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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 ()
Jimmy Fallon’s not the only game in town. By Tanya Pai
Frank Underwood would no doubt be unamused by all of these parodies. Photograph by Nathaniel Bell for Netflix.

On Tuesday, the Tonight show aired a pitch-perfect House of Cards parody called “House of Cue Cards.” It had everything: Jimmy Fallon with an accent, Freddy’s barbecue joint, mysterious text messages—plus Ellen Barkin as Frank’s Botox-faced wife and an Orange Is the New Black reference. 

The skit, while hilarious, is by no means the first of its kind. The Netflix series has spawned countless parodies featuring papal conclaves, Larry David, and even Kevin Spacey himself. Their common threads: Southern accents, camera-ready bouffants, and white male protagonists who speak directly to the camera. 

See Fallon’s take plus seven more great parodies below.

House of Cue Cards

Fallon’s skit is a two-parter. Bonus points for the subway scene in part two, which certainly looks more believable than House of Cards’ Metro settings. Cathedral Heights: never forget. 

House of Nerds

This spoof, which aired at last year’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, stars Kevin Spacey, along with actual Washington bigwigs including Valerie Jarrett and John McCain.

House of Deadbeat

Hulu riffed on a promo for House of Cards’ second season in this teaser for its original series Deadbeat. Much like the HOC clip, it tells you nothing about the show—though a comedy about a stoner who counsels ghosts could benefit from more explanatory promos.

Here’s the original promo.

House of Cards Junkie

Comedian Jon Rudnitsky illustrates the phenomenon of Underwooditis—a condition caused by binge-watching House of Cards. Symptoms include bleary eyes, a Dixie drawl, and an irrepressible urge to spill your innermost thoughts to an invisible camera.

House of Thrones

Because you haven’t really reached hit status until you’ve been mashed up with Game of Thrones. (Yes, it’s sponsored by Quiznos—but Ross Marquand does a pretty impressive Spacey impression.)

Hardly Working: House of Cards

The College Humor series offers its take, following a guy who just wants to get ahead at work but could benefit from some of Frank’s expert machinations.

House of Cardinals

The Catholic church gets the Frank Underwood treatment, complete with texting Jesus figures and morally confused nuns.

House of Larry

Funny or Die discovers Woody Allen’s Whatever Works matches up pretty perfectly with House of Cards. Not only does misanthrope Larry David talk directly to the camera (sample line: “Let me tell you right off—I’m not a likable guy”), but Evan Rachel Wood and House of Cards’ Rachel Brosnahan also look surprisingly alike.

Find Tanya Pai on Twitter at @tanyapai.

Posted at 01:03 PM/ET, 08/13/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The “Daily Show” star talks subbing in for Jon Stewart on late night’s buzziest show. By Sophie Gilbert
John Oliver filled in for Jon Stewart on the Daily Show this summer. Now he hits the road with a standup act, stopping at DC’s Warner Theatre. Photograph of Oliver by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images.

British comedian John Oliver got the gig of a lifetime this summer when the Daily Show correspondent anchored the Comedy Central hit while Jon Stewart took a 12-week break to direct a film. Oliver got overwhelmingly positive reviews, with New York magazine’s Vulture blog naming him the “heir apparent” and the New York Observer calling him “the best thing to happen to late night since Colbert.” Oliver brings his standup show to the Warner Theatre November 8. Here’s a conversation with him.

Was it difficult handing the baton back to Jon Stewart after such a successful summer?

Not really. That’s like asking, “Is it difficult handing over the keys to a rental car?” The Daily Show is Jon’s racecar. I was just trying not to drive it off a cliff or cause too many scratches during my joy ride.

What were the high and low points?

There’s nothing about the show I didn’t enjoy—it’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had. Dealing with the George Zimmerman verdict was a difficult day, but I’m proud of what we managed to come up with. And I’m very grateful to Anthony Weiner for his antics. He was a gift who seemed incapable of not giving.

Can you give some idea of what the “John Oliver live” experience is like?

It’s me, onstage, talking into a microphone and leaving pauses where I hope the laughter will be. I wish I could promise a more spectacular live experience than that. I could promise 16 costume changes, but I would be lying about at least 15 of those.

How do you prepare for a tour like this?

In the same way Lance Armstrong prepared for the Tour de France—with a cocktail of EPO and testosterone injections, then an elaborate series of lies.

What do you miss most about England?

Seeing the queen’s face whenever you try to pay for your groceries. That’s because her face is on our money, not because she works at a supermarket cash register.

John Oliver. November 8 at Warner Theater. Tickets ($39.75) are available online.

This article appears in the November 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.

Posted at 10:00 AM/ET, 11/06/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
We catch up with the prolific comedian, performing Wednesday at GW’s Lisner Auditorium. By Tanya Pai

See Kristen Schaal at GW’s Lisner Auditorium on Wednesday. Photograph by Bradley Meinz.

Kristen Schaal has made a career out of acting unhinged. The 35-year-old comedian and actress is perhaps best known for her role as deranged fan Mel on the HBO show Flight of the Conchords. Or as deranged NBC page Hazel Wassername on 30 Rock. Or as the voice of deranged, bunny-hat-sporting nine-year-old Louise Belcher on Fox’s animated hit Bob’s Burgers. Sensing a theme? Schaal’s combination of innocent-seeming blue eyes, distinctive lisp, and penchant for off-the-rails absurdist humor (which has garnered more than one comparison to the late Andy Kaufman) have earned her gigs on an astounding list of well-regarded TV comedies— The Daily Show, The Simpsons, Modern Family, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Archer—not to mention numerous movie appearances. She also cowrote The Sexy Book of Sex with her husband, former staff writer Daily Show Rich Blomquist, and hosts the weekly Hot Tub variety show with friend and comedian Kurt Braunohler.

Amid all that, she’s somehow found time to organize the MirmanHodgmanSchaal Sandwich-to-Go Tour with buddies John Hodgman and Eugene Mirman, who voices Gene, the brother of her Bob’s Burgers character. The tour stops by George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium tonight, one of just six engagements around the US. We caught up with Schaal by phone to talk about the tour, her headline-making standup special, what’s coming up on the current season of Bob’s Burgers, and why she can no longer eat Starbursts.

What can you tell me about the MirmanHodgmanSchaal Sandwich-to-Go Tour?

Mainly, there’s the three of us, and we’re each gonna do about 20 minutes to a half hour of material. I’ll probably do new stuff as much as I can, and then maybe some old standby stuff I know people really like.

You just came off the first ever Funny or Die Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival. How did it go?

We just finished, and it was pretty amazing. It was 15 different cities over the course of five weekends, and it was great. I was nervous because the audiences were so enormous, and also there were so many acts that I thought it would be hard to hold everybody’s attention, but it was actually really nice. It didn’t even matter whether it was 500 people or 22,000 people—they were all there to enjoy a concert. It was crazy—they were all just focused and watching. It was very exciting.

That tour had so many big comedy names all in one place—Dave Chappelle, Demetri Martin, Hannibal Buress. Do you feel like comedy is a small world?

I do. If you look at all the careers in the world, the people who actually do standup as their bread and butter I could count on almost all my digits. I was thinking about that the other day—I have some friends in the UK that do standup and I won’t see them for a couple years, but there’s a bond there, this bond between comedians because there are so few of you doing it.

You’ve been involved in so many projects this year, between movies and TV shows and touring. Are you still auditioning for everything, or do people approach you?

There are a couple things they’ve asked me if I’d like to do them, and then some things I’ve auditioned for. There are lots of things I’d like to do that I can’t even audition for—they’re, like, closed to me—but some things they ask if I’d like to do them, and that’s really exciting. And usually those are the most fun projects, because they’ve had you in mind and it’s just comfortable. You don’t have to prove it to them that they made a good decision. Like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 [Schaal voices the character of Barb], which people should all go see!

Of all your projects, does one stand out as the biggest thrill for you?

Oh, they’re all big thrills! 30 Rock was exciting because that was a show I loved before doing it, and being on the set of 30 Rock was like . . . it’s weird to feel like you hopped inside your television.

Is your 30 Rock role the one you get recognized for the most?

Sometimes I’ll get that. Flight of the Conchords mostly, though—still, even though it’s been off the air for almost five years.

I actually came across a Starburst commercial you were in a few years ago.

I remember that Starburst commercial because we shot it in the jungle in Mexico, and I remember I didn’t put sunscreen on my chest and I had a burn there forever. Oh, and they were like, “You should spit out the Starburst,” and I was like, “That’s okay,” and I ate all of them all day and got super sick.

How many do you think you ate?

I don’t know, maybe like 50. I ate 50 Starbursts, and then we broke for lunch and sat down, and it was ceviche, which kinda looks like Starbursts, so I looked at it and was like, “Excuse me.” It was a weird one, but it was fun.

Did you have to stop eating Starbursts for a while after that?

I still can’t! But there’s all these moments too where I’m . . . like in Conchords they put me on a bike and lifted it up over the street, or in Wilfred I was holding a dog and having a talking dog next to me, and it never fails to amaze me. I can’t believe I’m in this business.

Talk to me about your Comedy Central standup special, which apparently not everyone understood.

That was . . . I wanted to do a live bomb on stage. I just wanted to show a meltdown and sort of have it go off the rails into a surreal place. That was my dream, and that’s kind of what I was able to do, so that’s what it is. And I think people were confused because I also had to promote it, so people thought that . . . well, I was just too convincing, I guess, all around. I wanted to take the standup special that everybody’s used to and just turn it on its head and have people sit and home and be watching it and have the thing happen that’s not usual, and then have them have a moment of wondering whether what they’re watching is real or not. And I thought that would only last two minutes, because I think it’s pretty clear as it goes on that it’s planned, but some people didn’t [catch on]. I guess in general it’s just a weird thing to try to execute anyway, so whatever.

Were you surprised at those reactions?

Not totally. I mean, I guess, yeah, I guess I was surprised. I thought it would work for a little bit, but not that people would really think the whole show was a bomb. . . . But also I think it’s cool people were talking about it and wondering about it, and however they wanted to respond to it at least they’re responding, so [puts on a goofy voice] that’s what an artist says, I guess.

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Posted at 01:57 PM/ET, 10/16/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The comedian performs at this weekend’s Bentzen Ball as one half of the Lampshades. By Will Grunewald

Catch Kate Flannery's lounge act on Saturday. Photograph courtesy of the Lampshades.

Kate Flannery is perhaps best known for playing hard-drinking, down-on-her-luck workplace mess Meredith Palmer for nine seasons of NBC’s The Office. Since that show wrapped for good earlier this year, Flannery’s been pursuing other projects, including her sketch comedy duo act, the Lampshades. She and stage partner Scot Robinson perform at the Bentzen Ball comedy festival on Saturday night—the multi-venue festival runs Thursday through Sunday, and the complete lineup, curated by Tig Notaro, includes other headliners such as Doug Benson, Wyatt Cenac, and Heather Lawless. Ahead of this weekend’s show, Flannery talked with us about life after The Office, being part of a “dying lounge act,” and the relative virtues of stage and screen.

It sounds like you’ve been busy between the Lampshades and StandUp in Stilettos (on the TV Guide Channel), but was there ever that “Now what?” moment after The Office wrapped?

I think I’m in mourning right now. I was busy this summer because I got to do a bunch of indie films, which were all different and all not-Meredith characters. I just did the workshop of a Broadway show in New York, which was really fun. But yeah, there is a mourning period. I did that show for nine seasons. We started in 2004; that’s a long time. I mean, that’s longer than grade school. I feel like everyone has to recalibrate their molecules, and there is something scientific to it all. You get this great thing, and you have to go through a reconstruction period of some kind.

I’m mostly just depressed this fall to not have The Office on TV, but I’m also wondering if, on your end, there’s any creative excitement in moving on from the show.

I mean, it’s a Champagne problem to not get to do the show you’ve been doing for a long time and that you loved. But it has brought opportunities already. Don’t get me wrong, I could have done Meredith for another seven years easily and I wouldn’t have complained. I really would have had fun. But I think that’s the luxury of being a character where we haven’t seen everything about the character. I never felt like I outlived my welcome.

One of my favorite small moments on the show happened when Meredith took a squirt of hand sanitizer and quickly slurped it from the palm of her hand for the alcohol content.

[laughs] I feel like I had a limited idea of who those women are, but we had such great writers who took it to a level that was even beyond my level of thinking. So smart. So funny. All fleshed out in its own weird way. I love the way Meredith’s character was revealed, just kind of a little bit at a time.

How much of your personality went into Meredith’s character?

My dad owned a bar for years, and I understand what it’s like to be the woman who hangs with the fellas.

Is your Lampshades stage character anything like Meredith?

The thing with the Lampshades is there’s an unrequited kind of love thing going on. My character is trying to flirt with guys in the audience to make her partner jealous, in that sort of inappropriate flirting kind of thing. But I think it begins and ends there. My Lampshades character is more glamorous, going for that showbizzy, self-indulgent singer, legend in her own mind kind of thing—a lot of makeup, a lot of polyester.

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Posted at 10:07 AM/ET, 10/11/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Georgetown grad and star of FX’s “The League” and Comedy Central’s “Kroll Show” talks to us ahead of this weekend’s Bentzen Ball. By Will Grunewald
See comedian Nick Kroll at Lincoln Theatre Saturday night. Photograph by Mandee Johnson.

Nick Kroll is excited to be back in DC for this year’s Bentzen Ball comedy festival. The Georgetown University graduate, star of FX’s The League and Comedy Central’s Kroll Show, thinks Washingtonians are a “smart, comedy-literate audience.” The multi-venue festival runs Thursday through Sunday, and the complete lineup, curated by Tig Notaro, includes other headliners such as Wyatt Cenac (The Daily Show), Megan Mullally (Will & Grace/Parks and Recreation), Kate Flannery (The Office), and even Ira Glass (This American Life). Kroll takes the stage Saturday night; we talked with him about DC, his characters, and, of course, fantasy football.

You juggle a lot of different projects at once, including shooting two shows. What motivates you to set aside time for things like Bentzen Ball?

First and foremost, Tig Notaro asked me to do it, and she’s one of my oldest and best friends in comedy. She did it three or four years ago; I was unable to go because of work, and was really jealous because it sounded like a great festival with a lot of fun comedians. And second, I went to Georgetown so I still have a lot of friends who live in the DC area, and I love being able to come back. It’s like being able to go back and sleep with a girlfriend whom things ended amicably with.

When you come back to the area is there anything in particular you like to do?

It’s fun and sort of weird, but I enjoy walking around Georgetown back on campus and just walking down Prospect and Wisconsin. DC has really evolved and become a more lively and interesting place since I was there.

Is there anyone else performing at Bentzen Ball that audiences should be particularly excited about?

Each show has folks that I know, or know of, and love and admire. On my show, there are a lot of funny comedians. Moshe Kasher is a guy I think is super funny and who in the next year or two is really going to pop off in a big way. The Ira Glass show I’m sure is going to be amazing. Each show that I saw lineups for just looked like a show that I would love to watch. And that’s the ideal scenario: that you get to go to these festivals and be surrounded by shows that you’re like, “I want to go see that show—as a fan.”

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Posted at 10:30 AM/ET, 10/10/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Two equally outrageous comics perform in different venues on the same night. Here’s how to tell them apart. By Sophie Gilbert
Photograph of Brand courtesy of Warner Theatre. Photograph of Cook by Jason Merritt/Getty Images.

Russell Brand

Age: 38.

Nationality: British.

In a nutshell: Profound but self-destructive loudmouth.

Love life: Was married to Katy Perry.

Movies: Forgetting Sarah Marshall; Get Him to the Greek; Arthur.

Brand on Brand: “If you strip away self-effacement, charm, and the spirit of mischief—qualities that make determination and ambition tolerable—you’re left with a right arsehole.”

Others on Brand: “[He] is blessed with the accent of an orphan, the mind of a teenage boy and the vocabulary of an Oxford don” (Time). “Everything he says is controversial” (the Guardian).

Standup sound bite: “If teenyboppers were exposed to heroin . . . perhaps we would be spared their awful music.”

Questionable moves: Dressed up as Osama bin Laden the day after 9/11. Once called then-President George W. Bush a “retarded cowboy fella.” Reportedly told Katy Perry he wanted a divorce via text message.

Twitter followers: More than 6.5 million.

Tweets about: Politics; stories he contributes to the Guardian; national security; how governments could tackle drug addiction.

Brand is at the Warner Theatre September 12; tickets ($35 to $45) at 800-745-3000 or

Dane Cook

Age: 41.

Nationality: American.

In a Nutshell: Obnoxious frat boy.

Love life: Has reportedly dated Jessica Simpson and Julianne Hough.

Movies: Employee of the Month; Good Luck Chuck; Dan in Real Life.

Cook on Cook: “I’m pretty low-key when I’m not onstage. . . . People created an identity to fortify their belief that I’m not funny.”

Others on Cook: “A narcissist who has lost all touch with humility and quite possibly humanity” (the A.V. Club). “The world’s worst successful comedian” (the Atlantic Wire).

Standup sound bite: “When you see someone walking down the street in a Superman T-shirt, you just want to shoot them in the chest and, when they start to bleed, go, ‘I guess not!’ ”

Questionable moves: Refused to let his performance at a fundraiser for Boston Marathon bombing victims be live-streamed with the rest of the show. Was forced to apologize for what he dubbed a “bad judgment call” after joking about the 2012 shootings in Aurora, Colorado.

Twitter followers: More than 3 million.

Tweets about: Himself; where to buy tickets to his upcoming tour; his one-night stands.

Cook is at DAR Constitution Hall September 12; tickets ($39.50 to $55) at 202-397-7328 or

This article appears in the September 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.

Posted at 11:00 AM/ET, 09/11/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The radio host and author of the new memoir “Screw Everyone” on love voodoo, good kissers, and former lovers tracking her down on Facebook. By Tanya Pai

Photograph by Anya Garrett.

[NOTE: This interview contains some adult language and sexual content.]

In a culture seemingly obsessed with selling women the idea that monogamy and marriage are the pinnacle of happiness (see: the innumerable bridal reality shows currently on the air), Ophira Eisenberg is a breath of fresh air: a woman who is okay with casual sex—and, more important, with talking about it openly. Her new memoir, Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy, chronicles years of her adventures as a self-proclaimed “slut,” dating man after man with no need for commitment—until she meets one who demands it from her.

Eisenberg is a host and regular speaker at storytelling series the Moth, a standup comedian, and the host of NPR’s Ask Me Another radio quiz show. On Thursday she appears at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue for a reading and discussion with fellow relationship memoir author Marion Winik, moderated by the Washington Post’s Ellen McCarthy. We spoke with the charmingly candid Eisenberg by phone about her book, the pluses and minuses of dating in the social media age, and what it’s like to know that everyone in the room knows the details of her sex life.

What can you tell me about the show?

It’s myself and another author, Marion Winik; we both have comedic memoirs out about dating, love, and relationships from different perspectives, mostly due to age. Hers is called Highs in the Low 50s, so she’s talking about love and dating in her fifties, and mine goes more into my twenties and thirties. We are going to be doing a reading—well, I usually tell a story, because that’s what I do a little bit better—and then we have Ellen McCarthy, who’s at the Post and writes the “On Love” column, hosting and moderating it. She’s probably going to ask us questions about matters of the heart, how we got through these situations, and if any of the people in the book have contacted us, and we’ll open it up to questions from the crowd—probably about our experience navigating the world of relationships and about what it was like to write a memoir. It’s cool we have Ellen because she’s the reporter angle, our journalist on love, and we are the subjects on love.

How did you get the idea for your book?

It sounds ridiculous, but [the opportunity] kind of came to me. I wanted to write a book—you have to start with that! It’s a big task. I would write these smaller pieces and perform them a lot onstage at things like the Moth, which I host for now. At one event there happened to be a literary agent there, who became my agent. She’d heard some stories, and her boyfriend at the time was like, “That girl has a lot of stories about dating!” She thought it was very funny, and she took me out for a tea and said, “What do you think? Do you have enough for a book?” I wasn’t convinced I did, but I knew I would love to try to do it, so I looked back through my pages and notes and files on my computer and realized, “Oh, my gosh, I have failed enough times in relationships to put together a book.” But it ends with monogamy, so depending on how you read it, it’s either a happy ending or you think, “Things really went downhill for that poor girl.”

At what point did you decide to start chronicling your dating adventures?

Much after. It was never at the time—you know, we all do things and we’re like, “This’ll be a good story someday,” but if you walk into a scenario thinking it’ll be a good story, it never is. So there was this guy I fell in love with when I was 17—just head over heels, one of those first loves that will never be repeated because it’s naive and totally over the top and not sustainable but feels really good. I went through a journey with that guy; I cheated on him in another country, then I lied about it, then we broke up and I wanted him back, and I moved across the country to get away from him, I was so heartbroken. On suggestion of a friend I went to a Haitian witch doctor in Montreal and cast a spell on him to get him to come back to me. It didn’t work out, just so you know—but right around when I’d done all this stuff, I was studying cultural anthropology at McGill and nursing heartache, and somewhere in the year after I told part of that story to someone, and they said, “What?!” I realized I’d done something a little extreme or different, and I really liked writing, so I thought, “I should probably jot this down.”

There’s such a stigma about women being open about their sexuality—were you concerned about possible negative reactions as you were writing the book?

I didn’t think much about it as I was doing it. I kind of put a blind eye to it and decided not to focus on it. I’m not a very salacious writer—[the book] is honest and out there, so the thought of, “Are people going to think I’m a freak crazy slut?” was never really there. And when it was out I started getting reactions, but thank God a lot of them were positive. Our culture is extremely threatened by a woman who likes sex—you have to dislike it. I got a lot of, “Would you tell your daughter it’s okay to sleep around?” I’m not going to tell anyone to do what I did, but I was always in control. I picked people; I wasn’t standing outside of a bus station with a sign saying, “Please come and f**k me.” It rattles people. You can’t escape that question, “Who’s the woman, the virgin or the whore?” But if you start talking to women, most women have a lot of partners; they’re figuring things out. If anything, the reaction I got that was negative has fired me up to want to talk about it even more. People have said, “It’s very brave of you”—it’s not brave. If any guy wrote this book, no one would blink an eye.

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Posted at 02:50 PM/ET, 07/18/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The 25-year-old comedian and impressionist talks prepping for his act, his best friends on “Saturday Night Live,” and how a fan once complimented his butt. By Sophie Gilbert

Photograph courtesy of NBC.

Jay Pharoah might have wrapped up his third season with Saturday Night Live this past weekend, but the 25-year-old Virginia native isn’t stopping to catch his breath. Pharoah, who took over playing President Obama from outgoing cast member Fred Armisen this season, performs May 24 through 26 at Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse, offering everything from political jokes and personal anecdotes to the impersonations (Will Smith, Eddie Murphy, Jay-Z, Denzel Washington) he showcases on NBC. We caught up with him to talk weird fan moments, transitioning into a bigger role on SNL, how he researches his impressions, and playing the President while he’s sitting just inches away.

It isn’t all that close to where you grew up in Chesapeake, but is it nice to come back to Virginia?

Heck yeah. Oh, hell yeah. I appreciate going to Arlington, Virginia, because I’ve sold out the Arlington Drafthouse the past couple of years, and I hope I can do it again this year. It’s just a great house and a great crowd. People in Arlington don’t have sticks up their butts. It’s great. Some places you go, they’re like a little too sensitive or whatever, but when you’re a comedian you’re supposed to speak your mind.

What’s the best thing about touring as opposed to being in the studio?

I love everything, but the difference is it’s just you one-on-one with the crowd and you have control over everything you’re saying, and you have that connection with the audience, that intimacy. It’s not from behind a television screen. Even on SNL you have an audience, but they’re looking at the screen, so it’s that intimacy between you and the crowd and the fact that they can almost feel your vulnerability right there when you talk to them.

You just finished filming Saturday Night Live, and now you’re on the road for most of the summer. Do you get to take a break at some point?

Do I get to take a break? No! What’s a break? Kit Kat bars? Broken bones? I’m 25. I’ve got to do as much as I can before I get over the hill. I’m trying to establish a lot before that happens, so I’ve got to keep busy. I don’t sit down. I’m not like that book on the shelf of somebody who acts studious when they’ve got company over. You know those people I’m talking about? The ones who’ve got whole offices full of damn books, and they never read a book in their lives? People come over and go, “Oh, my god, you’re so scholarly!” Not scholarly. You open those books and you’re gonna see a whole family of spiders saying hey.

If you’re not that book, which book are you?

Oh, the Places You’ll Go. The Dr. Seuss book. That’s the book I’ll be. They read it at every graduation.

You were just 22 when you made your SNL debut. Was it terrifying?

Yeah. It was terrifying, and there was definitely some naive mixed in there because I was just happy-go-lucky. As you grow you see more things and you learn more and it turns you into a more mature and on-point performer. Being so young, I was just enjoying the lights and being up there and getting the opportunity to do a lot of the stuff that a lot of people would probably kill for. I knew it was great, but as you get older you realize just how great it was.

Who’s the hardest person you’ve ever had to do an impression of?

Oh, the hardest? I thought you said the hottest. I was about to be like, “I don’t know, I don’t really do impressions of women. . . .” Will Smith took a while. Denzel took about three years, so I would say Denzel Washington. I definitely feel like I have him now, but there’s more I could learn to get him on point. As an impressionist and a comedian it’s about constantly learning and adding to your act.

What kind of research do you do?

I watch movies, I watch YouTube videos, I date them. Look, there’re a lot of things that can happen in the process. You know that last one’s a joke. But it’s like playing a sport—you definitely have to study the game or study that person. If you’re in the NBA you have to work on your jump shot till you know it like the back of your hand. It’s synonymous with playing sports.

You met the President a week ago. How did he react to your impression of him?

It was great. He was standing right there beside me while I was doing it, like an inch away from me, standing in my face, and he said [puts on Barack Obama voice], “That guy’s pretty good. I’m glad I met him. He did good.” I was like, okay, that’s enough for me. I’ve had a good week, personally. I did some stuff in the studio with rapper J. Cole, I had a great audition for a movie, I met the President of the United States of America. I can’t complain. There’s nothing to be mad about.

What movie? Can you say?

I can’t talk about that. But know that it’s a very smart movie and hopefully it’s going to be in the works in a few months. That’s all I can say.

You do have a movie, Ride Along, coming up in 2014.

Yes, I do. Kevin Hart, Ice Cube. It was a fun experience. Kevin is one of the greatest down-to-earth guys ever, and Ice Cube is the same. And I have another movie coming up in the fall called Get a Job. It’s CBS Films, Bryan Cranston, Anna Kendrick, Miles Teller. I’m in it. It’s a good cast.

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Posted at 10:20 AM/ET, 05/21/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Before his show at the Hamilton, we talk with the standup comedian about inauguration scandals, writing for “30 Rock,” and leaving his twenties behind. By Tanya Pai
Photograph courtesy of 3 Arts Entertainment.

In many ways, Hannibal Buress is just a regular guy. He goes to NBA games. He likes sitting around playing Xbox in his apartment. And, like many about-to-turn-30-year-olds, he thinks about things like eating healthier and investing his money. But he’s also a prolific standup comedian with two albums under his belt (2010’s My Name Is Hannibal, 2012’s Hannibal Buress: Animal Furnace), as well as credits on several TV shows, both behind the camera (writing for Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock) and in front of it (Louie, 30 Rock again, Adult Swim’s The Eric André Show).

Buress performs at the Hamilton this Friday; we caught up with him by phone a couple of days before Super Bowl weekend—and his 30th birthday—to talk about writing for TV versus for standup, getting older, and why he doesn’t like the national anthem.

So what do you have going on this weekend?

Today I’m going to the Brooklyn Nets versus Bulls game, then I might go watch hip-hop karaoke, and tomorrow I gotta clean my place. I live in squalor. I had a cleaning lady, but she quit. She got out of the business; I don’t know if it was because of me. She would clean [my place] while I was on the road, but I don’t trust other people. I don’t have a place that looks really bad, but I got an Xbox and that’s way more fun than cleaning. So I gotta give away a bunch of clothes, do a purge of stuff, and then I’m hosting a Super Bowl party on Sunday and doing a show after the party. And then Monday I turn 30.

How do you feel about that?

It’s fine—I’ve been taking vitamins leading up to this, just to ease myself into healthiness. I’m eating more salads, chicken Caesar salads, and trying to increase my Naked juice intake, stuff like that. All the other stuff I’m fine with, but it is weird—that’s a grown-up age. I remember when I wasn’t.

When you were 15, did you think this is where you’d be in your life at 30?

I don’t know. I don’t know how much I thought about being 30 when I was 15; I was just focused on trying to smoke weed or just trying to be cool in high school. I think I wanted to be rich when I was that age—“By the time I’m 23 I’m gonna be rich.” That was my goal.

Anything you haven’t done that you wish you had?

There’s not much else I can do. I’m happy with where I’m at; I’m just trying to get healthier, invest, and find another business, a side business, to try to grow.

What kind of side business?

Eyebrow threading. I’m seeing a lot of those shops pop up.

Would you thread eyebrows yourself or just oversee the place?

I don’t have time for that; I’d just oversee it, kinda just run the joint, host it, be a presence. Also maybe a children’s book or clothing—people are always going to have sex or have kids, so if you could make a solid kids’ product, that seems like a way to go in life.

You used to write for 30 Rock, which recently had its series finale. Did you watch it?

I haven’t watched the whole season, but I did watch the finale. It was really funny. You could tell they put a lot into the scripts—it was really dense, lots of crazy jokes, a real fun episode, and a great sendoff for the show and characters.

Between writing for that show and SNL, which did you prefer?

I think 30 Rock was a little more fun. I already had experience writing. SNL was kind of nerve-racking since it was my first job; 30 Rock is more stable. It’s steady hours for the most part; sometimes you have to stay late, but it was mostly 10 to 6. And it was very collaborative. SNL was really fun, too, but on 30 Rock I got the opportunity to be on camera.

Do you like writing or performing more?

I like doing both. I like to perform—I’m a standup, so I perform my own ideas, and when I’m acting or performing that builds my standup. If I’m acting on a show, that kind of brings people to see standup more than writing.

Who do you think is the funniest person working today?

The funniest person working isn’t even in comedy—it’s probably just a person that works a regular job who’s hilarious all the time . . . probably some dude working at Jimmy John’s and nobody knows it except for him and his coworkers and people in their college town. Rick at Jimmy John’s in Ames, Iowa, is the funniest person working right now.

Well, how about among comedians?

I like Louis CK—he’s killing it. Kevin Hart; I saw Kevin Hart at [Madison Square] Garden. Aziz Ansari is doing great work. I could name names all the time.

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Posted at 12:25 PM/ET, 02/21/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()