TIME Comedy

Vanessa Bayer: This Is What Haim Should Do On Tour with Taylor Swift

NBCUniversal Events - Season 2014
Chris Haston/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images Vanessa Bayer, "Saturday Night Live" at Boa Steakhouse, West Hollywood, in 2014.

Meet Janessa Slater, the woman who almost made Drake cry

When Vanessa Bayer isn’t cracking people up with her impressions of Miley Cyrus and Hillary Clinton on Saturday Night Live, she can be found moonlighting as media coach Janessa Slater on Sound Advice. On the Above Average web series that Bayer created with her brother, Jonah, PR expert Janessa Slater sits down with artists like Drake, offering helpful advice about things like how to set up a good JDate profile and whether he should change his name. The interviews, which have included artists like TV on the Radio, Demi Lovato, The Wanted and Tegan and Sara, are uncomfortable and hilarious.

With a new season of Sound Advice kicking off on March 12th on Above Average, TIME talked to Bayer about the series:

TIME: Are the artists in on the joke?

Vanessa Bayer: Yes. We try and have them watch episodes before they do it. We always improvise a lot, so we don’t always show them the questions in advance. Sometimes we will write responses for them, if they want to use them, but they don’t have to. Sometimes we don’t show them anything unless they want to see it, but because we improvise so much it’s not always useful for them. It just depends what the bands want. A lot of what ends up in the final cut is the improvised stuff, because that tends to be funnier.

Some of the bands are really good actors, then, because sometimes they stare at you like you’re completely insane.

I know! Sometimes that’s very off-putting for me because I know that they’re acting, but still. One thing that I think is great about this series is that it shows how great these bands are. They’re so funny, they’re such good actors, they have these skills beyond what you see when they’re performing music. Obviously music is a really good skill, but they are also able to do all this comedy stuff. It’s interesting for my brother and I and our director, Pete Schultz, who writes some of the questions, too, we put these questions together and then we see the band and we get nervous to say these things to them. One episode was with Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, who are in this band The Both — we were so excited to meet them, because we are all such huge fans. The first question was about them being on Social Security and I was so nervous to say it! Of course, they were such good sports about it. My brother said he almost ran out of the room because he was so nervous about it, but I’m the one who actually had to say it!

Your interviews can get uncomfortable in a way that reminds me of Larry David. Is that intentional?

That’s sorta the vibe we’re going for. One thing I have to say about the bands is that they will all respond differently. Some will just stare at me, but others will get really involved. Like Sara Bareilles was really aggressive with me, which was so funny. Some bands will joke back and will improvise with me. Even when they know what the questions are, even if we give them a suggestion of a response, they decide what they think of me. A lot of bands have multiple people and none of them will like me, except for one. Or it’s just a difference in how they are playing it where one will be more accepting and the other won’t be. It’s interesting because it shows the different personalities of the band members, even when they are acting. The TV on the Radio one was so fun to do because they were up for anything and they responded so well when I told them which different member of 90210 they were like and I told one of them that he was Jim Walsh, which is the dad.

Rumors are circulating that Fun. are breaking up. What would Janessa would tell them?

I love those guys. We did our first Sound Advice with them. I think that little French weirdo Jack will be fine, because he’s got that high school side project. That little singer will be great because he’s got pretty good hair and stuff. And Andrew, he’s my guy, he’s the one that will become the millionaire.

Haim is going on tour with Taylor Swift. How would Janessa advise them?

Maybe Haim can try parting their hair on the side to look a little less hipster, because Taylor Swift isn’t really like that. Four girls is a lot, so maybe they should add a fifth girl — like Janessa — to the crew, because while Haim sings and plays instruments and people love Taylor, who’s the person who is really going to bring the crowd out? They should add Janessa because she has a lot to offer as far as beats, lyrics, style and accessories.

Do you think Miley Cyrus will ever come to Sound Advice?

That’s my dream. We’ve reached out to her and she’s been really nice about it, but I think she’s one of the busiest human beings in the world. Another dream guest is Heart, because I love them so much and I sing Heart in karaoke all the time and I really want to show that to them. That’s not the only reason why I want them, though. I just love them.

What do you get out of a web series that you don’t get on SNL?

On SNL you get to do a bunch of different characters, which is really great, but on this web series I get to do one character, and that’s really fun. As the series progresses we get to find out more about Janessa and her ex husband Darren. I do some writing on SNL, too, but on the web series we write it all. It’s been fun digging into this very big mess of a woman.

TIME Television

The Parks and Recreation Series Finale Will Honor Producer Harris Wittels

Parks and Recreation - Season 7
Ben Cohenmdash;NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images Colton Dunn (L) as Brett and Harris Wittels as Harris in the "Pie Mary" episode of "Parks and Recreation."

The cast and crew will work together to pay tribute to the comedian, who died Feb. 19 at the age of 30

Harris Wittels was best known for his work as a producer and writer on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, which makes it especially heartbreaking that he died just days before the show’s series finale. Probably no one senses this tragedy more than the show’s cast and crew, and accordingly, they’ve planned to honor their friend and colleague with a special tribute after the hour-long episode closes the series on Tuesday.

Wittels’ death rocked the comedy world on Thursday, and prompted his Parks coworker and close personal friend Aziz Ansari to write a nearly 3,000-word Tumblr post in remembrance of his life and work. “I don’t know when my brain is going to be able to process the terrible feeling that fills my heart with dread and my eyes with tears every 20 seconds when I realize this very special person is really gone,” Ansari wrote.

It’s unclear how long the tribute will run, and Deadline Hollywood has described it only as a “We Love You, Harris message.” But no matter the format, it’s bound to be a one-two punch for mega-fans of the show, who will be bidding goodbye to both Pawnee and a promising writer and producer whose best work was still ahead of him.

TIME viral

Watch Jimmy Kimmel Prove No One Knows Anything About Oscar Movies

But they'll pretend they do

How could Benedict Cumberbatch not take home an Oscar after all of those hilarious celebrity impression in the Immitation Game? And how could the Academy overlook Angelina Jolie’s heartbreaking performance as Rosa Parks in Selma?

No idea what we’re talking about?

In Sunday’s Oscar edition of Jimmy Kimmel Live, the comedian sent a camera crew to the streets to ask people on Hollywood Boulevard what they thought about made-up moments from nominated films. This proves that just because people didn’t see the Academy Award-nominated films doesn’t mean that they won’t pretend to have very strong opinions about them.

Watch the full segment below:

TIME viral

Watch John Oliver Slam the Way Britain’s Labour Party Woos Women

"You are trying to appeal to adult some voters the same way that Mattel attempts to appeal to 8-year-olds"

John Oliver is not impressed with how the Labour Party has decided to court women voters.

On Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight, the HBO host slammed a pink van that the party has designated for female outreach—now dubbed “The Barbie Bus.”

“Wow, it is a little insulting that you are trying to appeal to adult some voters the same way that Mattel attempts to appeal to 8-year-olds,” Oliver said. “And at least Barbie’s pink bus had the good sense to unfold into a sweet hot tub and party den combo. That thing was sick.”

Watch the full segment below:

TIME language

In Soviet Russia, the Oscars Host You

Actors (L-R) Clark Gable Cary Grant Bob Hope and David
Leonard McCombe—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Bob Hope and David Niven laughing heartily together at one of Hope's recently-acquired Russian jokes during break from rehearsals for the 1958 Academy Awards

In 1958, Oscars host Bob Hope may have made comedy history

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

These days, an Oscars host is likely to wish only to avoid a complete disaster — but in 1958, veteran host Bob Hope may have introduced the world to a joke that, decades later, has become part of comedy’s common heritage.

Here’s how TIME described the ceremony in the Apr. 7 issue of that year:

As things got under way, Jimmy Stewart told the home audience that the uninterrupted program was “being brought to you in living black and white.” Bob Hope, back from his Russian junket, noted that there had been TV in all the rooms of his Moscow hotel—”only it watches you”—also called attention to the parades of expensive talent being given away free to television, proving that “the motion-picture industry isn’t frightened. It’s off its rocker.”

Comedy fans will likely recognize a very familiar construction in that first Hope joke. In Soviet Russia, the TV watches you!

These days, that construction is often known as the “Russian reversal.” Swap around the order in which things are usually done, add “in [Soviet] Russia” to the beginning, and that’s it. The joke has appeared on The Simpsons and Family Guy, and the Internet is flush with “t-shirt wears you” gear.

Most sources — from the spot-on Language Log blog at UPenn to the equally trustworthy (when it comes to viral jokes) Know Your Meme — trace the joke’s popularity to Yakov Smirnoff, a Russian-born comedian who came to the U.S. in the 1970s. And it’s not hard to see why he would get the credit:

Dig a little deeper, and some sources note that a similar joke (substituting “the Old Country” for “Russia”) appeared on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, which started airing in 1968 — which is, of course, a full decade after Bob Hope used the joke at the 1958 Oscars.

There’s some evidence that Hope’s joke was new at that time: LIFE magazine had a photographer on scene during rehearsals for the telecast, and — though the magazine ended up printing something different — the caption with one of the photos (seen here) indicates that Hope and friends were laughing at one of his “recently acquired Russian jokes.”

But, while Bob Hope may have introduced a national television audience to the Russian reversal, the real moral of the story is not that he was first — just that it’s hard to say who came up with something so common. After all, buried in the meme’s page on TVTropes.org there’s an example from a play written a full two decades earlier, before Bob Hope hosted the Oscars, before the Oscars were on TV, before the Cold War even started. In 1938’s Cole Porter musical Leave It to Me!, a man tries to tip a messenger. “No tipping,” he’s told. “In Soviet Russia, messenger tips you.”

Read the full write-up of the 1958 ceremony, here in the TIME Vault: The Oscars

TIME viral

Big Birdman Is the Perfect Parody for Oscar Night

How did we get here? How did we get to Sesame Street?

For your consideration: Big Birdman.

Perhaps the greatest press that Oscar-nominated Birdman could get before Sunday’s Academy Awards is this reboot by Mashable and Sesame Street — which has essentially become Saturday Night Live for the juice box drinking demographic and their parents.

In the video, Caroll Spinney, the man who has voiced Big Bird for 45 years, is haunted by the feathered puppet.

How did we get here? How did we get to Sesame Street?

[time-brightcove videoid=4069581101001]

TIME Television

The Daily Show Staff Talks About the Future of the Show After Jon Stewart

The show will go on. The question is, who will helm Comedy Central's most important program

If you were surprised by Jon Stewart’s announcement that he was leaving The Daily Show after 17 years, so was the show’s staff. “We found out when the world found out,” said Travon Free, a staff writer on the satirical news program.

Head writer Elliott Kalan wasn’t quite ready to talk about what comes next: “Jon isn’t going for awhile, the show is continuing . The show itself is going nowhere and I assume we’re going nowhere.” Daniel Radosh, a staff writer, added: “The show is still going to need writers, so if nothing else we have the inside track.”

“Unless the new host is Colin Mochrie from Whose Line is it Anyway? And it’s all improv,” noted Kalan. “Then they wouldn’t need writers.”

When asked who his dream host would be, Free replied: “I’m working for the guy. That’s why I moved from Los Angeles to New York was to work for the dream host of The Daily Show. It’s sappy, but it’s true. I couldn’t ask for a better.” Kalan and Radosh both agreed with him.

Rory Albanese, who was a writer and executive producer at The Daily Show for 14 years, is also feeling nostalgic. “I grew up on The Daily Show,” he said at the WGA Awards Saturday night. “Whoever takes over takes the show, no matter how great they are going to be, they will never be Jon Stewart. I don’t mean that they won’t be as good or as talented, but it will be hard.”

Albanese is now the executive producer of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, providing a first-hand experience of the difficulties of following in someone else’s shoes. “Whoever takes over that job, initially people are just going to be mad at them,” said Albanese. “People were mad at Larry for not being Stephen [Colbert] for like an hour, before realizing he was good too. So whoever gets the job will have people angry that they are not Jon and then they will get over it.”

To ease the transition, Albanese thinks it would be helpful to give the show a little time off first. “The best thing to do would be to shut down the show for a little while, figure out what [the new host’s] style is going to be on the show and then bring that forth, whatever that is,” said Albanese. “I wouldn’t try to do what Jon’s done exactly, though, because it would be near impossible.”

Not that Albanese thinks the new host should shake things up too much. “The Daily Show is Comedy Central’s franchise like The Tonight Show. When Carson left it was still a talk show,” said Albanese. “The way [Jimmy] Fallon did it was smart, because he brought what he was good at—the musical stuff, the sketches—and put that on the show. Whoever comes to The Daily Show should bring their style to the show, but sitting behind the desk and commenting on politics is what The Daily Show is about, bare bones.”

That said, Albanese is ready for some change: “I feel like there has been a certain style that has saturated late night for a long time and it would be nice to have a woman in that spot. For me, not having one female in late night means there is a huge gap. There are so many brilliant comedians who are women and I would vote that way if I had a vote, but I have no say.”

Lizz Winstead, who co-created The Daily Show, isn’t sure that the format needs under a new host. “The show is important is because it really does use humor and speak truth to power, so I don’t think keeping the format is as important as making sure you stay as this relevant response to what’s happening in the news and how the media is dealing with it.”

“There is a strong woman’s voice on that show and has been since the beginning,” said Winstead when asked about who could replace Stewart as host. “My dog in the race is a long shot: Rachel Maddow. She’s a funny woman who will keep the relevance going. I also think Aisha Tyler would be great. They’ve both done extensive driving-the-show conversation work and they are both in the space of talking about the world.”

The Nightly Show host Larry Wilmore agrees, “I think a woman doing it would be fantastic. I think there’s a lot of good candidates for that, too.”

Whoever takes over hosting the show, Wilmore, who served as the show’s “Senior Black Correspondent” before getting his own show, knows how tough it can be to follow Stewart and Colbert. “I feel pressure following Stephen and following Jon,” laughed Wilmore. “There’s pressure to make sure the audience sticks around for what I’m doing.”

TIME Television

Let’s Get Small: The Rise of Artisanal TV Comedy

Illustration by Alex Fine For TIME As the ghosts of SNL past recede, today's vital TV comics can be found on the likes of Inside Amy Schumer, Louie, Key and Peele, Portlandia and Broad City.

At 40, Saturday Night Live is a TV legend and a cultural institution. But the energy now is in small-batch shows.

On Feb. 15, Saturday Night Live marks its 40th anniversary. What is there to say about the show that wasn’t true on its 25th, that won’t be on its 50th, 100th, or whatever numbering system will be used by the sentient cockroaches who take over civilization and SNL? That it’s a TV legend. That’s it’s shaped decades of American comedy. And that it isn’t what it used to be.

Of course, people have been saying that SNL isn’t what it used to be since, oh, 1976. It’s exactly what it’s supposed to be, though: not so much a show as an institution, like a comedy Meet the Press, weighing in on the news, enshrining pop culture phenomena and tapping future megastars. If it doesn’t excel at any particular thing, it’s because it needs to be everything, a broad show with big cast of flexible mimics that can strike targets from John Boehner to Beyoncé.

That’s what it did the day before the Super Bowl with an opening sketch about outspoken Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman (Jay Pharoah) and his taciturn teammate Marshawn Lynch (Kenan Thompson). It hit the expected notes–Deflategate! Marshawn doesn’t like to talk!–but it had the bad fortune to air a couple days after Comedy Central’s Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele aired their own Sherman and Lynch press conference.

That one was surreal and hardly predictable: Key’s Sherman raved about Oscar nomination slights to Selma, Foxcatcher and The Lego Movie (“Boxtrolls? We talking about trolls wearing boxes! That’s the funniest thing in the movie!”) while Lynch (Peele) stoically murmured, “Biscuitsandgravy.” The SNL sketch may have had the more technically accurate impersonations, but Key & Peele had the fresher, loopier ideas. Like a good receiver, Key & Peele simply juked SNL out of its shoes.

Is the comparison fair? Not even a little: Key & Peele is shorter, airs fewer episodes and has the advantage of pre-taping. (They can shoot multiple takes, and no one hears a bit die with a live audience.) But laughter doesn’t care about fair, and right now the energy in TV is all in small-batch comedy.

Humor is about voice, and because of their small casts, shows like Key & Peele can have one. Whereas SNL, by design, is bigger than any individual star, these shows are exactly their stars’ size. Built around one or two talents, they can’t be about everything, and they don’t try. Instead, they embody, gem-like, a single point of view and their stars’ idiosyncrasies and nerdy obsessions. For Key and Peele, now in their fourth season, those range from horror movies to sports culture the murkiness of race in America. (Both stars are biracial, which has helped make them TV’s prime comic interpreters of the Obama presidency–literally in the case of their running bit about Luther, Obama’s “anger interpreter.”)

Likewise, their channelmate Amy Schumer has shown the value of doing a few things well. Right down to its intimate title, Inside Amy Schumer made the personal polemical with its dare-you-to-flinch feminist comedy. The opening sketch of its second season hung a light on the standards set for women comics, as Schumer watches a focus group of men convened for her show get asked “Would you bang her?” Also pre-taped, her show can’t be lightning-topical, yet it feels of-the-moment in a bigger, more memorable way.

In IFC’s Portlandia, the world-building is more artisanal: Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein (also of the band Sleater-Kinney) have made their Oregon city into a hipster Yoknapatawpha of pickle peddlers, aggro bicyclists and raw-milk connoisseurs. You can’t get much more micro; indeed, the show is all about offbeat characters seceding from the world into small personal specialties. Yet in five seasons it’s also grown into a kind of alterna-epic, like a Decemberists concept album, fleshing out and building entire episodes around recurring characters like Toni and Candace, proprietresses of the Women and Women First feminist bookstore.

Armisen had a long run on SNL himself. (He was its Obama—a role Peele, ironically, had auditioned for—before Pharoah took over.) As for the other small-batch comics–or Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, who turned a web series into the anarchic stoner comedy Broad City–they’re the kind of comics who, years past, might have done a hitch on an SNL that never quite figured out what to do with them, like Sarah Silverman and Chris Rock did.

Again, this is not really SNL’s fault. It’s part of a larger shift in TV comedy from broad mainstream hits (Seinfeld) to brilliant boutique shows (Louie). At 40, SNL is still a dream gig for a young comedian to land–from there, you can go on to star in a sitcom, host late-night, open movie blockbusters. But if you watch SNL wondering what its stars will do next, today’s best comedies are shows you watch to see what their stars are doing right this second.

TIME celebrities

Rebel Wilson: ‘Bigger Girls Do Better in Comedy’

"Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb" Australian Premiere - Arrivals
Don Arnold—Getty Images/WireImage Rebel Wilson arrives at the Australian premiere of Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb on Dec. 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia.

She's set to reprise a character named "Fat Amy" in the upcoming Pitch Perfect 2

Rebel Wilson isn’t shy about addressing her weight – in fact, she views her shape as an asset.

“I took something that was seen as a disadvantage – no one thinks, if you’re fat, that you’re going to be an actress and everyone’s going to love you – and turned it into a positive,” she told Australia’s Daily Life.

Wilson, 28, believes her physique works especially well for comedic roles. She’s set to reprise a character named “Fat Amy” in the upcoming Pitch Perfect 2.

“Bigger girls do better in comedy,” she said. “I don’t know why. Maybe because people find it easier to laugh. It’s very hard to laugh at someone who’s very attractive, I think. And normally those people don’t have a great personality anyway.”

The Bridesmaids star (who also holds a law degree!) adds that she has no plans to slim down.

“I do have these dreams, like, ‘What if I just went to a health farm and lost 50 kilos? What would happen? Would it affect my career?’ But then I think, that’s never going to happen.”

This article originally appeared on People.com.

TIME Comedy

Watch Louis C.K. Take On Babies and Gay Marriage in His New Stand-Up Special

The comedian has a few thoughts about babies.

Louis C.K.’s new stand-up special isn’t available yet, but you can watch the first four minutes of “Live at the Comedy Store” now.

The four-minute clip revolves around everyone’s favorite airplane companions: babies. After a recent travel experience, C.K. finally figured out why so many babies spend their time on airplanes crying. The cause? According to C.K., “they are upset because gay people are getting married.”

To be clear, C.K. doesn’t agree with their temper tantrums, because love is love and babies are selfish. “I think if people are in love, they should get married,” he clarified. “But they can’t accept that. They’re just being babies.”

As he has done for the past few years, the comedian is making his latest comedy hour available to stream and/or download on his website for just $5.

[Via Uproxx]

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser