Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Jan. 18 2017 8:03 AM

Billy Eichner on Screaming with Purpose, Comedy Under Trump, and Taking Celebrities Down a Peg

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Every episode of Billy on the Street is a window on a social experiment unfolding on the streets of New York. How would New Yorkers react if a tall white man with a microphone breathlessly ran up to them to ask about the cancellation of Bones? They are startled, they try to ignore him, others are truly sad the show is over. The man behind the mic, Billy Eichner, 38, has been doing a version of this vox populi questionnaire since putting on his 2003 stage show Creation Nation, billed as a “live pop-culture-drenched variety-comedy-concert-comedy-variety talk show.” But it wasn’t until recently, buoyed by social media, that the show truly took off. Now in its fifth official season on truTV, the unique Billy on the Street is still one of the strangest shows on television—a delightful alchemy of pop culture, celebrity, performance art, and social anthropology.

In person, Billy Eichner speaks deliberately. He’s naturally voluble, but his intensity is more Jewish intellectual than it is New York City wildman. I met Eichner the day before Thanksgiving at the Funny or Die! offices in Los Angeles, where he was juggling a number of projects: He’s starring in a third season of Hulu’s Difficult People, the show created by one of his closest friends, Julie Klausner, as well as the upcoming Netflix show Friends From College, all while working on the current season of Billy on the Street. We were there to talk about Billy on the Street, which he oversees from start to finish, including final approval of every episode. Naturally, the conversation drifted into other realms, including the election of Donald Trump, hookup apps, and his chilly relationship with mainstream gay publications. And away we go.

Jan. 17 2017 11:41 PM

Jerry Seinfeld Signs Production Deal with Netflix

Jerry Seinfeld has signed a production deal with Netflix that includes creating two exclusive new standup specials, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Seinfeld’s series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee will also be relocated to the streaming service, leaving Sony’s Crackle. Seinfeld will be producing 24 new episodes of the series and also contributing to the network in a development capacity.

Netflix has been paying top dollar for comedy lately, most recently buying two Chris Rock specials for a total of $40 million dollars. Figures for the Seinfeld deal were not available, but the Hollywood Reporter estimated them to be in the $100 million range. Seinfeld, Seinfeld’s NBC sitcom, remains at Hulu. Meanwhile, Bee Movie is currently streaming on Netflix, while The Entire Bee Movie But Every Time They Say “Bee” It Gets Faster remains, now and forever, on YouTube:

Jan. 17 2017 10:37 PM

A Bearded Woody Harrelson Causes Chaos in the Trailer for Wilson   

The trailer for Craig Johnson’s adaptation of Dan Clowes’ graphic novel Wilson was released on Tuesday and it’s Woody Harrelsoneriffic. As Slate’s Jacob Brogan wrote when filming started, Wilson is an odd piece to adapt into a movie to begin with, since it’s built from comic-strip gags. The key to its success or failure as a film will be the title role, since the novel is exclusively from Wilson’s perspective. Judging from the footage in the trailer, Harrelson is going to be a little less unpleasant than the novel’s version of his character: less “genuine misanthrope” and more “indie film misanthrope.”

The film looks to be structured around an attempt by Wilson to build an improvised family with his ex-wife (Laura Dern) and a daughter he didn’t know he had (Isabella Amara). Which sounds like it might be, at times, heartwarming? As evidence against that, the trailer also offers a terrible date with Margo Martindale and a Harrelson getting beaten up by prison Nazis. Here’s hoping the film makes it to theaters with bleakness and misery intact: the last thing we need right now is more optimism.

Jan. 17 2017 3:23 PM

In This Brilliant Sketch, Billy Eichner and Keegan-Michael Key Show How Easy It Is to Legally Buy a Gun

In a recent interview with Vulture, Billy Eichner discussed how his attempts at sharp political comedy on Billy on the Street often go unnoticed. “The downside to creating this loud, larger-than-life character is that people gravitate toward the loudest element of it,” he explained. “But there is some very smart, subtle social criticism and cultural satire that is happening on the show that sometimes goes underappreciated because people tend to focus more on the shouting.”

It’s easy to view Eichner’s newest bit for the show—“Super Sloppy, Semi-Automatic Double Dare!”—as a direct result of this frustration. Modeled in the vein of past Billy on the Street “obstacle courses,” “Super Sloppy” features Keegan-Michael Key trying to legally buy a gun in America. The twist, of course, is that he actually has very few obstacles to overcome thanks to U.S. and state law. Not even Eichner’s elaborately (and satirically) constructed roadblocks can stop Key from loading up on firearms.

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If hardly subtle, “Super Sloppy” is a seriously effective work of sketch comedy and perhaps the clearest example yet of how Eichner can use his style for political commentary. Key having to crawl through literal loopholes, “fudge” the Second Amendment with a bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup, search for a concealed weapon in a sandbox in Michigan—where you can now bring concealed weapons to a child-care center—and so much more makes for amusingly pointed entertainment on its own. But as the “obstacles” mount, the sad statement behind the game becomes achingly clear. Eichner’s own summation isn’t exactly wrong: “The more guns that you acquire, the safer and more American you become!”

Jan. 17 2017 11:06 AM

Michael Moore Says Trump Will “Absolutely” Ban Muslims, Build a Wall, and Dismantle the Obama Agenda

To say Michael Moore is pessimistic about the incoming Trump Administration would be a profound understatement. In a new interview with Variety, the documentary filmmaker—who correctly forecast Trump’s victory before most it considered possible—said that Trump will “absolutely” ban Muslims from entering the U.S. and build an immigration wall. He explained that by Day 2, “Republicans will start printing laws the way you print fliers for a homecoming dance.” And he expressed near-certainty that partisan lawmakers will swiftly “rescind” President Obama’s many legislative achievements and executive orders.

Moore has been among the most active public figures involved in the Trump resistance, leading protests and promising to help create the “new” Democratic Party. Although he expected that Trump wouldn’t make it to Inauguration Day—a prediction that at this point appears unlikely to pan out—he’s long been clear about the failures of the left-wing establishment. “It’s the second time now in 16 years where the Democrats won [the popular vote] but lost,” Moore told Variety. “That is so revolting that the old guard of the Democratic Party should all resign. They let us down, the majority, now twice. I’m done with it. I’m going to help lead the charge to take over the Democratic Party.”

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He did close on a call to action, explaining that because anti-Trump voters are in the “majority,” they don’t need to be afraid: “Get involved … Some people need to think about running for office themselves: school board, city council, precinct delegate. It’s not going to change until some of us start running.”

Jan. 17 2017 10:33 AM

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s West Wing Rap Is the Nerdiest Tribute Imaginable

Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda is enough of a West Wing fan that the musical’s orchestra used the theme music from Aaron Sorkin’s TV series to give him a sendoff after his final stage performance. So it’s on fitting that he returned the favor by recording an original rap for West Wing Weekly, the podcast co-hosted by the show’s erstwhile Will Bailey, Joshua Malina.

“What’s Next,” recorded over a track by podcast co-host Hrishikesh Hirway, isn’t just an offhand tribute. It’s the work of a truly obsessive fan, dropping references not just to individual characters but specific episodes and even behind-the-scenes figures like director Thomas Schlamme, who’s responsible for the Steadicam behind the show’s iconic walk-and-talk sequences. Stick around until the end for the nerdiest name-drop of all, as Miranda calls out “The flentl,” the name for the oft-used West Wing device where the episode’s sound continues over the final fade to black and into the end credits. To quote Miranda himself, that’s some Agent Butterfield-level detail.

Jan. 17 2017 10:03 AM

Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert Respond to Trump’s Attacks Against John Lewis, Agree That “This Is Not Normal”

On Monday night, late-night comics finally had their chance to respond to president-elect Donald Trump’s MLK weekend crusade against civil rights hero John Lewis. After Lewis explained his plans to not attend Trump’s inauguration by calling him an illegitimate president, Trump lashed out on—where else?—Twitter, erroneously describing Lewis’ congressional district as “in horrible shape and falling apart” and the man himself as all talk, “no action.”

Seth Meyers couldn’t quite get past that “no action” part. “All talk, no action?” he asked Trump incredulously. “John Lewis was getting beaten by police for protesting for voting rights while you were starting your first failed business.” Trump’s habit of hitting back at his critics was, according to Meyers, taken “to a whole new level” with Lewis—one that, given the impulse to paint Lewis’ district as poor and “crime infested” without checking the facts, was also “super racist.”

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Stephen Colbert didn’t disagree. The Late Show host saw the entire sequence of Trump-related events over the weekend—attacking John Lewis, canceling his scheduled trip to the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, mulling drastic changes to White House press access—as, well, a little disturbing. “In case you’re wondering,” he half-joked at one point, “this is not normal.” Colbert did manage to find one silver lining, at least. On Trump's decision to skip the African American museum: “The last thing we need is Trump learning more about segregation.”

Jan. 17 2017 9:22 AM

Did You Catch These Subtle Nods to the Books in Netflix’s Adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events?

This post contains spoilers, a word which here means “plot details about A Series of Unfortunate Events that you might prefer be kept secret until you watch the show.”

More than a decade after the last attempt to adapt A Series of Unfortunate Events for the screen, Netflix has given the wickedly funny, terribly tragic book series by Lemony Snicket (the nom de plume of Daniel Handler) a second chance. The streaming service’s eight-episode adaptation tackles the first four books in the series, but, true to the conspiratorial nature of its source material, it’s peppered with subtle references to the other nine books and to the secretive organization, VFD, that runs through them all.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the Easter Eggs and references to the books that you might have missed.

Jan. 17 2017 8:33 AM

Richard Prince Just Showed Artists a Way to Fight Trump

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

At 3:36 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 11, the same day as Trump laid down an almost Stalinist fist at his first press conference, an artist took to Twitter to take what feels like the inkling of an effective action—against the Trump family. A teeny thing felt deeply resonant.

That afternoon, well-known artist Richard Prince posted a work of his own to Instagram—one of his “Instagram” portraits, each essentially an inkjet picture of someone else’s Instagram page (many of them are of young women posing semi-clothed). Each of the canvases measures about six-by-four feet, and when they were first exhibited, in 2014 at Gagosian Gallery, they triggered waves of internet hate: Prince, who had made his name as an appropriation artist in the 1980s, was called a fake, a flimflammer, a voyeur, a dirty old man, twisted, perverted, and more. The “portrait” he posted Wednesday was of Ivanka Trump—the first daughter taking a selfie in front of a mirror, having her hair and makeup done, and wearing an almost-open robe.

Jan. 17 2017 8:03 AM

My New Genius, 5-Ingredient Dinner to Make By Heart

This post originally appeared in Genius Recipes from Food52.

No matter how much (or how little) you love cooking—we all need more effortless, make-by-heart dinners.

Part of this unquenchable need for quick dinners is, of course, that we’re all busy, and we all need to eat. But it’s also because we see words like “quick & easy” and “weeknight ___” applied in too-broad strokes. I have a hard time filtering out the noise from the true weeknight companions, and I imagine you do, too.

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