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O BROTHER, WHO ART THOU: Q&A With Actor/Writer/Director Tim Blake Nelson, Star Of The Coen Brothers’ The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs

November 29th, 2018

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EDITOR’S NOTE: On the occasion of the release of The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, starring Tim Blake Nelson as…wait for it…Buster Scruggs, we are reprising this 2013 interview with Mr. Nelson. Enjoy.

BY JONATHAN VALANIA If you don’t know who that is, the short answer is: the guy in O Brother Where Art Thou? who isn’t George Clooney or John Turturro. Any friend of the Coen brothers is a friend of mine, brother. Truth be told, he’s a whole lot more than that, as you’ll soon find out. I recently had cause to speak with Mr. Nelson for a Steve Earle MAGNET MAGAZINE cover story. Mr. Nelson is a big fan. He hired Mr. Earle to play mean-ass redneck drug-dealer who shoots Ed Norton in the guts with a crossbow in Leaves Of Grass, which was written, directed and co-stars Mr. Nelson. Recently, Mr. Earle asked Mr. Nelson to direct a video (SEE BELOW) for “Invisible”, the first single from Mr. Earle’s new album, The Low Highway, which he filmed on the roof of his apartment building on Upper East Side, which is where I met Mr. Nelson. There was plenty discussed that doesn’t have much to do with Mr. Earle — how me met the Coen Brothers, making O Brother, working with Clooney on Syriana, working with Spielberg on Minority Report and Lincoln, studying classics at Brown, growing up Jewish offspring of Holocaust refugees in Tulsa and why his friend Katherine Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty got bamboozled by craven politicos and cowardly liberals. All that and more.

PHAWKER: So you are born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and your father is a geologist and your mother was an activist?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: Yeah and still is.

PHAWKER: Does your father teach at the university there or something like that?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: No, he was a wildcatter. Petroleum geology.

PHAWKER: Got it, finding new oil deposits to drill. Tell me a little about your mother’s activism.

TIM BLAKE NELSON: Everything from Planned Parenthood to the head of the Tulsa Housing Authority.

PHAWKER: I also read that your maternal grandparents fled the Nazis during the Holocaust.

TIM BLAKE NELSON: Yeah.

PHAWKER: And then they came to America…

TIM BLAKE NELSON: My mother too, actually, when she was three. They got out of Germany and went to England in 1938 and then they crossed the Atlantic in ’41 and came to the U.S.

PHAWKER: How did your parents end up in Tulsa?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: That’s where my mother grew up and she grew up there because there was an organization at the turn of the century that dispersed Jews around the country who were immigrating so that they would be less vulnerable to roundups. The family that sponsored my mother and her parents in coming to America happened to be sent out to Oklahoma to be part of a Jewish community in Tulsa. That’s where they had to go because of the sponsorship. Then my mother went to Bryn Mawr college in the ’50s and met my father who was then at the Wharton School of Business, the University of Pennsylvania.

PHAWKER: I’m calling you from Philadelphia.

TIM BLAKE NELSON: Oh. My oldest brother who is five years older than I was born in Philadelphia, but then quickly they moved to Oklahoma.

PHAWKER: Just to clarify, they dispersed Jews around the country in the event of a roundup. Is this a…

TIM BLAKE NELSON: Well, yeah, this was after the pogroms  in Russia so this organization in New York City understood that a lot of Jews immigrating into the United States would probably congregate in cities and they felt if there was ever an impulse by this country to round Jews up and put them in camps or terrorize them or try to run them out of the country. It would be easy if they were all congregated in ghettos and cities like they were in Europe, or in shtetls, little villages filled with Jews. They figured if unaffiliated Jews were immigrating into the country, instead of living in New York or Philadelphia to go out into the rest of America, even if it meant going to Tulsa or Cincinnati or Cleveland, Atlanta, Indianapolis. Jewish communities everywhere would be better than just Jewish communities in select, specific places. They wanted to spread the Jews out into America so they would be less vulnerable to being rounded up or deported or terrorized.

PHAWKER: The South does not have a reputation of being very tolerant of Jews, did you encounter much anti-Semitism?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: No, I didn’t, if anything I felt exotic. I frankly encountered more anti-Semitism in the northeast than I did in Oklahoma but not much either place. Anti-Semitism is not part of my life.

PHAWKER: Glad to hear it. Then you went to Brown where they don’t let less than brilliant people in and you studied classics?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: Yes.

PHAWKER: Because?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: I am insatiable about education and I consider myself a lifelong student which is something I have in common with Steve [Earle]. Although my education had been more formal than his, I consider us both students for life and of life. I wanted to get the most broad foundation for a lifelong education that I could find and that was studying Latin and the classics. Meaning Roman and Greek history and philosophy and ancient civilizations.

PHAWKER: I also read in a number of places that the Coen brothers bragged that you were the only cast member of Oh Brother Where Art Thou? who had actually read The Odyssey.

TIM BLAKE NELSON: I never believed that, I think those guys — in fact we remained very close friends — often liked the sound of a remark rather than the truth of it which is why they make such great fictions.

PHAWKER: How did you meet up with the Coen brothers?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: A conspiracy of lucky forces, my wife and I had, for a few years, and continue to do so, have been volunteering at an organization in the city called The 52nd Street Project which helps disadvantaged kids in Hell’s Kitchen. Fran[ces] McDormand, Joel’s wife, is also involed with that organization, so we started to get to know them that way.  And then I also directed a movie called Eye Of God, that Joel and Ethan watched as a favor to me and they liked it and helped with the editing and we started to get to know one another. Both that and the 52nd St. project, led to me starting to see them socially, and then when he was writing O Brother and he just decided to give me one of the three leads, completely out of the blue, that’s how it happened, I didn’t even have to audition which is extraordinary because I could not have been more obscure of an actor at that time.

PHAWKER: Well, it’s a great role, it’s a great film, what is the first memory you flash on from that whole project?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: John Turturro making me laugh hysterically on a daily basis. I had a great friendship with George Clooney; both of those guys were every bit as welcoming to me as Joel and Ethan were. Quite frankly, nobody had any reason to be so unbelievably welcoming and everybody was, John Goodman as well and Holly Hunter. I guess, what I think of, when I think about that movie, I think of lifelong friendships.

PHAWKER: When you read the script, did the parallels to the Odyssey seem apparent to you?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: It was immediate, I had heard they were doing this movie and I was shooting O, at the time, directing, and Joel sent me the script without offering me the role, he said, rather cryptically, ‘I need your advice’ so I actually read it believing he wanted to talk to me about the adaptation from Homer and to learn whether I thought they had taken too many liberties, or I thought they had gotten it right, and so I was anticipating a scholarly phone call with Joel during which I would reveal to him that I was more of a Latinist than somebody who had read Greek so I was perhaps less familiar with Homer then he was probably hoping and then he suddenly said, ‘I want you to play Delmar O’Donnell,’ and I was astonished. In fact, what he said specifically was ‘You are probably going to tell me to go fuck myself but we want you to play Delmar O’Donnell’ because he knew I was going to be editing my own film that summer and in typical Coen brothers humility and he didn’t understand that any actor would drop anything including his own film just to carry water on their set, much less play a lead role. They brought my edit down to Mississippi so then I was editing my own movie and acting for them at the same time.

PHAWKER: Wow. You seem to have a knack, a natural, for playing, shall we say, south of the Mason Dixon line characters, you grew up in Tulsa obviously, but you don’t seem to have any accent, was there a conscious effort to overcome that or you never had one in the first place?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: When I left Oklahoma at 18 I probably did have one, that accompanied me all the way through Brown but when I got to Julliard its days were numbered.

PHAWKER: I didn’t even see you went to Julliard. Wow.

TIM BLAKE NELSON: Yeah so I went to Julliard for four years, from 22 to 26, from ’86 to ’90.
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BRITISH STEEL: Q&A W/ Comedian Gina Yashere

November 28th, 2018

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Antonia_Brown_HeadshotBY ANTONIA BROWN Gina Yashere is a UK-based comedian of Nigerian descent who took the roundabout route to becoming a stand up comedian by earning a college degree in electrical engineering. After college Gina worked at Otis Elevator Company building and repairing lifts, and occasionally rescuing riders trapped in stalled elevators between floors. But all along, she dreamed of a funnier future, moonlighting as a stand-up comedian at clubs around London. In 1996, she was a finalist in the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year, a long-running annual national competition for British comedy and variety acts, which she parlayed into a variety of roles on British television. Fast forward a decade or so and she’s killing on stage at The Apollo and then becomes the first British person to appear on the Def Comedy Jam. After successful stand up sets on Conan and Leno, Yashere starred in a recurring sketch comedy series on The Tonight Show called “Madame Yashere: The Surly Psychic,” giving attitude and fake psychic readings to unsuspecting people on the street. Last year she became the latest British correspondent on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Following stand up specials on Showtime and Stars, Yashere’s act can be seen on the second season of The Stand Ups, now streaming on Netflix. In advance of her upcoming two-night run at Punch Line Philly this weekend (Nov. 30th-Dec.1), we got Yashere on the horn to talk about elevators and the Daily Show, the politics of identity and the secret of making people laugh.

PHAWKER: .Before your life as a comedian you worked as an elevator engineer for Otis 0915_GinaYashereSITEElevator Company. What exactly does an elevator engineer do and how did you wind up in that line of work?

GINA YASHERE: I studied electrical engineering in college. An elevator engineer is actually many different jobs, but I started off building them. I would go onto construction sites where a building was going up and we would assemble the elevator as the building went up. Then I went on to repairing them so I’d be on call and if an elevator would break down I would turn up and repair it and if people got stuck on them I would rescue them, ya know?

PHAWKER: You’ve spoken in your stand up on how your Nigerian mother saw you becoming a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. Of course your mom supports your decision to pursue comedy now but what words or advice would give for people whose career aspirations differ from what society or their parents expect them to do?

GINA YASHERE: My thing is always follow your own instincts, don’t live your life for anybody else if it’s something that you really want to do and you got the passion and you’re willing to work hard at it and suffer through the failures and not worry about what other people think then go for it. Better to try and fail than never to have tried it and always wondered what would’ve happened.

PHAWKER: What in your estimation in the difference between British and American audiences in terms of what they find funny and how do you have to recalibrate your act for each audience?

GINA YASHERE: My act is just me being myself, and I’ve never changed that and I’ve never tried to change my personality or my character or whatever to fit into what I think an audience wants. Coming to America, look in England we got all your TV shows, we got all of your movies, we know more about Americans know about anybody else because 75% of you never leave America you know what I mean? So you know coming to America I already knew a lot about the culture and a lot about the language and a lot about certain things so it wasn’t that much of a massive jump to alter my comedy. My material is about being GinaYashere1an outsider in America because I’m just talking about my experiences in life.

PHAWKER: How did you land a job as a correspondent on The Daily Show? Have you always felt there was a place for comedians to speak on the political and social issues of society?

GINA YASHERE: I’ve never considered myself a political or social issues type of comedian. I just talk about my experiences and just by virtue of who I am — a black female immigrant in America — I’m political just by virtue of who I am. I don’t wake up in the morning and go “Right, I’m going to write 26 jokes about Trump” or whatever I just don’t, my comedy just comes from my life. As for how I got the job on the Daily Show, it was a text from Trevor. It was that simple. I never auditioned. I knew Trevor from bumping into him all over the world doing shows. I knew him before he got the Daily show, I knew him before he was the famous Trevor Noah. I’d see him at shows all over the world. I’ve worked with him in Australia, bumped into him at a show in Miami, I bumped into him in the UK so he knew my work. When he got the show and saa they were looking for new correspondents he just texted me and was said “Hey, Do you want to come and help me out on the show?” and I said “Of course” and that’s basically how that went.

PHAWKER: Last question, it’s kind of philosophical, but what do you think is the secret to comedy? And what would you say is the secret of making people laugh?

GINA YASHERE: There is no secret! It’s a combination of a million things and if you got them all and they all come together right then that’s it. I mean for me the most important thing to me is likeability, you know if people do not like you or do not trust you, it doesn’t matter you could have the best jokes in the world they’re not going to laugh because they don’t trust you they won’t have any kind of connection with you. So for me as a comedian the most important thing for me when I go on stage is to immediately endear myself, let them know I’m funny, let them know I’m just another regular person and we all got similar observation and then I could go into whatever I want to do and then once I got them listening and trusting me as a comedian then I can pretty much do anything and tell them anything.

GINA YASHERE APPEARS @ PUNCH LINE PHILLY NOV. 30TH-DEC. 1ST

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WORTH REPEATING: Three Steps From God

November 27th, 2018

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THE RINGER: The best television episode of the 1990s starred a short, blond man and his band. On November 18, 1993, at Sony Music Studios in New York City, Nirvana took on MTV Unplugged. That night, the biggest group of the decade staged one of the most hypnotically intimate rock concerts ever captured on film.

Wearing a fuzzy cardigan, ratty button-down, Frightwig T-shirt, jeans, and Converse sneakers, Kurt Cobain—with help from drummer Dave Grohl, bassist Krist Novoselic, guitarist Pat Smear, and cellist Lori Goldston—orchestrated a performance that was heartfelt, funny, uncomfortable, and mesmerizing. Nirvana’s appearance on the acoustic series proved something that close observers already knew: The loudest band on earth had a stunning amount of depth.

Cobain subtly subverted the format, which usually featured acts playing stripped-down versions of their hits, by filling the set list with cover songs. He also invited two of his musical heroes, Cris and Curt Kirkwood of the little-known Meat Puppets. The lead singer even helped design the set, asking for it to be decorated with stargazer lilies and black candles.

The room’s haunting vibe later led the event to be described as sorrowful, but despite Cobain’s well-documented struggles at the time, the evening was far from dour. As the show progressed, those in attendance began to realize that what they were watching would become legendary. “You knew for sure that history was being made,” said former MTV executive Amy Finnerty, who worked closely with Nirvana. “No doubt about it. You’re lucky if you get to be at something like that once in your lifetime.” MORE

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RIP: Ricky Jay, Master Magician, Scholar, Raconteur, Author, Prose Stylist & Debunker Of Fraud Masquerading As The Supernatural, Dead @ 70

November 26th, 2018

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NEW YORK TIMES: As a teenager, Mr. Jay ran away to work in Lake George, the upstate New York resort area. He was later booked at the Electric Circus, the East Village hippie-era temple, doing his act between Ike and Tina Turner’s music and Timothy Leary’s lectures on LSD. Eventually he enrolled in five different colleges but by his account never advanced past freshman status at any of them. “Early on, I knew I didn’t want to do the kind of magic other people were doing,” he said in the New Yorker profile. “So I started buying old books” to research the history of the form. He built his fame with what The New Yorker called an “out-of-left-field brand of gonzo-hip comedy magic, a combination of chops and artistic irreverence.” MORE

THE NEW YORKER: The playwright David Mamet and the theatre director Gregory Mosher affirm that some years ago, late one night in the bar of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago, this happened:

Ricky Jay, who is perhaps the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive, was performing magic with a deck of cards. Also present was a friend of Mamet and Mosher’s named Christ Nogulich, the director of food and beverage at the hotel. After twenty minutes of disbelief-suspending manipulations, Jay spread the deck face up on the bar counter and asked Nogulich to concentrate on a specific card but not to reveal it. Jay then assembled the deck face down, shuffled, cut it into two piles, and asked Nogulich to point to one of the piles and name his card.

“Three of clubs,” Nogulich said, and he was then instructed to turn over the top card.

He turned over the three of clubs.

Mosher, in what could be interpreted as a passive-aggressive act, quietly announced, “Ricky, you know, I also concentrated on a card.”

After an interval of silence, Jay said, “That’s interesting, Gregory, but I only do this for one person at a time.”

Mosher persisted: “Well, Ricky, I really was thinking of a card.”

Jay paused, frowned, stared at Mosher, and said, “This is a distinct change of procedure.” A longer pause. “All right—what was the card?”

“Two of spades.”

Jay nodded, and gestured toward the other pile, and Mosher turned over its top card.

The deuce of spades.

A small riot ensued.

Deborah Baron, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, where Jay lives, once invited him to a New Year’s Eve dinner party at her home. About a dozen other people attended. Well past midnight, everyone gathered around a coffee table as Jay, at Baron’s request, did closeup card magic. When he had performed several dazzling illusions and seemed ready to retire, a guest named Mort said, “Come on, Ricky. Why don’t you do something truly amazing?”
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Baron recalls that at that moment “the look in Ricky’s eyes was, like, ‘Mort—you have just fucked with the wrong person.’ ”

Jay told Mort to name a card, any card. Mort said, “The three of hearts.” After shuffling, Jay gripped the deck in the palm of his right hand and sprung it, cascading all fifty-two cards so that they travelled the length of the table and pelted an open wine bottle.

“O.K., Mort, what was your card again?”

“The three of hearts.”

“Look inside the bottle.”

Mort discovered, curled inside the neck, the three of hearts. The party broke up immediately. MORE

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BEING THERE: Thom Yorke @ Franklin Music Hall

November 24th, 2018

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Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

I think most music appreciators have a handful of bands or artists that totally reprogrammed their perception of music. I remember the first time I had listened to Radiohead. In fifth grade, my mom had begun noticing that I was kind of a weird kid, so she gave me two CDs she thought I might like: Kid A and OK Computer, which were given to her by one of her best friends, a photographer and painter named Yelena Yemchuck, who dated Billy Corgan around the turn of the millennium. I stuck the CDs in my disk drive, one after the other, and dragged the albums into iTunes. Which album I listened to first, I can’t say by memory, but I was enamored by both from the get-go. I indulged myself with OK Computer’s 5th-dimensional-rock and satiated myself with Kid A’s technomorphous dreamscapes. “Idioteque” and “Morning Bell” taught a 10-year-old how to dissociate from reality. I shared my discovery with my friends; a couple were mind-blown, but most of them didn’t understand. Today, Radiohead holds the longest-standing consistency of my fondness for a band. Last night, at Franklin Music Hall, I saw their lead singer and main songwriter, Thom Yorke for the first time. He’s currently on tour in support of the soundtrack he wrote for the new remake of Suspiria.

I must admit that, for the first couple songs, I was beginning to think the entire show was going to be a snooze-fest. There’s only so much bleep-bloop yuppie minimalism I can handle, and I was grateful to Tarik Barri’s brilliant visual projections for holding my attention. Barri stood behind two computer monitors stage stage left, where he manipulated the projections in real-time. They were some of the most beautiful and artfully crafted I had ever seen, and turned what would have solely been a musical experience into a multisensory art installation. At stage-right stood Nigel Godrich, Radiohead’s longtime producer, on bass and electronics. Thom, on vocals, of course, dabbled in some sound manipulation, sat down a few times at the piano, and sometimes picked up a Jazzmaster running through an AC30 – a classic combination – for some super-delayed riffs that melded into cascading ribbons of singing strings long after he had put the guitar down. “Impossible Knots” was the third song, which marked an acceleration point in the show for me, the beginning of the rising action. It was followed by “Black Swan,” perhaps the most Radiohead-like song from Thom Yorke’s solo project. They played “Amok,” a song by Thom Yorke’s other project, Atoms for Peace, and one of the best songs of the night. The set closed and climaxed with a with a 12-minute “Traffic” followed by a 7-minute “Twist.” The first encore featured the first American performance of “The Axe,” followed by “Atoms for Peace,” which flowed into “Default,” basically the same song, except it’s off of Atoms for Peace’s Amok (2013). The crowd, though thoroughly satisfied, would not accept just one encore, and so we all waited until Thom came back out alone to sit at the piano. He played a live debut of “Unmade,” from the Suspiria soundtrack.

A friend of mine skipped out on the show because he heard that 50-year-old Thom can’t sing anymore. What a load of horse. His angelic voice is just as flawless as it had always been. Thom’s trademark voodoo-possession seizure-dancing was a tad subdued, against my fore-hopes. The sound at the Franklin Music Hall is now far superior to what it was when it used to be the Electric Factory, and the inside of the venue is practically unrecognizable, which is a good thing. The tracks were very widely panned, as if the music was to be listened to through bookshelf speakers, which was problematic for audience members who couldn’t make it to the center. Luckily, I was close enough. All in all, I felt a little underwhelmed, but that’s a me problem; Thom and his crew did an objectively stellar job at bringing their music to the stage. – KYLE WEINSTEIN

 

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CINEMA: Creedence

November 23rd, 2018

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CREED 2 (Directed by Steven Caple Jr., 130 minutes, USA, 2018)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Creed 2 picks up a few years after the first film where Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) wins both his Mustang and the world championship title from Danny ‘Stuntman’ Wheeler. With Johnson now the world champion, from the shadows emerges Ivan Drago and his son Viktor to challenge him, not just the title, but for a chance at redemption. After the events of Rocky IV, we find Ivan was left disgraced not only in front of Russia, but his family as well. Ivan’s wife left him to care for his young son, who he has been raising and training for just this moment. Against Rocky’s best advice young Creed (of course) lets his anger get the best of him and he takes the bait in a chance to avenge his father’s death. But the match doesn’t quite play out as expected.

While the first film felt very much like its own creature, Creed 2 feels more like hybrid of the new and the old. When Adonis discovers he doesn’t quite have what it takes to take on Viktor, its Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) to the rescue, who takes the boxer to Mexico for a super intense training montage à la Rocky IV, to give him the edge he needs. Michael B. Jordan pulls more into the lead this time around, turning in a performance that pushes the young actor to his limits. While he gets a pass for most of the film, it’s his intense moments with Stallone where the seams begin to show in his performance. Stallone here is once again a gift on screen as he comes face to face with Dolph Lundgren in what is easily one of my favorite moments of the film as these acting legends come face to face as these iconic characters.

But the heart and soul of this film is without a doubt Tessa Thompson who steals the film this time around as Bianca, aka The Girlfriend of Adonis, who’s tasked with keeping him in line after he parts ways with Rocky and moves to LA. Bianca’s story here is the most tragic of all as the handicapped singer with all her potential slowly slipping through her fingers, as her hearing continues to deteriorate. She’s forced to watch her own dream crumble as she is faced with managing her man-child of a husband as his dream as his dream devolves into a nightmare. Refusing to recede into the background like Adrian or Mary Ann, she is the true hero of this film.

Creed 2 film doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of the original but is still a quasi-satisfying chapter in the Rocky franchise. Director Steven Caple Jr., who is relatively new to the game, isn’t Ryan Coogler and it shows, especially when it comes to keeping his antagonist interesting; which is a hallmark of these great films. It’s almost like he forgot about Viktor Drago about three quarters of the way through the film. Creed 2 is also filled with grim foreshadowing about the end of Stallone’s iconic character.  The real question here after the credits roll is when Stallone finally hangs those battered Chuck Taylors up will Jordan be ready to fill those shoes?

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DARK SHADOWS: Q&A W/ Comedian Joe DeRosa

November 22nd, 2018

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Attachment-1-15BY TONY CARO Philly homeboy Joe DeRosa’s dark brand of comedy isn’t for the faint hearted — it’s for the people who realize that laughter is the only rational response to an absurd universe where everything born will one day die. Born and raised in Collegeville, DeRosa got his start on the Philly stand-up circuit. In the mid-aughts he moved to New York where he eventually hooked up with Bill Burr for a show called Uninformed on Sirius Satellite Radio show, which he parlayed into regular appearances on The Opie & Anthony Show. He’s released six stand-up comedy albums, and has appeared on Louie, Inside Amy Schumer, Crashing, and Better Call Saul. His most recent comedy special, You Let Me Down, premiered on Netflix in 2017. When he’s not making comedy, he’s making music and podcasting. Most notable amongst various projects and collaborations is two EPs on Bandcamp of completely serious/totally not funny electro-pop under the Demon Riot. In advance of his two-night run at Punch Line Philly on Friday and Saturday, we got him on the horn. DISCUSSED: Depression, auctions, Cypress Hill, why he loves Philly, demon riots, how funny Bob Saget is, elephants on acid, and how you get away with playing the sleazy drug-dealing vet Dr. Caldera on Better Call Saul without ever have seen, to this day, Breaking Bad.714Nljhp+mL._SL1500_

PHAWKER: You grew up in Collegeville, and began performing regularly at the Laff House but left town for New York in the early aughts. Curious what if anything you miss about Philly?

JOE DEROSA: I miss all of it. I really love Philadelphia as a city. I love the people. It’s got a very blue-collar sensibility there, and at the same time it’s a very progressive place, and I just love it. It was a great place to start doing comedy. It’s a great place to go back to do comedy, and if it was located a little closer to my work obligations, I would live there.

PHAWKER: Your first stand up album, released in 2001, was called The Depression Auction. That’s an odd title for a comedy album, can you explain that for the benefit readers that may not have heard it, present company included.

JOE DEROSA: It’s named after a bit on the album. If you know anything about my comedy, it’s all very dark, and a lot of it is based in the sort of darker aspects of life, so I like to joke about depression. I like to joke about loneliness. I like to joke about the pitfalls in life. I don’t think it’s a ton of fun to joke about the upswings, because they’re upswings, and happy isn’t really that funny, so the album is based on a bit about being depressed, and saying that you wish you could auction off your depression to people. My friend, Anne Harris, at Comedy Central said I should call the album, The Depression Auction.

PHAWKER: You play the shady, drug-dealing veterinarian, Dr. Caldera, on Better Call Saul. How did you wind up landing that role? Did you know the people making that show prior to landing the role, or was it just something you auditioned for and wound up landing? It seems like a fun show to work on. Do you have any amusing anecdotes about working on the show that you can share?

JOE DEROSA: I auditioned for the show, and people knew the show was being made. It was public knowledge at that point, but nobody knew what the show was going to be about. Everything was really under wraps at that point.

PHAWKER: But you had seen Breaking Bad?Depression_Auction

JOE DEROSA: I had never watched Breaking Bad.

PHAWKER: Still to this day?

JOE DEROSA: Yes, yeah, no, I hear it’s great, but I had never seen it. Not because I didn’t want to see it. It was just one of those shows that by the time I was able to sit down and potentially start watching it, I was so far behind that it was too overwhelming, so I hadn’t watched, and when I got this part, I was thrilled, because I knew that it would be an awesome show and a quality show, but I also knew that it took place prior to the events of Breaking Bad, so then knew that I really didn’t need to go back and watch it. I was like, my character wouldn’t know about any of this stuff anyway, and I always think it’s a better approach to something I’m involved in to not be…The less I know a lot of the time the better, because the more you know the more you can get excited, and then the more you start to pressure on yourself in all these things, and I always find it’s better to know a little bit less. In the interest of not psyching myself out, I didn’t go back and watch Breaking Bad.

PHAWKER: So the Demon Riot EPs are, like, really good — and I know you have spoofed sex rap under the name Deep — but this doesn’t sound like jokey comedy record unless there is something subtle I am missing.

JOE DEROSA: No, no, the Demon Riot stuff is not meant to be funny. I was a musician before I did anything else, so that was kind of the course I was on initially, and then when I got into comedy, I tried a little bit of comedy music with Deep, but I still kept writing music and creating and stuff, and just decided I wanted to put some of the stuff out there that worked well and came together pretty well, and I did, and that was it.

PHAWKER: Was the last album or song you heard that really blew you away?

JOE DEROSA: That’s a good question. Let’s see here…the new Cypress Hill album, Elephants on Acid, which is really good.DOWN_ATCcover

PHAWKER: On a related note, what was the last joke you heard that made you laugh out loud?

JOE DEROSA: I saw Bog Saget preform the other night, and it was really funny.

PHAWKER: Really?

JOE DEROSA: Yeah, I loved it. It was great

PHAWKER: I remember him from Full House, right? That was him?

JOE DEROSA: Yeah, he’s really funny standup.

JOE DEROSA PERFORM AT PUNCH LINE PHILLY NOV. 23RD AND 24TH

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

November 19th, 2018

Coen Brothers Interviews

Illustration by MATTHEW BRAZIER

FRESH AIR: If you ask the Coen brothers about how they write their films, you might not get a straight answer. “It’s mostly napping,” Ethan tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “We go to the office, we’re there, we’re in a room together,” Joel adds. “We take naps, but, you know, the important thing is that we’re at the office, should we be inspired to actually write something.” The brothers don’t split up writing responsibilities — they “talk through” the dialogue and “work it out together,” Joel explains. The process seems to be working for the brothers who wrote and directed Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man and True Grit. Their latest film, Inside Llewyn Davis, just won the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes film festival, and it’s nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture, musical or comedy, and an Independent Spirit award for Best Feature. […] The Coen brothers pay homage to old Westerns with their new film, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The movie is a collection of six stories that often subvert the expectations of the genre.

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0 F*CKS GIVEN: Once Upon A Deadpool 2 Trailer

November 19th, 2018

GIZMODO: The PG-13 recut of Deadpool 2 will feature much of the film’s original footage […] as a kind of test run to gauge how successfully the studio might be able to fold Deadpool into Marvel’s larger cinematic universe which has always skewed more family-friendly. MORE

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BEING THERE: We The People Rally

November 17th, 2018

PushBack-4

Photo by HENRY SAVAGE

The threat of a large contingent of violent, pro-fascist Proud Boys and racist skinheads descending on the MAGA-aligned We The People rally this morning at Independence Mall never quite materialized. In fact the two dozen flag-waving MAGA types that assembled behind a vast police cordon on the lawn on the northside of Market street were outnumbered by hundreds of anti-fascist #PushBack counter-demonstrators who taunted them from across the street with chants of “WHO’S GOT THE NUMBERS?” and “ASS-HOLE” and signs that read NAZI PUNKS FUCK OFF and SMASH THE FASH. There was a giant pussy puppet prowling the crowd, a New Orleans-style street band and even a coven of anti-fascist witches putting hexes on the pro-fascist demonstrators — which is something you don’t see every day. A sizeable contingent of Antifa showed up dressed in black battle gear and spoiling for a fight but a huge police presence kept both sides separated on either side of Market street.

At one point pro-fascist demonstrators attempted to infiltrate the anti-fascist side shouting white nationalist/MAGA slogans and attempting to sow chaos but were quickly unmasked and physically ejected by anti-fascist demonstrators. Alan Swinney, a notoriously violent white nationalist/Proud Boy who was last seen strangling Antifa members at an October rally in Providence, showed up dressed in riot gear but kept his powder dry behind a cordon of police protection throughout the event. During the course of the rally, members of each group broke off onto the side streets off Independence Mall to duke it out. At least four people were arrested and many others were pushed off each other by police. Dialogue or discussion of differences did not take place, no political divides were bridged, and after a few hours of chants, taunts and scuffles, both sides left the ideological battlefield and returned to their respective homes in the Red and Blue Americas of the mind. – HENRY SAVAGE

IMG_1793-1
Photo by JONATHAN VALANIA

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BEING THERE: (Sandy) Alex G @ First Unitarian

November 17th, 2018

ALEX_G_by_DYLAN_LONG
Photo by DYLAN LONG

Nandi Rose Plunkett produces solo music under the moniker Half Waif, a name that conjures the idea of a small and helpless creature – but the singer-songwriter is anything but. Plunkett towered over a synthesizer in a red dress patterned with rose petals and hair in space buns. With her eyes closed and hands joined in prayer, I half-expected her to levitate above the stage. The set drew from her latest release, Lavender, an work punctuated with intimate portraits of human life, touching on themes of family, love and mortality. The lyrics read like poetic fairy tales, and Plunkett’s voice has the power to reach straight through your chest and withdraw precious organs. Her closer was a brand new song called “Capsule.” “I’m really nervous to play this but sometimes it feels good to be vulnerable,” she admitted, adding, “Its kind of a quiet one.”

By the intermission, the basement floor of First Unitarian Church was blanketed with shed winter coats, the room growing thick with the smell of sweat and beer. (Sandy) Alex G took the stage while “Life Is A Highway” blasted at full volume, evoking nostalgic grins from the crowd of 20-somethings. The band (who were dressed like high school English teachers in crisp button-up shirts) is led by Alexander Giannascoli. The lead singer/guitarist has been a fixture of the Philadelphia DIY music scene since he was a college kid self-releasing tracks on Bandcamp. Giannascoli was intense to watch, singing through gritted teeth, the muscles in his neck taut.

The set was composed mostly of songs from 2017’s Rocket, an album that fuses lo-fi indie pop and folk, weaving harmonies of twanging fiddle and crunchy electric guitar. Half Waif reappeared for a duet on “Bobby,” her voice soothing and melodious. Giannascoli took to the keys for “Horse” and “Brick,” rocking back and forth and screaming hellishly into the mic while chaotic instrumentals crashed around him. The band hit favorites like “Mary” and “Proud,” closing with the dreamy, regret-filled “Sarah,” Giannascoli shouting, “I can’t be what you need.” — MARIAH HALL

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MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL: Q&A W/ Caroline Rose

November 15th, 2018

CAROLINE_ROSE

 

keely_bylinerBY KEELY MCAVENEY Caroline Rose, a paragon of pop-done-right, is capable of anything, whether that be fitting a pack and a half’s worth of Marlboro Reds in her mouth or writing, instrumentalizing and producing an entire album. Her most recent album, Loner, serves as a red tracksuit-clad reinvention of herself. She sheds her formerly folksy sound for the upbeat wonk of experimental pop. Each song functions like a vignette, building stories and characters that satirize everything from catcalling to capitalism. We had the privilege of talking with Caroline Rose herself about the difficulties that accompany artistic evolution, the color red, and humor as a means of not going fucking crazy. You won’t want to miss her in all her manic pixie nightmarish glory this Friday at Underground Arts.

PHAWKER: Do you feel like the sounds in the next album are going to evolve as much as the sounds have from your first one to Loner?

CAROLINE ROSE: Oh yeah, the reason I want to get the next record out as soon as possible is so that people stop asking me about the first one, laughs. If it was up to me, I would take it down Caroline_Rose-2completely just because it doesn’t make sense with the new material, and also I should something that a lot of people don’t realize is that the time span between the two was five years. That’s a lot between my early twenties and now. I think that is a significant amount of time when you’re in your 20s, and if all the material had come out in that time span it would have bridged the gap between the two, but unfortunately – or fortunately – it didn’t come out like that, so it does feel like a really stark contrast, but I can say with certainty I feel entirely more comfortable, and it’s taken me some time to really hone in what I want to say and how I want to do it, but I feel complete confidence in what I’m doing now. The next albums going to be kind of a stepping stone, kind of like a sequel to this one.

PHAWKER: Is it going to be as fun, and— you do a lot of balancing between really earnest stuff and a lot of satire, and just like really funny stuff. Is it similar in that sense, and very narrative driven like you’ve done before?

CAROLINE ROSE: Yeah, yeah. I try not to be too earnest. I don’t like that at all. This album is mostly satire. I think there’s a line to be drawn about being funny in your art but being a joke, and I’m very aware of that boundary, and I think that’s something that I’ve already been aware of it, and I know not to cross it. I think for the next album it is going to be narrative driven, but I’m going to be moving further away from anything that could be mistaken as a joke.

PHAWKER: What’s the best example of anything that you’ve had really be misconstrued in one of your songs?

CAROLINE ROSE: Actually people have really gotten it. I’ve been amazed by how much people have really understood what I’ve been trying to do and caught on right away to all the satire, and the humor in it, and all the seriousness. I haven’t had any big errors in that way which has been so nice. The biggest nuisance of anything is people coming up to me after shows or sending me comments who aren’t reviewers. They’re just listeners critiquing my work in a way where I’m like you’ve gotten this completely wrong.

PHAWKER: That’s weird, very assertive.

CAROLINE ROSE: Oh, people are remarkably assertive in giving artists constructive – or unconstructive – feedback. Unsolicited feedback. People do it all the time. All the time.

PHAWKER: What’s the worst one you’ve ever gotten?

CAROLINE ROSE: Oh well, it’s mostly men, but there are a lot of women who just really Caroline_Rose-2think that they understand what we’re going for, and think that I’m completely wrong. One time a woman sent me a message and said that I should take myself more seriously, and that I should be more funny and sexy – she said that. She said you should take yourself more seriously. I love your work, and I think that you’re letting yourself down. You should be smart and sexy and she said something else, and I was like, you couldn’t have gotten what I was trying to do more wrong. You couldn’t have gotten it any wronger, any more wrong than what you’ve just done. So yeah, there are people who really misconstrue what I’m trying to do, but luckily reviewers, anyone who is in the media at all has really nailed it. Nine times out of ten, people really get it. I get feedback about our show all the time, like, oh, you know, I wish I could have seen more of this. I wish I could have seen more of your old stuff. I really like our old stuff better. People say stuff like that all the time, and I’m like, oh my God…

PHAWKER: Do you play any of your old stuff, or do you really stray away from it, because you feel like it’s not a representation of who you are anymore?

CAROLINE ROSE: Well, you know, my job right now is touring this album, so when I think, like, if I was, you know, doing a greatest hits tour or something it would be a little different. It doesn’t quite make sense. It would be the same type of thing if Tom Waits were to come out and be playing a bunch of his old stuff and mixed in with his material from the last 30 years. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, unless people are really familiar with it, and I’m still in the very beginning of my career. It doesn’t make sense to anyone who’s only heard the new material, but it’s not to say that I’m throwing that out forever. That’s definitely not the case. I’m still in the stage where I’m laying the foundation of my aesthetic and my music and my art, and I just don’t think it’s necessary right now to confuse anyone.

PHAWKER: Yeah. With that in mind — with the foundation of image thing — are you driving for one specific image to have, or one character that you embody, and is it you or is it more of a character, because a lot of music videos and of the songs it feels like a different character?

CAROLINE ROSE: Yeah, I think the way that I like creating is a lot like the way that a movie is made. I like narrative driven material. I tend to lean towards narrative driven songs and albums the way I want to make my albums. It’s more entertaining. I do think that our lives, the way that we live, are a lot alike in that each day can be something different. It can be a completely different story, and I write about that all the time, because sometimes, especially, you know, the songs that I’ve made music videos for are made to be very cinematic, and be little vignettes of my life, so I’d say all these characters are versions of myself that I inject on steroids. Obviously when I’m playing characters like I do in “Bikini,” and stuff like that, I find it funnier when I’m playing the character, because the album’s called, Loner. I’m making it all up in my head, and it’s the way that I feel with more serious issues in my life. I think my use of humor in everyday life helps me cope with really serious things that give me anxiety or stress me out. Using humor is such an amazing tool in not going fucking crazy. In that same vein it’s the reason why many comedians are fucking depressed, and a lot of artists are really depressed, and a lot of people are really depressed, but especially people who feel a lot, and my whole life I’ve always used humor as a way of coping with things, but for some reason that I don’t completely Caroline_Rose-2understand, it never translated into my music probably until I was in my mid 20s, and I was like, oh my God, I’m missing key parts of my personality, so when I was making this album, I made a point of making it more like my personality, and I think in that regard I succeeded. It does feel like me.
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INCOMING: Pedals To The Meddle

November 15th, 2018

Tera_Melos

 

If ears had taste buds, Tera Melos would be the sour candy of math rock. Nick Reinhart is, without a doubt, one of the wackiest guitarists on the planet right now. He’s not the type of guitar player who just uses pedals; he’s a guitar player and a pedal player. Some of his solos look like a Dance Dance Revolution tutorial, with his pedalboard as the dance pad. This math rock madman owns hundreds of guitar pedals, and uses over 20 in his live setup. Aside from his adroit use of effects, Reinhart’s playing style is, in one word, erratic, and I say that with the utmost twinkly-eyed fondness. His work is something truly refreshing to the guitar world. The current Tera Melos lineup also contains Nathan Latona on bass and John Clardy on drums, whom I commend for being on the same page as Reinhart. The TeraMelos2_Sacramento-based deep-prog power-trio is on tour, and will be hitting the Boot & Saddle tomorrow night with special guests Mouse on the Keys.

Last year, Tera Melos released their fourth full-length album, Trash Generator, a surfy, math-rock acid trip and a half, and one of their catchiest and most cohesive works to date. They just followed up with a three-song EP, Treasures And Trolls, on November 2nd, which serves as a worthy addendum. The EP’s artwork shares the same photograph subject as the one used to make Trash Generator’s album cover, an old man mask used in the “Trash Generator” music video. Its songs bring back the same timbres, effects, slacker vocals, and reverbed-out whammy bar dives. The title track sounds like the band has recorded it during the TG sessions, but had misplaced it before releasing the record. The second track, “Lemon Grove” features Pinback’s Rob Crow on vocals for a surge of indie nostalgia, and the closing track, “Super Fxx,” is a nearly identical reprise of Trash Generator’s “Super Fx.” Catch them at the Boot n’ Saddle tomorrow night and get your freak-surf on!

TERA MELOS + MOUSE ON KEYS @ BOOT & SADDLE FRIDAY NOVEMBER 16TH

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