Weekly proof that bad cinema is an endless font of hilarity, June Diane Raphael (Blockers), Paul Scheer (Veep) and Jason Mantzoukas's (The Good Place) movie-roasting podcast How Did This Get Made? celebrates misguided auteurs and actors with gentle mockery and genuine puzzlement.
Rolling through Denver for the first time, as headliners of one of the High Plains Comedy Festival's Paramount Theatre showcases, Scheer, Mantzoukas and Raphael will present a double feature of filmic garbage with a pair of episodes focused on two of John Travolta's most perplexing films: Look Who's Talking Too and Swordfish.
Ahead of the show, Westword caught up with Scheer and Mantzoukas to discuss good-bad movies, the joy of live shows and the strange allure of John Travolta.
Westword: How did you get involved with the High Plains Comedy Festival?
Paul Scheer: Unfortunately, I wish I had a better story. We just tour around, and they reached out to us to come to do it. We've heard it's a really fun festival with a lot of great comedians, so we jumped on board.
Jason Mantzoukas: Because of festivals, we've been getting to go to really fun cities that we wouldn't get to play in otherwise. I'm really excited to play Denver.
It's your first time coming through town all together, right?
Mantzoukas and Scheer [in unison]: Yes.
How did you settle on the Travolta double feature of Look Who’s Talking Too and Swordfish for your Paramount Theatre shows?
Scheer: You know, I think nothing says "Denver" more than a John Travolta double feature. We want to bring our A-game, and I think Travolta may be the most-viewed person on How Did This Get Made?, and we wanted to bring a classic.
Mantzoukas: And you know, Travolta is synonymous with Denver. Everybody knows that. So it felt like that was the move.
Scheer: And just, like, Denver, when you get near John Travolta, you can get altitude sickness because...
Mantzoukas: ...because his star is so high.
Scheer: It can really affect you.
Mantzoukas: People call him "The Mile High Star."
I've heard that. It's funny: I was just about to ask which actor had been featured the most on the podcast. You're saying it's definitely Travolta?
Scheer: I believe that it is Travolta. At this point, anyway.
Mantzoukas: I believe that our Mount Rushmore would also include Nicolas Cage and Sylvester Stallone, as well.
Scheer: That's it, exactly. If we did a non-ironic Mount Rushmore, it'd also have The Rock and Jason Statham on it.
Which episodes would you recommend to new listeners?
Scheer: How Did This Get Made? is a show where we talk about bad movies. And I think everyone has had that experience where you turn on cable or go to a movie and you're just like, "What is this?" So we suggest that you just find a movie you've already seen in our library of available episodes. That's probably the best way in. We find that most people who listen to our show don't watch the movies because it's a painful experience. But it's best to find something that connects to you. There are people who grew up on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but when they listen to the episode, they'll admit that it probably wasn't as good as they remember. But, yeah, listening to us talk about a movie you have a personal connection to is probably the best way in for new listeners, rather than just telling you what our favorite episodes are.
Mantzoukas: And we do lots of different kinds of movies. We'll do anything from The Room, Birdemic and Miami Connection — these, like, sub-B-grade movies — all the way to the Twilight movies and the Fast and Furious movies, big-budget Hollywood stuff. So whatever kind of movie resonates with you, I think you'll enjoy our take on it.
Scheer: Yeah. We've done 189 episodes, which is crazy, and I think some of our most recent ones have been some of the most fun. We just did a movie called Yes, Giorgio, which was Pavarotti's first and only acting role.
I had no idea that even existed.
Mantzoukas: We didn't, either.
Scheer: We also did a more recent film called Geostorm, with Gerard Butler, which is about a satellite that goes nuts and causes a geo storm on planet earth.
Butler's gotta be edging closer to being on your Mount Rushmore, right? He does exclusively bad movies.
Scheer: Gerard's definitely in the running. If we had a four-person monument, he'd be on it.
Mantzoukas: He's one of our rising stars.
Not quite Mile High yet?
Of all your podcast subjects, which movies would you most willingly watch again?
Scheer: Wow, that's a good question.
Mantzoukas: Of the ones we've already watched, you mean?
Yeah. Which films have been more enjoyable than the premise of the show would suggest?
Scheer: For me, I'd say that there's a difference between bad movies that are not fun to watch and then there are bad movies that you want to show everyone. Miami Connection, and one that we did for the episode that came out on Friday called Never Too Young to Die are two of my recent favorites. Never Too Young to Die is about the son of a James Bond-like character played by John Stamos and a villain played by Gene Simmons. Nobody famous is in Miami Connection, but it's all about karate and rock and roll.
Mantzoukas: Both of those were great for me, as well. Mostly because I had never heard of them prior to watching, and they both just really delivered. I went from zero to obsessed in like a second. The Sleepaway Camp episode is really funny, so I might enjoy watching that again as a pleasant reminder of the time we spent discussing it. For me, those are the most fun.
And which would you be most unwilling to watch again?
Mantzoukas: What was the one with Milla Jovovich?
Mantzoukas: Ultraviolent? Oh, Ultraviolet. It was just a lot of bad CGI effects, but most important, it just wasn't any fun, you know? It was kinda boring the whole time; it never kicked into being a fun exercise.
Scheer: Yeah, sometimes we get hit a little harder with that sort of stuff. Sometimes we do a good job. I would say that I didn't particularly love Gods of Egypt.
What kind of movie makes for a better podcast subject — a sincere but misguided failure, or just incompetent filmmaking?
Mantzoukas: I think, luckily for us, it's both. They both yield movies that give you a lot to dig into and try to figure out. They both come from a place of overindulgence, which gives us lots to talk about.
You’ve roasted a couple movies where the stars or creators were present. Does that have any influence on what sort of jokes you’d be willing to make?
Scheer: I don't think so. We're really just inviting the guests to come have fun. We've been lucky enough to have Vanilla Ice and Lexi Alexander (the director of Punisher: War Zone) come in and have fun talking with us. Honestly, Vanilla Ice barely remembers shooting Cool as Ice, but talking to Lexi was really interesting. We got to hear all about what her original vision was, and how it eventually got sort of lost in translation and she ended up having to make all these compromises. I think having someone like that in makes us attack the show in a different way, because they're there for a reason.
Mantzoukas: And I also think that in general, we try to make it fun for everybody. We celebrate these bad movies. We're not trying to take anybody down or tear anyone apart. I feel like we don't change anything even when someone involved with the movie is in the room with us. We're not really going after people. One of the things I like about our show, and why I think it's gotten quite popular, is that we're not mean or cynical as hosts. I think we're having a good time and celebrating something, so it doesn't feel destructive.
From what I gather, national treasure Nicolas Cage is not a fan of the show. What’s the origin of the beef, and do you think you could ever convince him to appear on an episode?
Scheer: That may have been a misprint on some level. I actually did a movie with Nicolas Cage [Army of One], and I don't even think he knows that podcasts exist. He's the type of guy — and this is true of all of his movies we've talked about — he's always the most interesting part of whatever he's in. His performing choices make everything he does worth watching; I think no other performer commits like him. In his latest movie, Mom and Dad, he basically breaks apart a pool table with his hands. There's just no one else like him.
Mantzoukas: Oh, yeah. I sincerely doubt Nicolas Cage has ever heard of our program, but if he had, I do think he'd absolutely be willing to come on.
He seems willing to show up in a lot of things.
Scheer: I'm honestly not even sure if he knows that TV exists. He lives a very interesting life. He's a true artist.
I read somewhere that the genesis of the podcast came from watching Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Seriously, what the fuck is going on in that movie?
Mantzoukas: Thank God that movie was as confounding as it was, because it led to this two-hour conversation at a party that eventually inspired the podcast. It was impenetrable, that movie.
Scheer: It's also a perfect example of a cash-grab sequel. We're living in a time of endless reboots and sequels, and I think it's tricky to know what people want to see. And that movie picked the weirdest way to try and tell that story again.
Mantzoukas: It came out so long ago that I barely remember it now. Thank God.
This next question is for Paul, though I encourage Jason to chime in with his commentary.
Mantzoukas: Nice. I can't wait to chime in.
Why did you choose critic Amy Nicholson as the co-host of your good-movie podcast, Unspooled?
Scheer: You know, I was looking to do a podcast about the best movies ever made, because I hadn't seen a bunch of these films. So it started out as me wanting to educate myself, and I thought it would be a fun journey to go on with an audience who, like me, hasn't seen many of these important films. And instead of having two other comedians on with me, I wanted the show to be more educational. I'd worked with Amy in the past, and she's got such a great sense of humor, but she's also a huge film nerd. It's been kind of fantastic; when we talk about a movie, she attacks from all these angles I'd never even think of. Her writing is kind of in the style of Pauline Kael, where she can find things she likes about movies she hates. She finds new ways to dig into a lot movies that people don't like. She really offers a unique point of view, and I have a lot of fun doing the show with her.
Do either of you have any projects coming up on the horizon or anything else you’d like to mention before we wrap up the interview?
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Scheer: Well, yeah. There is something I wanted to say about the live show. Going to the How Did This Get Made? live show is a completely different experience than listening to the podcast. We really cater to our live audiences in an insane way. We open up the floor for questions so people in the audience can participate in the show. Jason, June and I will go out into the crowd and field questions. We lead a sing-a-long of the "Second Opinion Song." The episodes we record at live shows only contain about 70 percent of what actually happened. We usually cut out about thirty minutes of the show that are just special moments for the live audience. It really is a unique experience. You're not just coming to watch us sitting on a stage and discussing a movie; you're part of the show. That's the most fun thing about it for me. It feels like a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Only you and a handful of other people are going to see the whole show.
Mantzoukas: And have that experience. Every show is unique, and one of the main reasons I'm excited to come to Denver is that the shows give us a sense of the city we're in. Podcasting is something that most people consume individually, on their headphones or in their car, but this brings a whole room of people together to watch it communally and participate. There's a real raucous, fun energy to these shows, and I'm excited to see what Denver's going to bring to the table.
Scheer: We encourage people to come in costume.
Scheer, Mantzoukas and Raphael will be appearing at 7 and 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 25, at the Paramount Theatre. Visit the High Plains Comedy Festival schedule to buy tickets, $45, and learn more.