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Charlyne Yi cover story in Brand X

Feb 20, 2015

X Questions: Charlyne Yi

Leave it to Charlyne Yi to go from Knocked Up to would-be Freddie Mercury. The comedienne, best known for a brief but memorable role in the Judd Apatow comedy and a star turn in Paper Heart, a 2009 semi-documentary about her are-they-or-aren't-they romance with fellow awkward actor Michael Cera, has turned her attentions to music. She's playing in two bands, one serious (The Old Lumps, named after a friend's dog) and one less so -- that'd be Flesh (the Racist Crayon) -- and this Friday, she'll use her monthly night at the UCB Theater to pay homage to one-hit wonders-turned-pop-lifers Hanson. (Mercury and his band, Queen, sit at the top of her influences in all departments: "I wrote a script about Queen but I don't know if it's going to get made.")

With the press tour for Paper Heart over and no film or TV projects on the horizon, Yi's now a free agent, choosing to spend her band practice downtime taking on charity projects and raising awareness for Oxfam. We got the pint-sized star on the line to discuss turning away from Hollywood fame, her rock star fantasies and finally finding love.

Brand X: We've seen you play music for a while -- there's a great scene in Paper Heart where you're playing "Magic Perfume" -- but what made you want to start bands and do it a little more seriously?

Charlyne Yi:
That was my first goal when I was a kid. In fifth grade I saw La Bamba and also that movie That Thing You Do! and I wanted to be a drummer. I saved my money from every Christmas and all my lunch money, and I eventually had enough to buy drums, but I sucked really bad. I started some bands in high school but I realized whenever a band would break up, I'd have to play drums myself which isn't very fun. So I started to pick up the guitar. It's such a nice break from trying to perform comedy because you don't expect people -- you don't have to hear them laugh to get validation.

BX: How did the Old Lumps get together?

My friend Alden Penner was in this band called The Unicorns. He started another band, , and he was like, "Oh, would you like to open for my band?" And I was like, "Oh, I guess so, I don't really have a band, I just play with my roommate who's a drummer." he asked my other friend, Ryan Kattner -- he was from this band called Man Man. So we brought his friend, this girl named Jess who's now in the Old Lumps and I brought Dave, my roommate. We opened for Clues and I was like, "Oh man, it's so nice to be in a band again." And then from there, Ryan had to go back to Philly and Jess and Dave wanted to continue being in a band and we came up with the Old Lumps.

BX: Why the Old Lumps? Why not the Young Lumps or the Middle-Aged Lumps?

We were named after a dog. Any time we ever heard anything stupid, we go , "That's it, that's the name! That's our band name!" As a joke, like we're in a movie. One day my roommate was talking about this dog. He was like, "Yeah, he's getting old, he's getting all wrinkly, we call him Old Lumps." I was like, "That's it! That's our name!" Jokingly, and he was like, "That is our name." 

BX: I was trying to listen to Flesh (the Racist Crayon) online and couldn't.

Oh yeah, we just recorded something the other night, we're going to put it up. We're new.

BX: What does that band sound like?

: It's really silly - a lot of it is kind of stream of consciousness. There's a song about this farmer and he's trying to win the love of this woman but the lyrics are ridiculous. It's about, like, "I lost my hair/I lost my teeth/I lost almost everything but I finally have you," but he also says, "I lost my horse/ and I lost my horse/ and I lost my horse." He's just a slightly dumb farmer.

BX: I hear a lot of the Pixies in the Old Lumps. What are some of your musical influences?

I don't think we sound like any of the stuff I would like to sound like. I really love Queen so much. I wrote a script about Queen, but I don't know if it's going to get made. I really like Elvis. When I was a little kid and I had short hair, I used to wet my hair and try to comb it like Elvis. My favorite band right now, they're my friends, and I actually confessed to them, "When I come to see you guys, I'm actually coming because I'm a fan -- I wouldn't come if your music was bad." Hi Ho Silver Oh. I swear they're going to be big.

BX: Going from doing acting and comedy shows to doing music in L.A. -- has it been weird to find places to play and break into that scene?

Yeah, it's weird. I don't really understand how to get booked places. People have been reaching out to us over the Internet and that's how we've gotten a lot of gigs. Luckily, the more shows we do, the easier it gets. Same thing with comedy, you meet people and hopefully you meet a band that likes your music and they're like, "Play with us over here!" It's definitely different, but we're learning.

BX: How far would you like to take your music? Do you want to be playing national tours?

Yeah, that would be amazing. I think I have like ADD where I'm constantly jumping from one thing to another. I'm like, "We made movie, O.K., let's start a band! Cool, I'm in a band, now I'm going to write a comic book!" But... Old Lumps, I think that's our most serious band in the sense that that's the one we practice for and that's the one all my songs go to. We're hoping to tour in January on the West Coast and in spring on the East Coast. I think all of us secretly just want to do that lifestyle and just play music.

BX: On Friday, you're doing this Hanson show at UCB -- is it going to be the adorable "MMMBop" Hanson or, like, old, 2010 Hanson?

Everyone who's playing a Hanson member is in a band. We're going to each pick two songs. I'm picking some old songs that I really like because I think we all secretly love the first Hanson album. I know Roxy , from Rad Magic, she's going to play one of the new songs because she secretly really loves it. We're going to try some comedy bits. Casey and Roxy have never done comedy on stage, they just mainly have bands, so we're going to experiment with that. I'm really excited, I feel like they're two of the funniest people I know, they're naturally funny so it'll be interesting to see how our comedy bits go down.

BX: Speaking of the funniest people you know -- are there any under-the-radar or up-and-coming comedians we should know about?

Let me see. Oh, my friend Nathan Fielder, he's like the funniest person I've ever met. He's from Canada, he just moved to L.A. not too long ago. If you look up the video "Even the Best" -- he's such a great writer and performer and he's so talented. He's my favorite. I don't tell him that though because I don't want him to get a big head. I've never told him that.

BX: We'll try to keep it a secret. I wanted to ask you more about Paper Heart -- I saw your play World of Pain at UCB a while back and it seemed like it was kind of an exclamation point to the themes of Paper Heart. It was much more about embracing love than the film, which was more unsure that it existed at all. How have your feelings on the subject changed?

CY: I think, first - Paper Heart, part of it is documentary, part of it is fiction. My feelings were more curious about, "How do you know?" and also knowing that it's different for each and every person and situation. It was more curiosity as opposed to being a skeptic or being jaded. And also we had to be like, heightened -- Charlyne does not believe in love! -- in order for the whole through line thing to make sense. With World of Pain, that was just all fiction, really. I'd never written a play before. There's funny moments to it but I realized I don't know how to write jokes when I wrote it. I don't know how my feelings have changed on love. I think I am in love right now, which is nice.

BX: Congratulations!

Did you say congratulations?

BX: Yeah.

Thank you! But I don't think my feelings were ever were against love or weren't accepting of love.

BX: Can you reveal who the lucky guy is or do you like to keep that stuff private?

I like to keep that stuff private.

BX: With "Hanson" this weekend and "World of Pain" and so on, you've been trying a lot of different styles -- is there anything you'd like to do on stage you haven't yet?

I really want to write and direct plays and not be in it. I wasn't even supposed to be in "World of Pain" but then I kind of was jealous. How do you get someone to come to your monthly show if you're not even in your own show? Are people going to care? I'm trying to slowly transition.

BX: Off-stage, you've been working a lot with Oxfam - doing videos for them and hosting their benefit and then this TMZ debacle. How did you get involved with that?

It's funny, luckily I'm in a position where I'm not too worried about money -- I mean, I am, I can only live off money for so long before I run out, but I don't really buy things except for food and gas. I've been getting paid to perform, which is crazy, I never had that until this year. I've been performing for five years. I'm in a position where I was questioning my life, what do I do next - my manager goes, "Oh, what's your next big project, what are you going to audition for?" I never really audition because acting isn't my priority, creating stuff is, I guess. I was also thinking, "Man, I don't want to be famous." I see my friends and how it intervenes with your personal lives.

Not that it's a bad thing, but sometimes it is, how people treat you -- for instance, I was in line to buy a bagel in New York and this woman shoved me and cut in front of me and this man goes, "Hey, weren't you next and I said, "Yeah, I was," and she recognized my voice from Knocked Up, and I only said like one line in the movie, and all of a sudden she was so nice to me. That's sad, you know? You should only be nice to me because I said one line in a movie? So I started thinking about my life and like, I love creating stuff but I think everything has always been about me and sharing what I do creatively - but there are all these people throughout history who have done things that are meaningful for society and for our kids, you know? I couldn't finish college because my brain was always wandering and just wants to make stuff, but how could I use what I do and what I'm good at to help people? Life seems so meaningless if I'm not trying to do anything. So right around the time I was searching, reached out to me as well.

BX: You said one of your videos about them that ice cream is not necessary to live. If not ice cream, what is, for you?

What do I need to live? I've lived off cheese. I got sick. I was really poor and I was like, oh, I'll just eat cheese. It's just food and having good friends and family - no matter what, like, my parents have been poor, and used to live in their car and I partially lived in my car for a bit - I think as long as you have a good environment and food because you can't live off you can for an extent but you'll get really sick.

BX: You shaved your hair on stage a little ways back. How's that going for you?

I never really cared about my hair anyway, I was only growing it out to donate it. I was too insecure to do it at school because I didn't want people to make fun of me. It was summertime, I wanted to donate this hair and it would be funny to shave it on stage, and be like, 'Oh guys don't worry, it's just a joke, it's a wig, it's a bald cap, our next performer is...' and kind of brush it off. It's nice to not have the hair, it's so freeing. I didn't brush it anyway.

BX: So I guess that wasn't a scary experience. What's the scariest thing that you have done on stage?

One day I was thinking about how I've never been punched in the face and I was doing really poorly on stage, the audience hated me. I was doing some magic -- I was like, for my next trick, I need someone from the audience. I had all these things, even a wine glass, . "I will give someone all this and $50 in my pocket, if you'll come up and punch me in the face. It's for a magic trick, don't worry, no one's going to get hurt." They come up, and it's like a guy with a mohawk, and I took off my glasses and I was like, "I won't give you money unless you hit me hard enough, it's for a magic trick, you'll see what happens." He's about to hit me, he's raising his fist, pulling it backward and I was like, "Wwww-wait!" I didn't really know what I was doing. He's like, "I'm sorry." I was like, "Oh, wuss, you're afraid!" and everyone started cheering for me. Eventually it just kept going back and forth and I got him booed. So that became a bit, where I was like, 'That's the formula,' and if I get hit, maybe it won't hurt that much and I'll go, "Woo, it was just a joke." And I started performing that and it would do really well on stage, but one day, an older man, with grey hair -- like a grown man, with muscles! He comes on stage and he actually smacks me. I didn't know how to handle it and he keeps smacking me and I was so scared, I ran to the other side of the stage. I mean, I didn't expect anyone to hit me because it's a comedy bit. It felt like we were up there for 10 minutes -- he kept hitting me and he tried to steal the money. I've never performed that punching magic bit ever again.

BX: That definitely does not lead into my next couple of questions.

That's OK!

BX: What are your favorite places to go in L.A.?

I think I'm like the old man, or woman I guess. I just like walking around because I think I'm not used to being by a bunch of buildings -- I came from Fontana, which is kind of like, surburban desert, like valley place. I really like going to the Griffith Observatory a lot. I find that really peaceful. I swear I'm like an old man, , I just like painting with my friends and I like when they make cookies for me so I can eat them.

BX: What's your favorite kind of cookie?

: Chocolate chip. Very generic.

Can't go wrong with that.

CY: It's simple but it does the trick. It satisfies me. I just spend most of my time playing with my friends, going to their backyards and playing music. I don't know, I guess -- I love eating food and eat a lot of food every day. It's pretty gross.

BX: Sounds like you've got a full plate. Anything else you wanted to mention?

I'm asking my friend Amy who shot the video for Oxfam how to start my own company, where I want to create -- I don't know if it'll ever get made but -- a tap dance instructional DVD that's completely sincere with Ted Danson called 'Dancing with Danson.' We'd make all these weird, odd projects and the money would go to a benefit. So I think I've finally found a way to make cool stuff and also help the world.

BX: Have you talked to Ted about it?

I'm still trying to hook up with this organization, I'm sure they're going to want the money, I just have to figure out logistics. But hopefully when that's all figured out, we can reach out to Ted Danson and he'll want to do it. But there are a bunch of different little projects that I'm coming up with that will raise money and will just be fun, to make stuff.

BX: Sounds great. Thanks for talking to me.

Thanks for asking me! Have a good day slash life!
LA General

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Rob Huebel interviewed by Movieline

Feb 20, 2015

Rob Huebel on Childrens Hospital, Life as We Know It and Playing George Clooney's Best Friend

If you've seen a mainstream comedy in the last five years, the chances are good you've seen Rob Huebel. From the MTV series Human Giant to I Love You, Man to The Other Guys to Adult Swim's Childrens Hospital, the UCB performer has appeared alongside his fair share of comedy icons. Huebel branches out a bit more this Friday when he co-stars opposite Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel in the romantic dramedy, Life as We Know It, and coming soon he'll tackle the biggest part of his career: That of George Clooney's best friend, in Alexander Payne's The Descendants.

Huebel rang up Movieline last week and discussed how Childrens Hospital is almost getting too good at lampooning medical dramas, his role in Life as We Know It and just what it was like to appear in The Descendants opposite one of the biggest stars in the world.

How did you get involved with Childrens Hospital?

I thought you were going to ask me how my life has changed since the show has aired on Adult Swim, in terms of fame and dealing with all that. What a lot of people don't realize is that Adult Swim has millions and millions of more viewers than network shows, so when I walk down the street, people go f**king crazy. But that's not your question. What was your question?

No problem: What drew you to Childrens Hospital?

A lot of us were friends from New York that had transplanted ourselves out to Los Angeles. Rob Corddry and I were friends, David Wain and I were friends, and Ken Marino - we knew each other also. Rob and David came up for the idea for the show during the writers' strike and originally it was just a fun internet project we could do. Warner Bros. was paying for it, so we just cranked out a bunch of five-minute episodes, just for the Internet. And that was really fun, because you could do whatever you wanted. No one gave us any notes. It was like, "Let's just sort of make this absurd medical drama to screw with shows like Grey's Anatomy and House." And then it got picked up by TV. Just crazy.

I always feel like any time you get a chance to work with your friends and no one is going to mess with you, there is no reason not to do it.

Has being on Adult Swim curtailed the "Wild West" feel of the initial episodes?

It's really interesting. Adult Swim is - I don't think they mind being described this way either - they are pretty much the Internet on television. They pretty much allow us to get away with anything we want. I don't think we've ever been told to reign it in or change anything. Some of it is so absurd; we don't set out to make it offensive to anyone, but it's a bunch of comedians trying to outdo each other. So sometimes it becomes really dark and crazy. I wrote a script for the most recent season and I'm writing more on the third season and I literally turned in that script and they were like, "Great, thanks!" They don't mess with it. That's really helped us a lot and helped us establish a very specific tone. In a way it can be scary because there's no one to blame. You can't say, "Oh, well, the network screwed it up!" If it falls flat, it's totally on us.

It seems like the type of show you can just do for seasons. Do you worry about running out of stuff to parody?

We got together a few weeks ago to try to come up with ideas for the next season and we started pitching these ideas, and one of the writers' assistants was like, "They've done that, they've done that" - talking about House and Grey's. We're like, "What?!" I don't watch those shows so I have no gauge on what they do. We're trying to throw out comedy purposes and it's like, "Yep, they've done that." 

So it's getting harder to top those shows?

It's not even trying to top them - it's trying to do stuff they just haven't done yet. We don't want to look like we're copying them. Like, we did one this year that just aired where there was two people impaled on a flagpole. In our version it was an old black man and a young, white a**hole. And it became this very racial situation. We can only save one of them, so who are we going to save. So we shot this and like a week later, Grey's Anatomy did this. This! They didn't have the black/white thing, but they did have two people impaled on a flagpole or something. So there's starting to be a little bit of unintentional crossover.

And you also had Kate Walsh from Private Practice on recently, to further blur the line.

Here's a weird twist: The marketing for this season's House has Huge Laurie in clown makeup. I have no idea what they're doing there. I don't know whether - because ours has been out there for a while, that's Corddry's thing on the show; he wears clown makeup. It doesn't even make sense that House would do that. I don't think it's a reference to us, I think it's just a weird coincidence. He doesn't wear clown makeup...

You've also got a supporting role in Life As We Know It.

It was really fun. The movie is a total girl movie. If you have a penis, you will probably not see this movie; if you have a vagina, this will probably be your favorite movie ever. It's really good. It's Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel and they're raising this baby they sort of inherited. I'm with a group of other comedians as the annoying neighbors, giving terrible advice. I'm gay in the movie, but I don't play it as a stereotype; I play it as me. So it's basically me-as-Rob Huebel hitting on Josh Duhamel. It's funny and everything. I just feel like if you're a dude, you don't want to see a movie with a baby in it; you want to see a movie with a car chase, which leads into a crash, which leads into a shark attack, which leads into another car chase.

I must say, I was a bit surprised to see you starring...

That I would do a mainstream romcom...

Yes, exactly. What made you take the part?

What I wanted to do was cockblock myself for the next ten years. I figured if I could get myself into a movie that only girls will see and then I'm gay in the movie, girls will think I'm gay in real life and stop bothering me. No. Come on. I looked at my part and I thought I could do it and be funny. I had a phone call with the director - Greg Berlanti, who's great - and he was all for getting really funny improvisers in the movie. So it's me, Andy Daly, Will Sasso, Jessica St. Clair, Melissa McCarthy. He wanted us to riff a lot of the time and improvise. So even if it's not a movie that is not necessarily my taste, as long as I can be funny in it, that's all I really care about.

And you have another surprising movie on your resume: The Descendants.

I shot this movie that Alexander Payne directed - and there's this other guy in it that you may have heard of named...George Clooney? Yeah I think that's right: George Clooney. But yeah, I shot a part in this movie in Hawaii which was just amazing. Alexander Payne is one of my favorite directors; he is the man.

It's based on the book by Kaui Hart Hemmings and deals with some pretty serious stuff. What's your role?

In the movie I play George's best friend. So all my scenes are with him. It's really terrible what a cool person he is. It's off-putting. He has everything in the world going for him. He's super good looking, politically involved and super smart and also hilarious. So you meet him and you're basically like: "OK buddy, what the f**k? How did you get everything in the world?" He's just the coolest guy. That was a great, great experience.

Was it a nerve-wracking experience for you to be involved with what will undoubtedly be a high-profile, Oscar-bait-y type film?

It is sort of intimidating. It's not a comedy movie. There are some funny moments, but it's a fairly serious story. I come from a comedy background, so first I was a little bit concerned about it. But those guys - people at that level, Payne and Clooney - they know what they're doing. When you get there, they make you feel so comfortable that you don't have to worry about anything. Alexander said something like the first day we were on set. Like, "I don't want anyone to be nervous or remotely uptight about this, because I cast you and you're in the movie because you're a great person and I see you as this character in this movie. So from here on out let's just have fun and enjoy each other." So nerves go away then. You don't think, "Whoa, this could be really great!" You don't worry about what might be with the movie, you just try to enjoy yourself and do a good job.

How did you get the part?

I had to audition a couple of times. I originally read for a different part and then I got called back for the part of like Clooney's best friend, who lives down the street. Then I got a call on my phone from Alexander Payne and - I saved the message, of course, because eventually when my life bottoms out and I become addicted to crystal meth and I'm a prostitute on Santa Monica Blvd., I'd like to have that message. It was really the high point of my career.
LA General

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Ben Schwartz interviewed by TV Guide

Feb 20, 2015

Undercovers' Ben Schwartz on Agent Hoyt, Action Stunts and Improv in the Spy World

As Undercovers' skilled CIA agent-Steven Bloom fanboy Bill Hoyt, Ben Schwartz knows how to lighten the mood no matter what serious international crisis his character may face. Behind the scenes, Schwartz is a comedy writer who won an Emmy for penning Hugh Jackman's opening number at the Oscars. He talked with about what's coming up for Hoyt, doing his own stunts and finding room for improv in the spy world. What will we find out about Hoyt's back story?

Ben Schwartz: I think the fun thing about him is we really have no idea what his background is. He's quirky, he's a little bit crazy and he obviously is just enamored with Steven Bloom. As the season goes on, we get to learn more about why that is -- and all the secrets Josh and J.J. don't really tell me about. I only learn about them when I read the scripts. Hoyt is so funny in the field. I can picture what he'd be like in training school.

I want you to write one episode about me in training school. We could shoot it all film noir-y, like black and white, and it could be one huge flashback episode . How has it been doing the action stunts?

If I were ever in a situation where there was someone who put their hands around me -- and allowed me 15 seconds to get a hold on them -- I could do the same maneuver that I get to do in these episodes. I have stuntmen and they taught me all these things that I get to use in upcoming episodes. Even jumping around or jumping over things, for somebody who comes from a comedy background, is the coolest gift. What's your secret to getting laughs in more serious scenes, but not going overboard at the same time?

I think it's a testament to the writing. Our showrunner, Josh, and our writing staff are good at writing it for me so I can see when I'm doing my jokes and then when it's time to be serious. If we're diffusing a bomb, they pick and choose their places so perfectly for me to throw out one-liners. Are you able to improvise your lines at all?

I'll pretty much stick to the script and maybe I'll add something a little bit here and there. Josh has been so cool about allowing me to improvise in certain places. We're on the tenth episode now and I have learned exactly where I have room to improvise. ... I'm so lucky because Josh writes for me so well. We talk a lot and he just knows my voice. How does your improv background influence your work on Undercovers?

Taking improv has helped every other aspect of my field. I've been doing it for seven years, and the ideas of improv and the rules I've learned help with my acting and my writing. ... A lot of the time, you're supposed to play to the top of your intelligence, as truthful as possible. But when you're on stage making people laugh, you're still acting. I think it helped me a bunch to go on stage two or three times a week. I never went to acting school, so improv was my training. Just being quick on your feet helps in everyday life. Beyond J.J. and Josh's involvement, what made you want to do the project?

I really wanted to do something like this where I could kind of flex different muscles. For me, I always want to get better whether its writing or performing on stage or acting, and I just thought this would be a wonderful place for me to really work hard. This is an opportunity that I can't believe came so early in my career and I was so excited to jump on. What else are you working on right now?

I'm writing a script for Imagine Entertainment and Brian Grazer. I sold one more script. I sold my third book a little bit ago. ... And then I perform every Sunday at 11 p.m. at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, the place where I started. I still perform for free and its one of my favorite things. It's one of the most relaxing and entertaining things that I love doing. I remember when I started at the UCB Theatre, I was taking out the garbage and taking tickets just so I could take classes, so it's such a great feeling to have a weekly show over in LA.

Undercovers airs Wednesday at 8/7c on NBC.
LA General

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