Guest List

John Early and Kate Berlant Share Their 3 Favorite Tales of Hollywood Desperation

The comedy duo teases their new project while listing their favorite tales of the (failed) pursuit of fame.

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John Early and Kate Berlant are stand-up comedians, actors, and absurd video-makers. John just starred in the TV comedy “Search Party,” which wound up on a bunch of year-end “Best Of” lists. Kate nabbed a spot on Variety’s annual list of 10 Comedians To Watch.

But most importantly, they’re best friends forever until the end of time. Here they are to tell us about their latest project and their list.
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Kate Berlant: Hello. This is Kate Berlant.

John Early: Your voice is so buttery. I just wanted to congratulate you.

Kate Berlant: I know, I do have a voice for radio.

John Early: And my name is John Early, the one with the shrill voice. We made a miniseries called…

John and Kate together:555.”

Kate Berlant: Five short films. And these orbit this idea of desperation and…

John Early: People clawing their way towards fame.

Kate Berlant: Clawing towards fame, and probably never getting there.

John Early: So for our guest list, we have chosen three pieces of film and television that we love passionately that are kind of of the same oeuvre.

Kate Berlant: Wow, John, French?

John Early: Now, I wanna be clear, I don’t know what that means [laughs]. But, yeah, it’s all, they all kind of are about Hollywood hunger, Hollywood desperation.

Kate Berlant: Yes, and here they are.

“Waiting for Guffman”

Kate Berlant: You know, we should just kick it off with one of my favorite movies of all time. Changed my life when I saw it as a child. “Waiting for Guffman.” The genius Christopher Guest film.

John Early: I can imagine you as a child watching “Waiting for Guffman” and just soaking that up.

Kate Berlant: I was obsessed with it even though so many of the jokes I did not understand.

John Early: Totally.

Kate Berlant: But I was like, “This is good.” So Christopher Guest plays this regional theater director from hell. Who like, has a heart of gold.

John Early: Oh he’s so sweet.

Kate Berlant: And is just like, talks about how he’s from the big city.

Kate Berlant: A huge moment of desperation that I think about that’s kind of so heartbreaking is when Corky is assembling this cast and then he gathers them all together with this huge news, and announces that he’s received a letter from some theater in New York City and that they’re sending [a representative named Mort Guffman.]

And everyone’s like, “What’s going on? What is this mean?” And Corky turns to them and he’s like- [Clip plays where Christopher Guest as Corky says, “What it means is… we may be going to Broadway.”] And everybody freaks out.

And it just, it infuses the rest of the movie and the whole performance with this heartbreaking anticipation of what’s to come.

John Early: Because it’s shot like a proper documentary, part of the magic of watching it is you’re like, watching these completely brilliant improvisers do their thing in real time. It’s not cutting away. Their performances aren’t made in editing.

Kate Berlant: Totally.

John Early: It’s like, it’s so magical.

“Showgirls”

John Early: OK, our next pick is the iconic Paul Verhoeven, Joe Eszterhas movie “Showgirls.” It’s about this girl, Nomi Malone, played by Elizabeth Berkley of “Saved by the Bell” fame. She dances at the Cheetah, a strip club. And she gets this chance to be a showgirl, like a proper like, Las Vegas showgirl.

Kate Berlant: And it all happens so comically fast. She like, shows up, she’s like, “What am I gonna do?” And then that night she’s dancing in a show.

John Early: [It] was supposed to be this huge, sexy hit that was gonna be Elizabeth Berkley’s breakout performance but it was like, panned universally. It ruined her career because her performance is bonkers. But I think it’s one of the — and I’m not being cute — I really think it’s like one of the great performances of all time. She’s so deeply committed. There’s not a moment in her eyes where-

Kate Berlant: She does not hold back at all.

John Early: At all.

Kate Berlant: I mean, the iconic, what is it when they’re having dinner and she freaks out with the burger and the fries.

John Early: Oh yeah, I know. A lot of movies that are like so bad that it’s good are like guilty pleasures, they run out in like 30 minutes. The fun of like watching something ironically just like dissipates immediately. But “Showgirls” holds through because it actually is a well-structured movie. The cinematography is exquisite.

Kate Berlant: Also, I mean, the dancing in it is so great.

John Early: Yeah, the dancing!

Kate Berlant: It’s like truly a well-filmed dance. It’s the best. And there’s so much sweat it’s like makeup on top of sweat. And she’s just glistening.

John Early: Oh my God, I know.

Kate Berlant: It’s so good. It’s so much about Las Vegas which is this kind of ultimate example of an underbelly of Hollywood.

“The Comeback”

Kate Berlant: Number three. I’m gonna give it over to John Early ’cause this, this is a show that John Early introduced me to.

John Early: Thank you, it’s HBO’s “The Comeback.”

Kate Berlant: It’s so funny, I mean, it’s the funniest thing of all time.

John Early: It stars Lisa Kudrow in a role that she created for herself, Valerie Cherish.

John Early: And she’s this woman who is on a semi-successful sitcom and then, when reality shows are coming into being, she gets this offer to like have cameras follow her around as she kind of makes her return to the sitcom world. So it’s a reality show about her doing a new sitcom.

I think that people always come back to this trope, like the Hollywood failure success trope, because it’s just a very nice, clean metaphor for life.

Kate Berlant: I know, absolutely.

John Early: You have one shot. And like, most people don’t make it. And it’s like very comforting to watch people not make it.

Kate Berlant: It’s like, “Oh look, they’re failing. And like, it’s OK.”