Poop or Chocolate

Home of the elegant fart joke.

An Interview with Brian Firenzi of 5secondfilms

(posted by t.j. peters)

When I asked founder of 5secondfilms.com Brian Firenzi if he would let me ask him some hard-hitting questions, he looked me dead in the eyes and said, “I fear your journalistic prowess.” (Not a quote.) Surprisingly, he agreed to go through with the interview anyway and, as you’ll see, it turned into a veritable bullfight of a conversation.

If you’re underwhelmed by the end of this interview it’s not my fault.  You clearly think too highly of bullfights.

T.J.: About how many 5sf (five-second films) are there in existence now?  Will there be a celebration at a certain number?

Brian: 5sf #591 will be making its debut tomorrow, then 592 the next day, and so on and so forth. If you ask me, we should’ve done something special for #555 (“Brian Shaves an Arrow on His Chest”), but I’m pretty sure that night just involved me getting drunk and watching MST3K.

T: What are a couple of your favorite 5sf?

B: You can check out our favorites on our staff bios, which are located in the “About” link. It’s a touch out-of-date however; Jon Worley wants one of his favorites replaced with “Emo Cowboys” and that hasn’t happened yet.  As for me, I’m a sucker for anything that ends in a quiet little echo chamber of sadness (“Cool Neighbor”, “Robodog”). I tend to pitch a lot of ideas that end in some big easy fix, like a gunshot or an explosion, but these days I definitely prefer to just see somebody writhe in their own private sadness. I know exactly what that says about me and I don’t care.

T: “Brian Firenzi Writhes in His Own Private Sadness” almost sounds like a 5sf in itself.  Do you ever find yourself twisting everything into a potential 5sf concept?

B: I’ve learned not to try forcing everything into a 5sf idea, because the less strained ones always prove to be that much funnier. Oscar week, of course, is a challenge for that very reason, because we have to find some way to take the piss out of “Up in the Air.” My idea involved George Clooney being informed as he flies over the country that he just racked up 1,000,000 frequent flier miles, to which he cackles ominously, bellows “DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’VE DONE” and then turns into a plane, bursting out of the plane he was in and killing everyone else. Yeah. This is what straining to find a gag does to me.

T: What has been the most complicated 5sf to shoot?

B: In terms of pure time spent, nothing took longer than “Live Fast”, which is incidentally one of the 5sfs I’m most proud of, even if it’s not my favorite. We basically took a few days and countless costume changes to show the life of a married couple, from meeting to parting, in the span of five seconds. It’s like the first ten minutes of “Up” in Fun-Size Snickers form. However, I think the most complicated conceptually was probably “untitled”, our attempt at a halfway-creepy 5sf for Halloween. My hope is that Michel Gondry looks at that one someday and at least doesn’t spit on the ground, mumbling “amateurs” in French.

T: Hopefully he’ll be mumbling “auteurs”.  You mentioned a 5sf pilot when we talked earlier.  Care to divulge any information about what that might look and feel like?

B: Our pilot is going to be a sketch comedy show with a dedicated narrative arc, which is something we’ve never seen before on TV. It’s going to maintain our tone of wacky vaudeville as informed by nightmarish dream logic, and we’ve taken great care to make sure the energy never flags, as one might expect of a 22-minute TV show from a group of guys that make micro-comedy on a daily basis. However, the guys probably wouldn’t want anything more to be divulged than that.

T: Several of 5sf members live together.  Do you ever wish you were in that house or is the space good for you?

B: Here’s how it works: Rousselet, say, will walk into the dining room one morning with an idea. It’ll bounce off Ben, to Erik, to Mike E. Peter, until it either dies on the floor or they’ve got something cooked up that they at least mostly agree on. I like that, and I like coming over there later on to have it bounce off of me. This dynamic works a lot better than the other way, which often involves me stopping by with a half-baked idea that comes with its own tombstone.

T: If hyper-intelligent shark people invaded your home and Tom Watson wasn’t available to keep you safe, how might you defeat them?

B: A while back, a reporter from West Bromwich East (Tom Watson’s constituency as MP) phoned us to try and get some “dirt” on Watson, as apparently he’d been embroiled in some sort of controversy that we knew nothing about. We only made a couple of 5sfs about Watson because he Tweeted about us and we wanted to show some appreciation. So, as the reporter tried to get our opinion about what was going on across the pond, we just fed him a line of bullshit about how shark people are a menace to society and Watson’s the only man with the guts to do something about it. The interview ended shortly thereafter.

T: What do you think makes a 5sf resonate most with you fans?

B: Relatability. Relatability. Relatability. My buddy Adrian Syben, an irregular contributor to the site, cooked up “Late For Work” all on his own and it is by far our most popular 5sf on YouTube. It’s been Dugg, Redd, and sought after by Italian TV shows. Why? Because everyone hates work, and everyone’s been late for it. We obviously don’t strive for a recognizable, human element in every 5sf we do, but we just-as-obviously should.

T: I now consider myself an irregular contributor to 5sf, since you guys plugged me into the background of your “Inglourius Basterds” sketch.  On a scale of one to three, using only whole numbers, how would you rate my performance?

B: We nabbed you for our “Basterds” parody because you looked like a good B.J Novak, and when it comes to including people, I’d like to think we’re pretty open to that. As for acting in a 5sf, things move by so fast and the point is to deliver only a gag, that as long as you don’t mumble your words or get in the way of making people laugh, it’s kind of 3s all around. It’s our version of the Oscars, where we hand out giant golden 3s with an inscription that says “As for acting in a 5sf, things move by so fast and the point is to deliver only a gag, that as long as you don’t mumble your words or get in the way of making people laugh, it’s kind of 3s all around.”

T: We’ve already touched on a couple of the Oscar nominee parodies that 5sf has coming out soon.  If 5sf had its own Oscars, what parody do you think would bring home Best Picture?

B: Oscar week last year was more for movie nerds (and ourselves, being movie nerds) than it was for the general public, who hadn’t seen “Frost/Nixon,” didn’t want to and still hasn’t. As the Oscars this year have expanded to 10 in order to accommodate “Sandra Bullock’s Feel Good Touchdown Happy Hour,” we hope to appeal to just as many folks. That said, seeing as how I gravitate towards darkness, nothing will probably top what we did for “Up.”

T: How many 5sf have you thought up during this interview?

B: I’m thinking too hard to come up with anything funny. I’m sure some joke about a guy blowing his own head off came up and sat back down in my subconscious.

T: Hopefully that’s not a reflection on how you feel about this interview.

B: Well, it was in my subconscious, if at all, so in the event I do the deed, I think the blame can fall safely on someone like Rousselet. You’re cool in my book.

T: Thanks, Brian.

My name is t.j. and Brian A’ed my Q’s.

Check out 5sf at 5secondfilms.com, YouTube, FunnyorDie, and become a fan on Facebook.

February 24, 2010 Posted by | Blogs by T.J., Interviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sketchfest with The Midnight Show

(posted by t.j. peters)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

“Hey, whaddya know, it’s The Ten-Thirty Shoooow!!!”  So that’s not normally how Eric Moneypenny’s calling card introduction begins, but for the trip to Sketchfest it would have been more accurate.  The Midnight Show had hour-and-a-half early performances on Friday and Saturday night during last weekend’s edition of the San Francisco Sketchfest, both of which I was fortunate enough to attend.  Unfortunately, since the shows ended at approximately 11:30 PM as opposed to their usual 1:00 AM, I had additional time to do more and remember less in the hours leading up to the next morning.  However, I did manage to come away with a few select memories, which I’ll share with you now in this extended, two-night coverage blog entry.

Friday Night

Part One – Tomotel!!!

Think about the Tomo Hotel like this:  You know your favorite anime?  Well you hate it now.  Don’t like anime?  Well then you just killed yourself.  From the hardwood print carpet to the five foot clearance hanging lamps, every room in this Japantown paradise is like a living version of Katamari Damacy.  To help put this in perspective, please take a moment to review the following mural, which was adjacent to my bed.

Why do those police officers have dogs printed on them?  Are the dogs also police officers?  Wait, are those even police officers?  Could they be train conductors?  Are the dogs also train conductors?  Eh, doesn’t really matter.  They live in a city of façade building fronts and are about to be destroyed by a giant robot, anyway.

Even if I didn’t stay up until 5 a.m. or later every night of the trip, I still wouldn’t have gotten any sleep because of that thing.

Part Two – Rubix Club

I will never solve a Rubix Cube and it upsets me.  I will never solve a Rubix Cube blindfolded and it’s less upsetting to me.  I will never solve a Rubix Cube blindfolded in a crowded, noisy bar and it definitely does not upset me.  I will never solve a Rubix Cube blindfolded in a crowded, noisy bar while drinking beer and I wouldn’t expect that Jesus Christ himself could accomplish such a feat.

Notice the inverse relationship between the difficulty of the Rubix Cube scenario and my feelings towards not being able to accomplish it.  Now take the inverse of that and look what you get – the two fucking guys I saw who were solving Rubix Cubes blindfolded in the crowded, noisy bar while drinking beer!  What?!

I have to hand it to them, though.  As far as “showing your true colors” goes, these guys absolutely pave the way (and then twist it on a pivot mechanism until each side is a solid color).  I think it might serve people well if we all brought our obscure personal interests to the bar.  The knitting needles, ping-pong paddles, and ball gags would help us figure out at a glance who we’re interested in.  Personally, I would avoid the Rubix Cube guys, though.  Despite the fact that there were two completed Cubes on their table, I never saw either of them complete one.  Just like the guy who wears a fake Rolex or a shirt that’s too small to make his muscles look bigger, these two fools only brought the Cubes to scam on some bitches.

Part Three – Honestly, This is Not Funny

In a sketch titled “Philip Seymour Hoffman Calls in Sick for Work”, James Adomian plays the Oscar-winning actor as a pretentious, froggy-throated prima donna, hollering on the phone to his boss (or agent), Gary.  At the height of his brilliantly over-acted excuse- which we find out by the end is all a lie- Hoffman screams, “I’m a truth teller, Gary!” in reference to his craft.  The irony is perfect and it always gets a laugh out of me, as it did to Friday night’s crowd.

I point out this sketch to use as sort of a scientific control.  The subject of the experiment, then, occurred thirty minutes earlier in John Ennis’s monologue.  In what I consider to be one of the most earnest moments I’ve ever witnessed, Ennis delivered a seven minute speech about The Midnight Show that was, in a word, truthful.  I don’t mean truthful in the sense that I believe his words were factual (though I do), but rather that he meant every word he said.  In an annotated version, I’ll paraphrase:

It’s so exciting to work with these guys.  I’ve been really lucky to host their show more than once.  It’s like getting to play tuba with The Beatles. . . I’m fucking serious!  These guys work so hard!  They moved into a house together, so when they wake up in the morning they’re surrounded by each other!  Isn’t that fucking amazing? . . .   And thank you [to the audience] for doing yourself a favor and coming out to see this show because pretty soon, when they’re in the TV shows and movies you love, you’re going to look back and remember coming to The Purple Onion tonight.

Result:  Some awkward laughter and lackluster applause as Ennis jubilantly leapt off stage.

Now I understand that the purpose of a monologue is to warm-up the audience and set the tone for the show, but in this instance I could have really cared less.  Frankly, it pissed me off that the rest of the crowd couldn’t embrace what they were being given.  Ennis riffed honestly.  He was an actor shedding away the character and speaking the truth.  And so, looking back to the control, here’s the question I’ve been asking myself since Friday night.  Why is it funny to watch a character who’s full of shit call himself a truth-teller, but off-putting to a watch someone genuine actually tell the truth?   Honestly, I have no idea.

Saturday Night

Part Four – Straight Line to Union Square

The plan sounded simple enough.  We’d grab a bite to eat, and then meet up with a couple people at Union Square.  We’d heard it’s pretty cool there.  Little did we know, all the 3G coverage in the world couldn’t save us.

Before I take you along on a recreation of our travels, take a moment to study the map below, tracing our route from “A” to “B” and so on.

The journey began with what I now consider to be a warm up, though at the time it felt like a cross-country trek.  We walked seven blocks (which does, in fact, suck when you’re hungover and without your sunglasses) from the Tomo Hotel (“A”) to point “B”.  I should have known that things weren’t going to go well when my buddy Hark translated the directions he received as, “the Doughboy on Quay,” when we were headed to The Crepevine, just past Clay Street.  Somehow we made it there.

After breakfast, we officially started “moving toward” Union Square.  You’ll notice that Union Square can be reached on a straight line from Sutter – the street out hotel was on – and that we blew past it and continued another six blocks to “C”.  It was at this point that we actually decided to consult a map.  Unfortunately, the one we looked at was not topographical.  Had it been, we would have noticed that after continuing to “D” and making a left, the next twelve blocks would be an eighty degree uphill climb.

It didn’t take long for morale to get low.  We started shedding travelers at the same rate as our sweaty clothes.  (If it makes it sexier for you, please feel free to picture any or all of us completely naked.)  The excuses for abandonment started off strong with reasoning such as “I’ve got to fix the DVD before the show,” but eventually devolved to departing statements like, “I’m gonna go pee over here.”  I wish I would have been as smart.  (Note:  Once again, notice that after walking the first six blocks from “D” to “E” we had traveled an approximate total of twenty-seven blocks, yet were only one block away from our hotel.)

This trend continued.  The next five blocks from “E” to “F” were at least downhill, so we all had the pleasure of working out a new set of muscles, especially if you (me) were wearing heels.  Once at “F”, a brief period of dawdling and toying around with the idea of walking the wrong direction passed before we moved south, taking us another six blocks to “G”.

“G” brought us once again to Sutter Street, six blocks from the Tomo Hotel and eight more yet to Union Square.  We had officially traveled about forty-four blocks, roughly three and a half miles, and at no point reached even the halfway point between our hotel and Union Square.  So what was the next step?

“Fuck it, let’s go somewhere else.”  Which we did. . . in a cab.

Part Five – A Picture is Worth About 2,000 Words

The above photo was taken outside The Purple Onion on the night of the Friday show.  If you’re interested in taking a little glimpse at the rest of weekend, check out this photo gallery I put up on Flickr.

Part Six – What’s Behind the Curtain?

I watched The Midnight Show perform on two consecutive nights with different hosts and altered set lists on a small, unfamiliar stage.  On night one a large contingent of the crowd was old enough to remember the first time they saw Woody Allen at The Purple Onion.  Night two came with a heckler and a pony-tailed douchebag (not me) who thought his off-the-cuff zingers deserved to be part of the show.  Regardless of these obstacles, The Midnight Show fucking brought it both nights.  Their energy from beginning to end was relentless and it translated not only to the laughs from the audience, but to the ones coming from “backstage.”

I refer to the backstage in quotes because, really, there wasn’t one.  Seeing as The Purple Onion is a room built for stand-up, the only place the dozen-or-so member cast could gather was a little alcove that led to the bathrooms.  At best, four or five of them could fit back there (six or seven if anyone was on the can), so most of time the cast was spilling out into the back of the main room.

Now I’ve seen TMS plenty of times at this point and I’ve always been able to feel their energy, but this time was different.  When the lights went down and the opening began with the blaring punk rock of The Bronx, the audience would have been better served turning their seats around.  Like a college football team getting ready to charge out of the tunnel, The Midnight Show jumped, thrashed, and stared each other in the eyes with a confidence that only comes from being truly talented.  The only thing missing was a sign for them to tap that read “Perform Like a Champion Today.”  And the beauty of it was, the energy didn’t die after the introduction.  As members went to and from the stage, it was as if they were passing a torch that carried that energy, and this went on throughout the entirety of their show.  By the end, the audience was holding the torch.

The Midnight Show comes ready to work, but they also understand that it takes more than simply showing up to make some noise; they bring heart.  It’s this dynamic that sets them apart from other comedy groups.  What they’ve created is both professional and sacred.  They do it for themselves, they do it for each other, and they do it with a purpose.  Because of this, as they grow in strength and popularity, it will only be a matter of time before they are widely known, and people will say about their talent in a plain, almost obvious tone, “Hey, whaddya know, it’s The Midnight Show.”

My name is t.j and I road blogged this.

♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦

Book your tickets for The Midnight Show’s monthly performances at UCB-LA by clicking here.

And check out the rest of San Francisco Sketchfest’s schedule by clicking here.

January 28, 2010 Posted by | Blogs by T.J. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Road to Sketchfest with The Midnight Show

“I’m going to eat you,” he pronounced in raspy, slurred English.   “I’m going to eat you and your family.”  As far as we knew, those were the only words Adam (or Aaron, or whatever . . . it really doesn’t matter cause that dude was fucking crazy) was capable of speaking.  At one point he asked me for a lighter, but as I recall he did so using a series of hand gestures and indecipherable grunts.  Verbalized or not, it turned out he actually needed a cigarette, which I promptly gave to obtain amnesty in the event that he grew hungry for me and my loved ones.

After the seven hour drive that included rural routes, Roman candles, unexpected snowfall, and Disney sing-a-longs, the Sketchfest trip officially began at the International Sports Club, which is where I met up with The Midnight Show and, eventually, the above referenced Dr. Lecter.  The night had many high points, I must say, most of which were strange and depraved for various reasons.  And surprisingly, “I’m going to eat you” guy wasn’t the creepiest individual encountered.  The following scenario was told to me by Hal and Joe of The Midnight Show, which I’ll translate in language simple enough for a monosyllabic cannibal to understand:

Man masturbates in street.  Hal and Joe view from afar.  Man shows no signs of stopping.  Hal and Joe appreciate man’s commitment.  Man is interrupted by very rude pedestrians.  Hal and Joe wonder if it’s a citizens’ arrest.  Man discovers that citizens are police officers.  Hal and Joe feel bad for man.  Man feels very arrested.

Just to clarify, that’s a story about a man openly masturbating on the sidewalk.  In theory, he was walking along, possibly to or from home (our witnesses claim he didn’t appear to be homeless), and thought to himself, “Here’s good.”  Then he masturbated.  So there’s that story.

I’d like to think that as I continue to report on this weekend there won’t be any more anecdotes involving threats to my life or public indecency, but that’s obviously a pipe dream.  Might as well openly disrespect inevitability and propose a bold toast with my Day Two one o’clock cocktail:  Here’s to nothing even remotely weird happening for the rest of the trip!  Try me, San Francisco.

My name is t.j. and this blog is parked in SF.

♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦

Tickets are still available for The Midnight Show on Friday (featuring John Ennis, Mr. Show) and Saturday (featuring Trevor Moore, The Whitest Kids U’ Know).  Make it happen.

January 22, 2010 Posted by | Blogs by T.J. | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Burning the Midnight Oil at Sketchfest

(posted by t.j. peters)

Today I journey.  I’ve packed all the essentials:  one pair of underwear, a book of Mad Libs®, a road trip apple pie, all the Burger King® gift cards I accrued over the holidays, and my inalienable, Patch Adams-esque passion for orphans.  Just as these items are packed in my suitcase, I am too essentially a piece of luggage in the cargo deck of sketch comedy group The Midnight Show as we travel to the San Francisco Sketchfest.

For the better part of their year and a half run at the UCB Theatre L.A., I’ve been attending The Midnight Show on the first Saturday of every month – starting at (roughly) midnight – and for a smaller percentage of that time, had the pleasure of chain smoking and drinking whisky on the front porch of the “Midnight Mansion”, the veritable Bat Cave where most of the group resides.  Now, as a fan and a friend, I’m looking forward to a long weekend of TMS’s break-neck sketch comedy at Sketchfest.

If you’re in the San Francisco area and want your weekend to matter, here’s a reason to check out The Midnight Show:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

And if balls falling out of jean shorts isn’t your fancy, then go fuck yourself.  However, alternatively, please do no fuck yourself while watching those fancy balls fall out of their jean shorts.  Instead, occupy your perverted mind with one of the smartest sketches I’ve ever seen:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I’m serious, folks.  Tickets are still available for Friday (featuring John Ennis, Mr. Show) and Saturday (featuring Trevor Moore, The Whitest Kids U’ Know), so do yourself a favor and check it out.  As for me, though I plan to document the trip as accurately as possible, my hope and intention is to report based on the fragmented reality left over from what will surely be a very fun weekend.  Check back in the days to come for my Sketchfest updates.

My name is t.j. and this blog is on wheels.

January 21, 2010 Posted by | Blogs by T.J. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment