Curtis Armstrong’s love of Lindsay Anderson’s “O Lucky Man!” is no laughing matter

CurtisArmstrongHeaderINTRODUCTORY CAVEAT:

This interview was originally intended to run elsewhere, but as the elsewhere in question has, shall we say, dissolved, you’re reading it here instead. Still, my biggest concern is just that you get read it, period, mostly because it’s just a really fascinating conversation, but also, if you’ve been walking around for all these years with some preconception of who Curtis Armstrong is, I think you’ll find yourself looking at him in a whole new light.


 

Shakespeare once wrote, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown emblazoned with the name ‘Booger’” (or something not entirely unlike that, anyway), but Curtis Armstrong has never really had a problem with being associated with his slovenly character from the Revenge of the Nerds franchise.

Granted, Armstrong’s reasons for reviving the character or playing on its recognition factor, as is the case with the TBS reality competition series King of the Nerds, have generally been financially-based rather than out of a belief that it will provide creative satisfaction, but it’s doubtlessly also helped his acceptance of being Booger that he’s worked steadily as an actor – either in front of the camera or in a recording studio for voice work – ever since the release of the first Nerds film in 1984. In addition to high profile roles in films ranging from Ray to Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star and memorable stints on Moonlighting, Boston Legal, and The Closer, he remains a recurring presence even now on TBS’s American Dad, FOX’s New Girl, and The CW’s Supernatural.

Armstrong is also a huge aficionado of music and film, and during this chat, he discussed how those two loves came together in a big way with a Lindsay Anderson film that makes for a fascinating viewing experience, even if it isn’t exactly the easiest thing to summarize.

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At last it can be seen: Homer Simpson at the TCA Awards

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If you saw my latest “Inside the Box” column on HamptonRoads.com, then you’ve read the story about how I was able to take an off-handed idea – to have the Simpsons introduce James L. Brooks to receive his Career Achievement Award from the Television Critics Association – and make it a reality just by calling someone from the show and asking, “Can this be done?” Indeed, it could be, which is how Homer Simpson came to make an animated appearance at the TCA Awards.

Wanna see the clip? Well, now you can.

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Confirmed: Campbell Scott loves Jennifer Beals, too

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If you frequent the Onion A.V. Club and thrill to the latest installment of the site’s ongoing feature known as Random Roles, then you probably caught my interview with Jennifer Beals, which went live on Monday. During the course of our conversation, Ms. Beals made a couple of comments about the general wonderfulness of Campbell Scott, with whom she’s worked in films on four occasions to date, and one of them made me laugh to the point where I knew that I was going to have to send Mr. Scott an email to get his reaction to it.

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A Late Night World of Love

David Letterman

The Bridge
Chesapeake, Virginia
March 6, 1987

Letterman’s Late Night humor
captures large audience

By William Harris
Staff Writer

The theme song begins. The announcer, Bill Wendell, enters his typical spiel. “From New York… The city whose streets are paved with aluminum foil… It’s Late Night with David Letterman! Tonight: Michael J. Fox, comedian Jeff Altman, and Joni Mitchell, plus Stupid Pet Tricks, and Paul Shaffer and the band! And now, a man whose past is mere seconds away from catching up with him… Daa-vid Letterman!”

The lights go up in the studio. The camera focuses on the back wall, which is sliding open. David Letterman steps on the stage. The crowd emits thunderous applause, because the “king of the late night airwaves” has arrived.

Junior Rich Copeland gave his opinion on the title Letterman has been given. “He deserves it, because he is the funniest guy on network television. Better than Cosby.”

According to Newsweek, “some 3.3 million people tune in four nights a week at 12:30 a.m., Eastern time.” Many people have begun to question if Letterman’s popularity will continue. “Yes,” said senior Jon Amorese, “because in his five years so far, other late-night talk shows have started and ended.”

The majority of Letterman’s fans in Great Bridge seem to agree on the low point of the show. “Paul Shaffer,” said senior Michael McGuire. “I don’t like him. He is, to me, a geek.” Copeland echoed McGuire sentiments, adding that “every time he tries to make a joke, he practically ruins the show.”

Many people describe Letterman’s personality in a wide variety of ways. Mrs. Holly Morgan, English teacher, stated that he was “witty, satirical, amusing, clever, and down-to-earth,” while senior Tom Nuckols firmly declared that “David Letterman is the master of sarcasm.”

Letterman’s humor in part comes from the various segments he has on Late Night, some of which include Dumb Ads, Small Town News, and the Top 10 Lists. Amorese said that his favorite segment was Stupid Pet Tricks, “because he’ll bring off-the-wall stuff on and worry about the results later.”

Letterman has been called “too frank” by various critics. Morgan agreed, stating that “he embarrasses his guests. He ridicules them.” On the other hand, McGuire said that “people want Letterman to be frank, because it aids his honesty and helps add spontaneous comedy to the show.”

Many people believe that Letterman’s comedy will not affect the world much longer, but Amorese had a different opinion on the subject. “In five years, David Letterman hasn’t had a low point, and if he can last five years, then he can last twenty-five years.”

Given how many embarrassing clips have been rescued from aging VHS tapes in celebration of David Letterman’s retirement from the late-night arena, it seemed only appropriate to share one of my own. The above article from my high school newspaper may not indicate that I had a future in pop culture journalism – if anything, it may have been why my guidance counselor so pointedly asked me if I’d considered any alternate career options – but at the very least, it does give you some insight into how long I’ve worshiped at the altar of Dave.

It’s been so long, in fact, that I actually had to do a bit of Googling to confirm that I hadn’t created a false timeline in my deadline-addled brain as to when and how I first discovered Dave, but to my surprise, it turned out that for once my memory hadn’t failed me.

late-night-bookI have a long history of stumbling into an appreciation of genius in the stupidest of ways, but when it comes to David Letterman, I still can’t believe that I discovered one of television’s greatest comedians because of a book. And not just any book, mind you, but a book which is such a low-budget, done-on-the-cheap affair that it’s a wonder it doesn’t have the words “A Roger Corman Production” stamped somewhere on the cover. The majority of its contents are recycled sketches and segments from the show, many of them accompanied by photographs from their respective episodes which, based on their quality, may well be Polaroids that an intern took of their TV set while the show was on. If I’d known anything at all about Late Night with David Letterman before picking it up, I’m sure I would’ve flipped through it, yelled, “Are you kidding me?” and then thrown it across the room, at which point I would’ve been brusquely escorted out of WaldenBooks and informed that I was lucky that they didn’t call my parents.

Thankfully, I wasn’t familiar with Late Night with David Letterman. In fact, I wasn’t familiar with David Letterman at all. I was an awkward 15-year-old kid who was obsessed with trivia, who wanted to be more popular than he was but had no idea how to go about it, and who had a sense of humor that was…unique.

Okay, fine, it was weird.

The truth of the matter is that I was a weird kid, and I thought weird things were funny. I was constantly falling in love with mid-season sitcoms that were canceled in half a season or less. In the spring of 1978, when the kids at school were playing Star Wars on the playground, I wanted to play Quark. In the spring of 1982, I was calling my buddy Chris Johnson after episodes of Police Squad! to ask him what his favorite parts were to see if they were the same as mine. But everything I thought was funny seemed to be transitory, and in the pre-VCR era, when a show was canceled, it was gone, and if it had only lasted for a handful of episodes, then you could forget about ever seeing it again. By the end of 1985, I had fallen so far in my attempts to find something that would make me laugh that I was legitimately excited about the impending release of Police Academy 3: Back in Training…and, oh, how I wish I could say that was a joke.

But then I bought Late Night with David Letterman: The Book, most likely with money I’d gotten for Christmas, and the sea change was afoot.

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So I’ve got this idea for a book…

A few days ago, I took to social media with a question: “Which book would you be more interested in reading: a collection of interviews with actors about their most memorable experience making a low-budget film, or a collection of interviews with former child actors about their favorite performance other than whatever is considered to be their signature role?”

bookshotFor me, this was a win-win scenario, because I think there’s merit to both premises, but I asked the question because I want to write a proper book, i.e. not just a collection of previously-published columns, and if I’m going to write a proper book, then it’s got to be something that people will actually want to buy because, well, it ain’t like I got a big-time publishing deal, y’know what I’m saying?

This is something I’d be doing on my own, and if I’m going to be doing it, it’s got to be something that I feel like is going to end up actually making me at least a little bit of money. It doesn’t have to be a lot – although I’m not going to lie to you, I would love it if it was a lot, and so would my wife and child – but it’s got to at least be worth something.

But I’m getting off the topic at hand, and you’re probably starting to get grouchy about how long I’m taking to tell you the results of the poll, so let me take care of that right now.

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Looking Back at My Favorite Anecdotes, Articles, and Interviews from 2014

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Okay, so here’s the thing about me, and if you haven’t already picked up on it, I’d be surprised, but…I really like doing interviews.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I love doing them.

Because of this, even though I probably did upwards of 100 interviews  over the course of 2014, I can honestly say that I don’t even need all of the fingers on one hand to count off the conversations that left me with a bad taste in my mouth about the person I was chatting with. As such, this retrospective of my favorite memories and moments from throughout the course of the year could’ve been much longer…and if I’m doing my job right, then you’ll still end up thinking, “Oh, man, I can’t believe he didn’t mention [INSERT GLARING OMISSION HERE]!”

Then again, I spend all freaking year having people saying that – hello, Random Roles commenters! – so I’m more or less used to it.

I hope you enjoy this look back as much as you enjoyed reading the original pieces – hopefully you’ll find a few funny bits that you missed or discover interviews that slipped by you in the midst the ridiculous number of links I shared – and I offer my heartfelt thanks for all of you who’ve supported my efforts, not just this year but all the years before this. I hope you continue to have my back, and in turn, I hope to continue being able to provide you with stuff that makes you happy while still leaving you wanting more. (Nobody’s perfect, so that’s about the best I can hope for.)

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Interview: Nicholas Brendon on Morningside Monster, Buffy, Kitchen Confidential & more

It’s funny what a difference a week makes.

On October 16, I was a happy-go-lucky guy, excited about the prospect of finally getting to chat with Nicholas Brendon, late of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who’d done some work in the indie film Attack of the Morningside Monster, a project which – in the interest of full disclosure – a friend of mine had been a part of bringing to fruition. Not that my friend’s connection had anything to do with my wanting to talk to Brendon: some of my fondest memories from the early days of my marriage involve my wife and I falling in love with the awesomeness of Buffy and Angel, so I’ve been a fan of the guy and his work for quite some time.

Unfortunately, that happy-go-luckiness transitioned into a bit of anxiety when Brendon found himself in the midst of an unfortunate incident, one for which he has since apologized. I honestly thought the interview was going to be canceled as a result, but, no, it remained on track, and I wasn’t told that any topic was off the table, so I was ready to roll when he called…and yet I was anxious because I knew that I had to at least ask about what had happened, because, well, how do you not? So I did, and he responded, we each appreciated the other’s position, and all was well. Still, if you sense a certain stiltedness to the conversation on both our parts, now you know you’re not imagining it, and I’ll just close this intro by saying that I hope one day to get another shot at chatting with Brendon, preferably in an elephant-free room.

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Q: Well, first of all, let’s start off by discussing the project that brought us here today: Attack of the Morningside Monster.

Nicholas Brendon: Yeah! What do you want to know about it?

Q: Let’s start off with how you found your way into it. Did they approach you with the pitch?

NB: Yeah, we got the script, and it was really nice. It was a nice, campy little movie, so I was, like, “Yeah, I’ll do it!”

Q: How would you describe your character, Mark Matthews?

NB: He’s a sweet guy with a lot of love in his heart. And, uh, a lot of heart in his belly. [Laughs.] He feeds you heart, is what I’m saying.

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“Daddy, What’s a Video?” – Phantom Runners, “On The Run”

As an avowed Anglophile from way back when, it doesn’t exactly require a hard sell to get me to take a listen to a band that’s described as having “a melodic left-field sound which nods knowingly at The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Stone Roses and The Smiths,” which is the way Simon Williams of Fierce Panda Records has described the Phantom Runners.

phantom-runners

Now, mind you, I’m old, so I actually had to hit up Google to find out exactly what The Pains of Being Pure at Heart sound like (and what they sound like is like a band that could’ve been on the cover of New Musical Express during the late ’80s or early ’90s, which is certainly not a bad thing in my book), but that was more for curiosity’s sake: I’d already been tempted into giving them a spin by the Stones Roses and Smiths citations.

It also hadn’t escaped my attention that their debut EP, Relevance, was produced by Huey Morgan of Fun Lovin’ Criminals fame, and when I checked out the band’s page on Stray Cat Records’ website, I found a quote from Morgan where he says of the Phantom Runners, “This is the one that you don’t pass on. The band has it all: the songs, the drive, and a unique combination of musical styles that I have not ever come across. I’m in. Are you?”

Well, it’s still early days yet, so I’m not committing to being completely in, but I will say that their song “On the Run,” which features on the aforementioned EP, is as bouncy and catchy as all get out, and the video looks fantastic.

But, hey, don’t just take my word for it: take a look and a listen for yourself.

Oh, and just as a closing FYI, if you like what you hear here, then you might want to head over to the Phantom Runners’ Soundcloud page, where you can hear even more.

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Interview: Scruffy the Cat’s Stephen Fredette on the band’s back catalog, unreleased material, and their life and times

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You can blame it on R.E.M or you can go farther back and blame it on The Byrds, but whoever you want to pin responsibility on, there were a lot of artists on college radio in the late ’80s who jangled and twanged their way to a certain degree of success. I’ve maintained a fondness for a lot of those bands over the years, but one that’s always been high on my list of faves – thanks in no small part to my having instantly fallen head over heels in love with their semi-hit single, “Mybabyshesallright” – is Scruffy the Cat.

Alas, the band’s been broken up for quite some time now, having given up the ghost back in 1990, but I was able to find a certain degree of solace from following the solo career of the band’s frontman, Charlie Chesterman, over the years, all the way until – sadly – he passed away in November 2013. Suddenly, however, I’m getting even more solace than I ever could’ve hoped for, thanks to two new releases from Scruffy the Cat.

The first, Time Never Forgets: The Anthology (’86-’88), is a beautiful-sounding digital reissue of the band’s entire back catalog in one convenient package…which, if you’re not enough of a fan to know the titles of all of their releases off the top of your head, means that it contains the High Octane Revival EP, their full-length debut, Tiny Days, the follow-up EP, Bang Bang Bang Bingo, and their final full-length effort, Moons of Jupiter.

36 tracks of pristine Scruffiness? Sold.

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But the second release is an even bigger thrill: The Good Goodbye: Unreleased Recordings 1984-1990, which arrived in stores last week courtesy of the fine folks at Omnivore Recordings and contains 23 Scruffy the Cat tracks that, unless you’re really, really in with the in crowd, you’ve never heard before. If you’ve got memories of the band’s music that are fond as mine, then I’m sure you’re as psyched to hear this collection as I was. But if you have no memories of the band and have never heard their music at all…well, then this is a really good time to get in on the ground floor and find out what you’ve been missing.

And on that note, when I found out about these releases, I decided to see if there was any way I could hop on the phone with one of the guys from the band and chat about these new collections, just to try and help do my part to spread the word. As a result, I soon found myself having a lengthy and most decidedly in-depth conversation with the band’s guitarist, Stephen Fredette, about the life and times of Scruffy the Cat, including discussions about their formation, the recording of all of those EPs and LPs I mentioned, their eventual dissolution, and their all-too-brief reunion a few years ago. Oh, right, and Fredette also shared some truly fantastic stories about some of the many shows the band played in their career, including dates with Alex Chilton, the Pogues, and…Paula Abdul?!?

Yeah, you know you want to read on now

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Getting Lucky with Joan Rivers

In the wake of the news that Joan Rivers passed away this afternoon, I’m sure many people are currently posting links to their favorite moments from her career or sharing stories of their close encounters with the comedienne. I’m opting to offer the latter, because it’s a moment that my wife will never forget, either, even though she wasn’t actually there when the encounter took place.

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When Joan appeared at the 2009 Television Critics Association press tour in the summer of 2009, she was there to promote a short-lived TV Land endeavor called How’d You Get So Rich? – or, as she was prone to call it during the panel for the show, How’d You Get So Fucking Rich? – and as you can tell from the F-bomb, she was in fine foul-mouthed form. I sat down with her a few minutes after the conclusion of the panel, more than a little intimidated by the thought of interviewing a full-fledged comedy legend, but she got a laugh out of me almost immediately when I said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” and she replied, “And it’s a pleasure to,” hesitated for a beat, and then finished, “Well, we’ll see.”

The chat itself – which you can read in its entirety here, should you be of a mind to do so – wasn’t exactly a hard-hitting affair, but it was certainly pleasant enough, and we did manage to tackle a fair amount of ground in a short amount of time, briefly discussing Z Rock, Rabbit Test, and the PBS special Make ‘Em Laugh, to which she’d contributed, and when I praised her repeated dropping of F-bombs in the earlier panel, she said, “Oh, that’s very sweet. But, you know, fuck is in the vernacular now. It was good enough for Shakespeare. When Jane Fonda can say ‘cunt,’ it’s over. It’s done.” But it was our brief discussion of her time on The Celebrity Apprentice that brings us to my favorite moment of the entire encounter.

In discussing The Celebrity Apprentice, I told Joan that my wife was cheering her on all the way, so much so that, when I was working in my office while she was watching the show, she suddenly yelled, “You’ve got to come watch! Joan’s got to win! If she doesn’t win, I’m going to need some help!” At this, I actually earned a laugh from Joan Rivers – or, more specifically, my wife did, but I’m still taking half-credit for my delivery – and then we moved on to discussing more specifics about her time on the show.

After we wrapped up our chat and I thanked her, I’d just started to get up to leave when Joan suddenly asked, “You said you had a wife. Where is your wife?”

I said, “My wife will actually be arriving any minute. In fact, I should be getting a phone call from her any time now, saying that she’s at the airport.”

“Great,” replied Joan. “Are you going upstairs to your room or staying down here?”

“I’m staying down here for the next panel, whatever it may be.”

“Oh,” said Joan, slightly forlorn. She gestured to a rose in a vase that was sitting on a nearby table.  “I was going to send that to your wife.”

“Well, I won’t refuse that,” I decided immediately.

“Want to run it up to your room?” she asked. “Run that right up to your room. Trust me, you’ll get lucky tonight.”

Thanks, Joan. For everything.

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