Exclusive Interview with Barry Crimmins and Bobcat Goldthwait about ‘Call Me Lucky’

It was very sad to learn Barry Crimmins passed away on February 28, 2018 at the age of 64. Crimmins was diagnosed with cancer only a month earlier, but the disease spread through his body very rapidly. He was an American stand-up comedian, a political activist and satirist, a writer and a comedy club owner, and his comedy predated that of the late Bill Hicks. He brought the comedy scene in Boston to a new level of prominence after forming the city’s two clubs, The Ding Ho and Stitches. He has long since earned the respect of fellow comics like Bobcat Goldthwait, Steven Wright, Paula Poundstone, Kevin Meaney and many, many others who continue to sing his praises, But the thing is, I was only just getting to know him just a few years ago.

Call Me Lucky poster

Despite Crimmins having done so much work, many people today, myself included, had never heard of him before. This changed in 2015 with Goldthwait’s acclaimed documentary “Call Me Lucky” which chronicled Crimmins’ beginnings as a comic in New York to his work in the present as a political activist. The documentary also reveals how Crimmins was a victim of sexual abuse as a child, and we even see him revisit the scene of his abuse in an effort to come to terms with what he went through. For years, he was an anti-pedophilia activist, and he went out of his way to expose pedophiles on the internet in the 1990’s before turning his evidence over to the FBI. In 1995, he testified before Congress about the need to enforce child pornography laws more than ever before.

In 2017, Crimmins married Helen Lysen, a photographer and font designer, and she was with him when he passed away peacefully. She shared the news of his death and wrote, “He would want everyone to know that he cared deeply about mankind and wants you to carry on the good fight. Peace.” Indeed, his death is a real loss as we need voices like his as the political climate we are currently dealing with in America continues to grow more volatile as days go by.

I was fortunate to talk with Crimmins and Goldthwait while they were doing press for “Call Me Lucky” a few years ago. To this interview, I wore one of my “They Live” t-shirts as I figured Crimmins was a fan of John Carpenter’s 1988 cult classic which remains one of the most politically subversive movies ever made. It turns out he had not seen it, but Goldthwait certainly did, and I hope he got Crimmins to check it out before he passed away. I am certain he would have enjoyed it immensely.

They Live Obey t-shirt

Please check out my exclusive interview with Crimmins and Goldthwait above. “Call Me Lucky” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

Rest in Peace Barry.

Jenny Slate Makes a Lasting Impression on us in ‘Obvious Child’

Obvious Child Jenny Slate

We all know Jenny Slate from her brief tenure on “Saturday Night Live,” and she has since left an impression on us with “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” and on episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” But in Gillian Robespierre’sObvious Child,” Slate gives one of the best breakout performances of 2014 which will stay with you long after the movie has ended. As comedian Donna Stern, we watch as her life hits rock bottom after she gets dumped by her boyfriend and fired from her job in rapid succession. Then after a one-night stand with a really nice guy named Max (Jake Lacy), she finds herself dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. She decides to get an abortion, and it all leads up to the best/worst Valentine’s Day she’s ever had.

Obvious Child movie poster

I was very excited to meet Slate when she arrived for a roundtable interview at the “Obvious Child” press day held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California. I told her I came out of the movie wanting to hug her character, and she replied that was great and exactly the way we were supposed to feel (I couldn’t agree more). The movie is advertised as being the first “abortion comedy” ever, but that’s far too simplistic a description. To me, it was about how Donna learns how to empower herself and trust people again after having her heart broken, and Slate felt the same way.

Jenny Slate: It’s not representative of what the film actually does or how it unfolds. I guess, trying to look on the positive side, if people think that’s all that it is when they go and see the film, they will be delighted to see how complex and thoughtful it is and funny. If you think about it as just the story of one woman trying to understand the process of going from passive to active and trying to understand how to make choices you’d think, well why would I try to shy away from that? That’s a human story and I should just tell it.

“Obvious Child” derives its title from the song of the same name by Paul Simon. The discussion about the song led Slate to talk about when she used to ride the subway while she was a college student living in New York. She reminisced about how, when the train went through a tunnel, the window across from her would become a mirror, and this usually happened when she had headphones on.

JS: I remember sophomore year of college I would listen to, on repeat, the “Amelie” soundtrack and just imagine myself as a woman in a movie that was about a woman. It’s pretty interesting that I got to do it. I think a lot of people connected music that way. It makes them feel like they’re in a movie.

In the movie, Slate’s character is a comedian who does a stand-up act at a club in Brooklyn. The way Slate performs Donna’s act, you can’t help but think all her material was improvised, but Slate made it clear those scenes were the result of her collaboration with Robespierre.

JS: Gillian wrote this stand up based off of the style that I perform in; sort of loose storytelling, very instant with the audience, a conversation that’s evolving and not clubby or anything like that. She wrote it, we cut it down, we did some workshopping where I improvised a set based off of what she had written, and she recorded that, rewrote it, and then on the day of the shoot the shooting draft of the film had that stand-up set that we turned into bullet points so that I was not memorized and that it could be natural. You would have the feel of Donna feeling it out, and we talked about it and then I went up and went through these subjects that Gillian had set out and some of them are exact lines of her writing and some of them are lines that came up during it, and she would also call out to me during the shooting and be like, you know, circle back to talking about dirty underwear or whatever. And then I would go back and, during that time of walking backwards, new material would come in. I think if somebody says to me that it’s okay to work and it’s okay to be loose then I go with that. It’s in my nature to be playful and it’s my nature to feel a little bit claustrophobic with the rules, and that’s something I often just have to deal with and work through. You can’t improvise on every job, and you should be good enough at acting that you can say your lines. But for Gillian to say you can be a little looser and for her to be comfortable enough in what she had written to be flexible was an amazing testament to her. We are just a good pair.

One actress who was brought up with much excitement during this interview was Gaby Hoffman who plays Donna’s roommate, Nellie. Hoffman is best known for playing Kevin Costner’s daughter in “Field of Dreams” and for playing Maizy Russell in “Uncle Buck.” The interesting thing is that Slate and Hoffman actually look a lot alike to where you want to see them play sisters in a movie together. As it turns out, Hoffman’s career proved to have a major effect on Slate’s.

JS: I have always wanted to be an actress since I was young and can’t remember anything else. It was my ultimate desire, and she was my age and acting when I was growing up. I used to think I looked like her and was just like, oh I want to be like that girl. And when I got to meet her in my adulthood, I was like totally blown away in general just because I was such a huge fan. After getting past that, the real ultimate moment of just like being totally floored was discovering her personality. She’s very wise, really open and just like really no nonsense. She’s very fearless and I think she sets the bar really high for performance, and I felt that in a good way. I wanted to impress her, and I just think she’s the closest you can get to like a goddess. She’s got that real mythical vibe.

Now many people may say Slate is just playing herself in this movie, but this is the kind of unfair assumption we tend to make about actors in general. We may think we know an actor from reading about them in magazines or seeing them on the countless talk shows on television, but while Slate is a stand-up comedian like Donna, she was quick to point out the differences between herself and her character. Most importantly, she does not expound endlessly on her personal life like Donna does.

JS: I don’t do it. It just never seems right to me, but I’m not Donna. I know my boundaries and I think, although my standup is about like being horny and diarrhea and things like that, I still feel like it’s paired with really nice manners. I think the cornerstone of having nice manners is to have an equal exchange. Someone says how are you, and I say fine how are you, and Donna does not understand boundaries and limits at the beginning of the film. For me, I get it. My relationships are precious and I don’t talk about my husband on stage unless it’s something flattering. But even if it was something flattering that was going to embarrass him, I wouldn’t do it because there’s just too much to talk about.

Seriously, Jenny Slate’s performance in “Obvious Child” is one of the best and most moving I saw in 2014, and it’s a must see even for those who, like me, are not fans of romantic comedies. Regardless of how you feel about the Valentine’s Day Donna ends up having, it’s a lot better than the one Slate told us about from her past.

JS: I had a really bad Valentine’s Day one year because I had a really shitty boyfriend who forgot that it was Valentine’s Day, and he gave me his digital camera in a sock. Wow, thanks! Such a bummer, the worst present ever. That’s like a present that a baby would give to somebody. I never wanted a digital camera in general. I don’t care, I don’t like technology. I just wanted some fucking chocolate. Look around you! There’s hearts everywhere! Fucking get it right! Dammit! My husband is so good at Valentine’s Day. He rules at it. No socks.

Exclusive Interview with Rick Alverson and Gregg Turkington about ‘Entertainment’

entertainment-gregg-and-rick

Entertainment” is probably the most ironically named movie to be released in 2015 as it is not entirely fun to sit through, but to dismiss it as bad because it is not enjoyable would be missing the point. It proves to be an experience more than anything else as we watch a stand-up comic named The Comedian (played by Gregg Turkington) travel through the California desert while performing at a string of third-rate venues in front of audiences who couldn’t be less excited to watch him. During this time, he tries to get in touch with his estranged daughter and eagerly awaits a lucrative Hollywood engagement which just might revive his sagging career. But first, he has to travel through what seems like the equivalent of Dante’s Inferno in order to find any hope of salvation.

“Entertainment” was directed by Rick Alverson who previously gave us “The Comedy,” another ironically named motion picture which starred Tim Heidecker as an aging New Yorker who is indifferent to inheriting his father’s estate and passes time with friends playing games of mock sincerity and irreverence. Turkington is a noted stand-up comic best known for his alter-ego of Neil Hamburger, a persona which he brings to “Entertainment” but who is not the same character as The Comedian.

I got to speak with Alverson and Turkington while they were at Cinefamily in Los Angeles where “Entertainment” was being shown. When I told that them this interview was for Examiner.com, they joking replied how someone on the website gave them their movie the worst review imaginable and described it as anything but entertaining. We started with that review and went from there.

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Ben Kenber: How do you feel about reviews like that?

Rick Alverson: Well it’s weird. Obviously the movie isn’t a romp through a good time, so if somebody says it’s a failure for doing that they are right, but that’s not even engaging with the movie (laughs). It’s like you’re not even walking into the room.

Gregg Turkington: They got the details wrong, that’s what I don’t like. They seem to have thought he was trying to do something else and that he failed in trying to do that, but he was trying to do that so he didn’t fail so fuck yourself (laughs). But I like the bad reviews if sometimes it feels like the person’s taking it so personally that the review, when you are reading it, you can tell that I don’t like this person and they don’t like this and this sounds interesting to me, I’m gonna go see the movie. I’ve gone to a lot of movies with scathing reviews because I could tell we are not on the same page, and what you hate is what I like. That’s fine with me.

BK: I saw “Entertainment” a couple of weeks ago and it has stayed with me ever since. Some movies are meant to be experienced more than enjoyed, and this movie is an example of that. Not all movies are meant to be enjoyed.

RA: Great. That’s very good to hear.

BK: We’re looking at a comedian who is at the end of his rope psychologically, and you can’t turn away from his suffering.

RA: Yeah, I would say it’s even more than just psychological. I think it’s a holistic disaster biologically, psychologically, spiritually…

GT: Environmentally (laughs). Although we did win an award in Switzerland at this film Festival we went to.

RA: Environment is Quality of Life Award from the junior jury at Locarno in Switzerland.

GT: Pick the film that best sums up the environment is quality of life (laughs).

RA: It’s true, we won.

GT: Environment is low quality of life, and that environment is low quality (laughs).

BK: I can see why it won. Greg, your character of The Comedian was inspired by your character of Neil Hamburger. When you brought that character to this movie, did you have to change anything about the way you perform?

GT: The live stage show is similar to the real live stage show although me lashing out at somebody for no good reason is not something I would do in a live stage show. That was more the character. But yeah, there were a lot of things that had to be planned out and thought about and addressed. Ultimately I don’t think it is the Neil Hamburger story. It’s a very similar character and certainly it helps to have that character up our sleeves when we need it, but we had to be free to start from scratch.

BK: Rick, I read in the production notes that you had mentioned how you found failure as being very liberating. What specifically about failure do you find so liberating?

RA: Well it describes the boundaries and limitations of the world and experience, and there’s something beautiful to what we can and can’t do and understanding them. It’s like understanding what your feet are for, and your feet have a certain function. I think functionality is beautiful, and we are increasingly a society that’s divorced from form in every way and ignores the limitations which are the actual architecture of life. So we are just ignoring the shape of things and instead are wrapped up in what things could be in this idealized ephemeral flight of fancy. There is a neglecting the beauty of facts on the ground.

GT: A lot of peoples’ failures are to me successes. There’s a purity often to them that you don’t find with things that are successful.

RA: Yeah, because the idea of success is that so few can achieve it in any discipline and any particular way, whether it’s the success of becoming incredibly rich or the success of perfectly achieving the discipline. The majority of people are in some sort of muddy approximation of that. I don’t use traditionally scripted dialogue in any of my movies, so there’s improvisation and other methods of achieving tonal exchanges or content. I really like when things fall flat or there is that absence of chiseled, airtight exchange that we see in so much of popular cinema.

BK: Regardless of how people view “Entertainment,” I have a feeling it will endure over the years as it offers a different and specific view of things.

GT: I’m surprised at how people’s perceptions of things is all based on something like an opening weekend or with music too. It’s like some record comes out and it doesn’t do well, but the music is still valid at any point. The time that it comes out shouldn’t determine the value of it. It’s crazy.

RA: There are these sort of free market metrics especially in an age where we don’t even know who’s buying this stuff. Netflix isn’t releasing their numbers or whatever company. Digital platforms don’t need to release their numbers, so we really don’t know where this stuff’s going and who it’s being imbibed by. To think that our metrics for an opening weekend at the box office have any sort of say about a work is silly.

GT: It’s also replaced for a lot of people film criticism. I hear people in airports or on the street talking about box office numbers and really that should only be of interest to the investors, not to the moviegoers. What do you care if it made 30 million or 60 million? That’s nothing to do with you.

RA: Increasingly we want context for everything. We need context for our own experience. We need to understand how other people are viewing something so that we know how to view it, which is a bit of a shame. Where’s discovery?

BK: I imagine there was a lot of improvisation involved in the making of this movie.

GT: For the dialogue. The rest of it is pretty scripted out very carefully scripted out. It’s not improvised like, what will we talk about now. It’s written there what the topic is, what the town he is in and what’s being communicated. It’s just up to the actors to use the actual words.

RA: We were talking about the other day how there’s, in a tent pole blockbuster movie, a general sense that people were improvising. Because of the prowess of the spectacle, everybody is saying that they know that they (the actors) are riffing on lines in a popular sense. But I think when people talk about independent films and say that they are improvised, it’s just like you turn on the camera and everybody’s doing whatever the fuck they want. It’s so many different things for so many different people. You think you are communicating one thing by saying it, but language is useless sometimes. This was fun because we worked with different people in different ways. I was improvising lines and writing lines on the spot and feeding them to certain people. Others like John (C. Reilly) and Gregg, they have a chemistry and they are very good improvisers so the dialogue exchanges between them were in that world. For me, watching that thing sort of come apart or the attempt at it, honestly half the time if I know we are covering whatever little narrative ground we need, I’m just listening to the voices. We don’t do more than three takes, and some of that is economic. If it’s not achieved by the casting or by the sort of conditions that you’re setting up, then what are you aiming for? I like things falling kind of flat too.

GT: But it’s also true that people think it’s a big free-for-all, improvising. They should see a scene that we might do where we do the first take, me talking to somebody or whatever making up the dialogue, and Rick says, “Alright for this one I need you to move half a millimeter to your right.” That’s not a free-for-all, being told to move half a millimeter to the right. That would probably be the direction over we need you to use this line and to say this specific thing. A lot of times it was stuff like that which is really the opposite of a free-for-all.

BK: Gregg, your character gets booked at a lot of second-rate venues or places that are the worst for comedians to be stuck at. Is that something you’ve experienced in your own career, or is that something you just been a witness to?

GT: I experienced it when I’ve gone out of my way to make sure that it was happening by booking shows that I knew what have that sort of outcome. And then sometimes you go into a show with the best of intentions and it just doesn’t pan out. Things get awful and ugly. But I like a variety of responses and so I like to have shows that are successes on the traditional level, success in the failures on the traditional level. To me they are probably both successes because they gave me a different experience.

RA: I feel that way about movies. It’s strange increasingly for me to recognize how similar me and Gregg are and what we want out of the thing whether it’s comedy or drama or film or stand up. We’re kind of curious about the off-kilter event (laughs).

BK: There are some amazing shots of the California desert in this movie. On one hand they are beautiful, but on the other they illustrate how vacant and empty The Comedian’s life is. Was it challenging to get those shots with the budget you had?

RA: We stretched our budget really, really far, and that speaks to the dedication of everybody involved; the crew and the producers and the cast. So yeah, of course it’s challenging. It’s 112° outside and Lorenzo Hagerman, our cameraman, is carrying a 50-pound camera kit on his shoulder up a rocky cliff to get those wide vista shots 400 yards from something. Gregg’s shoes are melting and it’s dangerous out there. Don’t go to the desert! (Laughs)

GT: Don’t shoot in the desert is right!

RA: Me and Gregg talked about how we liked in the 70’s you see a lot of films of people just sweating and nobody’s dabbing them. They are just covered in sweat and look greasy and wrong. You started to see that becoming the sterilization of, “No that’s not quite right. We can do better than that.” So you had to sterilize the representation down to its most idealized form, but we were hoping for some more sweat actually.

BK: Tye Sheridan’s role in this movie is interesting because he basically plays a clown who doesn’t have much of an act. He just basically panders to the audience’s basest instincts. How did you work with him on that role?

RA: I showed him an idiot dance and he brought it to life. I’d ask him to do sort of these mime-ish things at events, and he stepped up on that stage and animated it in a way that shocked all of us. It was electrifying. He sort of plays the apocalypse in the movie. He definitely is the end of the spectacle. He’s reduced down to the rawest of the raw materials. He is the smut in the pig sty, the character I mean. Tye is one of the kindest, gentlest, most respectful young men that you could ever meet.

BK: What do you hope people get the most out of “Entertainment” and the experience of watching it?

RA: I hope they do what you’ve done. You can watch a film and be activated by it and be engaged with it and have an experience like you’re saying. It doesn’t necessarily in a typical sort of way expect for it to do to you what the majority of films do. There can be an outlier that doesn’t operate by those principal, and the spectrum of art is much larger than a particular metric like if you enjoyed it or if you didn’t enjoy it. It’s so much more broad.

I want to thank Rick Alverson and Gregg Turkington for taking the time to talk with me. “Entertainment” is now available to watch on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.