Stephen Tobolowsky on Groundhog Day, Harold Ramis, and why you should expect the horrible

Stephen Tobolowsky — Groundhog Day’s Ned Ryerson — on What He Learned From Harold Ramis:

When the scene called for Bill to punch me out on the corner, I went to Harold and asked if there was anything he wanted me to do. He leaned in and whispered with that half-smile, “Do whatever you want. I’m setting the camera up wide. No close-ups. Comedy only happens when there is a relationship. We’ll see both you and Bill at the same time. Comedy lives in the two shot.”

Tobolowsky talks more about Groundhog Day in The Tobolowsky Files podcast episode 29.

And he's got a blog too. The post "Why Acting Is So Horrible" talks about crisis management as a key skill for performers: "You never have the right circumstances to do your job. The horrible isn’t the exception. It is the rule...Don’t look at calamities as a wall between you and your work. Think of them as little surprises life is giving you to keep it fresh."

I’m sick of finance guys

I’m sick of finance guys. They call others “takers,” yet they make nothing. They deride "welfare queens" yet demand bailouts. They slander politicians for being “socialist” yet line up to suckle on the government teat. They preach “personal accountability” and then claim to be too big to fail. They break the law yet never face prosecution. They destroy the economy and reward themselves with massive bonuses. They bribe our government and then complain about any hint of regulation. They praise economists while paying academics hush money that corrupts the study of economics itself. They make dumb bets yet never lose a thing. They rig the game yet act like they genuinely earned their spoils. They’re self-described “risk takers” who take no actual risks. And we let them get away with it. How it works in this country: If you steal $5,000, you go to jail. But if you steal $50 billion, you get to shake the President’s hand.


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Why Harold Ramis "stopped being the zany"

Animal House. Stripes. Meatballs. Ghostbusters. Caddyshack. Vacation. Groundhog Day. Helluva run. This Harold Ramis obit talks about a realization he had after a performance at Second City in 1972.

“The moment I knew I wouldn't be any huge comedy star was when I got on stage with John Belushi for the first time," he said in a 1999 Tribune interview. "When I saw how far he was willing to go to get a laugh or to make a point on stage, the language he would use, how physical he was, throwing himself literally off the stage, taking big falls, strangling other actors, I thought: I'm never going to be this big. How could I ever get enough attention on a stage with guys like this?

"I stopped being the zany. I let John be the zany. I learned that my thing was lobbing in great lines here and there, which would score big and keep me there on the stage."

Related: The spiritual lessons of Groundhog Day


How mean and vulnerable need each other

Funny = Money is a look at comedy manager Peter Principato. He says, “You have to get yourself out there. You have to make your little YouTube videos. You have to write things yourself instead of waiting for a real Hollywood writer to come along and write you a vehicle.”

One interesting bit from it is the talk about All in the Family. According to Principato, what made Archie Bunker work was his vulnerability/humanity. That's why he could "go there" on race and other stuff the way no one else on TV had up to that point.

In the show, [Rob] Riggle aims to play a Bill O’Reilly-like newscaster, a conservative blowhard with a tremendous ego in the vein of Ted Baxter, from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Principato said the network was concerned about the central character’s likability. He didn’t seem vulnerable enough. Riggle was ready to adapt, but worried about overcompromising. “I think we need to defend a little,” he said. “You know, you could always count on Sam Malone, Woody and Norm from ‘Cheers’ to be themselves. You could always count on Coach to be Coach. You could always count on those characters. Frank Burns was always going to be Frank Burns. . . . ”

Principato interrupted. “But Frank Burns wasn’t the lead in the show.” He cited Archie Bunker, from “All in the Family.” Bunker was a chauvinistic, racist, irascible bully, but his comeuppances were so severe and so frequent, you were always reminded of his frailties.

Riggle’s eyes got a bit misty. “Remember when he got locked in the basement with Meathead and he told the ‘Shoe-Booty’ story?”

Principato laughed. The story was about how poor Bunker had been as a kid — he had to wear one shoe and one boot to school, and the other kids teased him: Shoe-Booty.

Riggle continued. “I cried — I was a kid then, but — that was good stuff.”

Principato pressed his point. “Yeah. So . . . it had the humanity. I think that’s what it was. And I don’t think Hardaway — we didn’t show enough of his humanity. You know what I mean?”

If you want to be dark/mean/edgy/etc, ya better also get it back in some way that makes you seem vulnerable too.


How the Beatles used jokes to go viral

How the Beatles Went Viral talks about how the group went from unknowns to the biggest pop stars in the USA in just six weeks. Their humor was a key part of it. For example, an early gig in front of the Royal Family...

Famously, Lennon introduced the band's finale that evening, "Twist and Shout," with the quip, "Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewelry." It was a display of cheekiness that heretofore one simply didn't exhibit before the Royal Family.. And yet, by narrowing the distance between the monarchy and the working-class foursome onstage, Lennon brought down the house-and in the process managed to make the band all the more beloved in an England where notions of one's proper place were evolving rapidly. Even the Queen Mother came away a fan, calling the Beatles "so young, fresh and vital"...

At 1:20 p.m. on Feb. 7, the Beatles arrived stateside on Pan Am flight 101, greeted by the high-pitched squeals of approximately 4,000 teenagers, plus more than 200 reporters and photographers and 100 police officers. The crowd was larger and louder than that which Sullivan had chanced upon three months earlier at London Airport. At the famous press conference conducted inside the airport, defying the low expectations journalists had of rock'n'rollers in that era, the Beatles' charisma and wit wowed the skeptical crowd. If anything, it was the reporters who appeared to be the dullards, asking banal questions-"What do you think of Beethoven?"-which the Beatles fielded with their patented cheekiness-"Great," Ringo Starr replied. "Especially his poems."

Nothing like a good zinger to get folks on your side.


Jealousy, bitterness, and life after the Half Hour

Two recent thoughtful pieces by comics reflecting on standup:

What Jealousy And Bitterness Can Do For Your Comedy Career by Andy Sandford.

There is very little value in everyone knowing what level you deserve to be on as soon as you have reached that level. You shouldn’t want to get seen by industry people just because you “can” hold your own with the big dogs…it is much better to get as good as you possibly can under the radar so that when you do get seen, you blow everyone’s mind and are more than ready for whatever big break that might come your way. No one owes you anything for your hard work. The only benefit of your hard work is how good it has made you. This is why “years” in stand up almost means nothing. People progress at different rates, and sometimes someone has a breakthrough many years in; or maybe it just took a while for people to be able to appreciate their style. If you have the time to make a note of every thing that some undeserving peer got, then you have the time to put a little more effort into your act, which is the only thing that speaks for you, or should speak for you.

And Ben Kronberg wrote this Facebook post about the year he's had following his Comedy Central Half Hour.

I did a Half Hour last year and am agent-less and manager-less. I booked less colleges this year than I ever have. The guy at the St. Louis funny bone won't return my emails along with a slew of other bookers and gatekeepers who seem to only want to deal with agents or at least not me. I feel the disparity between the singular success and the longevity it should be contributing to. It's like getting married, having a great wedding with lots of love and hugs and gifts, but you get home and you still have all your flaws and insecurities, and the constant nag of that thing that should make it all right, but doesn't...But it's really just the thoughts that sting. The reality is beautiful. I got to perform in Korea and am recording my first album and my mom got to watch me perform the other night. I've used Facebook to correspond and get gigs I never would have known about or thought possible. I'm a comedian. I'm a fucking comedian. I am a lucky fuck to even be able to do this ridiculous thing. WE are lucky fucks. Wake up everyday and look at yourself and say: "I am a lucky fuck." Cuz you are.

Both are solid pieces worth a read.


Bill De Blasio vs. tall Al in Naked Gun