather historic mistake. Getting up briefly to buy a bottle of water, she left behind a suitcase containing virtually all of her husband's fiction writing up to that point. When she returned, the suitcase was gone. It was never recovered.
That's one version of the story, anyway. Hemingway's lost suitcase is part of our literary lore, and it serves as the inspiration — I use that word loosely — for The Words, an achingly dull film that seems a lot longer than its hour-and-a-half running time.
The movie begins in the present day with a public reading by author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) from his new novel, also called The Words. As Clay reads, we flash into the story of his book, which is about another author, Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper.)
In Clay's story, Rory is an aspiring novelist in New York City whose first book has been rejected by every publisher in town. This isn't surprising. As played by Cooper, Rory doesn't inspire confidence. He's a self-absorbed sort, with an adoring wife (Zoe Saldana) and a dad (J.K. Simmons) who's footing the bills while Rory indulges in his artistic struggle. (“I have to pay my dues!” Rory whines. “No, I have to pay your dues,” says dad.)
Rory's problems are solved when he discovers an old manuscript tucked away in a vintage leather briefcase. The story, set in postwar France, brings poor Rory to tears — it's clearly a work of genius. After some rote dilemma-wrestling, Rory submits the story as his own and quickly wins fame and fortune.
Inevitably, Rory is confronted by the actual author of the story, an understandably bitter fellow referred to as The Old Man and played by Jeremy Irons. Sitting on a park bench, the Old Man tells Rory the story behind his story, and we flash back yet again to 1940s Paris.
So, to recap: The film is telling us a story about Clay telling a story about Rory hearing a story from the Old Man, who wrote the story. And I didn't even mention the bit with Olivia Wilde as a sexy grad student.
The good news is that by this point you'll be far too bored to get confused. The direction, by the newcomer team of Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, is surprisingly inert. Dramatic things happen in The Words, but there's no real drama. The contemporary scenes are draggy and bland, and the sepia-toned flashback sequences are too stagey to pack any emotional punch.
The casting doesn't help, either. Cooper doesn't come across as a tortured writer; he comes across as a handsome actor playing a tortured writer. Irons has similar problems, and he's further hindered by bad old-age makeup. Quaid seems mostly disinterested.
On the plus side, the script has some interesting elements of historical intrigue, and you can play spot-the-Hemingway-reference to pass the time. Zoe Saldana brings weight to the few scenes she's afforded in her bystander role.
The movie perks up a little toward the end. The ambiguous final scenes suggest a thread that would tie all three authors together, but only if you don't think it through too far. It doesn't work, but it almost works, and in a movie like this, you have to take whatever you can get.