Guy Branum is trying to reinvent late night television.
The 41-year-old comedian, whose writing credits include “The Mindy Project,” “Chelsea Lately” and “Fashion Police,” has tossed the contents of primetime chat shows into a blender, shaking up all their predictable, formulaic bits.
The result is the refreshingly silly “Talk Show the Game Show,” which jovially pits celebrities against each other to win the coveted title of “Best Guest of the Night.”
A few ways to earn points? Flirt with the host, show up visibly drunk or tell an on-set prank anecdote.
Expect to be taken down several pegs for white male fragility, excessive plugging and showboating.
“So many talk show appearances today are lifeless,” Branum said during a recent phone interview. “Everyone is terrified of doing or saying anything actually interesting.”
The comedian recalled watching a round of charades on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and growing irked when he realized that game was completely fixed. Everyone made two wrong guesses and a right guess.
“There was no element of chaos,” he said. “They’ve just made it too safe for A-listers who don’t want any danger.”
A slew of celebrities have already been more than happy to step into Branum’s line of talk show fire, including Wanda Sykes, Nikki Glaser and Chelsea Handler.
Branum, who worked with Handler for three years on “Chelsea Lately,” credits the comedian for teaching him the right way to interview a guest.
“Chelsea is just about the best goddamn interviewer in the business,” Branum said. “She goes out there, and asks what she wants to ask, and says what she wanted to say. That made it fun. It meant that people like T.I. and Gene Simmons would have a moment in their chairs where they would actually have to think.”
The comedian has worked with a slew of powerhouse showrunners, from Mindy Kaling (who direct-messaged Branum on Twitter offering him a writing gig on “The Mindy Project”) to Billy Eichner, the creator of man-on-the-street comedy series “Billy on the Street.”
Branum doesn’t write for Eichner, but sits in on meetings, pitching ideas and fleshing out concepts.
“That show is really about a specificity of voice,” Branum said. “For an extended period of time, I was researching a game that was going to be called: ‘Has Roseanne Barr Argued With This Person On Twitter About Israel?’”
The comedian added that — major plus — the “Billy on the Street” writer’s room is extremely Jewish.
“It’s like, look, I’m Jewish, but only on my mom’s side, and I’m from California. That essentially just means I believe in Sephardic pronunciation,” he quipped. “But, [Eichner] is from Queens, [producer] Julie Klausner from Scarsdale. It’s also a very gay space. Normally you’re in a writer’s room and you’re probably the only gay person in the room. There, it’s the majority. And, who’s gayer than Julie Klausner?”
Few comedians can say they’ve had the opportunity to hone their joke-writing skills quite like Branum can. The comedian spent a year working in the ultimate training ground for comedy — Joan Rivers’ living room.
Branum nabbed a job writing for “Fashion Police” while he was, quite begrudgingly, working on “Punk’d,” a practical joke show run by Ashton Kutcher.
“That was a show that was so much about…what are we going to put in the gas tank of this girl who was in ‘Twilight,’” he recalled. “I would leave that job and then go with my list of mean one-liners to Joan Rivers’s house and it was so much better. It was so much more satisfying.”
He recalled feeling completely intimidated when he met Rivers for the first time. She was in her house coat, surrounded by deli food, and he had to start pitching jokes.
Much to his relief, she laughed.
“Joan could remember jokes you had pitched six hours before, and she talked them out in a flawless fashion,” Branum recalled. “She was a person who, if you made a joke and she didn’t know the cultural references that made it funny, she would find out the cultural references that made it funny. She understood that it was her job to be relevant and to be a survivor.”
Branum added that Rivers reminded him a great deal of his Jewish mom — both because of their nurturing instincts, and and their boatloads of neuroses.
“She was a person who was always waiting for life to fall apart and for everything to get terrible again. And that’s my mom,” he said. “One of my theories is that every Jew that said ‘this is fine, this will blow over,’ will die horribly. The only genes that remain in our gene pool are fear, terror and ‘I should swallow my rings and cross the border.’”
“Talk Show the Game Show” is on truTV Wednesdays 10/9 C.
It’s barely 2017, and Billy Eichner is already owning the year like no other.
Eichner, perhaps best known for pounding the pavements and shrieking at unsuspecting New Yorkers for his television show “Billy on the Street,” has been churning out segment after segment of solid gold comedy since 2011.
The 38-year-old New Yorker takes simple, absurdist concepts and makes them a reality — often lugging A-list celebrities along for the ride.
Ever wonder if the people would have sex with Paul Rudd in exchange for $1? Want to know of Rashida Jones can guess which celebrities changed their last names to sound less Jewish?
Eichner is on the case.
Here’s just a few of his best moments, each of which hopefully provide a bright, often shrill, reminder of the pockets of goodness still left in the world.
That time he wandered the streets asking people if they would have a threesome with himself and Jon Hamm.
When he hit the streets looking for random New Yorkers to answer pop culture questions and he met the delightfully eccentric Elena, who would later become a regular on his show.
When he went around yelling at people about how pretty Olivia Wilde is.
The time he helped Conan O’Brian master the gay hook up app Grindr.
When he hung out with Joan Rivers in bed.
Just keep doing what you’re doing, Billy. We need you now more than ever.
Whether you love or hate the result, the election is over, and it’s time to find comfort and re-focus. A historical festival in New York, talk with Masha Gessen in San Francisco, and Israeli film festival in Chicago might prove just the ticket; if you’d rather stay home (we don’t blame you), unwind with the season 5 premier of “Billy on the Street” and a few new essays on great Jewish artists.
1) Watch the triumphant return of “Billy on the Street”
Regardless of your political affiliation, after the end of a year and a half of intensely vitriolic campaigning, we could all use a laugh. The man to provide that laugh is Billy Eichner, whose show “Billy on the Street” returns for its fifth season on Tuesday, November 15th. Eichner’s show is a frenetic carousel of confusion, exultation, and oddity; it mostly consists of him flagging people down on the street to shout questions at them like “would you have sex with Paul Rudd?” and “for a dollar, am I sexy?” (He sometimes rewards answers with incomprehensibly weird gifts, like an empty birdcage.) Guest stars in the upcoming season will include Andy Samberg and Seth Rogen, and Eichner’s flailing energy will make you laugh despite yourself.
2) Read about the incomplete masterpiece of “the world’s greatest animator,” the remarkable ups and downs of Joan Rivers’ career, and Jon Stewart’s remaking of the late-night comedy world
Via MTV, read Brian Phillips’ tender, imagistic profile of Yuri Norstein, the Jewish Russian artist many consider to be the greatest living animator. He’s spent the last 40 years – yes, 40 – working on an animated adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s short story “The Overcoat.” Over at Vanity Fair, learn first about Joan Rivers in an essay adapted by Leslie Bennetts from her biography of Rivers, out next week. After that, more comedy: check out Chris Smith’s oral history of Jon Stewart’s time on “The Daily Show” in which Stewart, Stephen Colbert and more muse about Stewart’s years on the show and their lasting impact.
3) Explore the history of Jewish chamber music
Thursday, November 10th, the Israeli Chamber Project presents “Jewish Voices” at Manhattan’s Merkin Concert Hall. The concert, which samples composers Bernard Herrmann, Shulamit Ran, Aaron Copland, and Karl Goldmark, will bridge music from radically different eras, countries, and schools of composing. The ensemble is based in Israel and New York; hear a sampling of their music below.
4) Revisit late-nineteenth century Jewish New York
Sunday, November 13th Manhattan’s Museum at Eldridge Street hosts the Generation to Generation Festival, an insight into how the Jews of New York, many recent immigrants, lived at the end of the 19th Century. The festival’s offerings include performances of early synagogue music, food-making demonstrations, and re-enactments of formative events in the Eldridge Street Synagogue’s history.
5) Get radical
“Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History of Jewish Radicalism,” out this week, is a history of Jewish radical action and thinking starting in the swath of Eastern Europe formerly known as Yiddishland. Coming from two French academics – sociologist Sylvia Klingberg and philosopher Alain Brossat – the book might be uniquely timely, as Jews across the world ponder how to confront and engage with tides of nationalism and populism. Also out this week is Amos Oz’s “Judas,” his first since 2002’s “A Tale of Love and Darkness.” Writing for the Forward, Ranen Omer-Sherman commented that “Judas,” which he called “especially urgent and profoundly universal,” is “one of the most triumphant novels of [Oz’s] career.”
6) Learn about Jewish life in 20th-century Russia from a legendary journalist
Speaking at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center on November 14th, Russian-American journalist and activist Masha Gessen will discuss the strange and troubling history of Jews in 20th-century Russia. Gessen’s latest book, “Where the Jews Aren’t: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region” (now that’s a mouthful) tells the story of the area set aside by the Soviet Union as a homeland for Jews, an experiment that was quickly and violently abandoned.
7) Catch the closing weekend of the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema
Chicago has been inundated with Israeli films since November 1st, and this is your last weekend to partake! Highlights should include the Chicago premieres of “Baba Joon,” the first Farsi-language film to win the Israeli Academy Award for Best Film, “The Settlers” on November 13th, and “Hummus! The Movie” on November 10th. (The last event includes a hummus and wine tasting; need I say more?)
8) Hear first-person testimony from an eyewitness to the Nuremberg trials
Also in Chicago, Chicago Tribune reporter Kathy Bergen will interview her father Hal Bergen, who assisted with the Nuremberg trials as a 19-year-old Army sound technician, at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center on November 13th. Following shortly after the 70th anniversary of the trials, it’s worth revisiting the lasting impact they had on the post-World War II world.
Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture fellow. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @TalyaZax
Fans of the late Joan Rivers will have the chance to buy items from the acerbic comedian’s New York home at an auction later this year, auctioneers Christie’s said on Tuesday.
Pieces of art, jewelry, furniture and clothing will be among the 200-plus lots from Rivers’ Manhattan penthouse on sale June 22, with starting bids from $500 to $200,000.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale will go to two charities, one to aid people living with AIDS and cancer, and the other to benefit guide dogs for the blind, Christie’s said.
Rivers, known for her no-holds-barred comedy, died in 2014 aged 81 following complications during an outpatient medical procedure. Her estate was left to her daughter Melissa Rivers, who memorialized her relationship with her mother in last year’s biography “The Book of Joan.”
Melissa Rivers said in a statement that the auction “offers a ‘through the keyhole’ experience for fans” of her mother, and “celebrates her elegance and collecting style.”
Highlights of the sale include a Faberge jeweled lily of the valley leaf piece starting from $200,000, a 1915 painting by French artist Edouard Vuillard starting at $120,000 and custom gowns made by Bob Mackie.
“My mother’s legacy as a much loved comedienne and philanthropist will be commemorated in this collaboration with Christie’s and her generosity to charitable causes is something I will continue in her honor,” Melissa Rivers said.
Only four months after Joan Rivers passed away unexpectedly from complications following surgery, Melissa Rivers was offered the chance to play her onscreen.
Rivers channels her mother and “Fashion Police” powerhouse in a guest spot in “Joy,” the upcoming David O. Russell film starring Jennifer Lawrence as Miracle-Mop-inventor Joy Mangano.
The resemblance is uncanny. But in an interview with Vanity Fair, Rivers joked that her mother would not have been impressed with the casting.
“I think she would be a little miffed that they didn’t have Cate Blanchett playing her,” Melissa deadpans to VF Hollywood during a recent phone call. “I think she would have wanted Cate or Helen Mirren, had it been in the later years, because, of course, when you think of my mother you think of willowy and English.”
Rivers added that she hesitated before accepting the role — how could she play Joan when she was still grieving for her mother? But Joan Rivers was never one to pass on an opportunity — and neither is her daughter.
“I could hear my mom’s voice in my head going, ‘You get to work with David O. Russell, Jennifer Lawrence, and Bradley Cooper… What are you doing even questioning this?”
It also helped that Joan “adored” Bradley Cooper, who co-stars with Lawrence in the movie.
“They were on a flight together once and he behaved like such a gentleman,” Rivers said. “My mother never forgot he put her bag in the overhead compartment and got it down for her. It was [comedian] Nick Kroll and Bradley and my mom all on the same flight, and my mother became like den mother. She’s like, ‘O.K., we’re all going to chat. Now we’re all going to go to sleep.’ Then she was like, ‘Goodnight, everybody,’ and everybody went to sleep. Then, they walked her out of the terminal and carried her bag. She loved that stuff and she was a fan of Jennifer’s.
“Jennifer walked up to me on set and quoted her favorite ‘Fashion Police’ line from over the years back to me, which was my mom saying, ‘That dress is so ugly, it looks like it would be good at math.’ What a way to break the ice with me.”
“Joy” opens in theaters on December 25. Dress nice. Joan can see you.
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