Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Feb. 10 2016 11:39 PM

These Three Videos Might Offer Some Clues About the New Season of The Americans

FX’s Cold War spy drama The Americans may not return for its fourth season until March 16, but until then, the episode titles provide some intriguing clues to what’s coming. The show’s exquisite Season 3 finale, “March 8, 1983,” was built around Ronald Reagan’s address to the National Association of Evangelicals that day—the “Evil Empire” speech. Although episode titles like “Glanders”—an infectious bacterial disease in horses, once used as a bioweapon—and “Chloramphenicol,” a drug used to treat, well, bacterial infections, are perhaps best researched as little as possible (seriously, don’t image search “glanders”), several of the other episodes are worth doing a little homework on. Here are three videos you can watch right now to prepare for the fourth season of The Americans:

Feb. 10 2016 7:12 PM

Watch Larry David Crack Up in Rehearsals for His Silliest SNL Sketch

When Larry David hosted SNL this past weekend, most coverage focused on his two Bernie Sanders-related sketches—a great Curb Your Enthusiasm parody and a survival debate on a sinking ship. Less remarked upon was a fun little sketch in which an FBI cadet played by Keenan Thompson must distinguish lethal threats from harmless civilians in an elaborate firearms-training simulation. The “lifelike target dummies” were all played by real people, including Larry David as a fake civilian named Kevin Roberts whose neon hair, orange attire, and loud, annoying interjections blurred the line between benign and target-worthy.

If you had trouble keeping a straight face when David called himself “the coolest bitch in town” and exhorted “Can a bitch get a donut?,” you weren’t alone. The rehearsal footage shows David cracking up at every turn, totally unable to read his lines. His voice gets higher and his face grows redder the harder he tries to get the words out. Even seasoned comedy pros have their breaking points, and David’s, apparently, is having to yell, “Breaking news: Kevin Roberts just got to second base with a lady!”

Feb. 10 2016 4:37 PM

Watch Christiane Amanpour Investigate the Late Show With Stephen Colbert in a Charming, Funny Sketch

Stephen Colbert knows how to draw the comedic potential out of reporters. In short promos for The Late Show, Colbert’s brought out Ted Koppel’s best deadpan with a video of fake news stories, and he sentSlate’s own John Dickerson on a whimsical road trip with Abraham Lincoln. This week, Colbert and his writers gave CNN’s Christiane Amanpour a chance to land a few punch lines in an even longer bit—a charming investigation into the working conditions of the Late Show offices.

Feb. 10 2016 2:15 PM

Watch Johnny Depp Play Donald Trump in Funny or Die’s Surprisingly Sharp Spoof    

Johnny Depp has played many a goon and buffoon from behind a mask of makeup, but his latest role along those lines may be his best (and hugest) yet: Donald J. Trump. In a new, 48-minute video from Funny or Die, filmed secretly in December, Depp plays Trump circa 1988 in a would-be TV movie adaptation of the mogul’s 1987 bestselling memoir, Trump: The Art of the Deal. The spoof’s central conceit is that Trump wrote and directed the lost film himself; naturally, the final product is filled with ridiculous, self-serving braggadocio.

Depp embodies Trump amazingly throughout, with a pitch-perfect accent, impressive prosthetics, and a wig that nicely captures Trump’s late-‘80s helmet hair (i.e., before it devolved into a twisted bed of follicular confusion worthy of an Escher print). His dialogue melds racism, sexism, and various other –isms with aplomb, and includes many lines written with Trump’s recent real-life quotes in mind: “I want my daughter to grow up to be someone that I would totally have sex with”; “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall—I can build you a much nicer one”; and, in response to a child’s mention of his father’s heroic death in the Vietnam War, “I would say it’s a little bit more heroic … not to get killed.” The famous faces—Patton Oswalt, Henry Winkler, Alfred Molina, Jack McBrayer, Jacob Tremblay, and more—who appear throughout as bit players in Trump’s life help to move the story along, and manage to contribute some chuckle-worthy moments of their own. And though not every joke and gag works, that’s almost beside the point: This particular spoof’s best feature is its surprisingly substantive, incisive criticism. 

Feb. 10 2016 1:46 PM

Abbi and Ilana Get Into All Kinds of Mischief in the Latest Broad City Promo

We already saw Abbi Abrams (Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana Wexler (Ilana Glazer) get ready to rumble—boxing style—in an earlier teaser for Broad City’s return. Now, thanks to a new promo video, we have a better look at what’s to come in the third season, and by the looks of it, not much has changed. Abbi is still stuck working at Soulstice, and Ilana is still innovating workplace fashion and exploring the boundaries of her relationship with Lincoln (Hannibal Buress)—all while dealing with what appears to be a major Grindr addiction.

As Ilana sobs, “I just want to see penises within a mile of me,” it’s hard not to get excited for the show’s premiere mere days from now on Feb. 17.

Feb. 10 2016 12:03 PM

An Eighth Harry Potter Book Comes Out This Summer (Sort Of). Get the Details.    

It’s a good year to be a Potterhead. The J.K. Rowling-penned movie adaptation of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them comes out this November, Universal Studios Hollywood’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens in California in April, and the two-part stage show Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opens in London this summer, based on an original Potter story (also co-written by Rowling) and featuring our favorite trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron. Now, more good news: The script for that play will be published as a book, for those of us not lucky enough to live in Potter’s homeland.

The play and its script are being billed as “the eighth story” in the Potter saga, and follow an adult Harry, who apparently grew up to be a beleaguered father of three and Ministry of Magic employee. His youngest son, Albus, is apparently ambivalent about the family legacy, which is too bad since, given the play’s synopsis, he’s likely the titular cursed child. The play premieres July 30, and its script publishes in print and eBook on July 31.

Feb. 10 2016 11:25 AM

Watch Lana Del Rey and Father John Misty Get Trippy in Her “Freak” Video    

This might be Lana Del Rey’s most “Lana Del Rey” video yet: In a trippy 11-minute video for “Freak”, a blinding sun beats down on her and Father John Misty, who appear to be drinking Kool-Aid and dropping acid, respectively. Misty looks just cultish enough to capture the spirit of a Lana video, especially as he envisions himself surrounded by a coterie of pale, long-haired girls who seem entranced by his beard.

The second half of the video submerges us under water, just like in the video for “Music to Watch Boys To,” also from Del Rey’s Honeymoon. We see women in white twirl and play with each other’s hair—this time with “Clair de Lune” in the background. And of course, before the song ends, Father John Misty floats in and joins them.

Feb. 10 2016 11:05 AM

Seth Meyers Reminds Us That There Are Tons of Martin Shkrelis Out There

You could easily make a case for Martin Shkreli as the most universally hated person in America right now: Ever since the “pharma bro” first came to prominence last year when his company Turing spiked its prices of an AIDS and cancer treatment drug, he’s drawn the heated ire of the public. Recently, disdain for Shkreli has reached fever pitch, following his arrest for securities fraud, a smug appearance before a Congressional hearing on Turing’s price gouging, and, bizarrely enough, his intense feud with members of Wu-Tang Clan. In case you haven’t been paying close attention to Shkreli’s misadventures, Late Night With Seth Meyers will get you up to speed.

But as Meyers points out, Shkreli isn’t alone in his dastardly schemes—he’s just the loudest and most unapologetically boastful about it. Drug company Valeant, for instance, bought the rights to some life-saving drugs last year, and immediately hiked up the prices astronomically. “Valeant didn’t cause nearly as much outrage as Shkreli did because they don’t have a smug, irritating face,” says Meyers. “They have a soothing logo.” In other words: we should all feel free to continue shaming and mocking the morally bankrupt Shkreli, but we should also never forget that there are tons more of his kind out there—and Congress needs to do better to keep them in check.

Feb. 10 2016 8:32 AM

Airplane!’s Creators Reveal the Origins of “Don’t Call Me Shirley”

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

There are few movies as quotable as the 1980 disaster-movie parody Airplane!—and of the movie’s many memorable gags, arguably the most enduring is the moment when reluctant pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays) tells Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen), “Surely you can’t be serious,” and Rumack replies, “I am serious—and don’t call me Shirley.”

Here, the trio who wrote and directed the film—Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker—discuss the origins and execution of that exchange, as well as the overall comedic mechanics of Airplane!.

What was the origin of “Don’t call me Shirley”?

Jerry Zucker: The origin of that joke is similar to the origin of a lot of jokes in the movie: While we were writing, we used to watch a lot of old, serious movies that had a lot of this overly dramatic dialogue. We’d say, “Wait, wait, wait. Stop the tape,” and we’d go back and we’d put in our punch line or our gag in the background. That was one of those lines where someone actually did say, “Surely you can’t be serious.”

David Zucker: The other person might have even said, “I am serious.” But we added the “Don’t call me Shirley.”

So you’d do that for lots of the dialogue?

Jerry Zucker: A lot of it, yeah.

Jim Abrahams: Constantly. There’s a line in [1957 airplane thriller] Zero Hour! that says—how does the line go?

Jerry Zucker: “Stewardess, can you face some unpleasant facts?” And then, in Zero Hour!, she says, “Yes.” But in our movie, she says, “No.”

David Zucker: Or “We need somebody who can not only fly this plane, but who didn’t have fish for dinner.”

Abrahams: That’s an actual line! That was a line from Zero Hour! Written by Arthur Hailey.

David Zucker: The whole plot of Zero Hour! is that everyone on a plane who ate fish, including the pilots, got sick.

Jerry Zucker: We just put that line in, verbatim.

What do you recall of filming the “Don’t call me Shirley” gag?

Abrahams: Well, Paramount Pictures was apprehensive about three first-time directors working together on a movie.

David Zucker: Our contract said they could fire us after one week.

Abrahams: As it turned out, the “Don’t call me Shirley” scene was filmed on the first day of shooting. When Paramount Pictures watched the dailies and saw that joke and the way it played, they were relieved. They finally understood the concept and were much more comfortable dealing with us.

Jerry Zucker: We got the call and it was kind of like, “Oh, now we get it.” I think they previously said, “Okay, fine, you can have [Robert] Stack, [Lloyd] Bridges, [Leslie] Nielsen, and [Peter] Graves,” but I don’t think very many people understood what we were doing by casting these serious, straight-men actors until they saw it.

David Zucker: It was a radical concept. We were doing a comedy without comedians. I think the studio most likely green-lit it thinking this was Animal House on an airplane, and it turned out to be totally different than what they imagined.

Jerry Zucker: It’s a line that a lot of different people could have said, and it would’ve been funny—people would’ve gotten it. But I don’t think it would be remembered in the same way if it hadn’t been said the way Leslie Nielsen says it.

David Zucker: That’s a good point. We love Bill Murray and people who do comedy well, but it wouldn’t have been the same if a comedian had said that line.

What direction did you give Leslie for that scene?


Jerry Zucker: I think we had shown him Zero Hour! previously because we wanted him to see the style. We told everyone that “playing it straight” doesn’t quite do it, because they think they have it, but they’re still winking. We told them to play it like they don’t know they’re in a comedy. Like no one told them. Just the way Leslie would have played this in The Poseidon Adventure, or any other of the films or television shows he had done. Leslie, more than anyone, really got that and relished it. He loved it. For the whole movie, Leslie didn’t need a ton of direction on performance.

David Zucker: He just jumped into the water and swam. He knew what he was doing.

Abrahams: You can intercut scenes from The Poseidon Adventure with his performance in Airplane! and you can’t distinguish, performance-wise, between them.

That line is followed almost immediately by another wordplay gag, the bit where Ted says, “It’s an entirely different kind of flying altogether,” and Rumack and Randy repeat that line, all together. Most of the movie is like that. How did you keep it from getting too joke-dense?

Jerry Zucker: It took us a while to sell the movie, and we just kept putting in jokes and putting in jokes. If a joke lasted for all that time between the time we wrote it and when we finally shot it, we figured it was probably a pretty good joke. But that was part of our idea of the kind of movie we wanted to make: We wanted the jokes to come really fast.

David Zucker: For ten years before that, we had done a live comedy show on Pico Boulevard called Kentucky Fried Theater, and that show also had a fast pace. We found that it was easier to keep an audience laughing than to start them up all over again. That’s where we got the pace of Airplane!


Jerry Zucker: Also, in this movie, we knew we weren’t going to be able to rely on just a funny character to make a mediocre line delightful because they’re making a face. So we better have another joke.

How often do you go back and watch the movie?

David Zucker: More often than you’d think because they’re constantly having screenings. There’s the 25-year, the 30-year, the 35-year anniversary. A lot of film festivals. We’ve literally been all over the world showing it.

What gag tends to get the biggest laughs, on average?

David Zucker: Some of the gags, like “Don’t call me Shirley,” it’s almost like when you see a concert and the musicians start playing a song and the audience recognizes it and they applaud. Some of the things I enjoy are the really simple things that got laughs 35 years ago and will get laughs 35 years from now. Like when the stewardess says, “I’m 26 and I’m not married,” and the other lady comes in and says, “Yeah, I’m scared, too, but at least I have a husband.” That joke always works! It’s so simple!

Abrahams: I’ve had many different favorites over the years. In recent years, the one that sticks most with me is “You can tell me—I’m a doctor.” That’s because, when we wrote that, who knows what we were thinking, but as life has gone on, my family has absolutely been subjected to medical arrogance. Whatever that mentality is that allowed Leslie to say in the movie, “You can tell me—I’m a doctor” has become satiric in my later life instead of just a parodic point of view.

David Zucker: The easiest, hugest laugh used to be the reporters running into the phone booth. But I think, with the passing of decades, I don’t know if people know what phone booths were!

Jerry Zucker: Sometimes I like some of the odd stuff. Like Leslie saying, “What the hell’s going on back there?” and then you see the woman’s in stirrups and he’s holding a speculum. Not because it’s the funniest joke in the film, but it’s just odd, in a way. It’s not a clear play on words or anything. “Everyone get in crash positions,” I’ve always been fond of.

What do you think the comedic legacy of Airplane! is?

Jerry Zucker: One of the great things about DVDs is every new generation, everybody sees it. It’s easy to see it more times. It has more of a legacy now than it did when it just came out and kinda vanished, like all movies.

David Zucker: I love going to parties and not having to put out any effort to be funny. I did Airplane!, I don’t have to be funny. They’ll laugh at anything.

Abrahams: It’s impossible for us to answer these kinds of questions seriously because the whole point is to not take things seriously. That’s what Airplane! is about. That’s what I hope the legacy of Airplane!, if there is any, is. Even in that line, “Don’t call me Shirley,” we pointed out that there are things in culture and media that we all take seriously that we don’t need to take seriously. I like to think, even today, when you hear in the news somebody say “surely” this, or “surely” that, I like to think that there’s a whole bunch of people around the world who hear that and kinda chuckle to themselves because they remember the line and they know they don’t have to take that seriously.

Jerry Zucker: And then, of course, there’s, “Have you ever seen a grown man naked?” Why didn’t that make your top 100 jokes? Shouldn’t that have been in one of the hundred?

We tried to allocate only one joke per work of art.

David Zucker: Don’t you think some works of art deserve three or five mentions?

Jerry Zucker: I would think, if you’re doing this thing properly, you’d just wanna take the best lines. If Blazing Saddles has five of them, then great.

David Zucker: Well, Blazing Saddles would probably have one. But Airplane! would probably have ten, don’t you think? But whatever you want to do is fine, I guess.

Feb. 10 2016 8:01 AM

The Original Zoolander Might Seem Homophobic—but It Was Sneakily Ahead of Its Time

It’s a difficult question for conscious culture consumers, and one that will only grow more pressing as society evolves toward greater inclusiveness and recorded media become ever more accessible: How do we deal with art that has aged poorly, from tolerably off-color to genuinely offensive? Because the LGBTQ civil rights movement has achieved widespread tolerance and a number of major legal successes so rapidly relative to other causes, movies and TV shows that played queer people or queer stereotypes for laughs even a handful of years ago are quickly becoming embarrassing. Lazy gay jokes based in stereotypes of effeminacy or predation are almost impossible to put in mainstream products these days without sounding horribly off, and trans jokes, though not yet uncommon, feel like they aren’t far behind. In fact, at this point, even a whiff of trans mockery in a trailer is enough to draw thousands to a petition—just ask Zoolander No. 2.

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