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John Mulaney talks about how the school's improv group helped launch his career. By Shane Mettlen
The cast of John Mulaney’s sitcom: Elliott Gould, Zack Pearlman, Nasim Pedrad, Mulaney, Martin Short, and Seaton Smith. Photograph by Matthias Clamer/FOX.

In August 2000, John Mulaney, a Catholic kid from Chicago, arrived at Georgetown, and a week later he was accepted into the school’s fledgling improv group, cast by fellow comedian Nick Kroll. He would soon follow Kroll to New York, sleeping on the elder comic’s couch while he hit open-mike nights. That trail led him to an Emmy-winning stint writing for Saturday Night Live—and to Mulaney, a sitcom debuting October 5 on Fox. Besides Kroll and Mulaney, Georgetown has become a breeding ground for off-kilter, quick-witted comics: Mike Birbiglia, Funny or Die’s Owen Burke, comedy writer Brian Donovan, and Parks and Recreation’s Alison Becker. Mulaney, now 32, talks about Georgetown as a comedy spawning ground.

Why do you think Georgetown’s improv group has been such a career launcher?

When I was there, it kind of felt like the only game in town, at a school that didn’t have a ton of theater. They’ve since built a huge performing-arts center we’d have loved to have. But it was just a very funny group of people—I’m surprised more people I did improv with didn’t go into comedy.

So with little else in the way of performers, you were the outsiders?

In retrospect, we were pretty much just left alone. We sold tickets—the money covered us and the children’s theater; we didn’t have to ask for grants. If I had gone to an NYU or an Emerson that had a lot of performing arts, it would have been very different.

Did that self-sufficiency carry into your career?

It definitely helped doing standup early on. We would do shows at the coffee shop at Georgetown’s Lauinger Library and have to set up chairs, so in New York it seemed natural to just walk into a bar and ask to do a show. There’s the idea that if you want to do a TV show, you have to make one—you can’t wait for someone else.

How does Washington compare as a comedy town?

DC Improv is really good, and in the past few years the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse has turned out to be an awesome venue. When you have two central hubs like that, a lot of young comedians can get stage time, and that’s what makes a comedy town.

This article appears in the September 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 10:00 AM/ET, 08/29/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
We caught up with the actor and musician before his performance with the Abiders at Birchmere on Sunday. By Tanya Pai
Actor Jeff Bridges shows off his musical chops at the Birchmere. Photograph of Bridges Courtesy of The Birchmere.

Jeff Bridges wears many hats.

He’s an actor, with roles reaching back to the 1950s, and an Oscar winner for his turn as alcoholic country singer Otis “Bad” Blake in Crazy Heart. He’s a musician who has two albums under his belt—he and his band, the Abiders, bring their country rock to the Birchmere August 31 with his daughter, singer/songwriter Jessie Bridges. Still, to many he’ll always be Jeff “the Dude” Lebowski, the slacker bowling enthusiast in The Big Lebowski, which has such a cult following that it’s spawned an annual Lebowski Fest. Here’s a conversation with Bridges.

People mostly know you as an actor. Has that perception changed since Crazy Heart?

I hope so. I hope they find me an interesting artist in the musical vein. People do tend to pigeonhole folks, so I guess I expect a bit of that, but I’m hoping people are open-minded.

What are the differences between playing music as yourself versus as a character?

When you’re doing a movie, you’re always playing a character, and for me the beginning place for a character is myself, so I think about aspects of myself I might use. T Bone Burnett, one of the producers of Crazy Heart, made a list of all the music Bad might be listening to growing up in Fort Worth—it had Hank Williams and Merle Haggard and all those guys, but also Dylan and the Beatles and Ornette Coleman, the great jazz sax man—so you take all those elements and stir them around and see what pops out. [Crazy Heart songwriter and performer] Stephen Bruton was with me every day, keeping me limber on the guitar and giving tips on making that character authentic, because Stephen really lived that life. T Bone turned me on to vocal coaches and just practicing—practice improves whatever you do.

Was this year the first time you performed at Lebowski Fest?

We’d done that before. It was really fun. After the performance, watching the movie—it’s one of my favorites, so to be in a room with all these people who felt the same way was wonderful.

What line from The Big Lebowski do people quote to you most often?

I get “The Dude abides” most, but I like “Well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

Between your movie The Giver in August, the tour, and a planned live album, do you find it hard to have a balance?

Balance is always a challenge—not only with those things but also with my family and other projects. But I try to have as much joy in whatever I’m doing as I can. My mom would send me off to work with that advice. She’d say, “Remember—have fun and don’t take it too seriously.” I still use that. It kinda calms me down.

The Abiders play at the Birchmere on August 31. Purchase tickets ($89.50) on Birchmere's website.

This article appears in the August 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 11:22 AM/ET, 08/28/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Celebrate the end of summer at a pool party, meet your favorite authors at the National Book Festival, or take part in a treasure hunt along the Anacostia. By Jason Koebler
Head to the Convention Center for the National Book Festival on Saturday. Photograph via Shutterstock.

Thursday, August 28

PARTY: It’s the last Thursday of the vacation part of summer (yesterday was the last Wednesday, and so-on-and-so-forth), which means Chinese Disco is throwing a Last Thursday of Summer School party, naturally. There’ll be specials on beer buckets and growlers, and you’re encouraged to wear your most bro-tastic outfit, or whatever the equivalent of that is for women. Free. 8 PM.

MUSIC: Summer is ending but Hill Country’s Backyard Barbecues live on. This week, the local funk-soul revival group Higher Hands will perform, the National Building museum will be open, and there’ll be lots of barbecue and Shiner beers, as usual. Free. Doors open at 4 PM, show starts at 5:30 PM.


Friday, August 29

JAZZ: This weekend, there’s a lot of lasts. Even though it’ll probably be warm for a while longer, this is the last Jazz in the Garden of the summer, meaning it’s the last time you can drink sangria amongst a bunch of beautiful art. The series is closing out the summer with Dixie Power Trio, who combines different types of creole music, including zydeco, Cajun, and Louisiana funk. Free. 5 PM.

COMEDY: Most successful comics are jaded, miserable old people (sorry, but it’s true). Well, at Black Cat’s Comic Youth, you’ll get to see the area’s best under-21 comedians, who, let’s be fair, might be miserable and jaded, but they certainly aren’t old. And you probably haven’t ever heard of them before, so you can switch it up a bit from the standard ol’ open mics, at least. $10. 9 PM.

PODCASTS: The Circus Life is local singer songwriter Justin Trawick’s podcast and variety show. To celebrate its first anniversary, Trawick is hosting a live taping at Gypsy Sally’s, featuring musical performances, discussion, and the general anything-goes atmosphere listeners of his show have come to expect. $10. 7 PM.

COMEDY: Don’t Block the Box is back at Wonderland, featuring four local comedians. The best thing about this whole evening is it doesn’t take itself all that seriously: After the comedy, the whole thing devolves (evolves? depends on your perspective) into an all-night sweaty dance party. $3. 7:30 PM.

DANCE: 9:30 Club is hosting its fifth annual Michael Jackson dance party, which features five deejays spinning, you guessed it, music from the King of Pop. $15. 9 PM.


Saturday, August 30

BOOKS: The Library of Congress’ National Book Festival is sadly moving to the convention center (after being on the National Mall for more than a decade) this year, and it’s only one day long, which is a bummer all around. But the Library of Congress’ signature event will still be worth checking out—there’ll be dozens of authors, many of whom you know and love. There’ll also be a poetry slam and other literary and book—related things. Free. 8 AM to 8 PM.

DANCE: Black Cat hosts Eighties Mayhem, which is a pretty descriptive name, as far as dance parties go. Deejays Steve EP, Killa K, Krasy McNasty, and Missguided spin 80s music (duh) on the main stage. Wear your leg warmers. $10. 9:30 PM.

BLUES: The Carter Barron Amphitheater hosts the 26th annual DC Blues Festival, which features six bands, an “instrument petting shop,” some instrument-specific lessons, and places for the kids to hang out and learn about the genre. Free. 12 PM to 7:30 PM.

BARBECUE: The Smokeout features all-you-can-smoke hookah, all your barbecue favorites, southern hip hop music, and lots of drinks. The specific location is only being given out to people who buy tickets, but its organizer tells me it’s at a venue in Hyattsville. $15. 3 PM.

SCAVENGER HUNT: WABA hosts the Anacostia River Treasure Hunt, a bike scavenger hunt that rewards costumes, silliness, and safe riding, of course. Free. 10 AM.

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Posted at 09:20 AM/ET, 08/28/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
George O’Brien’s one-woman show offers a look at a relatively unknown historical figure. By Missy Frederick
Danielle Davy in the one-woman show Molly at Scena Theater. Photograph by Jae Yi Photography.

Meet Molly. She’s a hard woman to root for, and a hard woman to relate to, and the audience has to spend quite a bit of time with her during George O’Brien’s world-premiere play, named for the character who had a real place in Irish history.

To put it bluntly, Molly can be a struggle. The one-woman show from Scena Theatre stars Danielle Davy, who plays the secret mistress to J.M. Synge, an influential Irish playwright who died at age 37 and left her behind. Molly’s in mourning, dressed all in black. lamenting the life that could have been—had Synge lived, had Synge embraced her publicly, and other what-ifs. 

Those unfamiliar with Synge’s work and influence won’t get much of a crash course from Molly—the work is much more about who he was as a man, and how he treated his mistress. It’s also about disapproving mothers, the social and societal conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, and how the ill-fated relationship consumes her life and self-worth (at least up to this point). 

The play ran about 20 minutes past its projected 75 minute running time on press night, and pacing is an general issue for the play, which chugs along slowly. Molly’s speeches, taken from her diary, meander and wane into bitterness. The character’s most shocking revelation, which comes near the end of the show, is staged in a way that feels jarring and out of character, and does little to raise the stakes for the audience. (Without giving away too much, let’s just say what passes as a a steamy affair was very different during that time and place.) Robert McNamara stages the show in a fairly straightforward manner: A black-box set is broken up every several minutes with grainy photos that show the historical figures and places (for example the Abbey Theatre, of which Synge was a cofounder) that were significant to the play.

Davy brings a steadfast conviction to her role. It takes some time to get used to the rhythm of her heavy Irish accent, which further distances her performance from the audience. She’s a convincing and capable performer, but she doesn’t really make Molly a riveting figure to watch. One-person shows are inherently a challenge to pull off—dynamic material and a wholly charismatic performance are both needed to ensure their success. Neither element is fully there in Molly.

Molly is at the Atlas Performing Arts Center through September 21. Running time is estimated at around 75 minutes without an intermission, but can run longer. Tickets ($25) are available through the theater’s website

Find Missy Frederick on Twitter at @bylinemjf

Posted at 02:33 PM/ET, 08/27/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Only one DC-set series took home an award this year. By Tanya Pai
Not even a bad haircut can keep the Veep down. Image courtesy of HBO.

Despite this year’s Emmys being held uncharacteristically on a Monday, the awards show had plenty of memorable moments: Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Bryan Cranston snogging, Billy Crystal’s tribute to Robin Williams, Weird Al’s very Weird Al-esque performance. What it didn’t have was much recognition for Washington-set TV shows. Though Veep, House of Cards, Homeland, and Scandal were all nominated, at the end of the night only Julia Louis-Dreyfus had a gold statuette to take home, for the third year in a row—along with, we imagine, some Cranston germs. 

This is a marked change from last year, which saw two wins each for Veep, Homeland, and The Kennedy Center Honors, as well as three for House of Cards and one each for Scandal and Political Animals. Washington-related shows fared a bit better at the Creative Arts Emmys on the 16th: Scandal’s Joe Morton snagged an award for Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series, and the real-life POTUS even got a sort-of nod, thanks to his appearance in an episode of Between Two Ferns With Zach Galafinakis. Keep reading for the Washington winners from both ceremonies as well as the nominees, and see the full list of Emmy winners online

 

WINNERS (PRIMETIME)

Veep
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series: Julia Louis-Dreyfus


WINNERS (CREATIVE ARTS)

Between Two Ferns With Zach Galafinakis: “President Barack Obama”
Outstanding Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Program

The Blacklist
Outstanding Stunt Coordination for a Drama Series, Miniseries, or Movie

House of Cards
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour): “Chapter 14”

JFK: The American Experience
Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special

Scandal
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series: Joe Morton


NOMINEES (PRIMETIME)

Homeland
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama: Mandy Patinkin
Outstanding Actress in a Drama: Claire Danes

House of Cards
Outstanding Drama
Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series: “Chapter 14” (Carl Franklin)
Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series: “Chapter 14” (Beau Willimon)
Outstanding Actress in a Drama: Robin Wright
Outstanding Actor in a Drama: Kevin Spacey

The Kennedy Center Honors 
Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special: Louis J. Horvitz

Killing Kennedy
Outstanding Made-for-TV Movie

Scandal
Outstanding Actress in a Drama: Kerry Washington

Veep
Outstanding Comedy
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy: Anna Chlumsky
Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series: “Special Relationship” (Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche, and Armando Iannucci)
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy: Tony Hale

Posted at 12:54 PM/ET, 08/26/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Movies at Dodge City and unlimited vino at Slate Wine Bar. By Jason Koebler
For its second birthday, Slate Wine Bar pours unlimited vino all night. Image via Shutterstock.

Monday, August 25

FILM: Dodge City has one of the most underrated backyards in the city, and it’s the perfect place to catch an outdoor movie, especially if you can’t put up with the crowds of Screen on the Green. Grab a seat at a table and catch Weekend at Bernie’s and What About Bob? Miller High Life and whiskey shots are $5 all night, there’ll be free popcorn, and chili cheese dogs will be served until the bar closes. Happy hour runs 6 to 9, as well. Free. 8 PM.

Tuesday, August 26

SING: Like singing in front of people but aren’t totally comfortable with being the center of attention? Head to Stetson’s for People’s Choir, a sing-along night in which everyone at the bar participates. If there’s not a ’70s sitcom where this happens, I would be shocked. This week’s theme is “gone wild,” meaning all of the songs will be about animals, by bands with animal names, or otherwise tangentially related to animals. Free. 8 PM.

Wednesday, August 27

VARIETY: The Wonderland Circus variety show is back after what seems like a long hiatus (though it’s possible I just missed it happening last month). As usual, you’ll get a whole mix of artists and performers, including a couple of comedians, a musical group (the Uptown Boys Choir), and a burlesque dancer. Free. 8:30 PM.

Thursday, August 28

WINE: Slate Wine Bar is turning two, and, like any toddler, it’s acting a bit irrationally: For just $30, you’ll get unlimited tastes of eight different types of wine, along with happy hour food specials all night. Let’s just hope you have an understanding boss who’ll let you come in a bit late Friday morning. Tickets ($30) are available online. 6 PM onward. 

Know of something cool going on around town? E-mail Jason Koebler at jasontpkoebler@gmail.com, or find him on Twitter

Posted at 09:52 AM/ET, 08/25/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The national park presents an evening dedicated to the Pacific Northwest as part of the Face of America project. By Tanya Pai
Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer Elle Macy embodies one element of Wolf Trap’s Face of America event. Photograph courtesy of Wolf Trap.

Sixteen years ago, Wolf Trap conceived a project to celebrate its identity as the only national park dedicated to performing arts as well as the natural environments represented by the parks. The Face of America had its first performance in 2000 and has since highlighted six regions, from southern Florida to Yosemite to Hawaii. On August 27, it spotlights the Pacific Northwest with an event featuring Oregon Ballet Theatre, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and the Seattle indie rockers Band of Horses.

“At root, it’s about the amazing dance and music that come out of a gorgeous area,” says Wolf Trap’s Barbara Parker. “National parks were set aside to preserve cultural and geographical treasures unique to our country, and we want to celebrate them through our language, the performing arts.”

The evening consists of an Oregon Ballet Theatre performance choreographed by Trey McIntyre to music by the band Fleet Foxes (also from Seattle) and a world premiere from Pacific Northwest Ballet set to songs by the electronic outfit Chromatics. In the background and between performances are filmed segments featuring dancers shot on location in that part of the country.

Seattle-natives Band of Horses is another element to Wolf Trap's Face of America event. Photograph courtesy of Wolf Trap.

“One day we had them in two feet of snow, then a rainforest, then a pebble beach the next day,” Parker says. “There’s so much connection between art and nature, and this gave the dancers a chance to get to the heart of that.” Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer Andrew Bartee choreographed the films. Between performances, Band of Horses plays an acoustic set.

“If you don’t love dance, you can sit and listen to amazing music,” says Parker. “If you don’t love the music, you can see amazing dance. If you don’t like either, you can see this spectacular film that won’t appear anywhere else. There are so many elements that until you’re sitting in the seat, the full impact isn’t going to hit you—but when it does, it’s going to blow you away.”

Purchase tickets ($10 to $44) at wolftrap.org.

Find Tanya Pai on Twitter at @tanyapai.

Posted at 02:45 PM/ET, 08/22/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Other memes the museum should turn into exhibits. By Benjamin Freed
Pharrell's phamous hat. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

After a successful run from an exhibit full of props from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, the Newseum is going back to the pop-culture well this week with the unveiling of the oversize hat that turned into a brief social-media trend thanks to Pharrell Williams sporting it at the Grammy Awards in January.

The Vivienne Westwood-designed headpiece was applauded Thursday night at a preview party—yes, a preview party for a hat—in the Newseum’s lobby, where the item will welcome visitors for the next two months. (Obviously, Williams’s frustratingly popular song “Happy” plays on a continuous loop in the accompanying video.)

How does the hat play into the Newsuem’s larger mission of, as the museum’s chief executive, Jim Duff, put it last night, “celebrating free expression”? We’re not totally sure. But in between nibbles of snacks provided by Arby’s, the exhibit’s sponsor (and donor, after buying the hat at auction), we thought of other exhibits the financially struggling Newseum could open next.

Great YOLO Moments in Journalism

From William Randolph Hearst’s Spanish-American War profiteering to Matt Lauer’s star turn in Sharknado 2: The Second One, a brief history of times people have thrown professional caution to the wind and said, “Heck, you only live once.”

Turn Down for What: A History of Radio News

Who wants to look at a bunch of lifeless plaques about David Sarnoff, Eric Sevareid, and Edward Murrow or listen to a bunch of static-filled tapes? Just install a #TDFW button next to every radio-related item in the building and watch the money roll in.

Kim and Kanye on the Cover of Vogue

In an age of “explanatory journalism,” show the kids how the #worldsmosttalkedaboutcouple explains more about celebrity, image management, and socioeconomic dynamics than Vox or the Upshot ever could.

#IceBucketChallenge Dunk Tank

Why make your own shaky Vine or Facebook video when you can buy professional-quality footage of yourself getting completely soaked? Souvenir towels available for $35 in the lobby, and proceeds go to the ALS Association (assuming the Newseum’s operating budget doesn’t need it more).

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed

Posted at 11:54 AM/ET, 08/22/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Happy birthday to DC's littlest giant bear. By Tanya Pai
Happy birthday, Bao Bao! Photograph by Connor Mallon/Smithsonian National Zoo.

The birth of a giant-panda cub is big news around the world, and Washington is no exception. After Mei Xiang and Tian Tian's first cub, Tai Shan, was sent to China in 2010 a few months before his fifth birthday and their second cub, born in 2012, lived for just six days, Bao Bao, born in 2013, has been a huge source of excitement for Washingtonians and tourists alike—not to mention a generator of sweet, sweet merch dollars.

Bao Bao's first birthday is Saturday, and she's come a long way from her helpless, hairless early days. She weighs 40 pounds and can now eat solid food, climb trees, and stand on her hind legs, according to Smithsonian Magazine's recap of her first year. To celebrate her progress, the zoo is hosting a birthday party at which guests can try bear-themed snacks and decorate cards for Bao Bao and her keepers. The zoo is also asking people to tweet with the hashtag #BaoBaoBday to show their support for panda conservation efforts. 

This might be one of the few occasions Washingtonians have to celebrate with Bao Bao's birthday with the guest of honor present: Though giant pandas can live for 20 or 30 years, this particular baby bear is scheduled to be sent to China in 2017.

Click through the slideshow for some highlights from Bao Bao's first year, and check out the links below for more about giant pandas.

Find Tanya Pai on Twitter at @tanyapai.

How the Giant Pandas Get Their Names
A Timeline of Giand Pandas in the United States
Bye, Bye, Butterstick: Tai Shan Goes to China
Will Any Pandas Stay Here?

Posted at 05:03 PM/ET, 08/21/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
A Jenga tournament with beer, a fashion label launch/pool party, and a Dolley Madison party at Dumbarton House. By Jason Koebler
Test your Jenga skills while drinking craft brews at Penn Social on Thursday. Image via Shutterstock.

 

Thursday, August 21

MUSIC: Local singer songwriter Justin Trawick’s The Nine series has been going on for a few years now. Every couple of months, he gathers eight of his buddies to play short sets—it’s kind of like battle of the bands, except there’s no battle and no real bands, just a lot of good music. Check it out at the Hamilton. Tickets ($15) are available online. 6:30 PM.

JENGA: Love Jenga but don’t find it challenging enough anymore? Try keeping that block tower intact while under the influence of some delicious craft beer. Head to Penn Social’s Jenga Tournament, hosted by Lost Rhino brewery, to see how good you are at it. Free. 6 PM.

STORIES: Ever think the women of Sex in the City were just a little too calm, cool, and collected? (No? Okay, fair point.) Either way, the women of Awkward Sex and the City are not that—at all. They’ll be at Bier Baron, sharing their most ridiculous and awkward sexual experiences. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe, you’ll thank your lucky stars you aren’t them. Tickets ($15) are available online. 8 PM.


Friday, August 22

CORNHOLE: We’re reaching the tail end of summer, which means you’ve had plenty of time to practice your cornhole skills at Nats games and various cookouts. Put them to the test at Penn Social’s cornhole tournament, hosted by Anchor Brewing (of Anchor Steam fame). It’s not too often you get most of the brewery’s beers on tap all the way out here on the East Coast, but that’s Beer Week for ya. Free. 6 PM.

POOL: Capitol Skyline hosts Swim at Your Own Risk, a fashion label launch/pool party. Karla Colletto launches her swimwear collection, and there’ll be drink specials, a deejay, some modeling, and, of course, swimming (if you’re willing to risk it). Free. 7 PM.

ART: The Art Museum of the Americas hosts Art After Dark, a party that showcases the museum’s current photography exhibitions and its outdoor garden. Outdoor projection art will be shown on the building’s walls, and there’ll be live music, raffles, a deejay, performance artists, and food trucks. Best of all, drinks are included with admission. Tickets ($50) are available online. 9 PM.

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Posted at 10:07 AM/ET, 08/21/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()