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WELL VERSED

The poetry of Aaron Belz is almost like a Mitch Hedberg or Demetri Martin joke: one-liners with a slapsticky residue, legitimized by a tongue-in-cheek yet undeniable logic. It’s all in the delivery, and tonight Belz will be in Crown Heights to show us how it’s done for the release of his third book, Glitter Bomb (Persea). Hear his loving jabs at Laura Dern, Starbucks, the blue hotness of lady avatars, and palindromes as he justifies the presence of pop culture in poetry, proving that there’s beauty, or at least a lot of laughs, to be found in CGI movies and rampant unchecked capitalism — all those lovely American things. He’ll be joined by fellow bard Mike Topp, who has been described as “the Andy Warhol and Ralph Nader of literature,” and claims to get constantly mistaken for an Italian underwear model.

Fri., April 25, 7 p.m., 2014

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In a World. . . of Glass Ceilings, Lake Bell Smashes Herself Right Through

Most women born after 1960 or so probably had parents or teachers who told them they could be anything when they grew up. Even so, plenty of fields remain largely boys’ clubs, métiers in which women aren’t necessarily unwelcome—just strangely invisible. In the world of In a World. . . the directing debut of preternaturally understated comic actress Lake Bell, voiceover work—specifically the authoritative yet anonymous man-speak heard in movie trailers—is one of those fields. Bell, who also wrote the script, plays Carol, an underemployed vocal coach who aspires to be a voiceover star like her callous, egomaniac father, Sam (Fred Melamed). The problem—even in 2013—is that no one really thinks a woman can do the job.

Then again, as supple and confident as Carol’s voice is, she doesn’t exactly look as if she could do the job. This isn’t just your garden-variety underachiever; Carol is so underachieving that, at age 31, she hasn’t changed her wardrobe since the 1990s. It’s one of the movie’s subtle oddball touches that Bell’s Carol, a tall drink of water if ever there was one, strides around unselfconsciously—and a little cluelessly—in overalls and college-kid babydoll dresses. But even if she’s a neurotic goofball, she’s persistent. And with the help of smart but bashful sound engineer Louis (Demetri Martin), who harbors a crush on her, she scrambles to the top of the voiceover heap—only to earn the resentment of key players in the field, most notably her nasty old dad.

See also: Our interview with Lake Bell

Bell has made a lively, modern screwball comedy with a terrible title; the dialogue moves fast and sometimes takes nutty, unexpected loops, like puppies scrambling over one another in a basket. The title, mentioned perhaps too many times in the course of the movie, refers to the opening words of 1,001 cheesy trailers, a phrase that became a trademark of sorts for real-life voiceover king Don LaFontaine, who recorded uncountable trailers, commercials, and promos in a career that spanned more than 40 years. (He died in 2008.) LaFontaine’s name is invoked frequently in In a World. . .; he’s the pro everyone is trying to top. In Hollywood, being dead doesn’t stop anyone from competing with you.

Bell captures the insularity of certain professional pockets of Hollywood, with all their petty rivalries and backstabbing. But she’s sharpest in her exploration of what makes women desire success, and what prevents them from getting it. Carol, for all her awkwardness, is extremely competitive—there’s no stopping her once she gets a shot at a prestigious gig. (Hers might become the official voice of an upcoming girl-power adventure “quadrilogy” called The Amazon Games.) But her success also makes her instantly unattractive to a certain kind of man. The delectably sleazy Gustav (Ken Marino), a far more experienced voiceover artist who has taken a shine to her (but doesn’t know her line of work), turns against her when he learns she’s “stolen” the job he wanted. His scorn is blatantly sexist, as if Carol’s triumph were a negation of his manhood.

Bell packs a lot into In a World. . ., and at times the movie threatens to spin out of her grasp. Somehow, she reels in every stray thread just in time: A subplot involving Carol’s sister and brother-in-law (they’re played, wonderfully, by Michaela Watkins and Rob Corddry) begins as a seemingly negligible trifle and turns into something surprisingly touching. And even if In a World. . . isn’t, strictly speaking, a romantic comedy, it’s far more appealing than most contemporary movies that are sold as such. The romance between Carol and Louis takes forever to get cooking—their mutual awkwardness is the modern-day equivalent of a bundling board. But it’s also part of their charm as a couple-in-training; their respective peculiarities fit together just right. Bell and Martin never make these two horrifically adorable.

Bell, who has so often played second or third banana (in pictures like It’s Complicated and No Strings Attached) makes a strangely fetching leading woman. There’s not a lot of vanity on display here: Carol’s long, barely combed hair is half mouse-brown, half Clairol-red, as if she’d simply forgotten to look in a mirror for eight months. And while Bell is undeniably a stunner, as Carol, she looks almost masculine from certain angles—still beautiful, but not exactly cuddly or yielding.

In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Bell acknowledged that she wrote and conceived of Carol as the kind of woman she’d like to play, a more fleshed-out version of a supporting character: “Obviously in studio pictures there are only a handful of roles you can get,” she said, “and often the lead character—if it is a female character—isn’t that fun. I enjoy playing the best friend or the weird co-worker or whatever.” In a World. . . is a movie about ambition that is itself quietly ambitious. In a world where remarkably few women either get or create the opportunity to make movies, Bell has already figured one thing out: You don’t have to shout to be heard.

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The Good Book: 5 Great Readings This Week

Jonathan Lethem and Jessica Hagedorn
Greenlight Bookstore
Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., free
A quick word on Jonathan Lethem–he’s awesome. That’s it. Because this guy is one of our favorite native sons. The author of Motherless Brooklyn (Vintage) and The Fortress of Solitude (Vintage) has the ability to pogo from sci-fi to memoir to detective fiction to hipster lit and back again, but he’s always been unshakably New York, in subject matter, support for Occupy Wall Street, outspokeness against the corporate renaming of Shea Stadium, etc. In September he’s slated to release his next novel, Dissident Gardens (Random House), a family epic set in Queens, but tonight he’ll talk with Long Island University professor and author Jessica Hagedorn about past work and his connection to Brooklyn.

M. Henderson Ellis and Rosie Schaap
Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden
Wednesday, 7 p.m., free
It would seem absurd to host these authors anywhere but a rowdy Czech beer hall. In Ellis’s first novel, Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Cafe (Random House), a Chicago man is fired for being “too passionate” about his job as a barista at a coffee chain, kickstarting a quixotic journey through newly post-communist Prague. Schaap’s travels, on the other hand, are booze-soaked rather than coffee-fueled. In her memoir Drinking With Men (Riverhead), she recounts a childhood spent in the bar car of a train, telling passengers’ fortunes in exchange for beer. Her love letter to pub culture highlights the sense of community that barrooms (and, we’ll wager, also the alcohol) create among strangers. Toast them with a pint at this night of readings.

“Mary MacLane, In Conversation”

Book Court
Wednesday, 7 p.m., free
You may not have heard the name Mary MacLane before, unless you’re into obscurist memoirs or maybe a big fan of Manitoba province like yours truly. But the Canadian-born, American-relocated writer has been called our country’s first blogger, despite the fact that she was working in the late 19th century. Her racy lifestyle and scandalous autobiographies gained her 50 Shades-level fame at age 19–think a slightly older, female Rimbaud–and by 1917 she was filming and starring in the Warhol-esque picture Men Who Have Made Love To Me. A mysterious young death added to the scandal before her memory and her work fell into the margins. Tonight author Emily Gould (And The Heart Says Whatever, Free Press), playwright Normandy Sherwood, and scholar Kara Jesella will discuss MacLane’s 1902 autobiography I Await the Devil’s Coming (Melville House), and how she paved the way for the realist confessional style.

Demetri Martin
Barnes & Noble Union Square
Thursday, 7 p.m., free
Somewhere, we imagine a retirement home for indie comedians–Reggie Watts, Kristen Schaal, and Aziz Ansari all one day sitting around a table playing the funniest game of dominoes ever. For a second, we feared Demetri Martin was already there, but thankfully he’s back with Point Your Face At This (Grand Central Publishing), a new collection of drawings. As always, his pictures are crude in rendering but pack a big punch to the wits, and we’ve got to love a comedian who traffics in Wittgensteinian antinomy doodles (which, by the way, are also a barrel of laughs). Ah…if only Demetri was sitting next to us in every lecture we’ve ever had. Tonight we can imagine as he reads and previews his sketches.

Douglass Rushkoff and Rachel Rosenfelt
McNally Jackson
Thursday, 7 p.m., free
Haven actually been called a “Luddite” in two different conversations in two different bars (always in an accusatory way, why?) we’re going to be careful about how strongly we recommend this. But in his new book Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now (Current), theorist Douglass Rushkoff makes some good points about the dicey ethos of real time technology, hyperspeed culture, fragmentation, and pretty much how everything is just happening too fast and for the love of god slow down please. He introduces his theory of “presentism,” basically an -ism ending word for how the largely tech-related immediacy of everything in our lives–conversations, media, ordering food–might have some less than stellar effects on our psychological and physical selves. Especially the ordering food part. He’ll chat–in person, machine free–with Rachel Rosenfelt, founder and editor of The New Inquiry. There’s no time like the present.

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SKETCH ARTIST

As an intrepid young man, Demetri Martin, the comedian with the Beatles moptop and penchant for writing long palindrome poems, dropped out of NYU Law School (where he had a full scholarship) to be a stand-up comedian. His family was, to say the least, not pleased. Now, turning 40 years old in May, Martin, who starred in the Ang Lee film Taking Woodstock (2009), continues to prove that he made the right choice. Currently, he’s on tour in support of his new book, Point Your Face at This, which shows off his talents as a cartoonist and master of the one-liner with hundreds of his drawings and visual jokes. Catch him tonight for two shows at the Bell House (he’ll also be at Barnes and Noble Union Square on March 21).

Tue., March 19, 7:30 & 10:30 p.m., 2013

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JUST BETWEEN BROS

It’s kind of a mixed blessing that the Tyra Banks Show is going off the air. After all, the talk-show circuit could use a bit more testosterone. Comedic playboys Leo Allen, his sidekick Tony Camin, and bartender Jawnee Conroy are filling that emo/jock niche with Bro’In Out With Leo & Tony, which is described as The Dick Cavett Show meets After Dark With Hugh Hefner—or, in other words, a variety show full of cursing, sketches, alcohol, and music. Past guests have included Andrew W.K., Demetri Martin, Janeane Garofalo, John Krasinski, and Fred Armisen. On the hot seat tonight is our favorite actor, charmer, and Clueless discovery, Paul Rudd.

Thu., Feb. 4, 9 p.m., 2010

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Gay Panic on The Set of Taking Woodstock

Poor Ang Lee. First his Brokeback Mountain didn’t win Best Picture, apparently because some voters were too repulsed by the cornholing theme to even stick the DVD in the machine. But at least that was behind closed doors. Now gay panic has made it onto the major networks with Demetri Martin–the star of Ang’s Taking Woodstock, about the making of the 1969 rock festival–telling Conan how upset he was to learn he was playing a gay and even had to kiss a man! As Martin related his unease on the talk show, fellow guest Shaquille O’Neal, in an allegedly comic bit, moved down the couch, sliding far away from Martin, ha ha. And the gay civil rights movement instantly went back about 100 years.

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NO LAUGHING MATTER

We’d definitely pay at least $20 to see each of the comedians at Stand-Ups Give BAC, a benefit for the Brooklyn Autism Center Academy. So we’ll consider this show—with (and it doesn’t get much better than this) David Cross, Zach Galifianakis, Janeane Garofalo, Paul F. Tompkins, and Daily Show correspondents Demetri Martin and John Oliver, as well as special surprise guests—to be a bargain at $100 for a general seat or $150 for a premium seat. Recession, scheshmession—this is one investment you can’t get screwed by.

Tue., Feb. 3, 7:30 p.m., 2009

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BACK AT WORK

We just want these comedians to have something to do
The best part about the recently ended writers’ strike was that it lasted long enough for some idle comedians to go a little stir-crazy. And that meant lots of short videos produced on handheld camcorders collected at places like FunnyorDie.com: Will Farrell being harassed by toddler-landlord Pearl, for example, or Zach Galifianakis covering Kanye’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothin’ ” in the middle of a farm, atop a tractor. Will Farrell’s Funny or Die Comedy Tour has the giants of vid-sketch comedy—including Galifianakis, Demetri Martin, and Nick Swardson—doing their thing onstage. Hopefully, that will include Galifianakis doing his adorable rendition of Anita Baker’s “You Bring Me Joy.”

Sun., Feb. 24, 8 p.m., 2008

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Comic (Un)convention

NPR recently asked me to comment on the “downtown alternative comedy scene from an academic perspective.” An academic* perspective?! Though it currently serves as a launchpad for local jokers, perhaps a more apt perspective is: This bunch of boys and a small sprinkling of girls who are unconventionally cute, smart, and funny (of course) attract broader audiences than the smattering of hipsters and friends that once attended such shows—carefully curated evenings that often include music and video elements alongside traditional stand-up routines. Vox Pop attended events put on by the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and NBC’s talent-incubating arm PSNBC, among others, that featured the old guard (David Cross, Michael Showalter, Todd Barry, David Wain . . .) and introduced some who should soon be household names (Paul Scheer, Jessi Klein, Demetri Martin, Eugene Mirman . . .) to the throngs. Yes, cramming 400 people into Pianos, or turning away ’round-the-block lines at Marquee and UCB constitute throngs. Throngs hungry for humor.

We asked: So, you think these guys are funny, eh? What else in New York is funny?


EVAN GOLDFINE, stock trader LISA BIDERMAN, psychology student [Manhattan]

EG: What’s funny is the relative size of our picture on this page to the number of copies our mothers are going to take for relatives. We just got engaged, so it’s sort of like a free announcement. Also, Lisa’s favorite one-liner. LB: (hesitates) EG: Come on. LB: What’s brown and sounds like a bell? VP: (contemplates) LB: DUNG! EG: Nice.


DEMETRI MARTIN, comedian, writer [Manhattan]

Invite Them Up, the weekly show that Eugene Mirman and Bobby Tisdale have cultivated at Rififi, is funny. The crowd is so good and there is a great feeling of experimentation there. Mopeds are funny too.


JEN CARLSON, writer [Manhattan]

David Cross and Todd Barry gave me this lovely bottle of Trump eau de toilette as a gift. Onstage. What’s funny is not that they gave me a gift, but that this bottle of cologne looks like the Trump Tower but smells like the F train.


MIKAEL JORGENSEN, musician [Chicago, Illinois]

Animals in human clothing. Also, underground phone prank tapes.


SAMM LEVINE, actor [Los Angeles, California]

How about the overabundance of hansom cabs in the city? It’s cool if you want to ride through the park in one, but I got stuck in traffic today between four of them! And I don’t feel good yelling at a horse I don’t have money on. Why not unclog the city streets by making the drivers direct traffic and letting the horses roam free someplace empty, like New Jersey? This is only funny, I suppose, in the sense that watching me get irritated tends to make women laugh.


DAVID WAIN, comedian-filmmaker [Manhattan]

I just saw a great improv duo at UCB. Oh, but one of them moved to L.A.


*VOX POP QUIZ: Which local comedian majored in “comedy” in college?

Hint: The prize is a copy of his/her new CD. Answers: voxpop@villagevoice.com.