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Interrogation: Neal Pollack

AlternadadIt seems as if Neal Pollack has turned a corner. Gone is his satirical larger-than-life, punk-rock-journalist persona of "Neal Pollack"; in its place an actual, non-quotation-marked Neal Pollack taking on a task that's even too punk rock for "America's Greatest Living Writer": Parenthood.

In his latest book Alternadad, he details the raising of his son Elijah, subsequently transforming Pollack from ordinary slacker dude to highly-sophisticated patriarch. Neal was good enough to field our questions over electrophonic-mail.

There's an inherent stand-up quality that you bring to your readings. Do you have any specific stand-ups or humorists that have influenced you throughout the years? Any current favorites?
I never really thought of myself as a standup comic. If anything, I'm an improvizer. I studied under Del Close when I lived in Chicago. Though I was at the very very bottom of a deep barrel of talent headed by the original Upright Citizens' Brigade, I still learned a lot. Improv encouraged me to display a sense of fearlessness in public. As for comedic influences, I owe a lot to the Jews: Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart, and so on...that's who I listened to when I was a kid. Plus Steve Martin. The only comedian I consistently listen to now is Mitch Hedberg. Wish he hadn't died so young.

Much of the negative reaction to your older work came from the fact that people took you too seriously, thinking you were a young punk instead of realizing that you were portraying a satirical character. Did you ever get into fights because of the reaction? If so, did you stay in character? Also, how do people react when they realize you're not such a dick?
With every book, I change my public persona a bit, kind of like Madonna, but fat, ugly, and poor. Anyone who can't see through my sham acting job isn't paying attention. Honestly, I don't even know what it means to be in character, because, like everyone else, I can be a dick sometimes. So sometimes people meet me and are surprised I'm so nice, most of time people ignore me completely, and occasionally I'm a dick to someone who didn't expect me to be a dick. As for fights, I've only been in one since grade school. That happened about three years ago when a former friend overreacted to a piece of political satire I'd written. He talked a lot of shit to me, and then I lost my temper and hit him in the face with a beer bottle. It was almost definitely the wrong thing to do, but I still found it satisfying at the time.

Alternadad is the first time you've published an actual biographical account of your life. Is this a special case, or do you think the future of Pollack Literature will head in this direction? What style (actual biography, or satirical bio) comes easier to you?
I do have at least one more dad-related autobiography in me. I feel like I've got some more stories to tell. Also, my style has improved since Alternadad, and I want to try some new tricks. But in the future, I think I'll continue to experiment with different voices. As long as I get paid, why not? I'm not interested in stagnating. I've been writing noir-ish crime stories, and I'd like to publish a short-story collection in that vein, and then some noir-ish novels. Also, I will write some other shit. And then, in a few decades, I will die.

Mike Judge's Idiocracy starts off with a montage of intelligent couples spending too much time building careers to have kids, whereas drunk rednecks without a care in the world spend all of their time having sex, ending up with dozens and dozens of kids. As the movie shows, if that pattern holds, down the line the country will be left with nothing but idiots in the gene pool. I s it the duty of intelligent folks to suck it up, put their career goals on hold for awhile, and have a baby or two for the good of future society? Or is that worry unfounded?
I don't know, dude. What about if the whole world went infertile? And what if Clive Owen weren't around to save the pregnant immigrant? Or if everyone were killed on their 30th birthday? Or if there were Western-themed robots that looked like Yul Brynner? Soylent Green is people.

Are there any happy medium TV shows for you and your son yet? When does adult swim become a viable possibility?
I tried showing him Justice League cartoons, and he liked them, but when he started having nightmares of getting eaten by giant animals, I told him that Justice League had been "cancelled." But we can watch Spongebob together sometimes (though a little bit goes a long way), and I've been showing him these Max Fleischer Superman cartoons from the 1940s. We're getting there. I don't know that he'd get a lot of the jokes on Adult Swim.

How about a quick preview for the Dodgers this season?
Balanced pitching, lots of stolen bases, no power, 85-90 wins, quick first-round playoff exit.

What else is planned for Neal Pollack in this, the Year of Alternadad?
I wouldn't say that I have "plans." More like "vague dreams."

Angelinos: See Neal perform some literary comedy at the Borders Westwood on Saturday, February 24th at 7pm as part of Romie Angelich's monthly series "Published, Produced, Or On Their Way".

A "Flight of the Conchords" Update

Flightless BirdsWhen we last heard from the musical comedy duo, Jemaine was busy making Outback commercials and Bret was, well, doing something we're sure was twice as exciting. But that doesn't mean the pair have just been resting on their New Zealand-born laurels. As the extensive FoTC fansite "What the Folk!" reports, be prepared for an onslaught of Conchordmania in 2007:

Exclusive news snippet! - The Conchords are busy in LA writing their HBO script. Yes, you know that. But did you know that it starts filming in March sometime. I don't have a definite start date, but I hear that is when Bret and Jemaine should begin filming in New York. Looking at around four months filming time for the 12 part series. Wooo!

And of that long awaited second Conchords album.... its still in the works for 2007. The guys mentioned (when letting me know about the gigs) they are busy recording at the moment, so who knows, it may well be the album they are working on. If anything new comes my way on this story, I'll be sure to share. Thanks to the guys for the album news update. I know 2007 has 11 and a bit months left, but it gives us something to look forward to Conchords wise.

To hold you over until the Conchord bombardment, here's a rendition of "Jenny" from their HBO special:


An Intimate Evening with The Bammer, Part Deux

Romance!Because of last week's dual controversy regarding the "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" show -- the first being our mistake of the exact date of the Bamford CD release party, which was corrected by the friendliest Anonymous Asshole we've ever met, virtually or otherwise; the second being the gossipy madness that ensued from Dame Tracy's first post -- we thought we owed the show one more plug this morning.

(Honestly, we just wanted an excuse to run the above MS Painted photo one more time.)

We actually happened to take in last week's show, the one we mistakenly plugged, and the show turned out to be a grand ol' time. The host triptych of Maria Bamford, Natasha Leggero and Melinda Hill were fantastic, the acoustics in the room were intimate in a fun but never-record-an-album there kind of way, and the drinks were available for purchase, as long as you had compensation in monetary form!

The best part though, and we're being serious here, was the loose atmosphere of the entire event. Watching comics yell to each other from their tables during, after, and before other performances is worth the price of admission alone, which, actually, is free. It honestly feels like a show in a comic's living room, and that's to be taken as a high compliment.

So, hell, if you got nothing else planned tonight (and really, it's a Monday after all; who has plans on Monday nights besides Hollywood socialites?) head over to Tiger Lily for The Bammer's CD release party. Guests include:

Doug Benson
Andy Kindler
Michelle Biloon
& special guests even!!

Starts at 8pm, no cover. Directions, menus and kickin' beats are available at the Tiger Lily Restaurant website.

General Dispatches from The Groundlings 


From time to time, Miss Dorien Davies will be allowing us a secret glimpse into her life as she takes the Advanced level course at The Groundlings. This is the first of her dispatches.

Last week I started Advanced at the Groundlings. It's the final class in the school's curriculum where I've been actively studying since 2003. So, and I just realized this, I've been doing Groundlings as long as I spent in college.

The program has levels: Basic, Intermediate, Writing Lab and Advanced. Basic and Intermediate cover Improv and Character work. Once you've passed Intermediate the wait is sometimes as long as two years until you can take Writing Lab, which focuses almost solely on sketch writing. After Lab the wait to get into Advanced is often long. I think it's because the upper levels of the school involve performances and teachers and theatre time are limited. I've heard that the queues are getting shorter in recent months because they've added another audition between Intermediate and Lab, knocking even more people off the list. But in the mean time, you can take electives, which include some of the best classes offered in LA. No one who has taken it will deny that Ted Michael's Long Form Improv class is one of the best classes around.

You can only become a Groundling if you make it through all the levels of the school, get into the Sunday Company, get renewed three times, and get chosen to become a Groundling. There are plenty of cutoffs. If you have to take Intermediate more than twice, you can't go any higher. If you don't pass your Lab audition twice, you can't go any higher. If you don't pass Lab, you can't retake it. And if the Groundlings vote doesn't go your way in your Advanced show, then you're done.

Groundlings is a tough school. Anyone who tells you otherwise is an idiot or an absolute comic genius. Honestly, it's the most challenging thing that I've done as an actor in L.A. And consequently, because I've invested so much in it, it's very close to my heart.

Advanced is the end of the road for me as far as the school is concerned, and I've got mixed feelings. Part of me is honored to have been able to make it though the whole program, and I'm satisfied with that because so many people don't make it this far. But part of me is really hoping that I kick crazy ass in our two shows and make it into the Sunday Company. Regardless of the outcome, I realize that the only thing I can do is write like a mad fool, listen to the notes my teacher gives me, and commit to my choices as if my life depended on it.

My teacher, by the way, is pretty intimidating. Fantastic teacher, but she never lets anything slide. She will never tell you that something is good to save your feelings. She won't even be polite. But honestly, she puts up good shows and I respect her opinion implicitly. At Groundlings, the job of your Advanced teacher is to showcase you in the best possible light to the Groundlings Company which is important because, after that, the company votes on whether to invite you into the Sunday Company, or say goodbye for good.

When I walked into the theatre on Sunday morning, I had six new sketches that I had co-written with other members of my class. It's kind of a trial-by-fire. You don't pitch your sketches, you actually put them up on their feet in front of everyone and the teacher gives you notes. I was lucky to have some strong performers to work with to compensate for my own nervousness.

Groundlings sketches are often character based. I'm realizing that it's hard to commit to six brand new characters, one after another. I think I kind of spaced out after putting a few of them up. Not to mention that my teacher will yell things like "Is it over yet?" and "Oh god!" in the middle of your sketch. But you know what, she's never wrong. The responses are always deserved. It's really what everyone else is thinking anyway, just not what they're saying. I'd rather know when I'm sucking. I'm realizing that it's not about ego, it's about putting up your best show and learning how it's done. Honestly, I'd have it no other way.

One of the sketches that I put up was a disaster. We sang "Kung Foo Fighting" while I interjected comments about how racist the song was. It got an "Okay, what was that?" comment. So that idea was trashed, but some of the others had a twinkle of promise. This week I'm tackling five rewrites and bringing in 6-7 new sketches. Some people bring in even more, but I haven't figured out how that's even physically possible with my day job and performing in two improv show a week.

More and more, drugs are beginning to make sense.

Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job Premieres Sunday Night!


From AST News comes a personal reminder from Bob Odenkirk to watch Sunday night's premiere of "Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!":

It's got new levels of absurdity not seen on American TV since American TV first re-ran British TV in the 70's. You cannot believe the great and inspired kookiness they perpetrate.

Read the rest here.

The show starts at 11:45pm on Cartoon Network, or [adult swim] if you want to get technical. We saw the premiere episode -- at least, we think it was the premiere; it had John C. Reilly in it in any case -- at the UCB one night, and we can't recommend the show enough. It has a certain style that might not be for everyone (crusty grandparents, children under 3 months, rabid fish), but if you enjoy the frantically awkward pacing of "Tom Goes To The Mayor", you'll love this even more.

To prepare yourself for the momentous occasion, we recommend spending the entire weekend consuming the rubbery-faced wackiness of the gentlemen duo over at their website.