'Portlandia,' Hannibal Buress, the Onion News Network and more
Portland, Oregon is almost too easy to satirize as a kind of real-life Stuff White People Like: It's a land where everyone's in bands, eats only locally grown food they buy at the food co-op, works in coffeeshops or bookstores, lives with several roommates, has tattoos and wears glasses. At least, that's the premise of Portlandia, the new IFC sketch-comedy series debuting Jan. 21 from Saturday Night Live's Fred Armisen (SNL's Lorne Michaels is the executive producer) and former Sleater-Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein, who's lived in Portland for 10 years. In the first episode, Fred and Carrie travel to a farm 30 miles outside of Portland to find the farm where the chicken they were about to order in a restaurant was raised (where Jason Sudekis, in a hilarious cameo, plays a polygamous farmer); become overwhelmed by techno-geekery; and reprise one of the sketches, "Feminist Bookstore," from their popular YouTube series ThunderAnt—this time with an appearance by Steve Buscemi as a customer who just really, really wants to use the bathroom. "It's almost all improvised," says Brownstein. "A lot of the characters come to life when we're in costume. Steve just invented that person on the spot and we played off him." Did they ever worry that Portlanders would take offense at their portrayal? "We come at it without thinking we're making fun of anybody," says Armisen. "I don't think we would do any character or person we don't like — because they're a little bit like us. We never think of it as targets or bringing down anything. It's all stuff I really like about Portland."
— Doree Shafrir
The growth of the rap-humor-video genre can undoubtedly be attributed in part to the efforts of brothers Jeff and Eric Rosenthal, the team behind the three-year-old website It's the Real. The pair's videos include the election season parody "My Girl's a Republican," which featured the lyrics "She's a conservative girl, can't take her home to mother/ I call her Bristol Palin cuz we never use a rubber"; and their latest, "Christmas Missed Us," a Jewish-inflected takeoff of the famous line from the Biggie Smalls song "Juicy." There's also a podcast, Hype Men, which has featured guests like Pete Wentz, Hannibal Buress, producer Just Blaze and SNL cast member Bobby Moynihan. And, says Eric (who is 30; Jeff is 26), this year promises more videos with the likes of Wiz Khalifa, Maino and Lupe Fiasco — and hopefully expansion into TV writing gigs.
At first glance, "The Onion News Network" — which debuts on IFC on January 21st — looks a lot like Fox News or CNN: all elaborate sets, smug anchors and overheated pundits. But then you notice the stories: A judge orders a white teenager to be tried "as a black adult"; Kim Jong-il gives up his nukes in exchange for a role in the next Batman movie. "It mixes the pretentiousness of CNN and aggressive horribleness and extreme-fire graphics of Fox News," says executive producer Will Graham. Along with The Onion Sportsdome (a SportsCenter parody debuting on Comedy Central on January 11th), the shows are The Onion's first foray into TV — and both stay true to the newspaper's ruthless aesthetic.
Says Graham, "We're trying to get people to laugh and cringe."
One of Hannibal Buress's stand-up bits goes like this: He got so high in Amsterdam that he learned Dutch. He got so high in Amsterdam that he helped substitute-teach a third grade class in geography, in Dutch. And then he was walking around Amsterdam with a few extra euros in his pocket, so he just bought a white baby. The joke is vintage Buress, who infuses a casual hipster sensibility with deadpan jokes that are often more complicated than they at first appear. And his approach seems to be working: At 27, he already has a career that most comics twice his age would be envious of. After a year writing for Saturday Night Live, he was tapped in September to write for 30 Rock; his comedy album, My Name is Hannibal, recorded in his hometown of Chicago, came out in July to positive reviews; and — among other accolades — he was named Best Male Comedian by the Excellence in Comedy New York awards in 2009 and one of Variety's 10 Comics to Watch in 2010.
Randall Munroe's stick-figure web comic XKCD's been around since 2005, but — in the parlance of the technies who've been faithfully following it since the beginning — it's only recently penetrated the consciousness of the so-called "normals." That may be because Munroe's droll, hilarious strips, which he posts three times a week, are speaking ever more directly to a generation raised on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and countless other objects in the techno-zeitgeist. (There's also a book with selections from Munroe's first 600 comics, XKCD Volume 0, published by reddit founder Alexis Ohanian.) Take one of Munroe's latest strips, "Wikileaks," which mocks Julian Assange and his shadowy "Anonymous" army; or another that pokes fun at this generation's obsession with charts and graphs: a boy tells a girl he thinks they should give their relationship another shot, and she responds: "We should break up, and I can prove it"— and whips out a graph. "I knew data would convince you," she says, when he seems to be swayed by her evidence. "No, I just think I can do better than someone who doesn't label her axes."
Last summer, comedian Jenny Slate didn't know if her Saturday Night Live contract was going to be renewed. "Eventually, I got to a point where I just really wanted to create something," she says. That something turned out to be the adorable, three-minute-long Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, a stop-motion-animation film about a precocious shell — voiced by Slate, 28, and directed by her live-in boyfriend, Dean Fleischer-Camp, 26. ("Guess what I use to tie my skis to a car?" Marcel squeaks. "A hair.") Since August, Marcel has racked up more than 4 million YouTube views, won the American Film Institute Award for Best Animated Short and was accepted at Sundance. The couple have sold two Marcel books to Penguin's young-adult imprint and are developing a TV show about Marcel and his friends. "It's sort of documentary-style," says Slate. "The other characters all have really good personalities except for one. And one is based off of one of my favorite people in the world — my grandmother."
Acid-tongued, rage-prone satirist Marc Maron has been a stand-up-circuit fixture since the Eighties, hosting Comedy Central shows and befriending guys like Judd Apatow and Conan O'Brien along the way. But his new podcast, "WTF," may be his greatest achievement yet: a series of unvarnished shit-shoots with comedians that move from laugh-geek joke anatomy to quasi-therapeutic venting (Louis C.K. wept during his epic two-part interview). "The podcast began in desperation," Maron says. "I was broke, in the middle of a divorce, and I decided I needed to talk to my peers." Maron's guests range from comedians' comedians like Todd Barry to hip young acts like Aziz Ansari to megastars like Ben Stiller. The podcast has been good for his career — fans in the industry have approached him about developing other projects — but Maron says that's just a happy byproduct. "I'm doing exactly what I want to do," he says. "That's rare."
Call her the anti-Sex and the City: 24-year-old Lena Dunham, whose massively buzzy debut movie, Tiny Furniture (which she wrote, directed and stars in as a Lena Dunham-ish college grad who moves back into her parents' downtown New York loft), got her noticed by Apatow. He signed on to executive-produce Girls, Dunham's half-hour HBO pilot, which will air later this year if all goes well. The show focuses on a group of post-collegiate girlfriends: Dunham, Allison Williams (daughter of Brian) and Jemima Kirke, who played Dunham's best friend in Furniture. "I haven't seen stuff about what New York is like in the social-media age, in the recession," Dunham says. "We're all holed up in closet-size places in deepest Bushwick, tweeting at people." Apatow was blown away when he started working with her. "Lena is a very rare talent," he says. "She is insightful and hilarious and is actually in a good mood all the time. It's really weird. I have never seen that before."
"A 98-year-old man walks into a sperm bank."
"A guy goes to the doctor, and the doctor says, 'Look, I don't know how to tell you this, but you've just got to stop masturbating.'"
"What is the difference between a Jewish mother and Rottweiler?"
If only the Borscht Belt comedians of yore could see what they've spawned: a generation of aging Jews who have found a rabid, online, mostly younger audience who just want to hear them tell jokes. It's an idea that seems like it'd almost be too easy, but New York-based Sam Hoffman knew he had struck comedy gold when he launched Old Jews Telling Jokes in February 2009. Since then, he and his producing partners have posted over 350 jokes on their website, OldJewsTellingJokes.com; edited a book (Old Jews Telling Jokes: 5,000 Years of Funny Bits and Not-So-Kosher Laughs), published in September, that was a Los Angeles Times bestseller; and have gotten the likes of former Knot's Landing actor John Pleshette, Sesame Street writer Norman Stiles and famed graphic designer Milton Glaser to share their favorite routines. And it should come as no surprise, but old Jews (60 and over, please) seem to have a near-endless reserve of humor: Hoffman and his partners will be in Boca Raton, Florida — home to many a Jewish grandparent — on February 3, filming another round of seniors ready for their turn in the spotlight.
When the comedy website Splitsider — the first offshoot of The Awl — launched in September, it wasn't immediately obvious why the Web needed yet another site devoted to aggregating the humorous bits from around the Internet. Oh, how wrong we all were. Indeed, Splitsider has managed to carve out a niche in a crowded field by not just collecting the best of the humor on the Web, but also offering its own comedy-business-related content, including interviews with comedians and writers, and features like "A Somewhat Obsessive Guide to All 36 Seasons of SNL Streaming on Netflix."