COMEDY ISSUE STEVE MARTIN MARTIN SHORT STEPHEN COLBERT AND OTHER PEOPLE NOT NAMED STEPHEN
KATE MCKINNON ISSA RAE SARAH SILVERMAN
BOSS 0968/S BOSS 0969
Henry Cavill #SharpenYourFocus boss.com
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Letter from the Editor 124
Sarah Silverman and a troll
THE FIX 17
The Hippies Won! You might think the right-wingers triumphed, but in all the ways that really matter, it’s the hippies who won BY DEVIN FRIEDMAN
“You Smell Like a Hippie” Is a Compliment Now A new breed of greener products packs a serious punch for natural grooming 30
How to Pull Off (Almost) Anything Fringe? Yes. Moccasins? Absolutely. Headdress? Let’s talk about that BY MARK ANTHONY GREEN
The Crunchy-Style Hall of Fame Celebrate fashion’s peacenik side with these ten brands that embrace the spirit of the ’60s without going full flower child BY SAMUEL HINE
Grateful DRAM How one modern hippie keeps winning over new fans with his bright and cheery music B Y C A M W O L F
T H E C OV E R Photograph by Martin Schoeller
Styling by Michael Nash. Set design by Ward Robinson for Wooden Ladder. Production by Brandon Zagha (L.A.). Production by Very Rare Productions (N.Y.C.).
So You Want to Buy an Investment Cactus They’re not cheap, but they’re quiet and clean. Here’s how to find the right one
On Sarah Silverman Dress by Mac Duggal. Shoes by Christian Louboutin. Earrings by Dries Van Noten.
BY NOAH JOHNSON
Stoner Food Gets Fully Baked
On Issa Rae Dress by Jovani. Shoes by Prada. On Kate McKinnon Dress and shoes by Versace. All prices quoted in this issue are approximate and subject to change.
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← Zach Woods knows well the perils of shaving. Union suit, $24, by Indera. Boots, $155, by Hunter.
M A R I A N B U L L dives into the wildest new world of gastronomy— the California edibles community—and asks: Can marijuana be delicious?
PHOTOGRAPH BY CARTER SMITH
C O V E R , F O R S A R A H S I L V E R M A N, H A I R : J O H N N I E S A P O N G F O R L E O N O R G R E Y L . M A K E U P : K I R A N A S R AT F O R D I O R B E A U T Y. M A N I C U R E : N E T T I E D A V I S U S I N G R O O T E D W O M A N N A I L P O L I S H. O N I S S A R A E , E A R R I N G S : D J U L A . H A I R : F E L I C I A L E AT H E R W O O D U S I N G C U R L S B L U E B E R R Y B L I S S. M A K E U P: J O A N N A S I M K I N AT T H E WA L L G R O U P. M A N I C U R E : N E T T I E D AV I S U S I N G R O O T E D W O M A N N A I L P O L I S H. F O R K AT E M CK I N N O N, H A I R : J O S E P H M A I N E F O R C O L O R W O W. M A K E U P : C A S S A N D R A G A R C I A F O R B O B B I B R O W N. M A N I C U R E : D E B O R A H L I P P M A N N U S I N G B R A N D N E W D AY B Y D E B O R A H L I P P M A N N.
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↓ Dinello provides support to Colbert and Sedaris.
FEATURES Colbert, Paul Dinello, and Amy Sedaris
Kate McKinnon Is Comedy’s New Rock Star
B Y PA U L S C H R O D T
SNL’s resident pop genius and queen extrovert keeps her cards close to her vest. A M Y W A L L A C E gives us a whole new look at the sketch-comedy master
BY DREW MAGARY
Is Anyone Actually Friends Anymore?
We drew up a user’s guide to friendship in the 21st century with help from Steve Martin and Martin Short 78
They Were Weird Before Weird Was Cool The history of Strangers with Candy, as told by the legendary trio who made it: Stephen
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Sarah Silverman Is the Troll Slayer She’s on a campaign to neutralize her haters with a weapon more powerful than a million burns: empathy
Issa Rae Is So Fresh She’s got the funniest show on HBO, and she’s leading the way for a new generation of creators who want to make their career in comedy without compromising. Look at her kingdom; she’s finally there BY ZACH BARON
That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore GQ convened a roundtable of allstars to figure out what’s funny in 2018
ON DINELLO Suit, $6,995, by Ralph Lauren. Shirt, $375, by Ermenegildo Zegna. Shoes, $425, by Allen Edmonds.
ON SEDARIS Dress by Adam Selman. Shoes by Christian Louboutin.
BY ANNA PEELE
ON COLBERT Suit, $3,200, by Dior Homme. Shirt, $375, and tie, $195, by Ermenegildo Zegna. Shoes, $695, by Tod’s.
The Tortured Mind of Dan Harmon The creator of Community and Rick and Morty wrestles with new projects and the bane of his existence: his a-hole fans B Y S E A N O ’ N E A L 114
The Nine Lives of Katt Williams For years he’s been the king of club comedy— brash and beloved and a little bit berserk
How to Go from Insecure to IDGAF at the Gym Hit the gym in workout gear that mixes classic athletic brands with sporty fashion stuff. We got the good-looking dudes of Insecure to show you how it’s done
Zach Woods in the Woods What happens when you drag the mother hen of HBO’s Silicon Valley into the wild and put him in the season’s splurgiest tech wear? Well, this BY LAUREN LARSON
BY MARIAH SMITH
BY DEVIN FRIEDMAN
PHOTOGRAPH BY MARK SELIGER
THE LATEST NEWS FROM THE MONTHLY, THE DAILY, AND THE ALLTHE-TIME-LY WORLD OF GQ
OFFICE GRAILS SUMMER TEES MAKE ME FEEL FINE
MEET MARIAH SMITH
1 is to 2018 as Jazzercise was to 1969. Overpriced boutique group fitness.
5 What purchase will make you feel self-actualized? A TV that's hidden in the foot of my bed.
2 What's the worst thing about the gym? The lights are too bright. We don't need to see what we’re doing.
6 Which song did you play the first time you drove without parental supervision? “The Bitch of Living" by the original Broadway cast of Spring Awakening.
3 What’s the least worst thing about the gym? The Wi-Fi. 4 What’s the best gettingin-shape montage of all time? Khloé Kardashian's Snapchat.
7 If you stand in a dark
bathroom, light a candle, and say your name three times into the mirror, what will appear? A stand-in for me. I’m sure I'll be busy.
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“I've spent years trying to find another lightweight, silky Hawaiian shirt that actually fits well. Usually, Hawaiians fit like sails."
N O E L H OWA R D SENIOR VIDEO PRODUCER
“When it gets too warm, I have the same bucket hat in white. In the summer my aesthetic is very ‘Hunter S. Thompson on a golf course.’”
WHO BIT BEYONCÉ? → After Tiffany Haddish told writer Caity Weaver that she’d seen an actress bite Beyoncé at a party, the accusations were fierce, the denials hilarious.
• IS IT TRUE WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT CALIFORNIA? • HEALTH CLUBS: WHERE THEY ARE, WHAT THEY CAN DO • 18 LEGAL WAYS TO USE A TAPE RECORDER • MASSAGE: EASY WAY TO FITNESS • WHERE HAVE ALL THE BLUE BLOODS GONE?
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“I got this shirt at a touristy T-shirt shop in HaightAshbury. Prince had just died. I saw it and had to have it.”
BENJY H A N S E N - B U N DY A S S O C I AT E E D I TO R
→ If the GQ covers of yore are any indication, the ’70s were a time of short shorts, Ron Burgundy mustaches, and misguided fitness advice. Below, our top five cover lines from the ’70s.
gq prefers that letters to the editor be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. letters may be edited.
C H A N N E L M A N AG E R
T H I S H O L D S U P:
’ 7 0 S G Q WA S L I T
ro m Blast Pfast! the
SHIRLEY MACLAINE SPOKESPERSON “ N O, S H I R L E Y D I D N OT B I T E A N Y T H I N G . S H E ’S 8 3 Y E A R S O L D. ” SA R A F O S T E R “ F L AT T E R I N G T H AT A N YO N E THINKS I COULD GET THIS CLOSE TO B E YO N C É . ” LENA DUNHAM “ A S T H E PAT R O N S A I N T O F ‘S H E WO U L D D O T H AT ’ . . . I D I D N ’ T. ”
P H O T O G R A P H S , C L O C K W I S E F R O M T O P R I G H T: K R I S T A S C H L U E T E R ( 3 ) ; A R T S T R E I B E R ; D O U G L A S M E S N E Y. I L L U S T R AT I O N : A L E X A N D R A C O M PA I N - T I S S I E R .
→ Mariah Smith is a comedian, producer, and writer. She covers entertainment in general and the Kardashians in particular. In this issue, she hits the gym with the men of Insecure (page 92). We asked her about fitness, her high school jams, and spoooooky stuff.
The Unreckoned THIS IS THE LEAST FUNNY THING
you will read in this issue, but it’s a story someone dear to me has carried around for years, and it bears telling. This is a ghost story. My sister was a young lobbyist in Washington, D.C., in the 1990s, and she was unlucky enough to speak out against sexual harassment before speaking out was permitted. It crushed her, and she’s still paying for it. She was in her 30s, fiercely intelligent and ambitious—I once heard a man describe her as “a real pistol,” the way bosses in screwball comedies would describe Rosalind Russell or some other brazen woman who had wandered into their line of work. She had started as an assistant at what people in D.C. call a K Street law firm, and while she never went to law school, she worked her way up, over a decade, to become a successful lobbyist there. Looking back, she describes a culture in Washington in which sexual harassment was not some occasional o≠ense; it was embedded in the way men spoke to and about women, the right they felt they had to make squirm-inducing sexual overtures in meetings, at drinks, and in the hallways of power. She recounts getting “the Strom Thurmond Squeeze” one day in the Capitol—the signature sideways hug from the senator from South Carolina, so decrepit by then he appeared to have been disinterred from a Civil War crypt. When he’d meet a woman he liked, she says, he’d mewl, “Aw, you’re such a purrrdy girl! And smart, too!” And then his arm would stretch out like some zombie limb. “He’d grab boob, every time,” she says. One of her chief clients was the head of a major food group—let’s call him Emboldened Perv. He would routinely fly into town to tell my sister what his organization wanted her to lobby Congress for. Emboldened Perv: corpulent, loud, heavily aftershaved. Mid- to late 60s. An ostentatious flirt. When Emboldened Perv came to town, women in the o∞ce put their heads down and declined his boorish invitations to dinner. He said he played a numbers game, romance-wise: The more women you hit on, the better your chances. He told everyone he was in an open marriage, but appeared to have forgotten to inform his wife. My sister and he worked together productively for years. Then one night, during an out-of-town convention, he informed 1 2
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her that he was not only attracted to her but hopelessly in love with her, so much so that if they couldn’t be together, he couldn’t work with her anymore, couldn’t bear to be near her. He’d have to be “neutered,” he said, which is a strange way of making a man’s desires a woman’s problem. No, he said, if he couldn’t have her, the firm would need to take her o≠ the account. What?! Never had an overture felt so threatening. Her boss had already warned her that if she ever “fucked up” the account, he’d fire her. Later that night, shaken and upset, she called her boss in D.C. and reported what had happened. The boss aggressively dismissed it, played it down. Oh, let it go, he said. That’s just how he is. He’s just a big ol’ flirt. Flirt back! he told her. Use it to your advantage. My sister said no, that the whole situation had become untenable. Her boss told her to “fix it,” and made it clear they could not lose the account. She couldn’t believe her ears, or her options. “What was I supposed to do?” she says now. “Become the guy’s concubine? Or walk away from the account and get fired? I was fucked.” She flew back to D.C., ready to get into it with her boss, but by that point, the mood in the o∞ce had already turned against her. Almost instantly, her boss began berating her, railing against her to the partners, sta≠ers, and clients, telling them she was an obstinate “bitch.” He’d scream at her in the doorway of her o∞ce so that everyone could hear. Co-workers she considered friends started avoiding her. As the mood of retaliation and hostility grew, she consulted with an attorney, who tried to negotiate a peace. That made her boss even angrier. “Oh, you think you’ve won the lottery, don’t you!” he yelled at her. At one point he said he felt like “killing” her. It all happened so fast. Before she knew it, she was clearing out her desk. She left devastated, disoriented, and shocked. Soon the firm and her lawyer reached a settlement. My sister received all of $80K and in the duress of the moment signed a sweeping non-disclosure agreement. She abided by the terms and went looking for a new lobbying job, hoping to put the episode behind her and capitalize on years of experience. Funny, though. No one seemed interested in meeting with her. Or she’d get a promising lead, and it would quickly vanish. She started to hear through ex-colleagues that her firm was bad-mouthing her on Capitol Hill, casting her as a
di∞cult woman. You know, the litigious type, just out for the money. What I want to tell you is that my sister never recovered, certainly not in the employment arena. She spent years trying to land a good job, worked briefly once or twice, then never again. In e≠ect, she’d been blackballed from the whole K Street scene. Worse, because she was unable to find gainful employment, her financial situation deteriorated. And for a terrifying time, so did her mental and psychological state. While she had experienced moderate depression before, she su≠ered a full-on breakdown, and several years later was hospitalized with bipolar disorder. Today, while she acknowledges the complexities of psychological forces, she recognizes that the harassment and the ensuing collapse of her career led to her breakdown. The latest research backs her up—many people who experience late-onset bipolar disorder (my sister was 42) often endured some shock to the system, some trauma, hardship, or depression where they felt “hopeless,” as my sister did. Or as she says, “You might have a predisposition, but you often have to have extreme stress for it to manifest itself.” What to do? How to make sense of it all? While I think Emboldened Perv was pathetic and acted horribly, it’s her boss who I really hold in shame. We’ll never solve the massive problem of harassment if the higher-ups, not just the actual sexual harassers, aren’t held accountable. H.R. is another problem. Too often, H.R. serves to protect and defend the company rather than the workers, who need the support so much more. In my sister’s case, there was no one to help. Then there’s this: Lately I’ve started to hear grumblings from some men about the “excesses” of the #MeToo movement. You’ve probably heard it, too: “It’s getting so you can’t look at a woman these days.” Oh, please. It’s so hard being a man! When I think about this cultural reckoning we’ve just begun and I hear the word excess, I think of the opposite—the surely millions of women whose complaints of abuse have never been, will never be, heard or taken seriously. And I wonder: How many other women were hurt psychologically, fractured, broken apart somehow by the experience of harassment? How many have yet to fully recover from it? My sister, who is a hero of mine for her resilience and her nerve, is doing well now. She is as articulate about what happened to her and as determined about these issues as ever. She could be a lobbyist for a new movement. One where we finally confront the toxicity and failings of working culture, and what we, as men, have permitted.
JIM NELSON EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
ERIC RAY DAVIDSON
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
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A NEW SECTION FOR A NEW ERA
YOU MAY THINK THE RIGHT-WINGERS ARE IN POWER, MAN. THAT FROM NIXON TO TRUMP, IT’S THE SQUARES WHO CONQUERED. BUT ONLY RECENTLY HAVE WE COME TO REALIZE IT’S THE HIPPIES WHO TRIUMPHED OVER THE STUFF THAT REALLY MATTERS. SO OPEN YOUR MIND TO THE NEW REALITY... ILLUSTRATIONS BY BEN KOPP
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I HAD A CONVERSATION at a wedding recently with this guy who runs a “distressed debt shop” in New York City. The man leaked a pure, cold draft of privilege that sent a chill right down my spine. Like, he told me he’d struggled growing up because his dad was “a lowly managing director at Lehman Brothers.” This guy lacked human emotion, carpooled with the Trumps as a kid (and found them to be a bit coarse, naturally), and actually fucking wept when Mitt Romney wasn’t elected president of the United States. Had we not truly lost our way if we couldn’t see the wisdom of leadership by older white management consultants who schedule feelings through their secretaries? The point I’m making is that this is the guy I got into an argument with about the medical benefits of cannabis. With him playing the part that had until now been reserved for gentlemen who work part-time in head shops and the other part of the time as Reiki practitioners. While I, meanwhile, played the part of Mitt Romney. I was like: Man, I don’t have cataracts; I smoke weed to get high and forget for a few hours that I’ll be dead one day. And this guy, in his Savile Row suit and his status as Republican fund-raising bundler, was talking about the adaptogenic qualities of your CBDs and THCs and natural oils and endemic terpenes. If you’re looking for evidence of which way the prevailing cultural winds are blowing, look no further than the hippiest substance known to the Western world: marijuana. It can be hard to see it sometimes, what with the current occupant of the Oval O∞ce and how he’s the direct heir to the human being most anathema to hippie-ism: Richard Nixon. But the secret truth is that hippie culture won. That’s right, you chia-seed motherfuckers. You Transcendental Meditators. You alkaline-water drinkers. You Goop readers with your mushroom face masks and your vampire sprays. You don’t believe me? How many yoga studios come up in Google Maps when you open it? How many of you have seen a slice of sprouted-grain bread?
I N G S H I P PI TH ADE COOLES M The Summer of Love may be half a century behind us, but hippie culture is still a force in our lives.— C O L I N G R O U N D W A T E R
The hippies may not have won immediately—we prefer leadership through consensus over single-minded will to power, feel me?—but they won. Their most cherished obsessions—sustainability, solar panels, downward dogs, mindfulness, mushroom masks, farm-to-table, biodynamism in wine and all else—are all the ideological and practical o≠spring of what was considered a threat to regular America in the ’60s. Is Mercury in retrograde not as close as many of us come to religious belief anymore? Or, here’s a novel idea: Maybe it’s because hippie values are enduringly good. Preserve the environment, treat your body well and the people around you well-er, chill out, be tolerant, don’t tread on others, be compassionate, even to yourself. These are, I would argue, not values that belong to one end of the political spectrum. They’re human values. And hippie-ness was always more about values than about gaining power, so it makes a kind of sense that Transcendental Meditation is the legacy of the era, not President McGovern. Either way, you know it’s true. Marijuana is ascendant, people. Fifty years after the hippies first walked the earth, this is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. And it’s sponsored by Lululemon.— D E V I N F R I E D M A N
VEGETARIANISM The number of vegetarians in the U.S. has grown by some 1,300 percent since 1971. TOFU Or tempeh, if you prefer. Hippies loved their soy products.
BROWN RICE Good source of fiber, good for your soul. What more could you want from a grain?
TURMERIC This hippie spice is having a moment. Add it to anything from chicken to yogurt.
Sex ORGIES You don’t need to move to the Haight for this! There’s likely a vast, trendy world of sex parties in a city near you. Respect is mandatory; participation, optional. NUDITY POLYAMORY Tasteful photos Free love from a naked is woke. retreat will be a hit on your Insta.
Vibes MEDITATION Hippies called it meditation; we call it mindfulness. Think you don’t have the time? There’s an app for that. YOGA Office yoga is a thing now. Namaste, kids.
Jams PSYCH ROCK Tame Impala psychedelic wunderkind Kevin Parker collabs with stars like Lady Gaga and gets covered by Rihanna. FESTIVALS Thirty-two million Americans go to music festivals each year.
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THE DEAD Still grateful, not dead yet; now with John Mayer.
“You Smell Like a Hippie” Is a Compliment Now Natural grooming isn’t just a granola-dusted niche category anymore. A new breed of greener, cleaner products goes way beyond patchouli
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“Natural” is now “Big Natural.” Conglomerates (like Unilever) are snapping up independent brands (like Schmidt’s Naturals) by the dozen, and big-box chains like Target are dedicating entire sections to green products. Naturally (sorry), this is great, right? Almost. The dark green underbelly of green grooming is that the consumer has to work even harder to know what’s in a bottle. With any booming segment comes misleading marketing—but a “clean” and “honest” category can be especially hard to navigate because what constitutes a natural product is mostly unregulated. Labels come with all kinds of near meaningless terms, like, you know, “natural.” So to help you through this garden of confusion, we not only tested hundreds of items to see if they actually work but rejected anything that doesn’t contain a large percentage of naturally derived, plant-based ingredients. Once you know what’s legit, you can choose from loads of effective products. Or you can just ditch your current bottles and replace them with our favorites. (Remember to recycle!)— G A R R E T T M U N C E
PHOTOGRAPHS BY SARAH ANNE WARD
PROP ST YLIST: JOJO LI AT HELLO ARTISTS. GROOMING: JESSICA ORTIZ USING RAHUA. CASTING: WULF CASTING.
WE DIDN’T INVENT THE SUMMER COCKTAIL The perfect summer cocktail starts with Patrón. Handcrafted in small batches using 100% Weber Blue Agave, the signature smooth taste of Patrón will elevate all your favorite drinks this season. We didn’t invent the summer cocktail,
The perfect way to enjoy Patrón is responsibly. Handcrafted and imported exclusively from Mexico by The Patrón Spirits Company, Las Vegas, NV. 40% abv.
WE JUST PERFECTED IT.
PATRÓN REPOSADO PALOMA
For this recipe and others visit patrontequila.com/cocktails
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FOUR NEW BRANDS
Sometimes it takes a small, agile company to improve on the corporate focus groups. Most of these brands hit the market only in the past few years, but their overnight success represents shifting demand. What really makes them special, though, is the dialed-up potency of
Even the Deodorant Works • It wasn’t that I smelled bad while wearing deodorant—“natural” or not—it was that I smelled like a corpse that smelled bad even for corpses. For years I’d use natural deodorant o≠ and on, but I’d always go back to pore-gunging antiperspirant. Schmidt’s changed everything. Three out of three experts I talked to—cosmetic chemist James Hammer, Schmidt’s Naturals founder Jaime Schmidt herself, and my mom—think it’s partly the odor-absorbing and totally natural main ingredient, magnesium hydroxide (Milk of Magnesia, basically), that did it. Deodorants with lots of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) or charcoal (like Schmidt’s brand-new Charcoal + Magnesium) work just as well, which is to say: They actually do what they say they do.— R O S S M C C A M M O N
A E U RO PE AN VAC ATI O N
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1755, when the carnation pink Botot was invented to clean the teeth of Louis XV. The clove flavor, which is not unlike a savory bubblegum, practically screams class. But while there’s nothing
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O’ DOUDS APOTHECARY Find this Brooklynbased hair brand at the coolest Brooklynbased barbershops with their Brooklynbased barber poles and tattooed barbers.
AS ARAI This Australian selfproclaimed “übernatural” product line melds the botanical, the scientific, and the geographical by using a slew of Australian ingredients.
MOON RIVERS NATURALS Handmade in Tyler, Texas, products like Good Vibes Oil, turmeric masks, and clay bar soaps are about as earthy as it gets.
PLANTIOX IDANTS The ingredients list reads more like a smoothie recipe than a face cleanser.
than pasty. It comes in a box with thin gold trim. It’s the first oral-care product we’ve ever tried that reminds us less of a root canal and more of green-tea ice cream. — N I C K M A R I N O
“FOUR NEW BRANDS YOU CAN BELIEVE IN,” CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: COURTESY OF O’DOUDS APOTHECARY; COURTESY OF ASARAI; COURTESY OF PLANTIOXIDANTS; COURTESY OF MOON RIVERS NATURALS
YOU CAN BELIEVE IN
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Organicize Your Cabinet There’s a product for everything now. GQ tested more than a hundred to bring you the best from head to toe TATA HARPER R E S T O R AT I V E EYE CRÈME Tata Harper infuses products with Mother Nature’s best remedies. This eye cream uses buckwheat, which is good for boosting collagen to cover up signs of the sleep you’re not getting.
DEDCOOL 05 FRAGRANCE Natural scents sometimes wear off quicker than their preservative-enhanced cousins, but this keeps its citrus aroma past your afternoon caffeine ﬁx before you need to think about a re-spritz.
YOUTH TO THE PEOPLE SUPERFOOD CLEANSER What can’t kale do? For the same reason it’s good in your salad (it’s packed with vitamins and nutrients), it helps this cleanser keep your skin healthy, too.
TO P S H E L F ( L →R ) Schmidt’s Charcoal + Magnesium Deodorant | $10 Prospector Co. Peary & Henson Aftershave | $18 Lebon Le White Toothpaste | $24 Plant Apothecary Wake Up Bar Soap | $12
MI D D LE SHELF (L→ R ) Gaffer & Child Facial Scrub | $30 Wise Glacier Clay Pomade | $25 Monk Oil City Skin Potion | $56 Ursa Major Stellar Shave Cream | $24
Susanne Kaufmann Moisturizing Gel Line M | $95 Seaweed Bath Co. Balancing Argan Shampoo | $13 REN Atlantic Kelp and Magnesium AntiFatigue Body Wash | $27
BOT TOM S HELF (L →R) Olivina Men Ginger Citrus Organic Lip Balm | $4 Hello Toothbrush | $4 Wise Neem Wood Comb | $12 Bare Republic Face SPF 30 | $15 Cocofloss Mint Flavor | $8
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The Rich + Clean Reserve Beard Oil | $20 Biossance Squalane + Peptide Eye Gel | $54 Herbivore Botanicals Lapis Facial Oil | $72 Rahua Omega 9 Hair Mask | $58 Asarai Sleepercell Retinol Serum | $45
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Let Your Hair Flow (Then Remember to Groom It) • In the realm of self-care, keeping my near-shoulder-length hair healthy has never felt as crucial as getting eight hours of sleep and purchasing weird pants every few months. I couldn’t recall the last time I used shampoo, and my morning regimen consisted of drugstore conditioner and a rough towel-dry. It worked fine when my cut was short—but long hair magnifies poor choices. Like a bachelor who consumes nothing but pizza rolls and Bud Light, over time my locks looked spiritless and more than a little greasy. So I called up celebrity hairstylist Makiko Nara—responsible for keeping hair-Jesus Jared Leto’s lustrous mane red-carpet ready—for advice. She told me to put my hair on an organic diet stat. “A lot of standard shampoos and conditioners include silicones,” says Nara, “which make it easy to wash and gives you smooth hair.” But there’s a catch: Silicones can build up in your strands, sealing out important nutrients. “After a lot of use, your hair doesn’t absorb natural oils and moisturize as well,” she says, which
can leave long locks damaged and dull and is why Nara avoids using them on her clients. I started my cleanse with a vinegar rinse to strip my hair to its pure, un-siliconed state. Then, on Nara’s advice, I put in a 100-percentnatural hair mask, basically a very intense conditioner, applied a small amount of S.oil natural oil to the ends—and went from aforementioned bachelor to Botticelli angel overnight. No longer weighed down by gloppy conditioner, my mane was softer, shinier, and lighter than ever before. The final touch was my new blow-dryer, the secret weapon of long-hair care. Contrary to popular belief, blow-drying and brushing properly conditioned locks can help them stay moisturized and frizz-less. “If you blow-dry your hair regularly,” says Nara, “you might not need to take care of it anymore— sometimes you don’t even need to use products.” So the next time you come back from the organic-food store, take a hard look at your shower caddy and ask yourself: Am I letting my ’do live its best life?— S A M U E L H I N E
TEMPLES OF GROOM
THE BOUTIQUE • Every single item sold at CAP Beauty stores and website is completely natural, which means you don’t even have to decipher a label (unless you really want to).
THE BIG-BOX • Next time you’re pushing past the aisle completely dedicated to bath bombs, check out Target’s natural-personal-care aisle, which is stocked with sheet masks, oil cleansers, and small-batch brands.
The ingredients list for a natural grooming product can seem like a chemistry test when it should be more like a grocery list. Below are some common natural ingredients, decoded. CAPRY LIC/CAPRIC TRIGLYCERIDE A commonly used skin conditioner (just call it moisturizer) derived from coconut oil and glycerin. GLYCERIN It sounds artificial, but this humectant (yet another moisturizer!) can be naturally derived from vegetables. (Look for products that specifically contain vegetable glycerin.)
CURCUMA LONGA EX TRACT Turmeric, said to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. BUTY ROS PERMUM PARKII Shea butter. S ODIUM CHLORIDE Salt. AQUA Everything always sounds effective in Latin, even “water.”
“TEMPLES OF GROOM,” FROM TOP: COURTESY OF CAP BEAUT Y; JOHN GREIM/LIGHTROCKET/GET T Y IMAGES
MARK ANTHONY GREEN H A S YO U R A N S W ER @A S K M AG
How to Pull Off (Almost) Anything Style editor Mark Anthony Green equips you with a few simple questions for navigating cross-cultural style
Hey, M.A.G., I saw a pic of John Mayer rocking cowboy clothes and a Native American necklace at the same time. Is that...kosher? I once wore a bolo tie to a wedding—I own more than 100—and a guy who works in the fashion industry asked me how I thought a real cowboy would feel about me wearing a bolo. I thought about it for a couple of days and came to this conclusion: I don’t care what the cowboy thinks. I feel no shame about carrying a Filson bag and not being a hunter. I sleep just fine at night in Supreme boxers even though I can’t do a kick-flip to save my life. But I also recognize that this makes me a poseur. And I deserve whatever mockery comes my way. Like when I wear a Grateful Dead T-shirt to the o∞ce and GQ creative director and senior Deadhead Will Welch asks if I got it on Shakedown Street. It’s my right to rock the tee without understanding, specifically, how he’s even mocking me. And it’s his right to call me out for it. This represents a balance in the animal kingdom of fashion. Shower me with jokes, but I’ll continue to get these amazing fits o≠. The problem is stepping into a culture that its members didn’t choose to join. Skating, hunting, and cowboying? Those are choices. But when Big Fast Fashion R Us makes jackets with faux kente cloth, or kimonos, or a Native American feather crown, you need to do an audit: a moment between you and your closet when you interrogate the origin and DNA of your go-to garments. 3 0
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Here’s a brief list of questions I like to ask:
• Who made this? • Where was it made? • Was this made with good
• • •
J OHN MAYER Here’s something the Internet has known for years: Mayer has reached high-fashion-sensei status.
DAVID BECKHAM Carhartt clothing is made for the workingman—and technically David Beckham has a job.
MACKLEMOR E Considering his history of cultural appropriation, I think we got off easy with the bolo tie here.
Nothing says “grungy skateboarder” like wearing $500K worth of jewelry around your neck.
labor practices? (This is always a question you should ask when something looks cool but costs very little.) Did this designer simply knock off that designer? Were any animals cruelly killed for this? Can I wear a Pink Floyd T-shirt if I know nothing of Mr. Floyd’s catalog?
I’m not here to guilt you. (Unless you’re still wearing joggers in 2018. In which case you should feel much shame.) But I am here to help make the simple act of putting on clothes a meaningful exercise. There’s a right way to pay homage to something. Visvim uses some of the same by-hand processes that moccasin makers used way back when. The brand may update something like a pair of moccasins by giving them a futuristic sole, but it does the research. Ralph Lauren makes some of the coolest military pieces on earth. His designers elevate uniforms to honor that heritage. The di≠erence between celebrating and exploiting is a thin line—and usually you have to spend a little bit more money to be on the right side of history. I’ll wear moccasins— although I won’t go to Big Fast Fashion to buy them— because I’ve done the audit. So look at (and into) those jeans or shoes or kimonos. There’s enough evil in this world without us piling on in the name of looking good.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY SIMON ABRANOWICZ
The latest GQ Best Stuf Box has landed. Subscribe now to get a quarterly shipment of our favorite gadgets, grooming products, style upgrades, and beyond— all tested and endorsed by the magazine’s editors.
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LABELS WE LOVE
SABAH: THE OFFICIAL SLIPPERS OF SUMMER Sabah founder Mickey Ashmore first made the distinctive handstitched slippers with a Turkish family in 2013 and now sells the vibrant suede and leather shoes out of book-filled spaces in New York, Dallas, and Venice Beach. They might look delicate, but they’ll last for ages. $195 | sabah.am
• A few years back, Levi’s discovered a hoard of more than 50,000 pieces of secondhand made-inAmerica Levi’s jeans and trucker jackets. After washing (and lots of mending), the company launched its first sustainablevintage program. Any thrift store worth its salt stocks some wellaged 501s, but these Authorized Vintage pieces are guaranteed legit and made in America. Some of the jeans are from as far back as the ’70s, when Levi’s was the o∞cial clothier of San Francisco counterculture.
The Crunchy-Style Hall of Fame
Jacket, $248. Pants, $248. Both by Levi’s Authorized Vintage, at levi.com.
Celebrate fashion’s peacenik side this summer with these ten nature-loving, tie-dyeing, hemp-weaving brands that embrace the spirit of the ’60s without going full-blown flower child by Samuel Hine 3 4
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PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOYCE LEE
P R O P S T Y L I S T: K A I T LY N D A R B Y. S O F T - G O O D S S T Y L I S T: B R I A N P R I M E A U X AT J K A R T I S T S .
LEVI’S AUTHORIZED V I N TA G E : TREASURES FROM THE GOLDEN AGE OF AMERICAN DENIM
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LABELS WE LOVE
J U N G M AV E N : H E M P T E E S T H AT MIGHT CHANGE THE WORLD
SUN BUDDIES: BECAUSE THE PAST WAS SO BRIGHT Started by the guys behind Swedish fashion powerhouse Très Bien, Sun Buddies takes iconic sunglasses styles from ’60s Bergman films and reworks them in summer-ready shapes and colors (like transparent peach, here). $155 each sunbuddieseyewear.com
• Jungmaven’s signature 100-percent-hemp T-shirts aren’t the perfect summer tees simply because they have a loose knit and a nice silky drape. They’re also a political statement. Compared with cotton, hemp requires less water and space, and fewer pesticides, for the same yield. It’s downright nuts that it’s illegal to cultivate in much of the U.S. Jungmaven founder Robert Jungmann has made it his mission to change that— the brand’s mantra is “Everyone in a hemp tee by 2020.” Count us in. T-shirts, $95 each. Both by Jungmaven, at jungmaven.com.
K A P I TA L : A J A P A N E S E TA K E O N V I N TA G E A M E R I C A N A
• Kapital was founded in 1985 in the denim capital of Japan (yes, Japan has a denim capital), Kojima, and it’s since established a cult following that includes far-out fashionheads like John Mayer
and A$AP Rocky. These artfully remixed pieces of American fashion heritage range from classic westernwear to hippie-dippie SoCal surf styles. Not surprisingly, the soul of Kapital is the most American export of them all:
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denim and indigo. Down to the accessories, Kapital pieces are meant to get better with age, just like a new pair of jeans. Tote bag, $372. Beanie, $218. Bandanna, $73. All by Kapital, at blueingreensoho.com.
vapor-distilled for purity, electrolytes for taste.
© 2018 glacéau. glacéau ®, smartwater ® and label are registered trademarks of glacéau.
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LABELS WE LOVE
GRAMICCI : CLIMBING GEAR BORN IN YOSEMITE
ANONYMOUS ISM: LOW-KEY SOCKS KNIT WITH LOVE IN JAPAN This Tokyo-based label is way off the grid—no social media or website. But its socks, made from natural fibers, in every trippy pattern imaginable, speak for themselves. $27 each unionmadegoods.com
M I S S O N I : P S Y C H E D E L I C K N I T W E A R F R O M N O R T H E R N I TA LY
• Missoni has spent the past 65 years doing the opposite of what every other major European luxury fashion brand has done. Rather than go multi-national, hire star designers, and crank out heavily branded products
for the masses, Missoni has focused on the family business of creating insanely beautiful, idiosyncratic knits in factories the company owns in Northern Italy. Angela Missoni has ushered in a bohemian new
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vision for Missoni’s menswear lineup that includes slouchy rainbow suits and Electric Kool-Aid acid sweaters. Jacket, $1,825. Cardigan, $1,195. Pants, $1,070. All by Missoni, at missoni.com.
• In the 1970s, Mike Graham was a member of the Stonemasters, the legendary band of outlaw rock climbers. He wanted new gear he and his crew could climb hard in, so he designed shorts with rugged fabrics, crotch gussets for mobility, and built-in belts, hallmarks of climbing style ever since. The Gramicci name comes from a Stonemasters gag: Graham was part of a team that snarkily adopted new last names in pursuit of the first all-Italian clean ascent of Yosemite’s Half Dome. He became Gramicci, and it stuck. Shorts, $49 each. All by Gramicci, at gramicci.com.
Switch to GEICO and save money for the things you love. Maybe it’s the vintage submariner you’ve always wanted. Or those designer aviators. They’re what you love – and they don’t come cheap. So switch to GEICO, because you could save 15% or more on car insurance. And that would help make the things you love that much easier to get.
Auto • Home • Rent • Cycle • Boat geico.com | 1-800-947-AUTO (2886) | local office Some discounts, coverages, payment plans and features are not available in all states or all GEICO companies. Homeowners and renters coverages are written through non-affiliated insurance companies and are secured through the GEICO Insurance Agency, Inc. Boat and PWC coverages are underwritten by GEICO Marine Insurance Company. Motorcycle and ATV coverages are underwritten by GEICO Indemnity Company. GEICO is a registered service mark of Government Employees Insurance Company, Washington, D.C. 20076; a Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary. © 2017 GEICO
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LABELS WE LOVE
P ATA G O N I A : THE ORIGINAL EARTH - LOVI NG OUTDOORS OUTFITTER
• Patagonia’s rugged Stand Up shorts were one of its first big hits back in the ’70s, when Yvon Chouinard began creating clothes for himself and his dirtbag climbing buddies in a tin shed in Ventura, California. Now that Patagonia has grown into one of the most recognizable—and politically active— outdoor brands in America, Chouinard sells more than he could ever have dreamed. Same goes for the Snap-T, which set the standard for fleece jackets when it was introduced in 1985. Pullover, $119. Shorts, $59. Both by Patagonia, at patagonia.com.
CHACO: THE SPORT SANDALS OF SUMMER How did these dad sandals, first sold in 1989—and sporting optional flair like psychedelic patterns and Grateful-Dead-dancing-bear straps—become a new semi-ironic trend in men’s footwear? Well, there’s nothing funny about how comfortable they are. $130 | chacos.com
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GREAT TASTE. ONLY 96 CALORIES. MILLER LITE. HOLD TRUE.
DRAM’s smile is an impossibly wide grin that takes up an outsize amount of real estate on his face, like the :D emoticon come to life. It also gets him anything he wants. He’s used it to charm his way to the top of the charts and the front of the line at bars. Even the occasional TSA agent can’t help but easily speed him through airport security. “You get the little things that you definitely need from the people who can make it appear with the wave of a hand,” he says. The cover of his latest album, Big Baby DRAM, features him beaming, snuggled next to his dog, Idnit (as in “Idnit so cute?”), and his music makes DRAM-size grins appear on humans and, sometimes, gods. “This song makes me happy!” Beyoncé wrote on Instagram of his 2014 single, “Cha Cha.” It’s an atypical branding strategy for a rapper, but he’s found the key to his success in a huge, toothy grin. DRAM is detonating every hard-ass-rapper trope, starting
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with the tie-dyed music that evokes colors bleeding into one another: a bouncy mix of funk, rap, and R&B that he’s dubbed trappy-golucky. On “Cute,” he croons with puppy-love earnestness lines like I choose you like a Pokémon. His gift is his ability to spin positivity out of any situation. And in 2018, he’s indispensable. “The negativity is apparent because it’s shoved down our throats, and our country, 24/7,” he says. “My music is more an escape from even worrying about all of that.” Has he ever considered smiling... less? “Hell nah,” he says, “because I look the best when I smile.” And with an album DRAM describes as “really calculated fine-tuned beautiful madness” on the way, TSA agents better stay on high alert.— C A M W O L F
PHOTOGRAPH BY OLIVIA BEE
S T Y L I S T: A N D R E W T. V O T T E R O . H A I R : E R I N N C O U R T N E Y. G R O O M I N G : H E E S O O K W O N F O R M A L I N + G O E T Z . S H I R T, $ 5 2 5 , PA N T S , $ 7 1 0 , B O T H B Y D R I E S V A N N O T E N AT M A G A S I N. B E A N I E , $ 1 2 5 , B Y E I D O S . S U N G L A S S E S , $ 6 9 5 , B Y J A C Q U E S M A R I E M A G E AT M A G A S I N. W AT C H A N D J E W E L R Y, H I S O W N.
How one modern hippie keeps winning over new fans with his bright and cheery music
So You Want to Buy an
Either we have chosen them or they have chosen us, but you can’t wander into a café or boutique these days without encountering a jungle of needled succulents. Thing is, they may be hardy, resilient, and beautifully designed, but they’re also deceptively tricky to keep happy. So we asked cactus guru Johnny Morera, manager of the Cactus Store in Los Angeles, how to raise one that will outlive us and our grandkids. —NOAH JOHNSON
LE T I T LOV E YO U “If you’re drawn to a certain plant, that’s the one you can grow,” Morera says. “The plant and the person choose each other.” He suggests the flowering false peyote, the elegant and columnar Mexican fencepost, and the aptly named monkey tail as the first specimens for your budding collection.
close up, because otherwise they’ll get steamed. Watering hour at the Cactus Store is 6 p.m. Every other week when the days are long and the weather is warm and once every two months during the winter is plenty.” L E A R N I T S NEEDS All potted plants need fertilizer because they’re missing out on the endless supply of nutrients found in the earth. “In a pot, the plant will eventually deplete what’s in the soil, and then it just turns to trash,” Morera explains. Add a bit of fertilizer every time you water in warm, sunny months, when your cactus is growing.
U ND E RSTA N D I T S RH Y T H M S “Their stomata open and they drink water at night,” says Morera. “During the day they
N UR SE I T WHEN I T ’S SI CK “Shriveled? It either needs water or has mealybugs in the soil. Yellowing? Too much sun or it’s lacking nitrogen, which means you need to fertilize. White spots? Usually bugs. Remove them physically and spray an insecticide. Black, squishy, and smelly? Stem or root rot. The solution for that is the trash can.”
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ALLOW I T SOME DI G NI TY “Re-pot for any of the following reasons: The roots are trying to come out of the bottom. Or it’s getting too heavy and might tip over. Or if it just... looks ridiculous. If it looks way too big— like the plant is embarrassed: ‘I can’t go out like this!’ ” DON’T G ET HI G H OFF YOUR OWN CACT I Yes, peyote has hallucinogenic effects, but it can take years to grow. When people call the Cactus Store looking for a trip, “we always tell them, ‘Just do mushrooms,’ ” Morera says. “Don’t kill a cactus.”
1 Cactus man Johnny Morera is a master of the rare “specimen” plants found at the Cactus Store. 2 Pick your poison: spiny, woolly, gnarled, or corkscrew. 3 Your new best friend—learn its name, give it a drink, and talk to it. Scientists studying plant cognition say it can hear you.
G R O O M I N G : A N N A B E R N A B E F O R E XC L U S I V E A R T I STS M A N A G E M E N T. I L L U ST R AT I O N : B E N KO P P.
They’re not cheap, but they’re quiet and clean and mostly well-behaved. It’s time to spring for a specialized succulent. Here’s how
The easiest way to find the clothes, goods, and gear you want, all of it chosen by our editors. Get yourself something nice.
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Stoner Food Gets Fully Baked GQ’s resident food authority, Marian Bull, went on a journey into a wild new world of gastronomy: the California edibles community. After way too many dinners, candies, drops of oil, and one super-intriguing panna cotta, she’s ready to answer the one question nobody’s asking: Can marijuana be delicious? 4 8
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ILLUSTRATIONS BY JAYA NICELY
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1. Lab-tested THC tincture 2. Infused mushroom carpaccio 3. Single-origin bud 4. Mango panna cotta with Cocoa Puffs 5. Mondo cannabis powder 6. Chocolate-covered caramels 7. Snap peas with citrus and microgreens
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↑ Dessert from La Hoja: brown-sugar sweet-potato custard with hazelnuts, ice cream, brown butter, and “herbs.”
heard legend of scientifically precise dosages and equally mind-altering flavors; of chocolates and candies—entire meals!—as Insta-worthy as they are mind-altering. I’ve also wondered, a bit crankily, whether eating cannabis-infused dishes is actually necessary. Given the corny history of weed marketing, could infused food ever reach the level of sophistication of a tasting menu from mastermind chefs like Dominique Crenn and Danny Bowien? And how far have edibles come from crumbly, brain-melting brownies? So L.A. was where I spent a week in February, eating as much infused food as my body and brain could handle, all in the hope of better understanding where weed and cuisine are coming together right this moment. (Spoiler: I was high for a lot of hours.) MY FIRST DINNER IN L.A. would come from Luke Reyes, a beefy dude in hip glasses who initially scared the hell out of me when he o≠ered a meal dosed with 40 milligrams of THC. For those curious, this would be enough to convince me that Captain Planet is a historical figure. We agreed on 20 milligrams, the typical dosage for his dinners and a number far less terrifying to me and the slightly wary friend I’d dragged to the dinner. Then we were greeted with oysters and wine and a playlist heavy on Frank Ocean, and we realized we were in good hands. With the help of a sous-chef, Reyes cooked us seven courses at his apartment
in downtown L.A. There can be bundles of red tape with meals like these—less so when they occur on private property— but the majority of people I spoke with in California are banking on full legality in the near future and little pushback now. Those oysters arrived in a perky, salty mignonette of infused citrus vinegar and studded with blips of Cara Cara orange. We ate a 40-day dry-aged New York strip basted with weed butter, whose seared edges smelled like a rich, funky caramel. We ate snap peas— snap peas! in February!—stacked in an artful Jenga tower with citrus segments over a neon green pea-and-cannabis-oil puree. Dessert was a deceptively rich sweet-potato custard with various crunchy doodads on top, plus a pre-rolled joint that Reyes sent me to fetch from under his bathroom sink. Each dish felt unfussy but modern, the sort of restaurant-esque experience I’d tell my friends to go spend their money on. It felt like the future of…something. “Right now we’re not cooking it in a restaurant setting, but it can still be high-end restaurant-quality food,” Reyes told me of his vision for his company, La Hoja. This wasn’t a meal that needed weed as a crutch so much as a genuinely delicious dinner that happened to get me stoned. Stoned enough that by the time dessert came, everything felt shinier, each new bite a tiny Christmas-morning surprise. To get the cannabis into his food, Reyes uses weed butter, infused oil, or distillate (a super-viscous oil that comes in a
I L L U ST R AT I O N S, T O P L E F T: B E N KO P P. B O T T O M : S I M O N A B R A N O W I C Z .
IF YOU’VE TAKEN TWO bites of a weed brownie, you know that they can fail in a number of ways: They’re dry and crumbly, or flavorless, or stale, or too weak, or (more likely) too strong, maybe so strong that you forget what it feels like to stand up, and you begin to long for a bottle of Sprite as big and welcoming as the Statue of Liberty. The first weed brownie I ever ate was a grave mistake, taken before a New York– to–Boston bus ride that became a study in acute paranoia and the healing properties of a rest-stop McDonald’s. Since then I’ve dabbled in gummies and chocolates, at a mountain weekend here and a trippy art installation there. I made weed oil once, while reviewing a cannabis cookbook for work; it is, admittedly, a convenient and novel ingredient to have (well labeled!) in your fridge. Weed food—brownies, cookies, cakes, candies, and oils—is many things but is almost never delicious. As legalization slowly spreads across America, though, that’s changing. In 420-friendly states, a growing cadre of chefs, confectioners, and entrepreneurs is intent on pulling weed out of its dank past and into our locavore, organic, chef’s-menuladen food present. The goal is no longer to make a cookie so potent it will turn your brain into pommes purée. In California, where many types of summer produce grow year-round and new strains of weed are hyped as heavily as Supreme drops, the intersection of food and cannabis is at its apex. Casually observing the culinary marijuanaissance from the sidelines as a New York food writer, I’d
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dropper bottle), all of which are meticulously dosed so he can keep track of how many grams of THC are in each course. Dosage is the biggest hurdle for would-be weed chefs: Regulating the amount of THC—the “brain high” portion of weed, as opposed to CBD’s so-called body high, for the non-professional stoners out there—is the di≠erence between happy customers and puking customers. That science largely involves decarboxylation, a delicate process wherein the cannabis flower is heated for a period of time to activate the THC. It can get complicated. Some chefs skip the issue altogether by simply handing you a joint. One of those is Holden Jagger, a fine-dining-cum-cannabis chef who started serving infused private dinners through his company, Altered Plates, in 2015. Recently he’s shifted from infusing food to a pairing model, in which each course is strategically matched with a strain of weed. “It’s like showcasing rare or expensive bottles of wine,” he says. Jagger—an L.A. native and longtime stoner with a perma-tan and hair that implies surfboard ownership—cooked me dinner at his parents’ house in Malibu. His food is fully “California” in style: a bowl of homegrown hemp seeds, salt-and-vinegar style, that taste like crunchy popcorn hearts with grassy insides; a plate of braised quail with blood-orange flesh and chicories paired with CBD OG, a strain that tastes like orange Gushers when you smoke it.
But weed with dinner is easy. Weed in dinner is harder. Which may be why THCpowered restaurants aren’t yet proliferating across even the 420-friendly states. In New York City, you need to get into an underground supper club like 99th Floor; in L.A., if you’re not at a dinner put on by La Hoja or Altered Plates, you might look up Andrea Drummer, one of the only women in L.A.’s infused-dinner cabal, or Aaron Ziegler, a Wolfgang Puck alum who hosts dinners out of his Venice backyard. Or you may find yourself at an event run by Cannabis Supper Club, a one-year-old company that hosts seven-course meals paired with weed from California grower WonderBrett. I attended a Cannabis Supper Club dinner on a sunny afternoon in a cavernous restaurant in Hollywood, eating with founder Marc Leibel; he spent equal time praising each of the seven courses and discussing the business opportunities that weed dinners present. “Brands are calling me to launch their strains at my dinners,” he said excitedly. He’s toeing the line between establishing culinary cred and wringing as much money as possible from a booming market. Cannabis Supper Club’s food aesthetic was extremely “early-aughts tasting menu”: courses that looked like Yayoi Kusama fan art, overly intense flavors, and an actual risotto. It’s a trap many weed dinners fall into, using a luxurious but outdated format that feels like a Band-Aid over a mediocre product.
↓ Mondo cannabis powder—designed to alleviate anxiety—is more supplement than snack.
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Then came dessert—a coupe glass full of Pepto-pink mango panna cotta garnished with passion-fruit foam, tiny cubes of kiwi and strawberry, and a stoner’s fistful of Cocoa Pu≠s. This was thoughtful and genuinely fun stoner food—the sort of thing cooked up by a talented pastry chef with the munchies. And, days into my quest, it was the first time I’d witnessed weed food actually embrace weed vibes: silly and Technicolor and very chill. After that panna cotta, I walked into the harsh daylight of a Hollywood afternoon, weaved through tourists on the Walk of Fame, and gleefully took too many dumb selfies with the stars on the ground. THE MOST FAMOUS pot-brownie recipe is not a brownie recipe at all: The confection, called Haschich Fudge and immortalized by Alice B. Toklas in her 1954 cookbook, bears more resemblance to Kind bars, the chewy nut-filled things you buy while desperate at a Hudson News when you’re running late for your flight. The recipe doesn’t even call for cocoa! But it does call for “canibus sativa” and carries with it a powerful benediction from Toklas, longtime partner of the writer Gertrude Stein: “This is the food of Paradise,” Toklas wrote. “Ecstatic reveries and extensions of one’s personality on several simultaneous planes are to be complacently expected.” The woman clearly had either a super-high tolerance or a keen eye for dosing. Toklas’s “brownie” inspired a generation of groovy baked goods, instructions for which filled the pages of many a ’70s counterculture cookbook, but weren’t very precise. Most recipes left margins of error as wide as a bell-bottom leg. Now, more than 60 years later and 20-odd years since medical marijuana became legal in California, the edibles sector has gone legit. It includes snacks of all shapes, colors, flavors, sizes, and intensities; it’s a huge loss for the industry that Skittles had already trademarked “Taste the Rainbow.” On the L.A. mornings and afternoons when I wasn’t staring down an infused meal, I cautiously nibbled through my haul from local dispensaries, seeking out the waviest gems. Squishy raspberry macaroons from Utopia Cannabis that I paired with a long walk that left me stoned in front of a plate of tacos and very happy; a white-chocolate-and-strawberry bar from L.A. company La Familia that tasted like a gourmet version of a Good Humor Strawberry Shortcake ice cream bar, rich enough to convert even the most staunch white-chocolate hater (like me). And then there was Mondo, a cannabis powder derived from cacao butter and coconut oil that’s gunning to become an all-natural Xanax. Whenever I dabbed a little on my tongue using the pre-portioned spoon,
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LORD JONES GUMMIES Tastes like fancy juice.
on the packaging,” Lavorato explains, “but neither of us wants to stand behind a product that isn’t the best.” If you brought a box of Marigold goodies
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it gave me the chill buzz I pray for every time I ingest a marijuana-related product. Mondo is on the forefront of edibles that are expanding beyond their trippy Willy Wonka candy phase and creeping into the pantry, with “clean” snacks and powders, like this one, you might add to a kale smoothie. But the most delicious edibles I ate in L.A.—ever, really—were from Marigold Sweets, a line of confections made by Vanessa Lavorato, who also co-hosts Viceland’s cannabis cooking show, Bong Appétit. Her chocolate-covered caramels, topped with an appropriately precious micro-sprinkle of flaky salt, taste like chewy liquid amber; the to≠ee is so nutty and rich it conjures a fancy piece of golden brown toast spun into candy. Lavorato uses organic butter and Guittard chocolate, and the finished product comes nestled in a paper jewelry box fancy enough to hold your great-grandmother’s engagement ring. Marigold Sweets are sold at only a handful of dispensaries right now but are worth seeking out—and maybe even booking a flight for. On a hazy Los Angeles morning, I met Lavorato at her Highland Park house. She’s been making cannabis-infused chocolates from her kitchen since 2010. As of January 1, though, it’s been illegal to sell edibles made in one’s home, so Lavorato has temporarily contracted with Indus Holding Company, a manufacturer in Northern California, until she finds a dedicated factory. “I’m excited to be going into a bigger facility,” she explained, “because I wanted that chew, that creaminess of a caramel” 5 4
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the weed industry as a whole—you can see parallels with the artisanal-chocolate-bar tsunami that started almost a decade ago. Both Lavorato and Varun Mehra, her close friend and business partner, have worked for Alice Waters and the Slow Food organization, which you can see in their dedication to sourcing: “We can’t use the word ‘organic’
from under a weed hangover the next day, and even the most thoughtfully crafted edibles seem dosed for weed fanatics who treat a thick blunt the way the rest of us treat our morning cup of co≠ee. Chris Sayegh, an L.A. chef who has been cooking infused dinners as the Herbal Chef since 2014, has taken my woes into consideration. I met Sayegh at his home, also in Highland Park, where he cooked me squidink pasta with lobster (a tangle of mushy noodles flecked with bits of lobster so dried out they’d give a Mainer a stroke, to be honest) and told me about his plans for a weedthemed restaurant. He’s applied for one of
↓ An amuse-bouche from L.A. supper club PopCultivate is paired with communal pre-dinner joints.
T O P I L L U S T R AT I O N : B E N K O P P. P H O T O G R A P H S , C L O C K W I S E F R O M T O P : C O U R T E S Y O F L O R D J O N E S ; C O U R T E S Y O F L I Q U I D S K Y; C O U R T E S Y O F T H E H. H E M P C O M PA N Y.
milligrams) for $25
5 of 5 ←
BOTTOM ILLUSTRATION: BEN KOPP
↑ Marigold Sweets are perfect for the stoner gourmand: hand-dipped toffee that won’t make the walls melt.
the licenses that West Hollywood will issue in 2018 for “cannabis-consumption areas,” lounges where it’ll be legal to smoke or eat edibles. (Luke Reyes of La Hoja is also gunning for one of these slots.) His vision is a stoner Disney World for adults: After diners make a reservation, they’ll ﬁll out a questionnaire—how high do you want to get? want the package that includes an Uber home? how many courses are you up for?—and Sayegh’s team will meticulously plan the meal. There will be servers with dessert carts, only instead of dessert they’re carrying various strains of weed you can smoke. While I very much appreciate the TLC that Sayegh hopes to bring to THC-laced dinners, it all skews a little too kitschy for me—like a Señor Frog’s, only you’re getting infused ﬁlet mignon instead of a Tequila BBQ Burger. I imagine a lot of tourists and bachelorette parties, and the food will be less important than the Instagram. I’m sure I’ll go at least once. Up till now, the most memorable experience was the dinner served by Luke Reyes, but it was merely very delicious, not revelatory. The most thrilling stop on my California weed journey would take place in New York. And it didn’t really involve weed. In Manhattan, Lalito chef Gerardo Gonzalez served me the wildest soup I’ve ever tasted. It started as a broth of charred onion, tomato, shishito peppers, and garlic, plus water that dried hominy had been soaked in, which is like a fresh tortilla in
liquid form. Into the soup went the soaked and cooked hominy, grilled okra, pickled rhizomes (think ginger, but funkier), epazote (an herb that lands somewhere between mint and anise), charred chayote (a wrinkly, grassy-tasting gourd), and a tincture of CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. It’s zingy and earthy and tastes like something you’d be served if you got sick in a magical forest. This is weed not only as a toy but as a whole new ﬂavor to play with. “I naturally like exploring taste beyond the cultural palette that people are used to, and get really excited by pungent, ‘dirty,’ bitter ﬂavors that could all be described as dank,” Gonzalez explained when I ﬁrst asked him about CBD. “Maybe that’s the new umami?” He’d developed the soup recipe for a recent dinner he’d cooked, co-hosted by the new 420-friendly publication Gossamer. This CBD cuisine of Gonzalez’s takes up its own proprietary chunk of the stoner-food spectrum: It’s inventive and imparts a di≠erent, gentle buzz without steamrolling your day the way a mis-dosed hit of THC can. “THC to me seems a little bit hokey, ’cause it’s this ‘Oh, we’re getting high!’ kinda thing,” Gonzalez tells me. You could eat that soup once a week, not once every six months. He was considering adding a CBD-infused dish to the Lalito menu—maybe the panna cotta he served at the Gossamer dinner, which involved citrus, tarragon, and CBD-infused tarragon oil. It would have been the perfect addition to a dessert cart, but Gonzalez has since decided against it.
CAN I BE HONEST? Really, the best meal I had during my quest involved zero cannabis, save for the fact that I was really high when I ate it. At a friend’s apartment in Venice, I smoked a bowl and brieﬂy became so stoned that I spent 20 minutes texting people to ﬁgure out what dirt is made of. (Mostly decomposed plant matter, bacteria, and silt.) Then I met up with some notstoned but very understanding friends at the new Night + Market Sahm, the third Los Angeles restaurant from Kris and Sarah Yenbamroong. We ordered too much food out of sheer enthusiasm, and it felt like an embarrassment of riches, particularly to my giggly and ravenous self. I downed bite-size pieces of salty, fatty pig neck dipped in a funky-tart chili sauce, drunken noodles with pastrami, a brilliant coconut-infused sweet-potato curry, and Kris’s famous fried-chicken sandwich festooned with both ranch dressing and Thai papaya salad, which I somehow sliced into perfect quarters. There was sticky rice to sop up sauce and ﬁzzy natural wine to tamp down spice; this, I realized, was the weed-powered culinary experience I sought. That “food of Paradise” that stoner laureate Toklas so poetically described. The infused dinners I’d eaten were exciting conceptually; it’s thrilling to watch chefs wade into culinary waters that are legitimately new. I’d happily do it again to celebrate a moment: a birthday, a raise, a friend’s divorce—particularly once these chefs better deﬁne their own unique strain of weed cuisine. After a week of weed dinners and lunches and infused sodas and six ﬂavors of pot chocolate bars, I feel safe in predicting that cannabis cuisine will stay at the fringe of the culinary Zeitgeist, something that chefs will dabble in when they’re looking for a creative challenge or money. And edibles will continue to get more delicious; I can imagine someday ordering movie-theater popcorn spiked with THC. Every ﬁlm’s Rotten Tomatoes score will skyrocket. But nothing out there right now matches the feeling of leaving a big dinner giddy and stoned, the way I left Night + Market, waving goodbye to the ﬁsh tanks as we passed back through beaded curtains into a perfectly ordinary Los Angeles night.
A L L I L LU S T R AT I O N S BY PA U L W I N D L E
KATE MCKI IS CO NNON MEDY NEW â€™S ROCK STAR
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SHE P O P I S S N Lâ€™ S PER GENIU RESID ENT CAN FORMERS, A M W A CLI HO KE WA R N T O N S E H I L L A RY E M AND M VUL JEFF NERABL SEE SESSI E AND A M Y M ( A L M OO N S T H E WA L L S T ) R S K E T S C E N E S A C E G O E E L ATA B L IN HE CH-CO TO SEE S BEHIN E. R E L E M E DY T H E D MEN MAS T TER
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me to see her in her natural habitat, Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center, where SNL is filmed. When I arrived, the place smelled strongly of Magic Markers as four assistants methodically inked 1,000 cue cards. A run-through of that night’s cold open would start in 30 minutes. The full dress rehearsal would be a few hours later. There was a lot of adrenaline in the air. I stuck my head into a room that had a shelf full of life-size foam heads holding McKinnon remembered feeling nervous. “I knew the half of the country that was wigs for the guest host (tonight: Chadwick happy with what happened would not like Boseman) and every member of the cast. it, and I don’t like to alienate anybody. But I I checked out the spot where Michaels also just had such an earnest desire to show would perch during dress rehearsal, gauging people how I was feeling—a visceral desire how much laughter each sketch produced (he would eliminate two or three sketches to communicate.” As the song ended that night, she turned to before the show went live). Heading down the camera, her eyes shining, and said, “I’m a narrow hallway, I nearly collided with McKinnon. She was wearing a T-shirt and not giving up, and neither should you. Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!” sweats, her blonde hair pinned tight to her “It was so loaded,” Aidy Bryant, a fellow head, wig-ready. She said hello, but her cast member and close friend, said of the blue eyes flashed in a way that signaled she performance. “She was alone, truly alone couldn’t stop to talk. out there with the eyes of America on her. “I often run around on Saturdays saying, And the most amazing feat was that she was ‘Oh, my God, this is like a sporting event,’ ” she had warned me earlier. “I’ve never equally Kate and equally Hillary. I totally saw my friend performing and the person I had watched a sporting event, but I think it’s that hoped would be president.” kind of mentality—really physical and menFlash forward ten months. McKinnon tal focus for 12 hours or so. There is, quite was on foot, walking and listening, when she literally, a clock ticking down throughout the heard Clinton narrate her own description day. It’s scary. And thrilling. You know: Are of that moment: “[McKinnon] sat at a grand we going to win, or not?” piano and played ‘Hallelujah,’ McKinnon shares an o∞ce the hauntingly beautiful song by with Bryant, where they spend Leonard Cohen, who had died a most Tuesdays writing sketches. few days before. As she sang, it “We sit there in silence and then OPENING PAGES, seemed like she was fighting back share the vicissitudes of our lives ON M C KINNON tears. Listening, so was I.” and then seamlessly go back to dress Givenchy McKinnon stopped on the sidebeing silent together,” McKinnon boots walk, overcome. For months, she said. Everyone who works with Gianvito Rossi McKinnon raves about her defttold me, she had felt an emotional sunglasses attachment to Clinton but believed ness as a comedy writer. “Kate is Alain Mikli x Alexandre Vauthier it had to be one-sided—“because always, always, always fighting she wasn’t doing research on me to make something better. Make ON MODEL (LEFT) and trying to get inside my head a joke funnier. Make a sketch jacket $1,500 Coach and write from my perspective.” sharper,” said Chris Kelly, a forON MODEL (CENTER) Now she knew Clinton felt the mer head writer for the show. coat $3,255 “She is constantly writing, right attachment, too. pants $1,360 boots $1,195 “The whole reason that I like up until and during the live show. Saint Laurent by doing this is because I want to She’ll run up to you in the hall Anthony Vaccarello talk to people,” McKinnon said. with a crumpled-up little script, ON MODEL (RIGHT) “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, just covered in pitches.” pants $995 but my voice is quite soft, and I On Wednesdays, the cast Coach speak slowly, and I feel it’s easier gathers for the table read of that boots $649 for me to talk to people through week’s sketches; Thursdays are Barbanera the medium of sketch comedy. for shooting pre-taped sketches sunglasses $310 Persol and some rehearsals; Fridays are Ironically, if I’m in a wig, that’s my bracelet $995 usually when “Weekend Update” unadulterated self.” So to discover necklace $665 that she and Clinton had had a and the host’s monologue get writJohn Hardy moment of connection, even just ten and also when other sketches,
M CK I N N O N, H A I R : J O S E P H M A I N E F O R C O L O R W O W. M A K E U P : C A S S A N D R A G A R C I A F O R B O B B I B R O W N. M A N I C U R E : D E B O R A H L I P P M A N N U S I N G B R A N D N E W D AY BY DEBORAH LIPPMANN. MODELS, GROOMING: BENJAMIN THIGPEN USING HOUSE 99 BY DAVID BECKHAM. SET DESIGN: CHELSEA MARUSKIN AT ART DEPARTMENT. PRODUCED BY VERY RARE PRODUCTIONS. LOCATION: METROPOLITAN BUILDING. PAGE 64, PHOTOGRAPH: TODD WILLIAMSON/GET T Y IMAGES.
O N A S AT U R DAY in April, McKinnon invited
listening to the audiobook of Clinton’s memoir What Happened, read aloud by Clinton herself. This was leisure, not business—though she had spent plenty of hours studying the inflections of Clinton’s voice in order to master it for Saturday Night Live. “I walk and I listen,” McKinnon told me when we met up this spring. “That’s my free time. That’s my whole life.” With Clinton, she said, her hope was to create an impression that articulated “the tension between her ambition and really wanting to do something in the world, the self-sacrifice and the self-censure that it takes to do that.” McKinnon’s recurring characters on SNL have that same mix of hard and soft edges, from Sheila Sovage, the drunk trying to hook up before last call, to Ms. Ra≠erty, the hard-bitten survivor of an alien abduction. But it’s her impressions of real people that have produced some of her most unforgettable moments on-screen. In addition to Clinton, she’s played Justin Bieber, Kellyanne Conway, Ellen DeGeneres, Robert Durst, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Angela Merkel, Robert Mueller, Je≠ Sessions, and dozens more. Even when she’s poking fun at her subjects—which is always—she imbues them with an empathy bordering on love. “That’s the name of the game,” she said. “You can’t be judging someone as you’re embodying them. You have to find the point of connection— something you find delightful. Even if you’re intending to skewer someone, you also have to find something that you truly like about them. If you’re mean, it ain’t fun to watch. And if it ain’t fun to watch, they turn o≠ the TV.” There have been moments when that embodiment—to adopt the word that McKinnon frequently uses to describe her impressions—seemed almost to overwhelm her. The week after the 2016 presidential election, as Clinton, she sang a version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for SNL’s “cold open,” the sketch that kicks o≠ the show, that nearly brought her to tears. The original plan that night was for each of the female cast members to talk to the camera, one by one, about how she felt after Donald Trump’s victory, culminating in McKinnon singing John Lennon’s “Imagine.” The prop people went so far as to procure a
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through a television screen, was deeply moving. Reliving that moment, she paused and swallowed hard. “That’s why I get out of bed.”
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“IT’S BY ACCIDENT THAT I LIVE. I TRY SOMETIMES TO LIVE JUST SO I’LL HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY.” overtaken by the Trump news cycle, get If it sounds a bit hermit-like, that’s because revised. (“It didn’t used to be that way,” said it is. If she does go out, “it’s because I’ve been writer Kent Sublette. “In the Obama years, if beckoned to show up for something for one of we wrote a cold open on Wednesday, it would my friends. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t.” usually stick.” But in the Trump era, “every And this can be a problem, comedically speakfive seconds there’s some crazy ing. Sometimes, she said, “on thing that you have to address.”) Monday morning, I’ll say, ‘What Saturdays are a full-on did I do? Did I live at all in the What's So Funny sprint to the finish: sketch last week? Did I experience anyAbout 2018? rehearsals all day, an 8 p.m. thing, other than something that I saw on Netflix, and can dress rehearsal, followed by an I make a joke out of it?’ ” Often all-cast meeting in Michaels’s the answer is no. “It’s by accio∞ce to tweak what isn’t working, and then, at 11:30 p.m., it’s dent that I live,” McKinnon said. “Live! From New York!…” and “I try sometimes to live just so the show begins. The night I I’ll have something to say.” visited, McKinnon appeared in the cold open and five other I N AT L E A S T O N E respec t, McKinnon is exaggerating sketches, plus she helped Hannibal how uneventful her home life warm up the audience before Buress is: She likes to paint, though the show, singing backup for Is there anything the fumes from the oil pigKenan Thompson’s o≠-air renin your comedy that dition of “Gimme Some Lovin’. ” ments quickly fill her oneyou regret? (And this was a light night for bedroom Upper East Side I did this joke on my her.) When the show wraps, apartment and make breathing first album, My Name Is Hannibal, about everyone is so revved up that “toxic.” For years she painted kicking pigeons. It was portraits, but now she does sleep will be impossible. “That’s based on me seeing a only still lifes with “as much what the afterparty is for,” said pigeon in Chicago that McKinnon, who typically gets photo-realism as I can muster, was really confident and not moving out of home around 4 or 5 a.m. which is not,” she said with a my way. It won’t huge sigh, “nearly as much as Sunday is her one day o≠, translate to print, but when, she said, “I’m suddenly some other people can muster.” trust me, it was a good thrust back into my physical At her suggestion, we met bit. But it was just that: a bit. I’ve never kicked reality.” Since she’s spent the at a Manhattan museum, the a pigeon before. I just rest of her week “in this metaFrick Collection, which she thought the visual was said she first visited on a field physical ‘What are we going funny. I even made trip from her Long Island high to say and how are we going T-shirts that said “I Kick Pigeons” and sold them school. “Am I being recorded?” to say it?’ plane,” the transiafter shows. I know. tion can be jarring. “I wake up she whispered into my digGroundbreaking stuff. when I wake up,” she said. ital recorder as we maneuI made a good amount Then, her “big outing” is usuvered through the nearly of money on those shirts! But for years, silent crowd. No one noticed ally a trip to the grocery store, people have been McKinnon: Her hair was where “the big question is ‘Will writing me and telling there be an avocado that I can pulled back and she wore black me stories about how use that morning, or will I have jeans, a denim button-down they actually kicked pigeons. They expect to wait for it to ripen?’ ” Perhaps over a white T-shirt, black tenme to be excited, she will clean up the litter that nies, and nerdy black-framed but I’m legit horrified her cat—a rescue named Nino glasses. It was a mild, rainy day, every time I hear it. that she often refers to as “my and the galleries were toasty Buress stars in ‘Tag,’ in theaters June 15. You son”—has spilled into the hallwarm, but the way she carried can hear his comedy way. “Sometimes,” she continherself—arms crossed in front podcast, ‘Handsome ued, “I can get it together to of her, her fingers jammed high Rambler,’ on iTunes. vacuum the rug.” into her armpits—brought
to mind a tiny, frostbitten Arctic explorer attempting to thaw her own digits. She was amused, she said, that she had brought an interviewer to a place where— oops!—it felt rude to make any sound, let alone talk. Not that anyone had shushed us. “Let the record show that everyone’s being very respectful,” she said, her lips just millimeters from my microphone. “Probably we’re going to walk out of here in a little bit.” But there was something she wanted to show me first: an oil painting, circa 1440 or so, of the Virgin Mary, the baby Jesus, a couple of saints, and a kneeling monk. “These Dutch Renaissance painters!” she exclaimed. “Why were they able to produce such exquisite, immaculate detail in the drapery, but they couldn’t get the head sizes right?” I saw her
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point: Every noggin was either too big or too small relative to its body. “The heads are crazy weird,” McKinnon said. “It drives me wild!” With that, she ushered me to an exit, and we stepped into the rain, huddling under a tiny umbrella that McKinnon held overhead. This took some doing, as I am half a foot taller than her not quite five feet four inches, but she insisted, graciously, because I had a notebook and pen to wield. She steered me uptown toward the Carlyle Hotel (“The Carlyle will take care of us!”), and we began to talk about her childhood, as the elder of two daughters in a comedy-loving family, and specifically about her childhood obsessions, which included watching, recording, and then meticulously transcribing the dialogue of two iconic TV shows: SNL and The X-Files.
Her interest in SNL needs no explanation. Her father, an architect, was a huge fan, which helped, but also those were the Cheri Oteri/Molly Shannon/Ana Gasteyer years, and McKinnon admired them so much it hurt. (When McKinnon was 26, Oteri would hire her to do an episode of the 2010 web series Life Coach; meeting her, the younger comedian said, was “like the universe cracked open.”) The X-Files, meanwhile, was the perfect melding of horror and science, she told me, with soliloquies on faith and meaning thrown in for good measure. When I told her that I’d read that she had dressed up as Agent Scully for one Halloween, winning a costume competition, she confirmed it: “Trench coat, business suit, red wig cut into a bob.”
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When she was 12, McKinnon has said, it was her “physiological reaction” to Gillian Anderson’s Scully that made her realize she was gay. A few years later, McKinnon told one interviewer, she came out to her mother, a parent educator, who responded: “Fine, love it. Whatever you want to be.” She was a theater major at Columbia, where as a senior she was chosen to be a regular on The Big Gay Sketch Show, a Rosie O’Donnell–produced cable series aimed at an LGTBQ audience. “She was,” O’Donnell told me, “far and away the most talented person that we had in the cast.” The show ended after three seasons, and to eat, McKinnon held down a variety of odd jobs, including working as an “unsuccessful” telemarketer of SAT-prep classes. (continued on page 118)
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WE’RE SUPER CONNECTED YET SOMEHOW LONELIER THAN EVER.
BUT IF YOU NEED PROOF OF THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP, JUST LOOK AT
WE ASKED THESE TWO LONGTIME AMIGOS TO HELP US COMPILE
IN THE 21ST CENTURY
A MAN’S MARTIN GUIDE TO SHORT. FRIENDSHIP
Don’t Let Venmo Taint Your Hang
SQUAD IN MY 20S, I HAD IT ALL FIGURED
BY C H R I S G AYO M A L I
O U T. I WA S PA R T O F A C R E W, L I V I N G T O G E T H E R I N A M A G I C A L , Q U A S I -
legal apartment in Brooklyn that we paid pennies for, as long as we promised never to call the fire department. It was spooky how well we got along, and we spent all our free time together—at dive bars, nursing hangovers on the couch, the infrequent strip club. ¶ Then my roommates all uprooted to Eat, Pray, Love their way through Southeast Asia before relocating to Australia. I felt bamboozled. For me, leaving to travel was out of the question; I had started dating my future fiancée, and I was a few weeks into a promising job. We were a crew by proximity, and then—poof!—just like that, they were gone. I was on the cusp of 30 and alone-ish in New York, a cruel city where friendship can be notoriously fickle. I knew I would never luck into another living situation like that again (and by then I was too old to live somewhere that violated fire codes). So I panicked and did something out of character: I signed up for a co-ed summer basketball team. I was hesitant at first. A few years prior, I had signed up for a kickball league and bailed after one game—too many finance guys. But I figured that if the team had a weird vibe this time around, I could just get a puppy. My proactiveness paid o≠. Basketball meant we had at least one thing to talk about. And a few guys on the team
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ended up being lapsed Californians like me, most around 30 and in committed relationships. The Venn circles were eerily concentric, and the casualness of the league stoked something special. We had a mutual goal of putting a ball through a hoop, but outside of that there was no external pressure to become friends, which seemed to grease the pathway to becoming…friends. After our first game (we lost), someone suggested we hit the
bar across the street for beers. A team text thread soon formed. We started roasting each other on it. Then we started attending one another’s birthdays. Making new friends as an adult is a strange experience because it requires stepping outside your comfort zone— which in my case happened to be my apartment. With the team, and there isn’t a noncorny way to put this, we were all looking for the same thing— cool friends to do something inconsequential with, to take up the empty airspace increasingly crowded out by careers and families. I still missed my old crew, but after a while I was glad to have loved ones in cool places whom I could visit. I got lucky. As a basketball outfit, we weren’t very good, but as friends, we were champions. Turns out the old saying is true: If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, sign up for a co-ed summer basketball team.
Friendship is about reciprocity: I’ve got your back, and you’ve got mine. But cash-transfer apps like Venmo, Cash App, and even humble PayPal, theoretically developed to disrupt reciprocity, have instead destroyed it. You know what’s fun? Drinking beers with friends. You know what is fun’s literal opposite? Sending your buddy a digital notification that you’ve requested—not even to his face!—eight dollars in return for the IPA you just brought back to the table, complete with a cheerful [beer sloshing foam] emoji. To appropriate an adage: Friends don’t let friends Venmo for beers. —SAM SCHUBE
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HOW I FOUND
LEARN FROM TWO AMIGOS WHO’VE STAYED TOGETHER FOR 32 YEARS S
BY BRETT MARTIN
HE AR RIVE
D E A R LY, T O G E T
settled in and do a little work on his laptop before our interview begins. Martin Short, his longtime friend and recent stage companion, is nowhere to be seen. ¶ “He’ll walk in at 12:0…3,” Martin says with a mildly parental sense of exasperation. He’s o≠ by about half a minute. Short bounces onto the banquette next to Martin at 12:02 and 30 seconds, but the point is made: These guys know each other well. That’s the bond at the heart of Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life, the stage show they’ve been performing and that they taped for a Netflix special. It’s a loose, friendly, banter-filled hour that brings to mind a vaudeville show. “Catherine O’Hara said it was ‘a children’s show for adults,’ ” Short reports with evident approval. ¶ If the two echo any previous partnership onstage, it’s Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, with Martin playing his namesake’s role of adult-in-the-room against Short’s more antic, crowd-pleasing man-child. I don’t need to tell you which one plays an earnest melody of his banjo compositions and which sings a torch song in a nude suit with hand-drawn genitalia. But they don’t fall into such neat categories. The dynamic is more like watching friends cracking each other up over dinner. The friendship goes back some 32 years, to when the two co-starred, alongside Chevy Chase, in ¡Three Amigos! “Some people you work on a film with and then they disappear,” Short says. “I think we both made a conscious s ’ hing decision, ‘We’re not letting this one go.’ ” E ver yt
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How to Turn an Online Friend into a Real-Life Buddy 7 0
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Martin Short: Steve, I’d like you to order for me. Steve Martin: Like usual. Short: And then I would like you to chew the food before spitting it into my mouth. GQ: Is this what life on the road is like these days? Short: Steve and I have a tradition where we get on the plane after a show and we start playing cribbage. All the musicians and crew go “Rock and roll!” because we’re playing cribbage and having a glass of wine and maybe a potato chip. Do you ever get a chance to explore the cities you’re in? Short: Sometimes we’ll finish a show and go right to the airport to fly to the next city. So that gives us a chance to explore. Martin: I like that you explained
Twitter is a testing ground for new friends. It’s a pool of people who talk all day about the things they’ve read and the stuff they find annoying. I gravitated toward Seattle Seahawks and contemporary-literature Twitter, and after a few weeks of tweeting about Russell Wilson and Ben Lerner, I felt like I’d found my people. And you can, too—even if you’re a 49ers fan and functionally illiterate.— KE V IN NGUY E N
that we’d go to the airport to get to the next city, because that was a missing element. If you didn’t say it, he’d be wondering: “How’d they get from the show to the plane? Where’s the plane?” Short: Listen, I don’t know how sophisticated this man is. Maybe later he’s writing the article and thinking, Schmuck! You didn’t ask them where the plane was! You guys became friends on ¡Three Amigos!, but surely you must have circled each other before that, no? Short: I was a huge fan of Steve Martin, as everyone I knew in comedy was. Martin: I always assumed that everybody at SCTV hated me. Short: Why would that be? Martin: Because you guys were very sophisticated in what you did. And my thing was ostensibly lowbrow. It was my own paranoia, I think. Short: You know, it’s not surprising to me that SCTV came out of Toronto’s Second City, as opposed to Chicago’s. When I would go to the States to see Chicago’s Second City, I would always admire the writing and the political nature of the work. But when I’d go back to the Canadian Second City, it would make me laugh harder. It was more absurd, more character-driven. Martin: Why don’t you just move back to Canada, if you think it’s so much funnier there? One cliché is the idea that all comedy comes from a dark place, that comedians are all insecure, self-loathing... Martin: Marty belies that premise. He’s the opposite. Short: I think the idea is overrated. Talk to the lawyer. Talk to anybody. There’s a lot of
CHARM ’EM WITH YOUR ONLINE BRILLIANCE Just because someone follows you back doesn’t mean you’ve yet become real friends. As with any relationship, it takes some time to build trust and familiarity.
TOP: ORION/EVERETT COLLECTION. LINE DRAWINGS (THROUGHOUT): SIMON ABRANOWICZ.
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insecure, sad people in any profession. I just think it makes for a more dramatic story: the sad clown with a tear. Martin: Everybody’s sad. 1
Are there things that are outside the bounds of your friendship? Like, can you talk to each other about money? Short: Well, that’s not even an issue. Steve is worth 20,000 times what I am. We have an understanding: If he’s Ricky Ricardo, I’m Fred Mertz. In fact, I’m hanging on by a thread. He’s loaded. Martin: That’s not true. Short: No, we both have money. He just has more money. Martin: I’m not sure that I do. Short: Okay, then you know what we’re going to do today? We’re going to phone up our business people and just flip accounts. We’re so similar—you might end up with more money! Are there qualities that you envy in each other? Martin: Marty is extremely comfortable in almost any situation, and I’m extremely uncomfortable in almost any situation. He’s gregarious. He gives people the time of day. Short: See, I was going to say, “Maybe that’s the secret: Try giving people the time of day.” Martin: Sure! Short: Start off by learning their names. Martin: Oh. Never mind. Short: I envy Steve’s unbelievable and endless curiosity. Like, not just being curious about a painter but wanting to collect that painter.... He could be a teacher of modern art. I am just a clown. Martin: By the way, ask me the time of day. Short: What time is it? Martin: Go ask someone else, please.
SLIDE INTO THE DM S When you feel ready to make the jump, send a DM. Just be cool about it. A good litmus test for that first message is: How would it hold up if Kanye took a screenshot and tweeted it out?
Your first shy fist bump.
FRIENDSHIP MILESTONES Women can become lifelong friends as soon as they pee in the same bar bathroom. Men are less well adjusted. So we polled the GQ o∞ces and put together a time line of the milestones along
2 The first time you drink more than five beers together. Also: the first time you sing “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” together.
8 When he gets down on one knee and asks you to be his best man.
5 Actually texting each other. Not quite ready for e-mail yet.
3 Wingman synergy reaches Obama-Biden status.
When you go daytripping with your significant others.
When you name your first child after him (even though Steve is a weird name for a girl).
4 When you begin to communicate exclusively through Instagram memes.
MAKE IT CRYSTAL CLEAR THAT IT’S NOT A DATE (Unless you want it to be a date! Then be crystal clear about that.) To send friend signals, suggest coffee instead of a beer, afternoon instead of evening.
Canoe trip in Appalachia where you end up fighting for your lives while a posse of alt-right locals hunts you as an eerie banjo twangs.
MEET IN GROUPS Chances are it’s not just one of you lamenting Richard Sherman’s move to the 49ers in Seahawks Twitter. A small meet-up takes the pressure off a one-on-one meeting.
Your infant children share a shy fist bump.
REMEMBER: CELEBRITIES ARE NOT GOING TO BE YOUR FRIENDS Just relax. Katy Perry isn’t reading her mentions.
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MAKE A POINT TO SEE OLD FRIENDS YOU MIGHT
E V E OT
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T H E D AY B E F O R E G R A D U A T I N G
from college, I broke down in a car with my then girlfriend, wailing “It’s all fucking over!” through a snotty face. It wasn’t my finest hour, but the sentiment was valid: I’d enjoyed college very much, but most of all I’d enjoyed the people I met there, and I was worried that the dynamic between us would never be the same again. I was right. Over the decade since, some of those friendships have strengthened and others have crashed out, but what is indisputable is that those concentric friend circles—maybe a dozen and a half people—became less a part of my life. Even for the folks who live in the same city as I do, hanging out isn’t an automatic yes. People tend to do things with the people they have more organic overlap with (work interests, freetime interests) than with the people who lived on their randomly assigned hall freshman year. And yet it often racks me with guilt. I am, after all, the one who’s fallen out of orbit. The others? They’ve mostly stuck together. And so when once every summer they organize a weekend in the woods, it takes me longer than it should to hop on. In the weeks leading up, I remind myself that if I don’t go this year, then I may be cinching things o≠ for good. And so I go. And surprise, surprise: It’s fucking great. Two days and two nights, hanging out with some of my oldest friends? This will come as no great shocker to those who get on better with their college buddies, but it’s always a nice reminder that no matter the distance or the fact that one of these dopes writes speeches for the most despicable human in the U.S. Senate, we can retreat uncomplicatedly to some overlaps of nostalgia and a well of nonstop bullshit laughs. The most grown-up part, though? The part that makes it clear we’re ten years out? When it’s time to leave, there’s no pretense that we’ll be hanging again soon. It used to be: “See you next week?” And it’s evolved, for the good of all involved probably, to a simpler, declarative: “See you next year.”— A N O N Y M O U S B R O
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ON SHORT shirt $270 Ami ON MARTIN shirt $270 Ami at Mr Porter ON BOTH shorts $45 Gap socks $10 American Apparel sneakers $175 New Balance sunglasses $230 RetroSuperFuture bag $25 Eastpak
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NATURAL LAWS of FRIENDSHIP Speaking of chums, remember our old friend science? Back before the Fake News Era, he was kind of a big deal. Here are some cold, hard truths about palling around.— C L AY S K I P P E R
IT TAKES TWO—BUT ALSO TIME A recent study showed that it takes 90 hours before you consider someone a friend and 200 hours before you’re close. And no, the guy working next to you all day doesn’t count.
YOU CAN ONLY HAVE SO MANY Robin Dunbar has famously hypothesized that humans can maintain only 150 stable relationships—and only five best friends.
LONELINESS IS DEADLY Much like a tandem bike, life is far better with at least one pal— so much better, in fact, that a lack of social connection has been linked to a higher rate of premature death.
WE TEND TO STICK TO OUR OWN (WHICH SUCKS) Studies show that people are less likely to make friends across races and classes. But there’s evidence that bridging those gaps significantly reduces prejudice.
Mute Your Boring Friends and Everyone Will Be Happy 7 4
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Most people on Twitter are garbage. But many of these people are your friends, your colleagues, and your dentist— a lonely guy who has that
DO THE BACHELOR PARTY While Everyone’s Actually a B a c h e lor
O L D S L I K E T O S AY T H A T Y O U T H I S W A S T E D O N T H E Y O U N G . J U S T A S
bachelor parties, you might have noticed, are wasted on the no-longer bachelor. Because this isn’t Mad Men, and your friend technically should’ve stopped acting single a week after meeting his partner-to-be, he shouldn’t be treating the event as “one last weekend of freedom” or some gray-area-flirtatious horseshit like that. That’s a good thing! But it leads to an idea I’ve been considering for a while: Why not shift the bachelor party o≠ of the coupled-up and onto the single—that is, the actual bachelors? They’re the ones whose freedom to roam in a bar and make out with someone cute should be egged on and cheered. If you wish to throw yourself and your bachelordom a party, make these three assurances to your friends: (1) This is in lieu of a traditional stag party later; (2) you will not make them pay for your steak; (3) they will have more fun than they will with a bunch of married dudes sitting around a cabin on a mountain. But they won’t need assurances; they will jump at the opportunity to reclaim what this really is—a kick-ass weekend with your closest friends like the sort you used to have more than once every marriage. Remind them that bachelor parties are wasted on the non-bachelors: “It is time to celebrate me!”— D A N I E L R I L E Y
“Who Unfollowed Me?” app, just waiting to discover your betrayal. That’s why Jack Dorsey created the mute button: to preserve
friendships that might not last online. Feeling guilty about muting your mom? Don’t. You’re sparing her your digital resentment.— B R E N N A N C A R L E Y
A Gift Is Worth a Thousand Texts, Snaps, and Admittedly Hilarious DMs Apart from significant others and nuclear family, the culture of gift exchange is going extinct. Some people might argue that’s a good thing—a reduction in materialism, less plastic in the ocean. But those people are wrong. There’s nothing (outside of sex and drugs) that feels quite as good as receiving a thoughtful or humorous gift from a close friend. Likewise, the deep satisfaction of the Eureka! moment when you think of the perfect present for someone else. Don’t wait for a birthday. Give whenever inspiration strikes or you stumble across a homemade commemorative Sarah Palin sweater. Because trolling can be an expression of love, too.— B E N J Y
g Bre ak inal Per son News
YOU WILL BE
OFFICIATING A WEDDING NEXT YEAR If you haven’t done it yet, you will soon. O∞ciating at your friend’s wedding is about as common as godparenting these days, except there’s no risk of getting stuck with guardianship. Oh, and did we mention the life-a∞rming tingle you’ll feel while facilitating the union of two previously lonely earth creatures? That too! So here’s how to set about the task at hand as if you actually had the ecclesiastical juice.— M A R T I N M U L K E E N
ASK THEM: WHY ME?
IT’S NOT AN EXTENDED TOAST
You’re not fishing for compliments; you’re gathering crucial intel. If they say “Because you knew Steve back when he was shattering collegiate flip-cup records,” your assignment is a lot different than “Because your track changes on Steve’s lit-mag submissions were so insightful.”
You’re not going for laughs. Don’t rehash wild times. At no point should you utter the words “this guy knows what I’m talking about.” The glory in officiating comes from letting the gravitas and beauty of the occasion do the talking.
AT LEAST PRETEND TO BE A HOLY MAN
Got five minutes and an Internet connection? Congrats, you’re a Universal Life Church minister! But read the qualifications carefully. Some states and counties have extra steps (in New York City, for example, you’ve got to register with the city clerk).
H A N S E N - B U N DY
Life offers but few opportunities to invest in a leather-bound folio. This is one of them. Relish it. And make sure you look the part—suit and tie, etc. Full papal regalia, however, is not encouraged. Unless you’re at Burning Man.
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A JEALOUS HUSBAND’S LAMENT I W
BY D E V I N F R I E D M A N
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reading University of Michigan football-recruiting news on my phone when a di∞cult question posed itself. Why, as the family man ages, does he become more reclusive, sedentary, ursine? Retreating into himself and getting a little deranged and feral and starting to eat out of the garbage and walking on all fours, ending up unrecognizable to his family? Meanwhile, it’s di≠erent for women, or at least for my wife. I discovered recently that she has been having all these a≠airs. With her friends. She goes out and drinks wine and smokes secret cigarettes with April and Melissa and Robyn and Krista. They’re in love with each other, I tell you. I surprised my wife and her friend one night when I came home late and found them flushed and dewy-eyed and
unable to wipe the euphoric intimacy from their faces before I could see it. They get plowed on natural wines and eat fine European cheeses and tell each other everything. They tell each other about their periods, about early menopause, about sex with their husbands and what their husbands’ penises are like, about the terrible fears they have about their children and how we’re all going to die in the end. Because they talk about it. And I have to admit that I’m jealous that my friends and I aren’t like that. I think part of the reason for this state of a≠airs is that, at this point, I kind of don’t want another relationship in my life. I’m in my mid-40s and I have two kids, and the idea of having to relate to more people makes me want to start crying. I relate to my kids. I relate to my wife.
I relate to my wife about my kids. I relate to my kids about each other. I relate to the people I work with. All I want to do at night is drink a Negroni and not relate to anybody. And I think the other part is that men are brittle, egoobsessed little freaks. When I come home after having a drink with a friend, and my wife is like, “Well, what’s going on in Eric’s marriage?” I have to say, “Oh, I didn’t ask him that.” Most of my friends are not predisposed to spilling their darkest secrets as soon as the whiskey has been poured. I know virtually nothing about most of my friends’ sex lives, wifely relationships, erectile dysfunctions, fears of death and bankruptcy. I have no idea what my best friend Zach’s wife’s vagina is like. And I think it’s because we mostly talk about work. That, at least for me, is because we care too deeply about seeming like we’re doing okay. That we’re winning. That we have achieved a place in the world. That we are not failures. But how much fun is it to meet your friend for a drink and lay out an argument for how awesome you are? Not that much fun is how fun it is. So here’s a proclamation: I’m going to get more intimate. I’m going to have an a≠air with my friend. I feel like the way to do it is to be forthright and real and...you know, intimate. As a gambit, but also maybe as a better way to live. I expect middling success. But look out, Zach’s wife, because I’m about to know everything about you.
M AY B E I T ’ L L O N LY H A P P E N O N C E I N Y O U R
life. Maybe never. But at some point, you might have to break up with an old friend. Let’s say—hypothetically—that you had a rowdy, tight-knit group of bros back in college. After graduation, they kept the party going without breaking stride. You tuckered out. The ringleader did his best to keep you in the fold. You did your best to leave it as tactfully as possible. It’s really not that hard. Guys, already deficient in communication
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If You Love Your Friend,
SET HIM FREE
When You See a Friend on Tinder The safe response here—especially if this is someone you work with—is to swipe left. That said, stumbling across Becky, she of the platonic karaoke hangs, on Tinder is, perhaps counterintuitively, actually the safest way to confirm mutual interest. That is, if you both swipe right. If you never end up matching with Becky, the case is closed and you should take a second to be thankful that you’ve been spared the pitfalls of friend dating.— B . H . B .
ON BOTH jacket $1,795 Belstaff pants $128 Michael Kors boots $320 Red Wing Heritage ON SHORT shirt $50 Gap belt $228 John Varvatos ON MARTIN shirt $540 Dries Van Noten belt $85 Polo Ralph Lauren
skills, tend to drift away without strong reasons to hang out. Of course, the closer you were back then, the more painful this slow-ghosting process will be. You’ll find out for certain when the friendship is over as you approach big life moments further down the road. Sure, you’ll remain cordial when you see each other at a bar. But if you don’t catch a wedding invite, you can breathe a sigh of relief. The fraternal nostalgia, already stretched thin, can now rest in peace.
S T R A N G E R S W I T H C A N D Y seems too, well, strange to have ever existed. But somehow the show’s creators—Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello, and Stephen Colbert—wrung three aggressively weird and hilarious seasons and a movie out of a parody of finger-wagging after-school specials, led by Sedaris’s self-described former “junkie whore” Jerri Blank, who repeats high school at age 46. Two decades later, we talked to the (still very odd) friends about what they took away from their stunted, depraved heroine.
A (MINI) ORAL HISTORY OF STRANGERS WITH CANDY, AS TOLD BY THE WEIRDOS WHO MADE IT: STEPHEN COLBERT, PAUL DINELLO, AND AMY SEDARIS PA U L S C H R O D T
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The first episode of ‘Strangers with Candy,’ in which Jerri accidentally kills a classmate with the street drug “glint,” premiered in April 1999. Colbert: Amy would be sitting on the floor frosting cupcakes to sell at bakeries and go, “What about…,” and have the perfect thing. We’d say, “Say that again,” and she’d go, “What did I say?” I mean this as a compliment: She was sort of like the idiot savant. Sedaris: Sometimes I feel like I’m a deaf person trying to get across an idea, and Paul and Stephen are like, “Oh, this is what she’s trying to say.” Colbert: It’s a badge of honor that I served her vision. I could do hack shit
for the rest of my life, but I’d go, “Yeah, but I also wrote that stu≠.” During their time on ‘Strangers,’ Sedaris, Dinello, and Colbert were largely left to their own devices by Comedy Central. Dinello: By the third season, it seemed like no one was watching the store. We’d say why we should be allowed to have a woman with pierced labia and a Liberty Bell hanging from it, and they would usually relent. Dinello: My memory is there was only one thing that they censored. Colbert: To be beautiful on the inside, Jerri has to do nice things for other people, which she has no history of. So she finds an albino who’s a destitute bum on the street, and then a dwarf, who seems perfectly happy. She brings the dwarf into school, and the hobo albino gets it in his head that he’s going to sell the dwarf for drug money. He goes, “That’s a good-looking dwarf,” and grabs him. She yells, “Stop! Help! That albino stole my dwarf!” Dinello: They objected to that, for some reason. Colbert: I said, “But we’ve already hired the albino and the little person!” Colbert now hosts ‘The Late Show,’ for which Dinello is a supervising producer, and Sedaris stars on truTV’s ‘At Home with Amy Sedaris.’ But Jerri lives on. Dinello: Something will happen, and Stephen is like, “I wish Jerri were here to comment on this.” Colbert: We used to call her the Teflon trout—she’s swimming downstream of life and nothing adheres to her. At the end of every day, she’s clearly learned nothing. There’s a lot of Jerri in The Colbert Report. Dinello: Maybe that’s why people like Trump. In society, you’re handcu≠ed a bit, but you admire that people say whatever’s going through their heads without worrying about the repercussions. That thoughtlessness comes o≠ as honesty. Sedaris: Deep down, there’s a little bit of Jerri in everyone.
S T Y L I S T S : K E L LY M CC A B E A N D J O N T I E T Z . H A I R : J E N N A R O B I N S O N. M A K E U P : K E R R I E P L A N T. O N - S E T P R O D U C E R : U N A S I M O N E H A R R I S .
In 1988, Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello, and Stephen Colbert met at Chicago improv studio Second City. Six years later, Sedaris and Dinello persuaded Colbert to join them in New York. Paul Dinello (art teacher Geo≠rey Jellineck): Stephen stayed at a monastery. Stephen Colbert (history teacher Chuck Noblet): An Episcopal seminary. I had hot running water, and I don’t mind a religious environment. Dinello: Stephen and I were working on a show about guys who would ask, “Are the pyramids actually bomb shelters built by aliens 2,000 years ago?” Colbert: Comedy Central literally said the words, “Let’s cut you guys a check.” I’m like, “Fuck yes!” Because we were super unemployed. Amy Sedaris (former “junkie whore” Jerri Blank): I had the idea of doing something based on after-school specials. Colbert: Paul said, “Are you available to come over tonight? Amy is pitching something to Comedy Central tomorrow and wants our help.” He explained the idea, and I said, “Um, I’m happy to help, but you realize they’re going to do her show, not ours? That’s a better idea.” Dinello: I said, “We’ll just go support Amy.” We pitched Strangers, and they went, “Yeah, we’ll do that.” They never mentioned our show again.
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SHEâ€™S ON A CAMPAIGN TO NEUTRALIZE HER HATERS WITH A WEAPON MORE POWERFUL THAN A MILLION BURNS: EMPATHY
D R E W M A G A RY
cluttered two-bedroom Los Angeles apartment. She’s lived here for roughly a dozen years—never going full Hollywood and buying the Fuck You house—and each item is imbued with her distinctive blend of sweetness and impishness. There are big canvas photos on the wall of friends and family members and fellow comics. There’s a fancy Japanese toilet that will troll unsuspecting male guests by automatically lowering its seat mid-piss; I may or may not have audibly whooped when it got me. There’s a priceless Steinway piano that was taken by accident (Scout’s honor) from music producer Jon Brion’s apartment while he was asleep. There’s also a three-foot-high resin statue of a Minotaur literally sitting on the kitchen counter and reading. Silverman’s former boyfriend, actor Michael Sheen, was really into Minotaurs (who isn’t?!), so she bought him one. When the couple amicably broke up and Sheen moved back to his native UK, the Minotaur did not go with him. He’s free to claim it anytime he likes, but let’s be real: It’s staying here. It’s Sarah’s Minotaur now. “It’s so vulnerable,” she says. And it’s just like the Sarah Silverman of 2018 to find vulnerability in even the most savage of beasts. S I LV E R M A N H A S A LWAY S been something of
YO U ’ R E G O N N A N E E D a moment to get used
to this new Sarah Silverman, but I assure you it’s worth it. Come with me for a visit and just know, before we go in, that we are a long way away from the Jesus Is Magic Silverman. You know the one. The “I don’t care if you think I’m racist; I just want you to think I’m thin” Silverman. The extendedAristocrats-joke-about-getting-rapedby-Joe-Franklin Silverman. That Silverman was an aggressively detached stoner girl who rose to fame by dabbling in surrealistic filth
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and turning epithets over on themselves, who was the MVP of nearly every celebrity roast, who got into a public feud with an Asian-American civil rights activist over using the word “chink” in a joke she told on Conan, who once did a bit about deboning Ethiopian babies in order to harvest precious gems, and who once did an entire episode of her own Comedy Central show in blackface. We are, with good reason, miles from all that. I’m here now with the fully refurbished Sarah Silverman, inside her charmingly
an anomaly, occupying her own special corner of the universe. She was the only Jewish girl her age at school in her home state of New Hampshire. She was a vegetarian back when vegetarians were freaks; one time, she says, a schoolyard bully held her down and force-fed her lunch meat. Not only was she one of the few female comics to emerge from the boys’ club that was the ’90s comedy scene; she managed to be raunchier than all of those boys in the process. And now she’s an anomaly among comics because she’s decided to become, well, NICE. For her Hulu talk show, I Love You, America, Silverman has declared she wants to purge, in her words, “the cunty part of me,” and perhaps the cunty part of America in the process. This is why, for remote segments, she ventures out into Trump country (Texas and Louisiana) and attempts to embrace Middle Americans rather than mock them, to get at “the symptoms of why we are where we are.” She does not necessarily coddle the redstaters she meets on the show. She argues with them about Trump. She playfully challenges them on Obamacare and gay marriage. And, because this is Sarah Silverman we’re talking about, she makes a point of asking them if they’ve ever shit themselves. (SPOILER: They have. I sincerely feel better about the state of a≠airs because of this.) She has made herself vulnerable. She has taken the risk of adapting her comedy to a more mature and genuine worldview, and so
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the obvious question here is: Can she pull it o≠ ? Or does being a better person make you a worse comic? “ C O M E DY B Y N AT U R E is not at all evergreen. So if you’re doing it right, you look back at your old stu≠ and you’re horrified,” she tells me. “I don’t stand by the blackface sketch. I’m horrified by it, and I can’t erase it. I can only be changed by it and move on.” Did you, at the time, have some awareness that it was fun to get away with a lot of the jokes you performed? Was there a small kick? “I was praised for it! It made me famous! It was like, I’m playing a character, and I know this is wrong, so I can say it. I’m clearly liberal. That was such liberal-bubble stu≠, where I actually thought it was dealing with racism by using racism. I don’t get joy in that anymore. It makes me feel yucky. All I can say is that I’m not that person anymore.” Do you feel funnier now? “I’m just fundamentally di≠erent. You have to take a chance and go with where you are and what is funny to you now. When comics really establish a thing and they get famous for it, a lot of them are really terrified to change. Then they become caricatures of themselves…” (Here I pause to note that Silverman says this while pantomiming Andrew Dice Clay’s classic stage move of wrapping his arm behind his head to smoke a cigarette.) “…and it can’t be who they still are. It’s a risk you have to take, or it’s just gonna end up being embarrassing.”
What made you change? “I don’t know what the inciting incident was. What I learned from doing this show is… facts, or poll numbers, or any of that shit, it doesn’t change anybody’s mind. If anything, people dig in deeper. So, I like to be changed by new information. There’s so many things we can connect with. We’re way more alike than we think. We’re just getting our facts from di≠erent news sources.” I dunno. That feels a little bit too even to me, like both-sides-ism. “You can’t even say ‘both sides’ anymore because of what Trump did with it. With fucking talking about Nazis. But I see so many liberals having extreme division among themselves and everything is blackand-white. On social media, it’s really become porn. I had the gall to get high one night and watch episodes one and two of Roseanne. And I thought it was lovely. And I have personal friends that went after me on Twitter. All I could think was ‘I spent all Saturday
with you. You have my e-mail address. What is your motivation here?’ ” Who was it? “You can look for yourself. [Note: It was Kumail Nanjiani.] He was loving but stern. I thought the show was really special because it showed a Trump voter who heard JOBS and voted and has checked out ever since but now finds herself splitting up her meds with her husband because they can’t a≠ord them anymore. If Trump voters see that show as a safe space, even better. Because their porcupine needles are down and they’re open to things that they maybe wouldn’t be open to in other cases.” I A M N OT A S W I L L I N G as Silverman to forgive
Middle America for Trump. There are limits to my empathy. I am on the more shrill end of the liberal spectrum: the guy who bitches every time The New York Times ventures out into Trump country to talk to REAL FOLK, the way Silverman occasionally does on her
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She DMs with other Twitter randos, including one dude she’s been communicating with for three years. In perhaps a nod to her childhood, she takes pride in being the only Jewish person some of these people have ever interacted with. She wants to connect everyone, and she wants us to heal, and she wants to still be funny in the process. “I try to remember to be dumb” is a rule Silverman abides by. “Anything heavy on the show, we make sure to sandwich in big, bready, silly, aggressively dumb comedy. It’s essential.” That is not always an easy mandate to stick with. No joke Silverman can tell now could possibly be as fucked-up as the world it’s told in. I N FAC T, T H E M O S T notable moment from the first season of I Love You, America is a monologue in which Silverman, holding back tears, talks about her disgraced friend Louis C.K. If you recall, C.K. admitted to openly masturbating in front of female comics, none of whom asked for such a gesture. Silverman’s own sister Laura tweeted that C.K. had also done it in front of her multiple times. There is exactly one joke in that monologue, a good one about “the elephant masturbating in the room.” The studio audience was far too nervous to laugh at it. As we talk about her old friend, she alternates between sitting on the floor against the front of her couch and lying all the way down on the rug. Like Jamrozy, she has back problems. She has an extra-thick shag carpet to make it comfortable to lie on the floor. Have you spoken to Louie since his scandal happened? “Mmm-hmm.” And what was that conversation like? “Fuck you! ‘Let me tell GQ about my conversations with Louie.’ Life is complicated. Love is even more complicated. But you can’t not do it. I don’t have some definitive sound bite or nutshell of how I feel about it, even to myself. But I’m also okay with that.” Do you hope Louie comes back? “I think that there are people who were caught and there were people who were not caught, but the important thing is that they are forever changed. And if that’s the case, I don’t see any reason why they can’t continue being artists. Now, whether they’re popular artists or not is up to the audience. I have compassion. There are people that just deny everything they’re accused of and they continue to be the politicians or the filmmakers that they are. And there are people that come and say, I’m guilty of these things, and I’m wrong, and I want to be changed from this. And yet those are the ones that kind of are excommunicated forever. He’s my brother, so it’s hard. I may not have a very clear perspective on it, but I’m trying to.” (continued on page 119)
H A I R : J O H N N I E S A P O N G F O R L E O N O R G R E Y L . M A K E U P : K I R A N A S R AT F O R D I O R B E A U T Y. M A N I C U R E : N E T T I E D A V I S U S I N G R O O T E D W O M A N N A I L P O L I S H. S E T D E S I G N : W A R D R O B I N S O N F O R W O O D E N L A D D E R . M A K E U P D E S I G N : D A V E A N D L O U E L S E Y. P R O D U C E R : B R A N D O N Z A G H A . O P P O S I T E PA G E , T - S H I R T: H A N E S . PA N T S : R 1 3 . T H I S PA G E , P H O T O G R A P H : B E N G A B B E / G E T T Y I M A G E S .
own show. I fume that it’s always incumbent super fucked-up. These guys with their daddy on blue-state America to reach out to redissues are getting people killed.” state America, and not the other way around. But I don’t think that Trump has moments I delight in conservatives showing their asses of self-doubt. online. I have given up on trying to politely “No, he’s empty. If he thought that deep, convince the most conservative members of he’d kill himself. If he was two degrees more my own family that they are wrong, and try onto himself, he would eat a bullet. The lack to steer the conversation toward, like, clouds of awareness keeps him alive. He’s such a instead. I am, in other words, hardened, pussy. Colossal pussy.” perhaps even more so than the rednecks Silverman is aiming to convert. T H I S D R I V E for empathy…this desperate, Silverman can see this, and what she desendearing scramble to find ANY scrap of comperately wants people to know is that findmon ground to cling to with common people, ing out you’re wrong about something won’t is also why Silverman has used her personal kill you. We’re talking about gun control Twitter feed not to ruthlessly own trolls, now (hilarious, I know), and like your standard celeb slapI tell her one of the reasons I ping down random accounts, What's So Funny admire the Parkland kids so J. K. Rowling–style, but rather About 2018? much is that they aren’t willto neutralize them with kinding to compromise. They want ness. The most famous examaction, and they aren’t willing ple was a San Antonio man named Jeremy Jamrozy, who to play nice over it. “They’re gonna fucking save tweeted “CUNT” at Silverman. us,” she tells me. And really, Sarah Silverman is gonna be the LAST woman Ah. But they weren’t saying, on earth to be jarred by that “We have to be respectful of the word. Instead of ignoring other side.” Jamrozy or beefing with him, “I inter viewed a guy, Jim Gaffigan Christian Picciolini. Former Silverman decided, on instinct, Nazi skinhead, now works to to befriend him instead. Do you regret any of help people leave extremism “I was walking my dog, and I your comedy? and does incredible work. If happened to see his tweet, and Characterizing my wife as being obsessed I met him before he changed, then I looked at his timeline, with pillows on a bed do I write him o≠ ? It took one and it was just so clear that he in King Baby has a whiff person to have compassion was acting out. It was all just of misogyny today. towards him.… That’s how racial slurs and then one thing Chris Rock is a genius, but saying people change. My job on the that said ‘I have severe back that women should show, for me, is not to change pain,’ and I didn’t think twice. have sex with minds. It’s to connect. So I I just responded, and I was like, their husbands in know that when I see a bunch ‘You’re in a lot of pain.’ ” Tamborine felt like a ’90s throwback. of MAGA hats, there’s a part of “ What she said broke Success kills great through what months and me that gets scared. And you comedy—you get months of therapy couldn’t know what? When they see a complacent when even do,” Jamrozy tells me. bunch of… What’s the symbol you go onstage and audiences love of Hillary or Bernie or what“Like, she just broke me down whatever comes out of ever symbol of liberalism? Man to where she made me more your mouth. And Chris humble and nice and posibuns? They also get scared.” Rock has had decades tive. She disarmed me. She’s But you’re more right to be of success. But in that special he did a lot of gotten me to feel more spiriscared than they are. work. It’s even better “Why?” tual somehow, in a way.” Once than his last one. Because Trump is clearly Jamrozy softened, Silverman You have to understand awful. Sometimes I think these helped him out with his extenthat in the ’90s, people were rewarded for outreach e≠orts indulge Trump sive medical bills and sent him irreverence. Not to say voters in a way that perhaps resistance bands to help with that he’s not a genius, they should not be indulged. his crushing back problems. but Bill Hicks flat To this day, the two are still “Nobody thinks they’re an out used homophobia as a humor tool. evil villain.” friends and DM each other on Chris Rock talking Except Putin. a daily basis. It’s one of those about his marriage “He’s such a super-villain.” pure, BuzzFeed-y stories that bums me far less than make you forget, at least for He’s just a better super-villain Bill Hicks saying Billy Ray Cyrus is a f——t. the moment, that the world than Trump. Gaffigan’s new special, is a shithole. It makes you “I would have so much com‘Noble Ape,’ premieres passion for Trump if he didn’t believe that hearts and minds in theaters and on VOD have so much power and wasn’t really can be changed with on July 13. ruining people’s lives. But he’s random acts of love.
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Dee, the transformation starts around the eyes. They get more incredulous—as if in alarm at the sheer number of awkward moments a person can encounter in the span of a single scene, or an entire life. On the set of HBO’s Insecure, which Rae co-created and stars in, she is confident: in charge. But then it’s time for a new take, and the change into Rae’s on-screen alter ego—slightly more hapless, significantly more broke—begins. The coat, sweatpants, and slippers she uses to stay warm on air-conditioned sets come off, the sense of competence that otherwise envelops her fades, and the eyes begin to search, somewhat desperately, for the solid ground of purpose that Issa Rae has, and Issa Dee most definitely does not. Today, on a blue white hazy afternoon, Insecure has taken over a nightclub in the Mid-City area of Los Angeles, a block south of the 10 freeway. Rae, who is 33 and grew up about four miles from here, in View Park– Windsor Hills, is scrupulous about representing the L.A. she knows. Over time, she’s developed an unofficial rule about where Insecure does and does not shoot, and she avoids going north of the freeway if at all possible. “Growing up here, nobody lives in Hollywood. Nobody lives north of the 10. This is a blanket statement, but most of my friends from L.A. are black and they live south of the 10 or, like, along it, or Mid-City. That’s the L.A. that I know, and that’s the L.A. that I want to represent and portray.” Rae had been on set for two weeks, shooting the show’s third season, and the stress of managing a cast and crew of a hit show had begun to mount. In the fall, she was nominated for a Golden Globe, for the second time, for her work as an actress on the show. Last year, HBO gave Insecure its ultimate honor: a Sunday-night time slot right after Game of Thrones. Rae is often described as the first black woman to create and star in
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a premium-cable series—a compliment so specific that it tends to make her feel entirely misunderstood, if not insulted. (“I mean, who cares? I’m gonna be next to, what, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King?”) It might be more accurate to say Rae is part of a vanguard of young creators making television in ways that television hasn’t quite been made before—raunchier, realer, less beholden to the demands of a mass audience. Insecure, which is about the lives of a handful of young black women and men in various stages of their careers (including: not really having careers), takes delight in the comedy of everyday existence:
passive-aggressive co-workers (“Issa, what’s ‘on fleek’ ”?), the advice of well-intentioned but slightly confused confidants (“You got to fuck a lot of frogs to get a good frog”), the adrenaline rush of doing the wrong thing. The show, built around the Issa character’s friendships (most notably with a lawyer named Molly, played by Yvonne Orji) and romantic stumbles (often with her ex, Lawrence, played by Jay Ellis), depends less on any kind of linear plot and more on the types of confusing yet vivid encounters that pile up in one’s 20s and 30s. (In the second season, Issa describes a recent sexual encounter as a “nebulous fuck.”)
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says. When she first had the idea for the predecessor to Insecure, the web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, “I had another friend of mine in mind, and then she couldn’t do it. So I was like, ‘I’m running out of time. I’m just gonna do it myself.’ ” But Rae turned out to be a gifted comic actress—under pressure, as her characters often are, she talks faster and faster, as if to get her words up to cover-fire velocity—and now she’s so strongly identified with her creation that fans regularly scold Rae on social media for choices her character has made. “In naming the character Issa and in going out and about and minding my business in the world, people still, no matter what you do, are gonna associate,” Rae says ruefully. “It’s you. You know?” Finally, in a close-up shot, Rae fumbles her line. The episode’s director, Pete Chatmon, yells cut. “Can we do that again?” A deliberate beat. “And get it right?” “I got it right like 72 times, bitch!” Rae replies. Even the extras start laughing. AFTER THE CREW BREAKS for a late lunch, Rae
Early on, the show worked a bit like a sitcom: jokes in search of a meaningful structure. But since those first few episodes, Rae and her collaborators have steadily raised the emotional stakes, to the point where HBO asked Rae whether they were still making a comedy. “I remember HBO seeing the first episode of the second season and being like, ‘Oh, my God, is our show dramatic?’ ” Rae recalls. This blurring of the line between antic heartbreak and heartbroken antics is the root of Insecure’s appeal: It feels like life. In the scene they were preparing to shoot, Issa reunites with an on-and-off love interest, Daniel, at a nightclub. It was the kind
of subtle scene Insecure excels at: a casual moment turned excruciating. The script called for the two of them to enter the club and then share a moment of inadvertent physical closeness when Daniel leans over to talk in Issa’s ear—as she registers, with increasing panic, their sudden proximity. In the club, as extras dance silently in the background, they run the scene a few times—in each take, Rae would work out new, silent inflections of discomfort and desire before stammering a reply and escaping to the bar. Rae regards the actual acting she does on the show as, mostly, a means to an end—“I can take it or leave it, to be honest,” she
begins the work of transforming back into herself. An assistant arrives with her sweatpants and slippers. Standing on the sidewalk outside the club, the haze of the character still dissipating, she puts on the slippers and then attempts to put on the sweatpants before realizing her mistake. Rae looks down at her feet and sighs. “I did this wrong,” she says. Rae sometimes refers to herself as shy, and in person she tends to bridge the gap by being both inquisitive and bracingly direct. At one point, talking about the history of television and Insecure’s place in it, she mentions Sex and the City, a show that, to my now regret, I have not seen. “You never. Watched. Sex and the City?” No. “Why? First of all, how old were you when it came out?” I’m 35 now. “So you were around my age when it came out. I didn’t watch it until college, and it came out I think when I was in high school. ’Cause it was around the same time as The Sopranos, right? Were you watching The Sopranos when you were in high school?” I went back and saw that. “Okay, so...” Rae looks at me patiently. Maybe there’s some chauvinism in the fact that I went back and watched one and not the other. “Totally. I’m glad you recognized that.” Rae’s willingness to speak her mind, paired with her on-screen exhibitionism, is what makes Insecure work. But this quality can also come at a cost: The source of her creativity, in many ways, is her genuine discomfort with being the center of attention.
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“I do feel like people expect me to be entertaining,” Rae says. “And I’m not. I’m not an entertaining person. I don’t put on for anybody. I think about someone like Tiffany Haddish, who’s just naturally entertaining, who always has a story. And that’s just not my lane. I’m always gonna be the shy one.” Orji says that when she and Rae first met, she was surprised by how much Rae was like the character she’d played on Awkward Black Girl. “She really does give off an awkward energy,” Orji says. “She really is shy. She has a hard out. She has limits. She really is this person. It’s not an act.” Rae’s first series, Dorm Diaries, was a satire about black life at Stanford more or less as she was living it at the time—the misunderstandings and missed connections of college-era existence. After she posted it on Facebook, people responded immediately, and for a moment it seemed like an interested network might even make it into a show. When that didn’t happen, Rae created Awkward Black Girl. She was working at a corporate nonprofit job, and the show was about the daily indignities of office life and dating in Los Angeles. The series, which she posted on YouTube in 2011, was watched by millions of viewers. In the aftermath of her newfound success, Rae signed a book contract. At the time, she says, she thought: “This is great for the process! This is great promotion! I’m getting paid to write! Like, all those things. All those things that 25-, 26-year-old me is like, Yes, this is the goal.” In the 2015 book The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, she wrote, in jarring detail, about her father’s unfaithfulness in his marriage to her mother and about her childhood habit of adopting the “white-girl name” Jennifer to flirt with strangers online. Today she looks back on the book and cringes at the level of autobiography it contains. “Just being such a private person, going back, I wouldn’t ever write about my stuff,” Rae says. “There’s no doubt that it worked, but books live forever.” In television’s so-called golden age—The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men—the difficult men who created the difficult men on-screen were able to stay behind the curtain; viewers tended to care about Tony Soprano, not
David Chase. But television—especially vaguely comedic television—in the era of personal branding is a very different animal. It’s not a coincidence that many of the most successful creators of the past several years—Rae, Girls’ Lena Dunham, Atlanta’s Donald Glover, Broad City’s Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson—have had to not just write or direct but also star in their own shows, often telling stories that could plausibly belong to them in real life. This is a recipe for success. But it’s also the strategy that drove some of their predecessors, like Dave Chappelle, to near madness: If you mine your life too closely, and too publicly, for laughs, you risk having nothing left when the gambit pays off. “I only want to make my presence felt when I feel like it’s necessary,” Rae says in her trailer. “And so much of that is such a hard balance, especially when the narrative is about getting noticed and getting attention for a specific product. And in that way, yeah, I want the eyes to be on what the product is”—meaning Insecure. “But after a while, you become the product.” R A E O F T E N S AY S that an inspiration for cre-
ating Insecure was watching the sitcoms she grew up on, shows with predominantly black casts like Living Single and A Different World, disappear from television—a void that no one seemed inclined to fill. Growing up in Los Angeles, where her father, a doctor from Senegal, had a practice in Inglewood, Rae would frequently recognize her own neighborhood in movies like Love and Basketball and on shows like Girlfriends. Then that stuff just vanished. “The takeaway was ‘Agh, black people are so dope. Where are they at on TV right now? Now I want my own version.’ ” But television shows in the 1990s were made for massive audiences that often numbered in the tens of millions. “If you’re selling advertising, your sole metric of success is ‘Were the ratings high or low?’ ” says Casey Bloys, HBO’s head of programming. Modern comedies like Insecure work on a different model, one that necessarily comes with the proliferation of cable channels and online outlets: fewer people, more passion. “Even something like Girls,” Rae says, by way of comparison, “which I hate being compared to,
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Patton Oswalt It almost feels like a dereliction of duty to think about non-political comedy right now. You take a mental-health day to go, “I just need to look at something fun.” But then as you do that you’re going, “Shouldn’t I be marching, or tweeting?” But it goes both ways. Donald Trump screams to his
followers, “We’re boycotting the NFL because of these guys that are kneeling!” Like, these poor people—you’re taking away their health care, their jobs, and then you’re telling them, “And the thing you enjoy every Sunday just to get you through the week, I can’t have you watching that because my feelings are hurt.” It’s Soviet-level shit that he’s doing. Like, “Show your love of the motherland by the amount of deprivation that you’re going through.” Oswalt stars in the NBC series ‘A.P. Bio.’ His latest special, ‘Patton Oswalt: Annihilation,’ is available on Netflix.
but I thought it was a huge ratings hit because of the way people talked about it.” In reality, as Rae found out, Girls was watched by 800,000 to a million people—about the same number of people who watch Insecure. But “people were talking about it. Whether you loved it or you hated it, you were talking about it.” Rae says because of this she doesn’t worry much about her ratings. Neither does HBO, though Bloys says the network is very happy with them: “The show got amazing reviews, both in the first season and the second season. And you can’t quantify it, necessarily, but there is buzz around her and the other actors on the show. So it is doing its job as far as I’m concerned.” Rae is more interested in the makeup of her audience. “I think what most surprised me was that the audience wasn’t 90 percent black,” she says. “I think only 30 to 40 percent of the audience are black people. But I’m like, okay, HBO isn’t accessible to everyone. Like, I didn’t have HBO. I used my friend’s password until the show got picked up.” In 2012, after Awkward Black Girl took off, Shonda Rimes helped Rae pitch ABC on a show called I Hate L. A. Dudes. ABC bought the show, but the series fell apart in development, as the network picked Rae’s script apart with a constant barrage of notes and changes. It was a formative experience. “I was a mess,” Rae says now. “I was just like, Yeah, I have this shot, but I don’t want to fuck it up, so I’m just gonna listen to what everybody says. And I (continued on page 120)
H A I R : F E L I C I A L E AT H E R W O O D U S I N G C U R L S B L U E B E R R Y B L I S S. M A K E U P: J O A N N A S I M K I N AT T H E WA L L G R O U P. M A N I C U R E : N E T T I E D AV I S U S I N G R O O T E D W O M A N N A I L P O L I S H. SET DESIGN: WARD ROBINSON FOR WOODEN LADDER. PRODUCER: BRANDON ZAGHA. ALL CLOTHES FROM ABC STUDIOS COSTUME DEPARTMENT. THIS PAGE, PHOTOGRAPH: AMANDA EDWARDS/WIREIMAGE/GET T Y IMAGES.
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IT’S EASY. ROUND UP YOUR FRIENDS AND HIT THE GYM WEARING WORKOUT GEAR THAT MIXES CLASSIC ATHLETIC BRANDS WITH THE SPORTY STUFF FROM THE FASHION HOUSES AND SOME RETRO SWIMWEAR. WE GOT THE HUNKS OF INSECURE TO SHOW YOU HOW IT’S DONE LU CY A R M S T R O N G
o pt i o n a l ) .
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From left, Y’lan Noel, Wade Allain-Marcus, Jay Ellis, Sarunas Jackson, and Neil Brown Jr. :a
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like in real life? For one, they’re just as fit and tall, as if they were carefully chiseled from a very bangable boulder. But for Jay Ellis, who plays Lawrence, the similarities end with good looks. Sure, Ellis has “learned a lot” and is “well educated” in the subject of being an insensitive-butwell-intentioned thot, but in real life, he’s never even had a one-night stand, because he’s “too shy.” This is something he wishes fans of the show knew before they’d smack him across the face in an airport because “Lawrence cheated on Issa!” (He was just trying to buy some Dramamine before his flight.) Ellis understands, though. Insecure inspires not just thirst but passion. “If you’re down the middle [with my character], I feel like I’m not doing a good job,” he says. Insecure seeks to make its men divisive. A blow-job scene in the second season ends with Issa’s first ex and second fling getting sperm in her eye—Issa storms out, taking our sympathy for Daniel with her. But Y’Lan Noel, who plays Daniel, couldn’t be more different from the character he plays. Yes, he’s a Black Adonis meets Mister Rogers meets Cesar Millan. And I truly believe that Noel is so timid that his 4.5-pound Chihuahua, Mello, could register as an emotional-support animal. “I don’t have any conversations where I’m not talking about my dog,” Noel says while scrolling through photos and videos of Mello on his phone. There’s one of her gnawing at a bull-penis treat while perched on Noel’s Polo Ralph Lauren boxer briefs. In an even more intimate photo, Mello is wearing a child’s diaper while in heat. It’s obvious Noel has a lot of love to give and is “a purist when it comes to relationships,” which is why he’s single. When he performs in Insecure’s sex scenes, he says, the most important thing is making the actress as comfortable as possible. Neil Brown Jr. and Wade Allain-Marcus are the two men
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slides $590 Tom Ford necklace Renvi ON WADE swim trunks $195 Saturdays NYC slides $460 Isabel Marant sunglasses $480 Cutler and Gross necklaces Renvi ON JAY tank top $29 Urban Outfitters swim trunks $395 Dolce & Gabbana at Mr Porter ON SARUNAS swim trunks $185 Stella McCartney Swimwear necklace Renvi ON NEIL tank top $68 Lululemon swim trunks $125 EA7 Emporio Armani slides $45 Adidas Originals
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on Insecure who have yet to get a sex scene. Brown, who’s married in real life, doesn’t think he’ll ever have one. (“It doesn’t serve the story just to have me butt naked.”) Allain-Marcus, on the other hand, is game. (“One hundred percent. What can I do to Issa?”) But with new scripts kept so tightly under wraps, he’s still not sure if he’ll get the opportunity this season. Then, of course, there’s Sarunas Jackson, who brings to life six feet eight inches of Insecure’s Dro, the openrelationship (or straight-uplying) bae who messes with Molly. Of all the men, he’s the most like the character he plays on the HBO hit—because at the time he was cast, he was also in an open relationship. (“Did someone tell Issa?”) Like Ellis, he’s had a run-in with an Insecure fan who confused real-life Sarunas with Dro. “She came up to me with both hands and kind of slapped me on my chest and said, ‘You need to stop fucking with Molly. You need to stop messing with Molly’s head.’ And I was just like, ‘Who the hell are you?! Why are you touching me like that for? You need to calm down right now. Can I help you with something?!’ ”— M A R I A H S M I T H
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sneakers $175 New Balance duffel $990 Neil Barrett ON JAY jacket $2,325 pants $1,895 Versace tank top $95 Saturdays NYC sneakers $60 Vans duffel $180 Tommy Hilfiger ON SARUNAS sweatshirt $295 sweatpants $350 3.1 Phillip Lim sneakers $190 Nike
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IN 2018, NO ONE IS CLEAR WHAT THE LINE IS BETWEEN WHAT’S PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES OF COMEDY AND WHAT’S OFFENSIVE— AND YET WE LIVE IN AN ERA WHERE A SINGLE BAD GAG CAN DERAIL A CAREER. SO GQ CONVENED A SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF COMEDY’S GREATEST MINDS— KATHY GRIFFIN, ROY WOOD JR., MIKE BIRBIGLIA, APARNA NANCHERLA, AND HASAN MINHAJ—TO DISCUSS WHAT YOU CAN AND CAN’T SAY ANYMORE
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K AT H Y GR I F F I N (her Laugh Your Head O≠ tour runs through the summer): It’s getting racial. Mike, do you feel oppressed? M I K E B I R B I G L I A (his special ‘Thank God for Jokes’ is available on Netflix; his one-man show ‘The New One’ is at Manhattan’s Cherry Lane Theatre from July 26 through August 26): I was very concerned. I called the white police immediately and reported it. You’re going to be getting a phone call.
White straight guys have a lot of privilege almost everywhere, but in comedy you’re, like, disenfranchised. The most kinds of jokes are off-limits to you.
But I just wanted to be Rhoda or Phyllis— the sidekick. I didn’t want to be the star, because I knew I wasn’t pretty enough. But I was like, “If I can be the funny one getting the jokes, I’m happy.”
Aparna, did you think about what it would be like to enter a mostly male profession? NANCHER LA: No, I came from a very comedy-ignorant background—I didn’t know you could make it a career. I was a little oblivious, like, “I’m just trying this thing.” All the identity stu≠ was put on me. MI NHA J : I think that actually plays to your strength. What I love about your comedy is that you’re from another planet. The stu≠ you do onstage comes from this tabula rasa, clean-slate perspective.
A PA RNA N A N C H E R L A (stars in the Comedy
Central series ‘Corporate’; her episode on the show ‘The Standups’ is available on Netflix): I don’t think that’s true. ROY WO OD J R . (correspondent on ‘The Daily Show’; his Comedy Central special, ‘Father Figure,’ is available on Amazon): But your tightrope is thinner than comics of other groups. B I RB I G LI A : Have you guys watched the National Lampoon documentary [Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead]? One of the things that hit me hard is it’s all white dudes. It was the ’70s. I found it really heartening to look around at comedy and be like, “Thank God my 3-year-old daughter is allowed to at least consider my fucking profession.” My God. G RI FFI N: Everything I watch, I count the women. Did they get one in? Did they get a person of color in? A gay person? I’m hyper-aware of that. H A S A N MI N H A J (correspondent on ‘The Daily Show’; his special, ‘Homecoming King,’ is available on Netflix, where Minhaj’s weekly talk show will premiere in the fall): You’ve always been? G RI FFI N: As I get older, I get more militantly feminist. WO O D : But when you started, were you aware of the fucking mountain that you had to climb? G RI FFI N: I knew it was a long shot, especially being from Illinois and not knowing a single person in comedy.
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The Daily Show satirizes the boxes people are put in. You’re the “Senior This Race or Gender or Religion Correspondent.” It’s a commentary on it, but it’s also true.
I’m so fatigued by everything that’s happening in the news, but whenever I try to divert my attention with something light, I feel like, “This is frivolous. I can’t be watching this when there’s serious stuff happening!”
M I N H A J : The Daily Show satirized an entire form, and now what you see in the marketplace is all the tentacles of Jon Stewart’s children in late-night satire. When Jon retired, I was like, “Why are you MINHAJ: Right now cerebral is sexy. But leaving?” And he was like, “I’ve manipulated there was a big run of the “man baby” this chess piece in every single way I could. movies—40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up. For what I’ve been able to do from the desk, There was a lot of Will Ferrell and adult looking to camera one with an over-the40-year-old dudes in diapers. Somebody shoulder graphic, from the field pieces to like John Oliver never could have been that the correspondents and them popular in that period of time creating their own personas doing niche comedy on that satirize other personas, crypto-currency. Do you think to the rivalry between me and the pendulum will swing back Colbert… Now I’m interested to where people are like, ON MINHAJ to see where you guys can “Look, man, I just want to see suit $2,595 shirt $425 take it—how you can Will Ferrell in a diaper again”? Giorgio Armani manipulate it.” And I think tie $175 Drake’s the biggest challenge we have It’s a luxury to watch Will watch $5,950 Bvlgari is the characters have now Ferrell run around in a ON BIRBIGLIA mutated and evolved beyond diaper. Right now, if you suit $2,995 just O’Reilly. The villains took turn your attention away, Ermenegildo Zegna steroids. How do you satirize you’re abdicating your shirt $445 Giorgio Armani Alex Jones? It really makes responsibility. tie $115 Boss O’Reilly look like he’s from WOOD: Do we have a watch (on opening page) planet Earth. responsibility? $6,450 Baume & Mercier WOOD: The stakes matter GRIFFIN: I think so. I feel it. ON GRIFFIN more. People always say, “Oh, NANCHERLA: I think it’s a blazer and top this is a good time for comedy.” personal choice how much you Emporio Armani I don’t think the comedy want to engage with it. I don’t
ST Y L I ST: J O N T I E T Z . S E T D E S I G N : R O B E R T S U M R E L L F O R WA LT E R S C H U P F E R M A N A G E M E N T. H A I R : J O R D A N M. F O R S U S A N P R I C E N Y C. M A K E U P: S A R A H A P P L E BY U S I N G C H A N E L H Y D R A B E A U T Y. M A N I C U R E : R A C H E L S H I M F O R A R T I S T S B Y T I M O T H Y P R I A N O . M O D E L C A S T I N G : W U L F C A S T I N G . O P P O S I T E PA G E , P H O T O G R A P H : C I N D Y O R D / I F P / G E T T Y I M A G E S .
Mike, this never happens, but you’re the only white straight guy here.
factories of satire that are on TV are creating better comedy. It’s the same writers. It’s the same people. But people care more, so now the jokes matter to you. MINHAJ: You don’t think this is the golden age of comedy? BIRBIGLIA: I think it’s the opposite. Because there’s been the devaluation of news as truth, the accepted setups have gone away. MINHAJ: Like there being an objective reality we all agree on. BIRBIGLIA: If we can’t agree on the setups, we can’t have punch lines, so it’s a very divisive time in comedy. I look at Jimmy Kimmel and go, “He’s doing great work.” Another guy looks at Jimmy Kimmel and goes, “Fuck that guy. He’s trying to get health care for his son, and he’s got a platform.” WOOD: I would imagine somewhere in the pantheon of Jimmy Kimmel clips, he said something halfway political that showed a level of give-a-fuck-about-society that no one reacted to, because it was in ’08 or ’09. I wonder: If we weren’t in the era of Trump, would people be telling him to shut up? MINHAJ: I just think we have a shift now where political culture has become popular culture. GRIFFIN: This is everyone’s lane now. Maybe there was a time when comedians should only talk about X, Y, or Z, but now everybody is talking about it.
know if he still says this, but I read an GRIFFIN: I don’t want you to, either. That’s why I keep talking about it. I’m like the interview with Kevin Hart where he was [fired FBI deputy director] Andrew McCabe like, “That’s just not my comedy life. I want of comedy. I’m seeing it happen to more to appeal to the Everyman, and I don’t want people. Civilians. And it just shouldn’t be people to think about politics when they like that. Not for a comic, not for anybody. come to one of my shows.” WOOD: Certain comedians make their careers on never being political. If someone You apologized for the photo. wants to pay money to see Brian Regan, and GRIFFIN: I took the apology back. I’d take it Brian Regan is still an amazing comedian, back again today. I take it back every day. does he not provide escapism for people? MI NHA J : Even he did the Israeli-Palestine I know you’re not sorry, but if you could go joke in his new special. But I think comedy, back and not do it, just to save yourself like any art form, is about being authentic. the hassle, would you? So if Kevin’s making that choice, he’s being GRIFFIN: No. Not knowing what I know authentic to who he is, so I’m now. Initially I had so many all for that. mixed feelings, and there was so much legal stu≠ going G R I F F I N: I’m such a stickler What's So Funny around. But now I feel like for the misogyny and the About 2018? I just think it’s important for sexism and the ageism I me to stand by that photo experience daily that I’m just just because of the First calling it out more and more. Amendment. If nothing else, Don’t even act like you know I can educate people and go, what it’s like to be my age “You can hate that picture all and to be a woman and been you want, but it’s important through what I’ve been to know it wasn’t against the through. I probably got a little law.” So if one of your kids, lazy during Obama, thinking God forbid, took that picture this was now going to be the Leguizamo and put it on Twitter, your kid future. We’ve had our first shouldn’t be under a twoAfrican-American president; Is there anything month federal investigation we’re going to have our first in your comedy that you regret? and shouldn’t have to spend female. I didn’t know it was There was [my hundreds of thousands of going to fucking turn into one-man show] dollars on legal bills and The Handmaid’s Tale. The Spic-O-Rama. shouldn’t be detained at shit I’ve been through in the Obviously the term is kinda harsh—it was airports and shouldn’t have last year is just unbelievable. banned in Texas and their passport taken away. Canada because of And shouldn’t be on the no-fly In May 2017, Gri∞n took the title. But I was list. My phones were tapped. part in a photo shoot in which trying to reappropriate that horrible word. They threatened me with a she posed holding a mask Do you think it Paul Manafort–style no-knock styled to look like Donald would still be as raid if I didn’t come in. They Trump’s severed head. The provocative today? repercussions ranged from wanted to charge me with It wouldn’t be shocking anymore. It would gigs being canceled to her conspiracy to assassinate the still play, but comedy friend and co-host of CNN’s president of the United States. changed. All of a New Year’s Eve broadcast, So that’s why ultimately I feel sudden, it seems kind Anderson Cooper, calling the like I have to defend that of mundane. Who is doing photo “disgusting” to death photo. I want to be a case provocative comedy threats to having her ad for study, because it is happening really well right now? bowel-movement aid Squatty to other people. Colbert is so funny and Potty pulled by the company. MINHAJ: I really agree with so biting. When all the Michael Cohen stuff her. I heard people say, “What [about representing if a comedian held a photo of BI R BI G LI A : Did you have to Sean Hannity] came Barack Obama’s bloody head? meet with the FBI? out, he was so excited What would you be saying G R I F F I N: I was interrogated. by it that he lay on the couch with a glass then?” Look, you can argue I was under a two-month of wine and started that the photo was distasteful. federal investigation. playing with his I’m open to that discussion. NANCHER LA: Really? nipples. He was But the fundamental right G R I F F I N: Yeah. I was on the tweakin’ himself! It was incredible. that we’re allowed to do no-fly list for two months. Leguizamo’s newest that in this country is a BI R BI G LI A : I have to be one-man show, ‘Latin privilege worth fighting for, cautious about what I say. History for Morons,’ is even if you disagree with the I don’t want to go through coming to Netflix soon. position itself. what you went through.
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“THE PROBLEM COMES WITH THINKING THAT FREEDOM OF SPEECH ENTITLES YOU TO FREEDOM OF VENUE.” WO O D : We all have freedom of speech, but
you spoke on the NPR show Fresh Air
sometimes as comedians we get outraged about performing in clubs that had when one of our own is under fire. I think Confederate flags. It’s almost like there’s the problem comes with thinking that a Confederate flag hanging over America freedom of speech entitles you to freedom right now. When do you employ selfof venue, or absolves you of consequence protection, and when do you just go, for saying whatever you want to say. Much “This is my comedy, and I have to be true as I disagree with CNN for taking Kathy o≠ to myself”? the air for New Year’s Eve— WOOD : There are nights when I go onstage and I have to decide how much of an G RI FFI N: Banned for life. argument I want to get into with the WO O D : Which is stupid. But we all know audience. When they hear certain CNN did that for the sake of stockholders, buzzwords, they instantly go into their shareholders, and viewers who are place of argument. outraged. Colleges canceled Richard Spencer because the students made an GRIFFIN: That was not around five years ago. uproar. If the students had never said a WOOD : It wasn’t around two years ago. thing, colleges would have been perfectly MI NHAJ : Do you think it’s forcing us to get fine with him speaking. better as performers? M I NH A J: One of my proudest things as an WOOD : It depends. Because if they are not American is that we can let these trolls there to hear that and that’s what you’re speak, because I believe the open market there to say, it’s going to be a problem. I did will take care of it itself. When Milo a show in Bloomington, Indiana, God bless [Yiannopoulos] dropped his book, that shit them. But I’m sitting backstage deciding tanked so bad. He’s not as big as we think how much Trump shit to do. I’m working he is. But a lot of comedians are in this new on a bit right now where the premise is old zone where we have to apologize for jokes. racists don’t like new racists. If you’re an old racist, you can’t be happy, because WO O D : That’s bullshit. I don’t care what the you’re about to die and everything you joke is. You shouldn’t have to apologize. worked for is about to happen. G RI FFI N: Yeah, I shouldn’t have apologized. All my comedy friends turned on me, and it G R I F F I N: And those damn kids in didn’t make anything better. Charlottesville are taking your scene. You worked your whole life for that torch. N A N C H E R L A : I do feel like there’s a culture now of publicly shaming people. It’s this WOOD: They’re carrying tiki torches. You trend where when anyone made a cross by hand. You raises attention in any kind literally can’t purchase a cross. of way to provoke or outrage, If you want to burn a cross in everybody jumps on them, a black person’s yard, you like, “Let’s beat this down. have to make it from scratch. ON WOOD We’re going to shame you So you do a joke like that in suit $998 into submission.” a room full of Trumpers, they shirt $92 Brooks Brothers instantly act like I’m calling M I N H A J : You think that’s a tie $70 Tommy Hilfiger you the racist. And I believe good thing? watch $11,600 a lot of Trump voters are N A N C H E R L A : I think it’s a bad Glashütte Original incidentally racist, or they are thing. ON LEGUIZAMO ignoring the cause and e≠ect M I N H A J : Even if the person suit $995 Boss of their vote. You have to deserved it? shirt $450 decide what kind of a night NA NCH E R L A : I don’t think tie $195 it’s going to be some nights. anyone deserves it. Ermenegildo Zegna
Roy, when you were talking about “freedom of venue,” it reminded me of how
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Do you have to have different versions of the same joke for different crowds?
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WO O D : But then you’re getting into “How much of a pair of kid gloves should I wear with this volatile material so that you aren’t hurt by my saying what I’m feeling?” Sometimes there’s no way. You’re just not going to like this joke, and there’s nothing I can do about that. I wish late-night shows would book heavier comics to help set the tone for what’s happening in the clubs. Amanda Seales did Late Night with Seth Meyers. It was the most unapologetically black comedy I had ever seen. M I NH A J : She did the black national anthem. WO O D : Who the fuck does that? So if you watch it at home, and you squirm, and you go, “I don’t like her,” you’re going to be more discerning about what you’re going to see live. Do your homework. We’re not just some fucking showbiz pizza Chuck E. Cheese’s robot that’s doing basic bullshit jokes. M I NH A J : Do you think that’s the problem of art, becoming à la carte now? Look at the way music is now. In the ’90s, when I first started getting introduced to hip-hop, there were like 15 rappers—and that included Wu-Tang Clan. It was them and six other rappers. And now there’s literally subgenres of subgenres of subgenres of hiphop. Stand-up comedy is like that, too. We used to have to go into clubs and appeal to everybody. Now audiences are treating it like it’s a salad bar where I get to pick and choose my condiments. G RI FF I N : Absolutely. It’s very segregated. NA NCHE R L A : I think people also just want to be in on the joke. They want to be like, “Yeah! We’re all laughing at these dumb people.” If they ever feel like they’re inching toward being like whatever you’re targeting, they’re immediately like, “Well, now I feel like you’re making fun of me.” They never want to be the target. G RI FF I N : Well, that’s the whole Roseanne thing. All those people are so fucking excited because they feel like they finally have somebody representing them. It’s my nightmare. Roseanne is literally tweeting shit about the [Hillary Clinton pedophilering conspiracy] pizza-parlor shit. NA NCHE R L A : Now people are picking comedians based on their politics. WO O D : No one wants to be the target. And Roseanne’s taking an aim at people that traditionally in scripted television don’t get shot at. G R I F F I N : It’s just really deep for me. She’s one of the people who gave me my first jobs. Her reputation for so long was she was crazy. And I’m like, “Here’s this woman. She looks atypical. She’s from Salt Lake. She came up through the clubs.” I remember all the stories she would tell about how when she was bombing, her sister would stand behind the one laughing table.
question that’s relevant to WOOD: She knew where to What's So Funny our conversation? Do you, look. Where to target the as a person in the restaurant jokes. About 2018? business, think that G R I F F I N: I haven’t seen her in bloggers and Yelp help? a few years, but the whole Unprofessional people giving time I’ve known her, she was their critical reviews? absolutely a lefty. She actually referred to herself as an old CHEF JEREMIAH S TONE: You hippie and stu≠. I remember can imagine the type of people asking her one time, “What who want to say something happened to Dennis Miller? on Yelp—they’re either really, I used to really like him and really happy or really pissed Gad Elmaleh respect him. Is he a true o≠. They mean well. They believer with this O’Reilly think they’re doing a service You moved here shit?” And she goes, “Dennis for other people, but we don’t from France in Miller needed a job!” And I’m read those kinds of things 2015. What’s surprised you most like, ding ding. Is she a true because we stopped and we about the American believer, or did she just need realized people have no idea sense of humor? a job just like Dennis Miller what they’re talking about. I underestimated needed a job? They’re writing a review two the level of selfdeprecation. I started On TV, when one premise weeks later and describing with Cheesecake is a hit, they all copy it. But other restaurants on accident. Factory. Factory? How I do hate that comedy has GRIFFIN: Everything I read is much cheesecake do become so segregated. I know “It’s so expensive! Two dollars you eat that you need a factory? I thought you guys can laugh at me, but for a hamburger, what?!” they were gonna be in the era of three networks, MINHAJ: I hear this: “Hey, I’m offended, and they I loved growing up watching your audience. Why can’t you laughed so much. But every color of comedy that take criticism?” What’s your with sex jokes, it’s taboo. I remember the was at least allowed to be on pushback? first night I did my joke those shows. And now, just S TONE: With what you guys about American date being honest, I don’t know do, it’s such a treat. I think night—it’s produced, a lot of African-American there’s something weird that it’s organized. I said, “What’s the best-case comics, and they don’t know happens with food that they scenario going on a me. Like I was on Bravo. get really o≠ended when date with your wife?” That’s a very narrow gay/ things don’t go right. Art and And then I said soccer-mom audience. comedy are kind of a luxury. something a little stupid: “Having sex But with food, they’re like, NANCHER LA: But it’s like with your wife on a “You messed up my dinner. Hasan was saying, where date night is like hitting That’s part of my day.” things are à la carte now. the jackpot in a casino, With Netflix and Hulu, you MINHAJ: We’ll perform at but you’re like, ‘Shit, I own this casino.’ ” In can just go to what you want clubs now, and people on America, that’s sacred. to watch. There’s no incentive Twitter after the show will be Elmaleh’s special, to be broad. like, “I didn’t like this joke, ‘American Dream,’ this joke, and this joke.” MI NHA J : And when I hear is available on Netflix, where his something I don’t want to NANCHERLA: I got a troll autobiographical hear, it’s like, “I didn’t sign up who said they got sushi and series, ‘Huge in for this.” watched my special and were France,’ will premiere like, “I got food poisoning WOOD: I think news being à la later this year. from the sushi, but your carte is probably part of the special made me feel worse.” problem, too. MI NHA J : That being said, objective reality GRIFFIN: “Love, Mom.” used to be a thing. That’s worth fighting for. WOOD: I saw Doug Stanhope in Alabama When athletes can go on a podium and go, years ago, and he does 20 minutes on why “So you believe the earth is flat, Kyrie Jesus is bullshit. In fucking Alabama! And Irving?” He goes, “Yeah.” And they just move at ten-minute intervals, people are not only on. “So you guys going to the playo≠s?” walking out of the show; they’re walking down front, giving him the finger, and then G R I F F I N: I think it can be our job. I think walking out of the show. So there are there’s actually a humorous or harmless people who give you instant feedback. They way to shame people or shine a light on don’t have time to blog. things. I think that’s something where you should be able to make fun of him for that BIRBIGLIA: Stanhope is my favorite comic but still love and respect him as a player. to watch. He intentionally brings the audience to zero, or –5, at the top of the M I N H A J : [turning to Jeremiah Stone, show. A special of his in New York City has co-chef at N.Y.C.’s Contra, as he drops off the line “Fuck the (continued on page 121) some poached lobster] Can I ask you a
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THE TORTURED MIND OF DAN HARMON ARE YOU WATCHING RICK AND MORTY, ONE OF THE FUNNIEST, MOST OUTRAGEOUS SHOWS ON TV? MILLIONS OF DIE-HARD FANS ARE. SO WHY ARE THEY MAKING THE GUY WHO CREATED IT SO MISERABLE?
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I T ’S L I K E LY H A R M O N spends more time than
any other writer—at least those I have met; certainly more than I do—thinking about writing. That obsessiveness is what gives rise to Rick and Morty fans analyzing the show through the prisms of philosophy and quantum physics. It’s also what causes them to yell at him for taking too long to write it. Harmon breaks down every script to a “story circle,” a simplified version of Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey.” Here is the story circle for Dan Harmon’s life, which he draws for me: Our hero bides his time masturbating in Milwaukee until he is called to adventure in L.A. He wins and loses Community. He attains true power with Rick and Morty. He faces down the fact that, although he’s very good at TV, it will never make anyone like him. He learns to play jazz clarinet. He dies. A more accurate drawing of Harmon’s process might be an endless spiral. Harmon cheerfully tells me that one of his favorite methods of self-sabotage is to start at the path again and again, ceaselessly polishing a first scene. (Even with the story circle of his life, he starts over four times.) There are deeper issues to consider, Harmon says: his clinging to work by way of wresting control over what Campbell calls
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it-on juggernauts like The Big Bang Theory, show, you piece of shit!’ ” Dan Harmon rants, capturing the Zeitgeist in a way not seen exaggerating only slightly the kinds of tweets since South Park. Rick and Morty’s success he gets from “15-year-olds.” In Harmon’s rants, his fans—equal parts acolyte and is as unlikely as Harmon’s rebound—a crude, troll—are always 15. And they are always nihilistic cartoon about an alcoholic sciendemanding more Rick and Morty. tist and his naive grandson wreaking havoc But right now, his hit show isn’t in proacross space-time, from a writer with a reputation for his own vodka-fueled tyranny. And duction. At the moment, Harmon is on a stage inside his Burbank stuwhile it might be more famous dio, taping a new episode of his for a fan base that seems to be What's So Funny birthed from the darkest id of podcast Harmontown, venting the Internet, the show’s even about yet another thing he’s About 2018? earned prestige, becoming said that’s caused yet another what Game of Thrones showfrenzy. “It can be challenging, especially with crippling lazy runners David Benio≠ and alcoholism, to write a show D. B. Weiss tell me is “our genthat hasn’t been ordered by a eration’s most powerful explonetwork,” he snarked back at ration of what it means to be a one of those fans two days ago. person in this universe.” It spawned a litany of “Rick Not bad for what started and Morty in limbo” headlines as a vulgar Back to the Future Michelle Wolf this morning—all because, parody that Harmon’s creHarmon says, this generation ative partner, Justin Roiland, With things like lacks the shame to shut up. first drew for Harmon’s L.A. Louis C.K.’s exile, does “America, can’t you stop film festival, Channel 101, way it feel like the moral boundaries of comedy fucking commenting on everyback in 2006. Six years later, have shifted? thing?” Harmon shouts to when Adult Swim approached I don’t necessarily the citizens of Harmontown Harmon just after he was fired think it’s shifting in a who come to hear their selffrom Community, he turned to genuine way—more in a trending way. Louie Roiland, who suggested they appointed mayor give them got in trouble. But then revive the characters. This shit, doing all this commentyou look at plenty of time they would be grandfaing just to get his attention. people five and ten (I will later find this out for ther and grandson. years before him [who got away with myself when I pop up in one Rick and Morty’s dysfuncharassment]. I hope of Harmon’s Instagram vidtional world was rounded out this isn’t true, but with other family and an ever eos, where I’m welcomed knowing the way with “Who’s that bitch?” expanding cast of bird-people, society works, five or ten years after Louie Harmontown TripAdvisor sentient farts, and a top-hatthey could get away rating: two stars, would not wearing sausage-shaped guy with stuff again named Mr. Poopybutthole. recommend.) because it’s not of that Somehow, Rick and Morty In defense of those 15-yearmoment. We all know that money is what makes you care about all old assholes, any delay makes things start of them. (Especially Mr. in Rick and Morty seems or stop. There can be Poopybutthole.) Meanwhile, inexplicable, so it must be a movement full of Harmon’s fault. You probably the acerbic, alcoholic scientist/ emotion, but they only ever really succeed if first heard of Dan Harmon grandfather Rick drags Morty they’re also paired with from his beloved, perpetuacross alien terrains and financial consequence. ally endangered NBC sitcom, through dimensional portals, I just think this is a Community, where he garusing superpowered intellect moment in time. We’ll see if people are nered an unusually devoted to dick around the multiverse, held accountable the following for a showrunner— too in love with his own genius same way in the then articles, then a pink slip, to care about the damage he’s future. Wolf hosted after he had his crew chant inflicting on his loved ones, or the 2018 White House Correspondents’ “Fuck you, Chevy” at Chevy entire civilizations. dinner. Her Netflix Chase during a wrap party, Still, Rick practices a sort of variety series, ‘The then played a Harmontown breezy misanthropy you can Break with Michelle hang with. In one episode, he audience the voice mail where Wolf,’ premieres May 27. Chase berated him for doing it. invents a sentient robot whose
sole purpose is to pass the butter; when it’s overcome by existential dismay, Rick shrugs: “Welcome to the club, pal.” In another, Rick unleashes a love potion that ends up infecting the entire planet; when he realizes he can’t fix it, he simply pulls Morty into a parallel reality. As Morty mourns the world they just destroyed, Rick urges him not to dwell: “What about the reality where Hitler cured cancer, Morty? The answer is, don’t think about it.” In moments like these, Rick and Morty spoofs sci-fi tropes to dive into our deepest, darkest cosmological questions— who are we? why are we here? what do we owe to each other? why don’t you fuck o≠ ?—with both middle fingers extended. Roiland, who describes himself as “more like a Jim Henson type,” is Rick and Morty’s weird idea man and the one who voices both main characters. He is a free-associating “yes and” of a person, a fast-talking counterbalance to Harmon’s perfectionism and his reluctance to accept “good enough”—a phrase Harmon associates with just giving up. “That ‘good enough’ concept is very nuanced. It’s something I’ve been talking to my therapist about,” Harmon says. “I need to form a new neural pathway that allows for ‘good enough’ the same way someone would to quit smoking or drinking. My brain just hits this wall. Like, Oh God, they’re going to find out I’m a charlatan. I don’t know how to write. But the only way they could find out I was a charlatan is if I didn’t turn in a script.”
ST YLIST: MICHAEL CIOFFOLET TI AT ART DEPARTMENT. GROOMING: HEE SOO KWON F O R M A L I N + G O E T Z . P R O P ST Y L I ST: A N T H O N Y A . A LT O M A R E . O N - S E T P R O D U C E R : ELAINE BROWNE. CLOTHING: CUSTOM-MADE BY COMMERCIAL COSTUMING.
the “impersonal cosmic force” rip-roaring through existence. Repeatedly, Harmon tells me his retirement fantasy—some day in the future when he’ll be “finished” and can finally be a decent person. Until then, only his own genius can dictate his happiness. “My therapist said, ‘You’re sitting on this script because this is your last chance to be the curator of your own misery before moving on to what normal humans do, which is let the universe give them their good luck,’ ” Harmon says. “Self-destruction is a control freak’s way of monopolizing their own fortune. It’s gotta be the most narcissistic thing to hijack God’s cockpit and go, ‘No, I’ll decide whether it’s a good day or a bad day.’ ” “There’s a lot of Dan in Rick,” Roiland agrees when I note that this sounds similar to a certain other God-defying narcissist. “A lot. It’s gotten so bad that since season two, I’ve accidentally started calling Dan ‘Rick.’ There’s definitely a world of di≠erence between them. But Dan does—maybe subconsciously, maybe purposefully—tap into some of the darkness he’s got in him.” There’s a lot in the show’s fans as well. “I think he attracts very like-minded people
who have a creative itch or feel socially isolated, and see someone that has a voice that maybe they don’t have,” says comedian Patton Oswalt, a frequent Harmon guest star. On Rick and Morty, that voice is a drunken, nihilistic howl into the abyss. “If God is dead, then Rick and Morty is his funeral,” Harmon tells me. And at least some of its success can be explained by the way it echoes what so many are feeling right now. “Community was a show that said, ‘Everything human is better than everything that isn’t human,’ ” Harmon explains. “Rick and Morty says, ‘You’re going to be tempted to believe that being human is important, and that is going to cause you to su≠er.’ ” The flip side, Harmon says, is that “Rick is constantly saying to an inferior humanity, ‘Look, this is as good as it gets. So every day should be Rick Day, which is like a million Christmases. You’re never supposed to be denied anything.’ ” In other words, we’re all just fumbling around in the dark here. Grab whatever you can. Unfortunately, some fans have taken Rick Day to a real, Black Friday extreme. Chances are, you’ve heard about them: Last year, based on a throwaway gag about Szechuan dipping
sauce, a short-lived McDonald’s promo for the 1998 movie Mulan, McDonald’s promised to bring the sauce back in select stores, drastically underestimating how many people would actually show up. Twitter was quickly awash in footage of shouting protesters, and a guy in a Rick and Morty shirt hopping on a counter, screaming catchphrases at fry cooks. This came only weeks after several women on the writing sta≠ were harassed online by male fans who blamed them for a perceived decline in quality. It’s the kind of hostile, entitled behavior that nerd echo chambers breed, only a few degrees of mob rule away from grabbing tiki torches and barricading yourselves around Confederate monuments. Harmon was forced to denounce those Reddit goblins in interviews: “I loathe these people.” Along came the think pieces: “Horrible Rick and Morty Fans Demonstrate How Not to Be a Fan.” Google began auto-completing “rick and morty fans” with “are the worst.” A meme mocking a stereotypical fan’s condescending tone (“To Be Fair, You Have to Have a Very High IQ to Understand Rick and Morty”) came to define them: Self-important. Probably sexist. (continued on page 122)
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WE WANTED A SPIRIT GUIDE TO SHOW US HOW TO SURVIVE IN THE FOREST WHILE WEARING THE SPLURGIEST TECH WEAR. SO WE RELEASED SILICON VALLEYâ€™ S AWKWARD MOTHER HEN INTO THE WILD
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Woods plays a gentle, vestwearing start-up barnacle whose twisted past emerges in improvised quips like “I know what it’s like to only be able to rescue half your family.” Woods’s career has had its own dark interludes, starting with his acting head shots. It was 2001, and he was 16 and wide-eyed, a late bloomer reeling from his first kiss. When he arrived at the photographer’s studio, he balked at the erotic paintings on the walls. The photographer, Woods recalls, went to great lengths to relax him. “She was like, ‘You’re tense! You’re tense!’ She took a parrot out of the cage and said, ‘This is Faust— Faust will relax you.’ ” Woods remained tense, despite holding the comfort parrot, so the photographer pulled out the big guns: “She told me to say”—and he can barely say the word now—“ ‘cuh-hunt.’ ” Why the photographer thought this would soothe him is anyone’s guess. “I was 16, and I had a bird on my shoulder, going ‘Cuh-hunt? Cuh-hunt?’ while she took my picture. It was so uncomfortable.” Flash forward to Woods at 33, on a windy hilltop not far from Los Angeles. He’s holding an even bigger bird, a hawk, and the photographer is snapping away. The hawk is fussy. For long moments she perches regally on Woods’s arm, but then she starts flailing, feathers and talons akimbo. “Watch out for the talons,” warns the hawk’s handler. Woods begins talking softly to the hawk, almost in a whisper. The crew looks on nervously, nobody breathing. The hawk settles and stares deeply into his eyes. Woods holds her gaze, then suddenly looks o≠ into the distance. The hawk looks with him, and for a second they are the same in profile, chin and beak nobly tilted upward, two avian faces surveying their domain.— L A U R E N L A R S O N
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ZACH ON FLORA
ZACH ON SURVIVAL
“It’s very important that you be able to identify poison ivy. The way you can tell is poison ivy has a matte finish, five prongs, and smells like weed.”
“If you ever get lost in the woods, don’t immediately cut your arm off. A lot of people have seen that movie 127 Hours. It shouldn’t be your first resort. Same thing with eating your friends.”
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ZACH ON WATER “In bottled water, there’s a lot of toxins. In a stagnant creek, worst you’re going to get is giardia. They say pain is just weakness leaving the body, and I feel that way about giardia.” + jacket $2,785 Moncler C pants $749 Norrona boots $1,365 Moncler
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ZACH ON FALCONRY “When you’re handling a bird, it’s really important that you use a falconer’s glove. If you don’t have one, use one of your pretty intense S&M mitts.” + pullover $200 vest $350 shorts $225 hat $85 Snow Peak grooming by david cox for r+co. produced by lauren beyda at portfolio one. set design by ward robinson for wooden ladder.
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BRASH AND BOLD AND A WEE BIT BERSERK, KATT WILLIAMS—THE INDOMITABLE KING OF CLUB COMEDY—HAS, FOR YEARS, PROVEN HE CAN’T BE STOPPED. OR FULLY UNDERSTOOD. DEVIN FRIEDMAN GETS IN THE HEAD OF THE MOST MYSTERIOUS FUNNYMAN IN AMERICA ROBERT MAXWELL
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I BEGAN BY ASKING a simple question. And yet
a question Katt Williams couldn’t answer: How old are you? It’s not that he wouldn’t answer, he told me, but that he couldn’t. Because he doesn’t have an actual age. We’d already been together for the better part of two days, and by now I knew he meant this literally. Evening was coming on in Miami, and we were, the two of us, shut in his assistant’s bedroom in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne. Williams was pacing, orbiting the room like a shark. He was wearing a baseball hat. He was wearing pool slides. He was holding a Newport that maybe he’d smoke soon. Outside, a storm had moved up the coast, and all we could hear from the window now was a whisper of surf. But the Internet, I told him, says you’re 46. “Please don’t get any of your information from Wikipedia, sir,” he replied crisply. I can understand it if Katt Williams feels like he can’t trust the Internet. It’s part of a whole sociocultural-legal infrastructure that he feels isn’t interested in understanding the truth, or him. Katt Williams, you should know, is a comic icon. Have you seen Pimp Chronicles Part 1? Or Part 2? Or his new Netflix special? Have you been to one of his thousands of shows in the past decade or so? If you have, you know that Katt became a legend without broadening or diluting himself to become more “mainstream,” which is unusual. But if you look for Katt Williams on the Internet, what you’ll mostly find are stories of weird and purportedly criminal shit he’s done, as well as a lot of people searching “Is Katt Williams still alive?” As for his age, he told me he grew up in a religion that does not celebrate birthdays, so he didn’t keep track. When I asked what that religion is, he told me that’s not the point. So what was the point? “The brain,” he said, “is more like a computer than we now understand.” He tried to explain it to me: When you tell your brain what age you are, it makes your body be that age. Ah, okay, I said, so it’s
like: Age ain’t nothing but a numso he could hold his putter, and sinking a 27-footer while singing ber? Katt Williams stopped pacing a Pearl Jam song. Then picking and gave me a look. A look that OPENING PAGES up the blunt and ashing lightly. said: You, who cling desperately suit Etro to the very instruments designed (“I generally sing some Pearl Jam shirt for your imprisonment, are when I need to come to an even, Maison Margiela just a limited, blinkered piece of still place before I hit. Pearl Jam or hat (his own) sentient meat. Jeff Buckley.”) Anthony Peto “I am the ageless one,” he said. Last night he’d performed for And do you know what? I a sold-out crowd in Miami. It was believed him. And it was clear that the 26th date of his 100-night tour. he believed him, too. Katt has been in movies (including OPPOSITE “That’s why I can still run a Friday After Next and last year’s suit Dolce & Gabbana 4.1 40-yard dash right now, no Father Figures) and on TV shows shirt Valentino stretching, in street clothes, and (including a recurring part on sunglasses Gucci The Boondocks and a turn in the yet maybe [smoking] like a chimjewelry, his own first episode of the new season of ney at the same time.” Atlanta, which I’ll get into). But He looked at me. this is mostly what Katt Williams does: a “I lead,” he said, “an experimental exishundred nights a year—every year—for the tence.” And by now I no longer questioned whether that was true. past 15 years, give or take. It’s a grueling, unforgiving, masochistic schedule that he keeps—each evening proT H AT DAY H A D S TA RT E D out pretty normal. Katt drove us all—me and three of the pelled forward by Katt’s manic force of will. comedians he brings on tour with him, men Onstage, he runs around in a fur coat playing named Red, Jay, and Zoo—to a golf course this “Katt Williams” character, telling the in his Bentley truck, which smelled of fine sort of truths that only the truly deranged can leather and Egyptian jasmine (his fragrance). tell, applying a kind of dirty-ass, furious logic It was like arriving by Fabergé egg. It was to life’s absurdities. Like during the show I early, barely 9 a.m., but Miami was already saw the night previous, he shared the subtext a steamed dome of sidewalks and overgrown of a conversation he’d had through mental underbrush. Beneath his big white sun hat, telepathy with a police dog outside the arena Katt was already beginning to sweat. where he was performing. On the course, the weather is doing someIf someone were to ask about the vibe Katt Williams gives in person, I’d say: thing weird. It’s still hot, but clouds are gathRumpelstiltskin. And not just because he’s ering. And I think maybe it puts Katt in a short and often wears kind of a Vandyke, philosophical mood. Standing in the bunker on 14, Katt says to me: “Evolution.” but more because there’s a twinkle of mischief in this motherfucker’s eye. He’s posI can only see the top of his hat as his ball sessed of naturally occurring magic, and like flies out of the sand and onto the green. (I’m telling you, that short game.) all magic foraged in the wild, it isn’t strictly a tame kind of magic. “You know why it’s a 500-year theory? Because they can’t prove it. All they need is But like I said, the day started out very, well, comedians golfing. Katt didn’t even ask one fossil that’s in transition. And they can’t me anything weird like “Why didn’t Jesus get find one?” married?” until after the turn at the ninth What he’s trying to tell me is that we’ve been lied to. And it goes deeper than I may hole.1 The morning was all about being “pin high.” It was all about how consistent and care to hear. legit Katt Williams’s short game is. It was I’d been told by his friend Kathy Griffin that Katt is kind of a scholar. A nerd. A all about Katt hopping out of the cart at the seventh hole, throwing his blunt on the grass History Channel buff. He’s an autodidact—he says he officially “emancipated” himself from 1. The reason he gave for Jesus not getting married was: his parents as a teenager. He’s not formally “Because did you fuck at your family reunion?” Which schooled, but I can report that he’s a man of made perfect sense at the time, but I can’t remember what it means now. fierce and unruly and rebellious intelligence.
HE’S POSSESSED OF MAGIC— AND IT ISN’T STRICTLY A TAME KIND OF MAGIC.
GROOMING: DANIELLE MITCHELL USING PETER THOMAS ROTH MAX ANTI-SHINE MATTIFYING GEL
“I had already read a hundred books by the time I was 4 years old,” he tells me. “I was homeless as a teenager—I didn’t graduate from high school. I found out my IQ, and then I was done.” When he begins talking to me about the giants, that’s when the first wave of rain comes. But we elect to wait it out under the eaves of a maintenance building. “There were giants on the earth,” Katt tells me while he smokes a Newport in the rain. “There are over 800 skeletons of giants. Forty of them just in Ohio.” I tell him that I’d never heard about the 40 Ohio giant skeletons—or any of the others. “Zoo,” he says, “Devin don’t know about the giants.” Zoo laughs. Hahaha. “They were nine feet tall,” Katt says. “They found actual bones.” The point of all of this, he says, is that we’re being controlled. The truth is being controlled. Like where our technology even comes from: “Everyone, all societies, talked about gods,” he tells me. “But it was their word for visitors. The people who came here and gave us these technologies. There was never reverence or worship in that word. It was their word for visitors.”
And then he tells me: “Now they know that the true purpose of the pyramids was to provide electricity for the fertile Nile River Delta. Nikola Tesla knew that. That’s why they shut his ass down.” THE THI NG ABOUT Katt Williams as a cultural
figure is that his fame is binary. Either you’re the kind of person who looks at the accompanying photographs for this story and says, Well now, he looks like an interesting fellow; I wonder what his deal is; or you’re the type of person who says, Oh, there’s Katt Williams, the legendary comedian known for being completely fucking out of his mind both onstage and off. And if you’re that second kind of person, you know that as famous as he is for telling jokes, Katt Williams is almost as well-known for getting arrested, sued, or caught on video in moments of bad conduct. It’s part of his act. The bit about how, because you get a flu shot each time you go to jail, he’s not permitted “to get the flu until 2026.” Or how he had to leave three states he wasn’t allowed to leave to get here tonight. Katt seems to have condensed periods of trouble. The most intense, and most recent, happened about two years ago. To wit:
February 29, 2016: Katt is reportedly arrested at a Gainesville, Georgia, poolsupply store for punching the pool-supply guy and throwing a pair of goggles at him. March 6: Katt is spotted at a Beanie Sigel concert in Philadelphia doing a bunch of push-ups onstage and then elbowing some guy in the head. March 8: According to TMZ, Katt was discovered at his home by police “naked and covered in chocolate.” Late March: Katt is caught on video sucker punching a 17-year-old. And then getting his ass kicked by the teenager.2 April 27: Katt is arrested after throwing a salt shaker at a host in a restaurant. He reportedly flees the scene. But only to go to Waffle House. On July 24, 2016, Katt is arrested for allegedly assaulting his former assistant at a hotel. The victim later reportedly accuses him of false imprisonment. If people had to name the signature Katt transgression, I bet most of them would say the teenager incident. But I’d argue that the most Katt Williams allegation is actually the story of Jamila Majesty and the possible coven of witches. It was July 2014, and Ms. Majesty, according to the suit she would later file, was a guest at Katt Williams’s Malibu mansion. Upon entering, Ms. Majesty discovered “a thronelike chair” with a gun on it, a fireplace where strange things were supposedly being burned, and what looked like a book of Wiccan sorcery. Katt Williams was there, accompanied by a bevy of women. A gaggle of women, really. A coven? According to Ms. Majesty’s suit (which was dismissed and settled, allegedly for over $10,000), some were in headpieces; one, who was just 18 years old, baked cookies. Well, as you might imagine, things took a turn for Jamila Majesty at some point during the night. Jamila committed the crime of using Katt’s personal bathroom. According to the lawsuit, she was then set upon by the women, and held against her will. For his part, Katt, Jamila claims, had a very serious question for her: “Are you a Michael Jackson fan?” While Katt won’t cop to an age, he does say that his life can be divided up into “life experiences that last between two and six years.” And that his most recent life-experience segment ended just after this time of troubles. When I ask him what that period was called, he said: “It was the wilderness.” (continued on next page) 2. Some kind of Internet martial-arts experts have done a close examination of the tape, and the evidence apparently suggests that the move used by the young man was a “rear naked choke.” I’m not saying he was a really short grown-up who’d been planted in the crowd. But I’m not saying he wasn’t. (He wasn’t.)
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T H E S K I E S O P E N up again, but truly, on the
way back to the hotel. When we return to the Ritz, the lobby is swarmed because of the rain. White people are everywhere—that special kind of older, pinked-up, pastel-shorted, shriveled white people who are endemic to the upper socio-economic reaches of the American South. Pickled golfers trotting down the hall in bare feet to ﬁll ice buckets. Little white babies face-fucking their iPads as they trail their parents down the hall. Up in Katt’s room there are trays of fresh piña coladas and chorizo burgers. We take some of those and shut ourselves in his assistant’s room. “I am part of a secret society,” he eventually tells me, “called the Illuminati Killers.” I ask what that entails. “Our job is that we search out the information that the Illuminati possesses, and then we advertise the information that they have hidden.” He tells me that he’s a collector of “gems, gemstones, and crystals, all those natural phenomenon.” He tells me that we’ve been fooled about the true meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphics. He tells me how they’ve halted the progress of the microwave. That the Ark of the Covenant was a container ﬁlled with radioactive material. • • • D O N A L D G L O V E R C A S T Katt Williams to play
a pivotal role in the ﬁrst episode of the new season of his show, Atlanta (a remarkable episode of a remarkable show). I asked Donald if Katt had shared his views with him. For instance, did Katt tell you about how evolution was fake but giants are real and they built the technological marvels of antiquity? “Hahaha,” Donald Glover said. “No.” He paused for a minute. “I feel him, though. I feel him. It’s just like, we get lied to so much, and he knows that. And I think part of his chip is like: ‘I don’t have to believe any of this.’ You know? Which I kind of respect.” Then I told Donald that during our time together, part of me wanted to say: Stop saying stuff people are going to think is completely unhinged! Because only a fraction of the people who “read” this story will actually read this story, and everyone else will just see quotes on Twitter about how Katt Williams believes things like Earth is the only planet that has gravity. I have to search my soul, I told him, and decide whether I’m going to publish this stuff and have a bunch of people misinterpret my point and think Katt is a lunatic, which, even if you don’t agree with his views on physics, he isn’t. “People are going to think what they’re going to think,” Donald said. “You can’t control 1 1 8
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that. I mean, like, you can, but then you’re living your full life for another person.” Then he adds, “And he’s not afraid—I’m kind of envious of some of the ways that he’s not afraid.” That episode of Atlanta is called “Alligator Man.” And the whole thing really hinges on Katt Williams. Both Katt the actor and Katt the man with all the baggage. It hinges on the essential, unsolvable human problem that is Katt Williams. Katt plays Donald Glover’s uncle, who is called Alligator Man because he has an alligator that lives in his house. Glover’s character comes over to try to persuade Alligator Man to let this lady he has locked in a bedroom go. The police arrive. And suddenly it’s clear: Alligator Man must confront the alligator (metaphorical and literal) that lives within him, surrender to the police, and begin to live in the society in which we’re meant to live. Katt’s character knows all this and says as much. He tells Glover’s character: “If you don’t want to end up like me, get rid of that chip-onyour-shoulder shit. It is not worth the time.” So there’s nothing for him to do except surrender to the police. Except he doesn’t surrender. He exits out the back and runs away. That’s Katt Williams. The man for whom surrender is a kind of violation. The man who knows he needs to stop with the chip on his shoulder but cannot stop. This is the thing I most want to ask him about. That chip on his shoulder. Is Alligator Man you? Oh, that role, it was all acting, he tells me. If you watched that show and saw Katt Williams, then he failed as a performer. He knows what I mean. But he cannot acquiesce. He’s not going to be dictated to, not by the police, not by the doctrines of Judeo-Christian society, not by the Gainesville pool-supply guy, and not by a reporter. The thing about Alligator Man, I say to Katt, is that he’s smart. He knows himself, he knows what the consequences of his actions will be. Surrendering would be easy. But not surrendering is just too important to him. “That,” Katt says ﬁnally, “is my essence.” But don’t go away thinking that Katt Williams is doomed by his essence. Don’t go away thinking that this is some Amy Winehouse shit, some kind of snapshot of self-destructiveness. Because that it most certainly is not. The Alligator Man’s last scene in the episode ends with this beautiful shot. The camera stays behind as Katt Williams sprints down the street, his bathrobe ﬂapping behind him—away from the police, away from the chance to come to terms with his alligator and his life. But Katt Williams isn’t exactly running away. It’s 2018, and Katt Williams is, in human years (I’m saying it!) 46. And he’s still Katt Williams. He’s worked harder and more consistently in the past decade than almost any comedian alive. He’s out there right now, plowing the interstates in his Bentley. He’s probably done with his anger-management classes (that shit lasts 54 weeks) but still on like a million probations. He won’t allow himself to get into any kind of trouble that would stop him, though. He’s here. He’s surviving his own success. And also a rear naked choke. devin friedman is a gq contributing editor.
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It was during this period that she tried stand-up comedy precisely twice. The ﬁrst time went okay, she said, but the second was one of the worst experiences of her life. After her twoand-a-half-minute set, a booker from the Aspen Comedy Festival told her, “You didn’t really do enough for me to evaluate whether I liked it, but what I did see I didn’t like.” McKinnon drowned her sorrows afterward at a Hooters and decided to stick with sketch comedy. She refers to the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City, where she was a regular in the late 2000s, as her comedy graduate school. At her SNL audition, in 2012, she impersonated Penelope Cruz and Sally Field and was “highly prepared. I’m not usually highly prepared, but for that—the pinnacle of everything I’d been working for—I decided to be.” During the three weeks she waited to hear from Michaels, she stayed in her apartment and painted. “I still have the painting that I was trying to do,” she told me. “It remains unﬁnished.” When she was younger, she was chatty and confessional in interviews on friends’ webonly talk shows, but since she joined SNL, she’s become more protective of her personal life. (“The Internet. God, I hate it,” she told me. “Are you writing down ‘She hates the Internet’? Oh God. Oh no.”) Paraphrasing the comedian Sue Perkins, she told me her sexuality is “like the 40th-most interesting thing” about her. On SNL, she prefers to be playful about the issue. In one skit, she spoofed Jodie Foster’s speech at the 2013 Golden Globe Awards, which was intended as her coming out but fell confusingly short. “Here we go,” McKinnon-as-Foster intoned. “I am…gayyyyyme for anything. I’m just totally game for anything! Also, I am o∞cially a Lez-lie Nielsen fan. I just thought you all should know that. And I am obsessed with girls. The show! I just love that show. So: Whooo!” McKinnon told me, “I get criticized by people who know me the best for not sharing enough details about my day or my life. I am just quite an insular person, I guess.” When I asked her why she decided to stop talking publicly about her personal life, her response was solemn. “I need to think about this,” she said. I would have to wait 24 hours to get her answer. • • • A T T H E C A R L Y L E A T L A S T , McKinnon made fun of her decision to go to the Frick. “Remember when we were in the museum?” she asked. “That was unsustainable. It could have been a good idea. It was a bad idea. And I’ll take full credit for that.” A waiter brought us two pots of chamomile tea. McKinnon took a sip, then spat it onto the crisp, white tablecloth. The spit take, she insisted, was unintentional: “I often spit to be funny, but that really was too hot, and it
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dribbled out, so I apologize.” A moment later, she became so entranced by a conversation at the next table that she couldn’t finish a sentence. It felt as though she were searching for anything to take the spotlight o≠ herself. I asked about the future. She’s appeared in several films—most notably last year’s Rough Night, an ensemble comedy with Scarlett Johansson, and the all-female Ghostbusters in 2016. In each of those films, McKinnon stole the show. (In The New York Times, Manohla Dargis called her Ghostbusters character “a sublime nerd goddess.”) Still, the careers of some past SNL stars indicate there could be bumps in the road ahead. Sketch-comedy prowess doesn’t always translate to box-o∞ce gold, I said. “I mean, I think about it,” she said. “There’s nothing concrete. All I know is that I do really love, apparently, going somewhere for two months and meeting 70 new people.” Making movies on location agrees with McKinnon: “It’s kind of [like] summer camp. You get really close to people really fast. I’m really close to everyone at SNL as well. But you know how you have school friends, and that’s, like, your core? But then there’s something about a camp friend, knowing that it’s finite—it’s so emotionally heightened? If I could go to summer camp for the rest of my life, that would be great.” Her next film, The Spy Who Dumped Me, co-starring Mila Kunis, opens in August, and it pulls o≠ something rare in commercial Hollywood: a female buddy picture in which the stars do more than merely bicker and fret over their relationships with men. The movie’s director and co-writer, Susanna Fogel, told me McKinnon helped hone the script. As usual, McKinnon walks away with the film; at the screening I saw, all the big laughs came in reaction to her wonderfully weird delivery and brilliantly executed pratfalls. (The movie also has a memorable cameo from none other than Gillian Anderson.) Fogel said that McKinnon is someone who can “expand on everyone’s idea of what a movie star is and what a comedy star is and what a love interest is.” Which brings us back, in a roundabout loop, to McKinnon’s decision to stop talking about her private life. By insisting on keeping mum, it’s as if she’s trying to expand the definition of a movie star, willing into existence a world in which performers don’t have to reveal their inner selves in order to publicize their work. The day after our tea at the Carlyle, I stopped by the photo shoot for this story, and she beckoned me over. “I’ve thought about your question,” she said. “I just… I decided in my mid-20s that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing personal details like I had in the previous few years. And I just have run with that ever since.” We were standing in the hallway of a vast warehouse where she’d been asked to put on a glamorous gown, then impersonate a rock star, then have an iguana crawl up her leg. She’d been game throughout, donning costumes and striking poses. “The reason I was a horrible stand-up comedian,” she continued, “is that you must speak your utter truth with details—the realer and more gruesome, the better. And I just decided that I hated the feeling of doing that. I so much more loved the feeling of disappearing into a character that was saying what I wanted to say and came from my heart. But was not me.” amy wallace is a gq correspondent.
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I almost think that trying is what’s important. “People are very sure about what is right and wrong until it comes to their front door.” As I talk to her about C.K. in her apartment, there’s still the same resignation in her voice that she had during the original monologue, a feeling that her friend’s downfall was necessary but that it sucked all the same. Her friendship with C.K. stretches back over two decades, to when they were young N.Y.C. comics and cracking each other up late at night by riding
“I’ve worked with Al Franken for years. I’m so sad that he got bullied into resigning, because all he loved in this world was being a senator. I’ve never met a more pure person.” up and down the elevators buck naked. That’s a story from her autobiography that used to read as sweet and innocent, but no longer. This is not the only time Silverman has had to deal with a friend of hers in comedy getting called out by the #MeToo movement. She’s still friends with Aziz Ansari. (“I was just like, Gross, I don’t wanna know that about Aziz! Hopefully he’s dealing with things, looking inward, and will blossom from it.”) She’s also still friends with former senator Al Franken and extremely protective of him, which is darkly amusing because in 1993, her first year at SNL, Silverman once stabbed Franken with a pencil. She was aiming for his Afro. You know, as a joke. She got his temple instead. She was not invited back for a second season. Somehow they became buds anyway. Did you talk to Franken after he had to resign? “Mmm-hmm. He and [his wife] Franni are devastated. I understand that I may have cognitive distortion, because I love him so much. But all I can say is, and he may not be excited about this, but he has no sexuality. I believe in my heart of heart of hearts he never copped a feel. The sketch, the whole Leeann Tweeden sketch, is online. You can see it for yourself. It’s not funny, but it’s innocuous. He may have touched some sideboob by accident, or a tush by accident, but I’m telling you, Franni is his best friend and constant companion, and he has eyes for no one else. I’ve worked with him for years. I’m so sad that he got bullied into resigning, because all he loved in this world was being a senator and representing the people of Minnesota. I’ve never met a more pure
person. On the show, you saw him kiss me on the lips. There is nothing sexual about it. He’s a Jewish grandpa. He gives you big, Jewish, wetlipped kisses. This is a guy whose passion was serving people and making the world a better place. There’s a lot of baby-in-bathwater stu≠, I think. We’ll just get it in the process.” Since #MeToo happened, do you feel even more aware of your role as a female comic within the industry? “Women are so keenly aware of the male experience because our entire existence had to be kind of through that lens. Whereas men have never had to understand the female experience in order to exist in the world. We were at a benefit, me and Nick Kroll. And Natasha Leggero was onstage, and she said, ‘How many of you have had a guy jerk o≠ at you in public?’ And every woman raised their hand. Nick was like, ‘Oh, my God, is this a bit that the whole crowd is in on?’ And I was like, ‘What? No.’ “When I first started comedy, my male comic friends would say, ‘You have to focus on making the men laugh. The women only laugh if their date laughs.’ It’s something I actually accepted as an 18-year-old comedian. It took a while for me to say, That’s fucking insane. We’re all complicit in this fucked-up society; it’s just that men actually, truly benefited from it and women didn’t.” • • • T H E R E A R E O N L Y ten episodes of I Love You,
America out there. (It returns to Hulu this fall, just in time for the midterms.) Like any show in its infancy, it’s still trying to sort out exactly what it should be—aren’t we all?—which means it’s something of a mixed bag. The very best sketch on it involves Silverman visiting her wing-nut optician, who voted for Trump, loves guns, and is a loudmouthed prick. “I fucking hate him,” Silverman tells the camera. “He’s an asshole.” The time she spent with the Trump-voting family in Louisiana is heartwarming, but it’s also almost too easy, like a stunt. This sketch is di≠erent. There’s a banal utility to it that makes it more illuminating than the others, because both Silverman and her optician clearly have no hope of reconciliation. But they also recognize that they can do business together DESPITE that hate, that there-ness. It’s a localized, functioning hatred, one both parties can tolerate even when they cannot tolerate each other. And it is perhaps a better sign of how to move forward as a country than hoping we can connect on a more personal level. “The night Trump won, he texted me so much,” she tells me. He texts? Your optician just texts you his takes out of the blue? “Because he had my number from the first time I went there, and he had to text me when my glasses were ready.… He texted me so much that night, like, ‘In your face.’ He calls me ‘babe.’ It’s so gross. I’ve never responded. I just deleted it. [But] even at the end, I go like, I fucking hate his guts, but if he were really sick, would I bring him soup? I probably would, or I’d have someone bring it.” And he makes good glasses. “The best.” • • • I F S I L V E R M A N E V E R had a, dare we say, trolly
side, there’s no evidence of it in this apartment. She is working her empathetic magic on my J U N E
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calcified soul, convincing me that her way of dealing with people is the right way to go about it. Also, she gave me a beer and didn’t rag on me for getting ambushed by her toilet. Instead, she reassured me with a suggestion for handling the toilet that also serves as a kind of universal Zen koan: “You just be strong with it.” She is also, and this is important, funnier than she’s ever been. Her most recent stand-up special, A Speck of Dust, recorded after she survived a near-death tango with the suitably comedic ailment of epiglottitis, is both filthy and impeccable. You will not miss the
Onstage Silverman illuminates and mocks the real ignorance that once informed her fakeignorant comic persona, and it works perfectly. She’s a better comedian. distinct lack of N-word jokes, because you’ll be too busy laughing at her three-minute jag on laser pubic-hair removal. Onstage, she illuminates and mocks the real ignorance that once informed her fake-ignorant comic persona, and it works perfectly. She has become an indisputably better, smarter comedian for it. Silverman is pragmatic about how much real good she can do on her own, but comedy remains both her life’s work and her most e≠ective means of getting people to take the stick out of their ass. “If we can leave people with just their defenses down,” she tells me, “not because we’re going to attack them, but just be a little bit more open, I feel like that’s a good thing. Is that going to change the world? Maybe just a little bit.” And much as I used to enjoy the old incarnation of Silverman, I know that’s not necessarily the comedian America needs right now. We haven’t exactly gotten far with the Stewarts and Olivers of the world EVISCERATING Republican horseshit. Maybe rhetorical war is just as worthless as the real deal. Maybe America needs someone willing to extend a hand when another person is in pain, or perhaps when they’ve shit themselves. When I get home from L.A., I check my mentions and I see a random dude on Twitter call me “cunt.” Now, tell me that isn’t serendipitous. I stare at that tweet for a few seconds, an eternity in Internet time. And I think about how Silverman responded when she got a surprise “CUNT” in her mentions. She handled it with class. She turned an ugly comment into a beautiful relationship. So I ask myself, What would Sarah do with this guy? I think about replying, Hey, man, sorry you feel that way. I think about converting a troll of my own. But I don’t. I don’t because I don’t have the guts to reach out, and because honestly, fuck that guy. I’m not strong with it, and maybe only Silverman is. Maybe she remains the anomaly: the quiet Minotaur, residing alone in that sweet spot between viciousness and gentleness, between comedy and compassion. drew magary is a gq correspondent. 1 2 0
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just became like fucking clay for people to mold. The Shonda process was, like, the best shit that happened to me, because it gave me confidence to feel like, ‘Oh, I can do this.’ And I feel like ABC took the confidence away.” Rae emerged from the experience determined never to compromise in that way again: “Like, I need to know what the fuck I want to say before I say yes to any opportunity. I need to have a clearer point of view and clear voice.” When HBO called, the following year, and asked Rae if she had any ideas for a show, she finally felt like she knew the answer. A lot of television creators circa 2018, such as Orange Is the New Black’s Jenji Kohan and Atlanta’s Donald Glover, will talk proudly about having pitched one show and then making a completely different one—a conventional premise made thrillingly unconventional in its execution. But, Rae says, with Insecure, “there was no Trojan horse necessary.” If anything, she says, HBO pushed her the other way: toward the tragicomic stories about her life and friendships that she was relating to them in development meetings for the show. Insecure is frankly profane, and also black in a way that doesn’t bother explaining itself—a natural outgrowth, perhaps, of the relationship between Rae and her showrunner, Prentice Penny, a constant presence on the show’s set and in its writers’ room. “We grew up a block over from each other in the same neighborhood,” Penny says. “We currently live in Inglewood a block away from each other. We’re both very L.A. There were things we didn’t have to explain to each other.”
“In order to eventually succeed, you have to bomb.… And I feel like I’m still fearful because I haven’t publicly bombed yet, in terms of my career.” As a result, even the show’s white writers and producers—who are in the minority among the mostly black staff—are occasionally mystified by references in the scripts. But they also understand that’s how it should be. (“We were on the set last week having lunch,” Rae recalls, by way of example, “and Yvonne asked me, like, ‘Oh, what’s that seasoning that some of y’all be putting on mangoes?’ And I was like, ‘Lucas.’ And our white writer Ben pulled me aside. He was like, ‘That’s what “Lucas on mangoes” means?’ There’s a line in the show where somebody says, ‘We go back like Lucas on mangoes.’ And I was like, ‘That
was in season one, and you’ve let three seasons go by without asking?’ ”) HBO is handsoff in this respect, too. “There are a lot of references that I don’t get in the show,” Bloys says. “And that’s fine. I can figure it out. But we don’t typically ask for clarification notes for people who may not know. Because I think for a show like this to be successful, authenticity is always important.” Insecure acts as if it already has the audience it wants, and in doing so it has helped broaden the definition of what that audience might be. In the show’s second season, there’s a scene in which Issa visits a neighbor for what she hopes will be a romantic encounter. Shortly after she arrives, he puts on Gossip Girl. “Yeah, white people,” he says, nodding at the screen. “There are so many of them,” she says amiably. “It’s good to see them doing they thing,” he says—as pithy a summary of why anybody watches anything as you’ll get. Insecure, more than most shows on TV, literalizes and plays with the experience of being placed in someone else’s head—in an oft-repeated formal conceit, Rae’s character will turn to the camera, usually in the form of a bathroom mirror, or a daydream, and just say to the audience what she can’t say in life. This has always been Rae’s gift as a writer: a deep sensitivity to what people share and what they don’t. “I feel like I’m emotionally intuitive,” she says. “I sense things and observe certain things about people. I try to pay attention to clues as much as possible.” Part of the intention behind Insecure, for Rae, was to tell “a story about people of color in a different way...aligning it with the psyche and aligning with what this person is going through, so you just immediately get in and don’t have to explain.” Rae compares the relative freedom she has in making Insecure with ABC’s Black-ish, which was recently in the news. After the show’s creator, Kenya Barris, co-wrote and shot an episode that reportedly featured a debate about football players kneeling in response to police brutality, ABC and its parent company, Disney, declined to air the episode, citing “creative differences.” In response, Barris was said to be weighing an exit from his contract with the network. “That would infuriate me,” Rae says. “You know? Like, I’m out here telling the truth, and I’m telling my authentic experience, and you pride yourself on having this show that exposes the plight of a black family in the United States, and then you’re censoring: No, not that. We don’t want to see that part. The world isn’t ready for that. America’s not ready. That’s crazy to me.... Kenya tries to couch so much in a family show, and get so much across, in a way that I really respect and admire. But a lot of the time it is just mired in the Disney, ABC of it all.” • • • W H E N I N E X T S E E R A E , it’s in a bagel shop
just down the street from the office she keeps in Manhattan Beach, in a complex of office parks and coffee shops just south of the airport. She arrives wearing a Spider-Man hoodie pulled tight around her face, gold wirerimmed glasses, and an air of weary resolve, like an athlete going into overtime at the end
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of a long game. “It feels like I’m being tested in a really crazy way,” she says, not bothering to hide her stress. “It’s nothing I can really get into. It’s like third-season problems along with, like, just life shit. As a creative, I never imagined that I’d be a boss, too.” Rae has a rare day off from shooting Insecure, and she is spending it trying to fit in everything she’d forced to the margins of her life: a doctor’s appointment, this interview, a trip to the writers’ room to finish the season finale of the show. She has a script for another show she’s developing, called Sweet Life, about the lives of the young and rich kids in her childhood neighborhood, Windsor Hills, due tomorrow—“And do I have it? No”—and various other projects she’s producing for HBO: Him or Her, about “the dating life of a bisexual black man and the distinctly different worlds and relationships he finds himself in,” with the writer Travon Free; and an untitled drama written by The Turner House author Angela Flournoy. She was reading scripts for other shows and for movie parts she was being offered in between takes on the Insecure set. Today she is teetering under the weight of it all. “A lot going on that I didn’t anticipate,” she says, sighing. Being the face of Insecure has led to opportunities she probably never would have had if she were merely a writer or director: a recent cameo in the video for Drake’s “Nice for What,” parts in a couple of upcoming films, meetings with whomever she cared to have meetings with. But it also left her with nowhere to hide. “The failure is yours,” she says. “It is yoursss-uh.” Is the prospect of failure still scary to you, now that you’ve had some success? “How?” You’re on the third season of a popular show—I’d describe that as success. “That could go to shit,” Rae says. “This could be the worst season we’ve ever had. And then what? Then people are all of a sudden like, ‘Oh, okay.’ Then the calls stop. It’s like stand-up comedy: In order to eventually succeed, you have to bomb. That’s what every comedian says—that’s when the fear goes away. And I feel like I’m still fearful because I haven’t publicly bombed yet, in terms of my career. Yeah, Insecure is successful now, but where’s my bomb coming? Where are my Will Smith bombs coming? Where, where is that happening?” Will Smith is fine! “He went through a period when he was depressed, when three or four of his movies in a row weren’t number one at the box office. So for him that was terrible. And now he’s talking about, ‘You gotta fail, you gotta fail.’ ” She pauses. “And I don’t want to make Instagram speeches about failing. I don’t.” Outside the window, the late-afternoon light signals that it’s time for her to again go back to the office. As she stands up to leave, a woman at the next table over looks closely at what little part of Rae’s face is visible under her hoodie. “You did Insecure, right?” “I did,” Rae says cautiously. “I love your show.” “Thank you,” Rae says. And then she leaves, to go make more of it. zach baron is gq’s sta≠ writer.
THAT JO K E I S N ’ T F U N N Y A N Y M O R E G R I F F I N : How long can you guys go without
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Yankees.” He really makes the audience fucking hate him. He wants to lose the audience. And then he builds back up from there. WO O D: I’ve always put him in that same realm with Carlin, a guy who can make you laugh even if you don’t agree with him. And you don’t feel the need to go home and blog it. BIRBIGLIA: I don’t agree with him at all. There’s nothing I agree with in his set. G R I FFI N : You like that he makes you think. B I R B I G L I A: He’s truly provocative.
Louis C.K. has said Stanhope is one of his favorite comedians. I saw Louie in December 2016. And not that Chris Rock has done anything wrong, but when everything came out about Louie masturbating in front of those women, the first thing I did was buy Chris Rock tickets. I thought, I need to go see everyone as soon as I can, because anybody can turn out to be a monster. GRIFFIN: I’ll give you a list. I know them all. I’ve
had to fire openers because they literally bring whores to the room, and if shit goes down, the hotel room’s under my name. The other thing that’s tough is the check signers are the same fucking guys: The same guys run the agencies as did when I started. The same guys run the networks as when I started. Same people at Comedy Central. Same people at NBC. It’s the same middle-aged white guys. Same with Live Nation, AEG. I’ve got to battle these fuckers all day. I’ve had to fight to say, “Please let me try to get Carnegie.” “Nope, you can’t fill it.” Sold it out in a day. I had to o≠er to do Radio City for nothing. Do you know what four-walling is? B I R B I G L I A: You pay for the venue. G R I FFI N : Yeah, so I paid for everything. WO O D: Good for you. G R I FFI N : Well, good for me unless I don’t sell it out. Then bad for me. So it’s a fucking roll of the dice. But I just was determined. I just wanted to do it as a woman. I know that Joan Rivers has a record for a single female stand-up comedian playing Carnegie, which is five times, and I’ve played four. So I’m very into setting bars and breaking records. That’s why I’m in Guinness World Records for the most televised comedy specials of any comedian, living or dead, male or female. I just want younger folks to go, “If that old dame did fucking 23, maybe I should write one.” B I R B I G L I A : I saw Joan Rivers a year or two before she passed. It was phenomenal. WO O D : If nothing else, whenever Hollywood chews me up and spits me out and I’ve just got some house on some stupid catfish lake, as long as I write and perform and at some point between now and then I connect with people, I will always be able to do this. Dick Gregory died with dates on the books. That shit is just everything to me.
doing stand-up before getting itchy? WO O D : In 20 years, I’ve never gone more than two weeks. Two weeks is my longest stretch. NANCHERLA: I would say I perform most nights a week. G R I F F I N : That is dazzling. That’s grueling. I fucking respect that big-time, the way you guys run around doing sets and taking taxis and all this shit. M I N H A J : I’ve got to get the reps in to really refine it to get it to a point where there’s joke density and every sentence adds up. WO O D : I got a good window into Hasan’s process as he was preparing for the White House Correspondents’ dinner. He’s sitting there, splitting time, working at The Daily Show, and at night you’d see him at the Comedy Cellar. He would do his set and then immediately sit with his laptop open. Remove two commas. Change a sentence. I’m like, “What the…is he doing?” Then you see the finished product and you go, “Oh yeah, I remember.” M I N H A J : Mike, the notes you gave me on the closing were everything. I had to figure out, “Okay, I’m bringing this home. What is the point?” And older comics that I look up to who have all these notches under their belt go, “All right, I see what you’re trying to do, Padawan. But this comes o≠ as sanctimonious.” When I said, “Now you know what it feels like to be a minority,” Mike, you said something really simple: “That’s really good.” I was talking about being a child of immigrants, and what the First Amendment means to me, and why this person who abuses that very right every single day when he tweets at 3:30 in the morning refuses to come to the dinner that gives him the very right to do that. B I R B I G L I A : That was the part that was meaningful to me. I knew that was how you actually felt. It was special. M I N H A J : Birbiglia is one of the few people in this business who are like, “Lean into your authenticity.” John Mulaney can say the same thing. You really showed us the ropes on how to build a thing in show business on your own terms and to stay true to yourself. B I R B I G L I A : I love talking to comics. I feel like comics don’t have allegiance to political parties or ideas. I find when I’m talking to my comic friends, any kind of opinion can be in the mix. That’s how I find it to be. I don’t think it’s a lockstep thing.
Question everything. G R I F F I N: And take the heat when people think
you have the audacity to question everything.
Is that your job, to question everything? N A N C H E R L A : I think it’s a natural mind-set of
people who do comedy. You’re just turning everything over, like, “Why is it like this?” It feels presumptuous to be like, “We’re philosophers!” But I do feel like we’re constantly like, “Why?” We can’t take anything at face value. WOOD: Yeah, and it could be something as serious as global warming or something as mundane as putting the toilet seat down. You’re questioning it. “Why do we do this thing? Why do we exist? Why have we as a people always agreed that this is the way it is? Does it really have to be that?” Explore that.
Hasan, Roy, and Aparna, you take huge, heavy things like racism and depression, and J U N E
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in order to make them funny, you break them down into component parts. It’s like you have to make it so small it’s almost petty to let it be digestible to people. MINHAJ: Growing up as the son of immigrants
made me able to speak to two di≠erent worlds. “My family’s from India. We think of it this way. You guys think of it this way.” I’m able to communicate and connect both things, which growing up I didn’t think it was a strength, but I think now is a strength. I didn’t realize until later that comedy is basically simile and metaphor. “That’s like this. This is like that.” WO O D : You’ve got more shit to make a comparison with. G R I F F I N : I’m from the era where you did kind of have to act like a dude to succeed. There’s been so many situations where I’ve been the only girl and I have to figure out how to talk to these guys. Finding that common ground is a glorious thing about comedy. MINHAJ: Yeah. I mean, I remember seeing footage of you with A$AP Rocky [on the Vice video series Back & Forth]. G R I F F I N : I fucked him up, down, and up. He had to go to the hospital after that. MINHAJ: But you’ve been doing that your entire career, Kathy. Not fucking dudes up, but connecting to people from all di≠erent walks of life. G R I F F I N : I’m trying. Man, it’s hard. I’ve been doing this for a long time. B I R B I G L I A : You’ve been famous long enough to be famous and then not famous and then famous again. GRIFFIN: Now I’m Monica Lewinsky. I walk into a room and civilians gasp. Or come up to me and go, “Oh, my God! You’re from the picture [with the head]!” I just have to deal with it. And then I show them the poster of the Kathy Gri∞n Laugh Your Head O≠ world tour, and I go, “You’re damn right, I am. Here’s the picture.”
Do you regret anything? G RI F F I N : I think the social parts have been the
most challenging for me. A lot of those guys were just really hard on me. Just years and years of guys saying, “You’re not a real comic.” But eventually, when you get those guys to laugh, even if they’re assholes, you’re like, “Ha!” So it was a little victorious moment. B I R B I G L I A : Seinfeld said this shit in the ’80s that stuck with me forever: “The audience tells you what’s funny about you.” I think that couldn’t be more true. WOOD: Kathy, you’re fearless. Some of the material that you do is edgy, but it also has to be delivered shoulders back, chin o≠ the chest, without a flinch. That shit is hard to do when you’re saying something that may make someone want to throw a ketchup bottle at the stage. B I R B I G L I A : I think what the audience enjoys about Kathy most is the glee that she’s experiencing that as a result we’re experiencing. G R I F F I N : I would die without it. This last year, to not work for ten months? It was brutal to lose that gleeful feeling. I’m welling up. Has this been a catfish? Is this a real interview? B I R B I G L I A : I wrote this joke the other night. The audience gets mad about Trump. I go, “It’s not my fault we got catfished by Russia. She looked good online, but when she shows up it’s 19 Russian dudes.” I don’t know if it’s going to make it into a special, so let’s put it in GQ. Have to get it somewhere. anna peele is gq’s culture editor. 1 2 2
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Definitely obnoxious. Asshole, 15, just discovered Nietzsche. And sucking all the enjoyment out of the show. “It’s a huge bummer,” Harmon says. “Do I worry about them ruining everything? Yeah, I do. Once the title of your show becomes a way of describing a demographic, that is toxic.” Nevertheless, he and Roiland insist these people are a small subset. The worst of them— the ones who see Rick as a role model—are missing the point. • • • T H E D A Y A F T E R Harmontown, inside his
shrouded, modestly rambling home in the L.A. suburb of Los Feliz, where the stars rest between podcasts—celebrities like Aimee Mann and Kate Micucci are neighbors, he says—Harmon’s grappling with what feels like everything but Rick and Morty. There’s something necessitating a meeting with George Clooney. (Or someone from his o∞ce, at least.) There’s something involving Daedalus, the classical myth about a guy who becomes so engrossed by his own ingenious creations that everyone around him su≠ers. (Would you believe the story really resonates with Harmon?) There are myriad other scripts in development, whose specifics I’m not at liberty to divulge, except to say Harmon slumps under their added weight when each is rattled o≠. And there is today’s ordeal, a limited-series adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan, which has sat dormant more or less since it was announced in 2017. Harmon’s racing to produce a script by tonight, before he lets everyone down again. We had activities planned, but Harmon needs to work. Was I just supposed to watch him write, or…? “If anything, you’ll keep me from masturbating for two hours,” Harmon said. So I’ve been watching him—typing and tugging at his graying beard and not masturbating—for the better part of the day. The lull of ’90s female alt-rock (Liz Phair, Fiona Apple, lots of Tori Amos) from Harmon’s Spotify is broken by the barking of his bulldozer goldendoodle, Harvey, who keeps trying to hump me, and Harvey’s little buddy, Nigel, who also likes to watch. Harmon and I haven’t spoken since this morning, although he’ll occasionally throw his arms up and sigh things like, “Logic!” Sometimes he paces while acting out filler dialogue. (“Well, you’re a piece of shit”; “No, fuck you.”) During one of these spells, he wanders o≠. I page through two books carefully arranged on a table next to me—Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein: The Story of the Making of the Film and Melody Beattie’s The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations on Codependency—until he finally returns, carrying a tumbler with his
own face on it. He pours vodka from a bar cart and silently resumes typing. Harmon’s face is everywhere, actually, peeking out amid some surprisingly sexy Community and Rick and Morty fan art in the hall and from a stately portrait over the front-room bar—not to be confused with the old-timey banquette-lined bar upstairs, with the sign reading “McHarmon’s Tavern: Follow Your Bliss.” (Harmon’s sole Emmy, for co-writing a Hugh Jackman musical number at the 2009 Oscars, sits among the vermouth.) A Harmon above the toilet, sprawled coyly on a sofa, watches you pee. Yet another Harmon has been watching me watch the real Harmon all day, peering out from the one-sheet for Harmontown, the 2014 documentary that followed Harmon on tour with his eponymous podcast, at the peak of his post-Community-firing self-destruction/ self-actualization. That was the moment he became not just Dan Harmon, showrunner, but Dan Harmon, object of cult worship, a guy whom people will literally watch do anything—even type for six hours. In fact, having a captive audience there as he works, hanging on every moment of his process, might just be Dan Harmon’s ideal. • • • I T ’ S 6 : 4 5 P . M . W H E N Harmon finally
finishes his Vonnegut script, the end of an eight-hour marathon of typing and selfflagellation he concludes with a muted “I think I finished.” He sends it to his manager, and the reply contains several exclamation points, as close to celebration as we’re going to get. Harmon has 15 minutes to get to the studio and tape yet another podcast: Whiting Wongs, his irreverent exploration of race with Rick and Morty writer Jessica Gao. In a Lyft, I ask what freedom looks like to him.
“If I found a billion dollars under a rock tomorrow, I would disappear for sure. That’s all anyone wants to do, just hang out! Why are you imposing yourself ? Why don’t you just hide?” “The headline is not owing people stu≠, not disappointing people by holding things up,” he says. “Freedom means being able to ask the question: What do I feel like doing?” But the ultimate freedom, he says, would mean not doing anything. “If I found a billion dollars under a rock tomorrow, I would disappear for sure,” Harmon says. “That’s all anyone wants to do, just hang out! Why are you imposing yourself? Why don’t you just hide? If I ever felt like I was secure, I would do a bunch of stu≠ for fun. You’d hear about me starting a festival in the desert. But the truth would be I had finished and I was pursuing my bliss.” Harmon indulges in this fantasy a lot: vanishing, not being beholden ever again to Twitter or executives or George Clooney, “following his bliss.” And yet, what he does can’t be motivated by money alone. Certainly no one’s giving him a million dollars to trundle back to Burbank
DAN HARMON CONTINUED
after a grueling day of writing so he can cop to his white privilege for 90 minutes. Last night, he welcomed Grown-ish writer Kara Brown to Harmontown to discuss the unfair showbiz domination of guys like himself. This is also typical of Whiting Wongs, in which Harmon, Gao, and guests—tonight it’s Silicon Valley star Jimmy O. Yang—“solve” Hollywood’s racism. Here, Harmon is open, self-deprecating, and not really profiting from it. Rather, candor is his currency, an accounting of his failings that secures his place in this universe.
“I can’t ever see him getting blackmailed. Everything is laid right out there. Like, ‘Hey, you did this horrible thing.’ ‘Oh yeah. I know. I talked about that in episode 4 of my podcast.’ ” Obviously, it can also get him in trouble. After Whiting Wongs wraps, we decamp to Harmon’s favorite bar—a dank hole with conversation-destroying music—to talk about the downsides of honesty. Chevy Chase is apparently pissed at Harmon again—this time over a New Yorker profile of Community breakout Donald Glover, in which Harmon was quoted saying Chase had expressed “jealousy” of Glover. Harmon says he wouldn’t use “the J-word” and that the quote was “Frankensteined” together. (The New Yorker maintains it was “a direct quote.”) Still, the fight is back in the headlines. “Ever since the Chevy voice-mail thing, the sensation of having a scandal or feud with another person really makes me sick to my stomach,” Harmon says, sighing. Then there was Harmon’s brush with Hollywood’s #MeToo-led moral reckoning. In January, former Community writer Megan Ganz called Harmon out on Twitter, alluding to past harassment. What followed was remarkable after a year of so many half-assed mea culpas. Harmon o≠ered an unhesitating apology for abusing his power. A week later, Harmon apologized again, this time with an unflinchingly specific detailing of how he’d made unwanted advances on her, told her he loved her, then wanted to “teach her a lesson” for rejecting him. Harmon made no excuses for having “treated her cruelly” and undermining her faith in her talent. He owned up to having had a lack of “respect for women on a fundamental level” and berated himself for getting away with it “by not thinking about it.” He pleaded with his fans—his worst impulses made manifest in their own harassment of his sta≠—not to hurt Ganz, to try to learn from this. “We’re not gonna get away with it anymore,” he said. On Twitter, Ganz called it “a master class in How to Apologize.” “Say what you will about Dan Harmon, I can’t ever see him getting blackmailed,” Oswalt says. “Everything is laid right out there. Like, ‘Hey, you did this horrible thing.’ ‘Oh yeah. I know. I talked about that in episode 4 of my podcast.’ ” (Harmon’s apology to Ganz is actually in episode 272.) Harmon handled it the way he handles everything: out loud, in front of strangers. It’s
the way he handled his divorce (episode 167) and the complicated relationship he has with his parents (too many episodes to name). It’s how he’s confronted the estranged brother who called him a lazy piece of shit and hasn’t spoken to him in 12 years. It’s where he works out his guilt about his sister, born with the rare neurological disorder Rett syndrome, which has left her institutionalized for most of her life. “I feel like I was born a criminal,” Harmon tells me. “With a karmic credit card that’s maxed out.” He says these things in hope of staving o≠ inevitable retribution. “That’s what God does,” Harmon says. “He hurts you when you’re happy.” Harmon talks a lot about the need to be “safe”—his perpetual fear of being noticed and exiled from the kingdom, or o≠ another TV show. Ironically, Harmon’s method of avoiding detection has always involved standing out: putting on magic acts for his parents’ dinner parties, sitting behind a desk for mock talk shows at every holiday, seeking refuge in anonymous laughter and applause, playing Chevy Chase’s drunken voice mails. It’s his “clown act,” Harmon says, knocking himself before anyone else can. Now that we’re three vodkas deep, I pose his fantasy to him again. What if, right before moving to L.A., he’d stumbled upon a downed plane in the woods with millions of dollars spilling out of it, A Simple Plan–style? Would he really rather be free to hide, knowing no one would ever know his name? Harmon considers this carefully. “The 22-year-old version of myself would be like, ‘No, I’m destined to redeem humanity with my work,’ ” he says finally. “He doesn’t understand that fame means nothing. He doesn’t understand that those tokens don’t translate into anything. You don’t realize how boring that would become.” He may be honest, but I’m not sure I believe him. Because it’s the fame that gives him what he needs most: The audience. The 15-year-old assholes. All those strangers, the only people he truly connects with. That’s where he cashes in his tokens. You can see it on Twitter, where Harmon o≠ers up avuncular wisdom to kids su≠ering from depression. I see it myself after Harmontown, when he spends 30 minutes mentoring a young fan all the way in from Florida. And I hear it on my recorder, which I leave on the table while I go to the bathroom,
later discovering that Harmon has asked the women sitting next to us to leave “a satanic secret message” for me. “When you come back, we’re going to slit your fucking throat,” one of them says. “Oh fuck!” Harmon laughs, sounding exactly like Rick. He’s having fun now, delving into the darkness with strangers. In that moment, he couldn’t be happier. Except, of course, if Rick and Morty were renewed. “Rick and Morty is the highest creative opportunity you could ever be a≠orded as a writer. It’s an infinite sandbox,” Harmon says. “It’s the perfect show. It’s the most important thing I’ve ever done. I only want it forever.” And this is why, as we speak, there’s no fourth season of Rick and Morty yet. It’s not Harmon’s mouth, or fights with Roiland, or the worst of his fans, or because he hasn’t finished the script, the cupcake-eating piece of shit. Even Turner Entertainment wants more of the incredibly lucrative show; when I asked why it hasn’t been renewed, the network responded, rather contradictorily, “It has, but we’re still in negotiations.” Harmon and Roiland say they’re holding out for a contract that grants them immortality. Or, if immortality is unavailable, at least “many, many, many more seasons,” and enough money so that, as Roiland says, Harmon “doesn’t have to take 12 other jobs while we’re working on season four.” That way, Harmon can give Rick and Morty the full attention it deserves. To be able to follow his bliss, without taking on a dozen other tortures-for-hire. As we’re leaving, Harmon gets a text from the Vonnegut producer, which he reads in a tone just shy of a positive cancer diagnosis: “I was quite impressed and thrilled. I really felt you guys handled this masterfully.” I don’t see the problem. “I know! It’s crazy,” he says. “But I wrote that shit with a GQ guy watching me, and now…” He shrugs. “It’s like the Devil’s oven.” It’s late and we’re drunk, and I don’t know how to convince him that “thrilled” is a compliment. So Harmon begins walking home. He abruptly turns back. “I don’t want the article to be like, ‘This guy can’t be happy,’ ” Harmon calls out. “I’m so happy. All you’ve got to do is tell the magazine how happy I am, and then I’ll be happy.” sean o’neal is the editor of The A.V. Club.
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JUST A COUPLE OF NEW FRIENDS
BUMMING AROUND For more on the inspiring story of how Sarah Silverman learned to love her trolls—and how you can learn to love yours, too—flip back to page 80.
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PHOTOGRAPH BY MARTIN SCHOELLER