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    Is This Season of ‘Hacks’ Trolling Jerry Seinfeld?

    The comedian’s philosophies about the audience and comedy are contradicted in characterizations and plot lines on the Max series.So many movies and television series have shown us the misery of a stand-up comic bombing and the joy of a comedian killing. But skirting cliché, the entertaining third season of “Hacks,” which just concluded, dramatizes a more novel and pointed onstage moment: the crisis of success.Coming off a triumphant special, the comic Deborah Vance (played with charm and compassion by Jean Smart) is trying out new jokes and is rattled to find her audience laughing at everything, no matter how funny.Like most comics, she spent her career developing material by gauging the response of the crowd but must confront a problem familiar to superstar stand-ups. Her new fan base has disrupted that artistic process. Smart plays this realization with nuance, never dropping her performative charisma, but gradually showing surprise, and then panic at the idea that she can no longer trust her audience. This reveals the character’s sensitivity while making a contrarian case against the idea that laughter is a purely honest response.No comic has expressed faith in the crowd as often or with as much conviction as Jerry Seinfeld. He has said that his fame might buy him a few minutes of good will from an audience, but that after that, he must be funny to get a laugh. After seeing him perform many times on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, this always struck me as hard to believe. Maybe if he went onstage and read “The Great Gatsby,” as Andy Kaufman used to do, he might bomb at the Beacon Theater, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Besides being one of the most successful stand-ups alive, Seinfeld is also one of its most prolific talking heads, weighing in on the art in interviews and documentaries. Comedy, to him, is the ultimate meritocracy, perhaps second to (as he has said) the N.F.L.Seinfeld onstage at the Beacon Theater in 2015. No comic has expressed faith in the audience’s honesty as often or with as much conviction as he has.Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Baby Buggy“Hacks” (on Max) is as obsessed as Seinfeld is with the craft and politics of comedy, and it was especially obvious this past season when its episodes coincided with his epic and relentlessly news-making promotional tour for the Netflix movie “Unfrosted.” At times, the series and the star’s media appearances felt as if they were in conversation with each other, with Seinfeld philosophizing about comedy and “Hacks” providing dissents.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    Tribeca Festival: ‘Mars’ Provides Refuge for its Writers

    The comedy group The Whitest Kids U’ Know completed the project dealing with the loss of one of its founding members, Trevor Moore, who died in 2021.The animated film “Mars” — about a ragtag group of civilians visiting the red planet on a trip financed by a billionaire with an asteroid-sized ego — will premiere Thursday at the Tribeca Festival. It will mark the end to a bittersweet journey for the film’s writers that began more than a decade ago.“Mars” was written as a live-action film in 2012 by Trevor Moore, Zach Cregger and Sam Brown, the founders of the comedy group The Whitest Kids U’ Know. They met thanks to living in the same dormitory at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where they performed lots of gigs. From there came tours of the city’s comedy clubs and a television show that ran from 2007 to 2011.During the Covid-19 pandemic, they decided animation was the best way forward for the feature and opted to crowdfund the film. But in August 2021, tragedy struck when Moore died in an accident.“It did seem kind of unfathomable to complete this movie without him,” Cregger said during a recent video interview with Brown and Timmy Williams, who is also in the comedy group. They, Darren Trumeter (the fifth member of the group), and Moore, who completed his recordings before the accident, provide the voices for all the characters in “Mars.”“Trevor’s death changed everything,” Cregger said. Before Moore died, the group was having regular interactions with fans on Twitch and other social media platforms, which helped fuel interest in “Mars.” Continuing that was difficult. “When he died, it kind of became like, this hurts every time,” Cregger said. But they felt a responsibility to their fans, who helped fund the film, to complete the project.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    Michelle Buteau Takes the Lead in ‘Babes’ and on Netflix

    Once relegated to supporting roles, this comedian is a star of the film “Babes” and is moving to a bigger stage, Radio City Music Hall, for her new special.“Oh my God, are we best friends?” the comedian Michelle Buteau said, 27 seconds into meeting me.Honestly, it was a joke that felt like it could ricochet into reality. It didn’t. But that is the power of Buteau’s ebullient charisma, which telegraphs to audiences that her preternatural comic rhythm and dolled-up, side-eye style of delivery are in service of being a warmhearted bestie. To her TV, film, podcast and stand-up fans, she’s a moral center with a blue streak. “I truly, sincerely care,” she said, “about these bitches.”The B-word is one that Buteau and her friend and co-star in the new comedy “Babes,” Ilana Glazer, roll and dice into multiple syllables and meanings, in a sisterhood built on tell-it-like-it-is endearments, unfiltered but uplifting, like Buteau’s comedy.In “Babes,” which was directed by Pamela Adlon, Buteau plays an exhausted working mother of two young children, reconfiguring her life minute by minute, task by task, to accommodate her career, her family, her partner and her friendships. Also the occasional hallucinogenic trip and breast pump-destroying dance party.In real life, Buteau does that (or most of it), and is both cleareyed and funny about it: “Every day feels like a panic room — I’m just searching for the next clue.” Having 5-year-old twins with her Dutch husband, a house in the Bronx, some dogs and an ascending, multistrand career is undeniably a lot; the movie reflects that, too. “There’s no such thing as balance,” she said, during a recent lunch interview. “You do what you can, when you can.”Buteau, opposite Ilana Glazer in “Babes,” is “just a perfect comedy machine,” said the film’s director, Pamela Adlon.Gwen Capistran/Neon, via Associated PressIn the last five years, Buteau, 46, has made the leap from a 20-year stalwart of the New York comedy scene to a headliner and the star of her own scripted Netflix series, “Survival of the Thickest,” loosely based on her 2020 essay collection of the same name, and heading toward its second season. With “Babes,” now in wide release, she also moves up from the BFF and assistants she played in Ali Wong’s “Always Be My Maybe” and Jennifer Lopez’s “Marry Me,” to a lead: the movie is centered on the friendship between Glazer and Buteau’s characters. It arrives as Buteau is preparing to film her second hourlong Netflix special, “Full Heart, Tight Jeans,” on June 6 at Radio City Music Hall.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    ‘The Garfield Movie’ Review: This Feels Like Too Much Effort

    Garfield, voiced by Chris Pratt, is joined by Samuel L. Jackson as his father, in an inert big-screen adaptation that fundamentally misunderstands its protagonist.Since Garfield’s debut in the 1970s, Jim Davis’s orange tabby has become one of the most successful brands to evolve from the humble American comic strip. And fortified by a reliable stream of cartoon shows, video games and a couple of bland Bill Murray-voiced films in the early 2000s, Garfield is now one of the more enduring images of the American imagination.Even if you’ve never consumed Garfield in any prolonged form, you probably know who he is and what he represents. (Mondays: reviled. Lasagna: beloved. Effort of any kind: a fundamental misunderstanding of life.)It’s particularly odd, then, that the latest iteration of the Garfield empire, the animated “The Garfield Movie,” somehow doesn’t. The film, directed by Mark Dindal, is an inert adaptation that mostly tries to skate by on its namesake. In other words, it’s a Garfield movie that strangely doesn’t feel as if Garfield as we know him is really there at all.Part of this can be attributed to the voice — Chris Pratt, an overly spunky casting choice that was doomed from the start — but there’s also a built-in defect to the very concept of the big-screen Garfield treatment. An animated, animal-centric children’s movie tends to require a narrative structure of action-packed adventure, — the antithesis of Garfield the cat’s raison d’être.Instead, after a perfunctory origin story of Garfield’s life with his owner, Jon (Nicholas Hoult), and dog companion, Odie (Harvey Guillén), the film is quickly set into adventure mode when Garfield and Odie are kidnapped by a pair of henchman dogs working for a vengeful cat named Jinx (Hannah Waddingham). Garfield’s estranged father, Vic (Samuel L. Jackson), quickly comes to the rescue, but it’s Vic that Jinx is really after. After Jinx demands a truck full of milk as payment for a botched job she took the fall for, Vic, with Garfield and Odie in tow, are off to find a way to pay his debt.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    Black Satire Is Having Its Hollywood Moment, but Something Is Missing

    Recent releases like “American Fiction” and “The American Society of Magical Negroes” have used absurdist humor to examine race. But they have also depicted narrow views of Blackness.In 2017, Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” was a critical and commercial smash that immediately became one of the defining movies of the Trump Era. The next year, Boots Riley’s masterful “Sorry to Bother You” seemed to herald a new golden age for Black satire films. But as those movies stood out for using surreal plot twists to humorously — and horrifically — unpack complex ideas like racial appropriation and consumer culture, the crop that has followed hasn’t kept pace. The current moment is defined by a central question: What does the “Black” look like in Black satire films today? Too often lately it’s “not Black enough.”By that I mean to say a recent influx of films, including “The American Society of Magical Negroes,” “American Fiction” and “The Blackening,” have failed to represent Blackness with all its due complexity — as sometimes messy, sometimes contradictory. Instead, they flatten and simplify Blackness to serve a more singular, and thus digestible, form of satirical storytelling.The foremost example is “American Fiction,” inspired by Percival Everett’s 2001 novel “Erasure,” which won this year’s Oscar for best screenplay. In the film, a Black author and professor named Monk (played by Jeffrey Wright) finds literary success through “My Pafology,” a novel satirizing books that feed negative Black stereotypes. But Monk’s audience receives his book with earnest praise, forcing him to reconcile his newfound prosperity with his racial ethics.The surface layer of satire is obvious: The white audiences and publishing professionals who celebrate “My Pafology” do so not because of its merits but because the book allows them to fetishize another tragic Black story. It’s a performance of racial acceptance; these fans are literally buying into their own white guilt.Monk’s foil in the film is another Black author, Sintara Golden (Issa Rae), who publishes a popular book of sensationalist Black trauma about life in the ghetto. Profiting on her white audience’s racist assumptions about Blackness, Sintara is this satire’s race traitor — or so it initially seems. Because when, in one scene, Monk questions whether Sintara’s book is any different from “My Pafology,” which she dismisses as pandering, she counters that she is spotlighting an authentic Black experience. Sintara accuses Monk of snobbery, saying that his highfalutin notion of Blackness excludes other Black experiences because he is too ashamed to recognize them.But the fact that it is Sintara who voices the film’s criticism of Monk shows how loath “American Fiction” is to make a value statement on the characters’ actions within the context of their Blackness. Sintara, whom Monk catches reading “White Negroes,” a text about Black cultural appropriation, somehow isn’t winkingly framed as the hypocrite or the inauthentic one pointing out the hypocrisy and inauthenticity of the hero.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    Bo Burnham Has Turned His Absence Into Performance

    He’s managed to turn his supposed absence into a performance, whether on “The Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show” or in your social media feed.Early in his bold and vexing new reality show, Jerrod Carmichael hears a knock at the door and opens it to find a very tall man in a ski mask and goggles just standing there. He pauses to process, then concludes: “This makes sense.”Most viewers probably thought: Really? But certain comedy fans would come to a different response: Welcome back, Bo Burnham.Sure, we don’t know it’s him. On “The Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show” (HBO), this lanky masked man is referred to as Anonymous and his voice is disguised. But if this isn’t Bo Burnham, it’s a pretty good impression — or at least, one of him dressed to rob a bank.Burnham has been conspicuously quiet since rocketing to superstar status by producing one of the signal works of art about the pandemic, the 2021 musical comedy “Inside.” He dropped out of a role in a TV series and appeared in no new specials, movies or live shows. Except for “Inside” outtakes, he hasn’t shown up in any new work — until, possibly, now.Starring in three of the eight episodes, Anonymous comes off like a performance piece, half-abstraction and half-person, with no background, identity, face. He stands out more by revealing little, which is only one of the ways he’s in opposition to Carmichael, who is seen doing stand-up in short clips and having thorny, difficult conversations with his loved ones. Anonymous plays a crucial role, an exasperated ombudsman, picking apart the entire enterprise from the inside, providing a critique of its authenticity and the perils of performing for an audience.These are hallmarks of Bo Burnham’s work dating at least to his far-too-overlooked MTV sitcom, “Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous,” a satire of reality shows.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    Jean Smart of ‘Hacks’ Is Having a Third Act for the Ages

    Calling someone a “hack” is a particularly vicious insult. It implies that they have no talent or, worse, that they have wasted it. The slight is hurled early on in “Hacks,” the popular HBO series starring Jean Smart as Deborah Vance, a seasoned comedian who teams up with a younger one named Ava (Hannah Einbinder) to freshen up her act. When they meet, Ava takes stock of Deborah — her glitzy mansion, her residency at a casino in Las Vegas, a hustle selling branded merchandise on cable TV — and sees her as the definition of a hack, a sellout cashing in on her former fame. Deborah is unfazed. Amused, even. What does this kid know about her career, about years of hard work, about the unfairness, sexism and disregard? Deborah, meanwhile, sees Ava as a bit of a hack herself — an entitled and spoiled young internet persona who was canceled for posting a joke about a closeted senator. (“Sounds like a Tuesday for me,” Deborah retorts when Ava complains about it.) Deborah is a workaholic on the verge of bitter, someone who grew tired of being cut and so became a knife. She’s shameless, litigious, petty, vengeful, stubborn — qualities that become a comedic asset for the character and a narrative engine for the show. Just how far is Deborah Vance willing to go? Throughout the first two seasons, much of the drama — and delight — is in seeing Ava puncture Deborah’s carefully lacquered facade with her Gen Z earnestness and sharp wit. In one of the show’s funniest moments, Deborah bluntly asks Ava, “You a lesbian?” Ava leans back in her chair while considering the question. She responds with a treatise reflecting the identity politics of a generation raised with nonexistent boundaries and zero sexual shame, ending with a graphic description of how she orgasms. Deborah doesn’t miss a beat. “Jesus Christ!” she exclaims. “I was just wondering why you were dressed like Rachel Maddow’s mechanic!” Deborah and Ava are mirrors for each other, gifted and perspicacious performers at opposite ends of their careers, both trying to be their most audacious selves in an industry that will dispose of them the moment they cross an invisible line.Over the last three years, “Hacks” has earned its two Emmy nominations for outstanding comedy series by cultivating a polyphonic, fast-paced humor relentless as Deborah’s own quick mind. There are constant insult jokes about Ava’s appearance (“Your manicurist must use a paint roller!”); manic banter between Jimmy, Deborah’s beleaguered agent, and his delusional assistant (played brilliantly by the comedian Meg Stalter); antic bits like a seemingly poignant scene of Deborah’s daughter playing classical piano as a reflection of her gilded upbringing, before it devolves into absurdity when the music is revealed to be the theme song from “Jurassic Park.” And then there are the battles royale in which Ava and Deborah fire hilarious barbs back and forth until their frustration gives way to awe at each other’s cleverness and something like respect blooms. It’s weaponized therapy.Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart in the new season of ‘‘Hacks.’’MaxWe are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    Five Places to Visit in Toronto, With Eugene Levy

    As you might guess from the title of Eugene Levy’s latest series — “The Reluctant Traveler” — he’s a guy who’s happy to stay put.The show, now in its second season on Apple TV, follows Mr. Levy, a 77-year-old comedy legend known for his roles in “Waiting for Guffman,” “American Pie,” “Schitt’s Creek” and more, as he defies his anxieties about airports, heights, temperatures, textures and vast swaths of the animal kingdom. With great consternation, he leaves his comfort zone — Canada, as he often reminds viewers — to shadow an expert moose caller in Sweden, herd 600 sheep through a German resort town and politely avoid an octopus aboard a Greek trawler.Mr. Levy, 77, was raised in Hamilton, Ontario, about 40 miles from Toronto, but has called Toronto home since he got his big break in a 1972 theater production of “Godspell.”Heather Sten for The New York TimesRaised in Hamilton, Ontario, about 40 miles southwest of Toronto, Mr. Levy got his big break in 1972 alongside Martin Short, Gilda Radner, Victor Garber, Andrea Martin and Paul Shaffer in a celebrated production of “Godspell” at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theater. He has since called the city — and one historic, leafy neighborhood — home.“Rosedale is a residential area that is right in the heart of Toronto,” he told me over coffee at Tavern on the Green, in New York, where he’d joined the cast of the fourth season of “Only Murders in the Building.” With new skyscrapers going up “a mile a minute” in Toronto, he said, the scene from our table in Central Park looked a little like his view from Rosedale. He and his wife, Deborah Divine, are neighborhood loyalists — Avant Goût, a local bistro, has been their go-to for decades — but spots in other areas rank high, too.Here are five of Mr. Levy’s favorite places in Toronto.Terroni Bar Centrale is in Summerhill, a neighborhood bordering Rosedale, where Mr. Levy and his wife, Deborah Divine, live.Eugen Sakhnenko for The New York TimesWe are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More