Corky St. Clair returns! Guest & Co. still delight with ‘Mascots’

mascots1Christopher Guest has long been acknowledged as the master of the improv-inspired mockumentary — first as a cast member/writer of This Is Spinal Tap (which practically invented the genre), then as director in several short for Saturday Night Live and later in the classic features Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration, in which he delved into, respectively, small-town aspirations for fame, dog shows, folk music and Oscar campaigning. At the heart of all of them is the how foolishly grand people can be about the silliest dreams. They are hilarious but occasionally heartbreaking explorations of the fragility of ego.

Guest has returned again, this time with the Netflix exclusive film Mascots which, as its title suggests, is about the world of competitive mascotting: People who dress up in oversized heads and as creatures and even inanimate objects in order to excite and delight crowds in a pantomine of exaggerated enthusiasm.

I doubt mascotting contests like these exist, or exist in this way, but I don’t put it past Guest to have culled his ideas from real life. Certainly we have seen similar kinds of competitions (baby beauty shows like Toddlers and Tiaras or Little Miss Sunshine, and even at ComicCon events). But Guest is too savvy to go for the overly familiar; he can have so much more fun poking the bear when that bear is actually a furry.

Once again, Guest has assembled his stock of master actors, among them Jane Lynch, Bob Balaban, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge and Parker Posey. But best of all? Guest himself returns as Corky St. Clair, the closeted high school theater director craving his big shot in Guffman. It’s too bad that, in the comparative intimacy of your living room, you don’t get the chance to experience his return with the kind of amazement a theater audience would convey, but who cares!? Anyone who would complain about that are … bastard people!

The climax, of course, is the face-offs between the varying mascots, which calls to mind Justin Timberlake’s brilliant variation as a hip-hop dancing mascot on some SNL skits. You root for some, you pity others, but like the best of experiences, it’s the journey, not the destination, that really resonates.

Mascots, now streaming on Netflix.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Lynch, pinned

Jane Lynch has elevated the calm, withering quip to high art. Whether plying her craft in Christopher Guest mockumentaries like Best in Show or A Mighty Wind, or feature films like Talladega Nights and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, she’s become one of the most iconic comic actresses working today.

She’s also been one of the most visible gay celebrities, especially since her Emmy winning role on the hit series Glee, where she plays homophobic right wing high school coach Sue Sylvester. In September, her memoir Happy Accidents moved her influence to the written page.

Lynch, in town this week at a benefit for the Black Tie Dinner, she sat down to discuss Sue, her comic sensibility and her approach to activism.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

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Jane Lynch

Dallas Voice: You hosted the Emmys two months ago and you were a nominee. How did you juggle those competing pressures?  Jane Lynch: I really didn’t have time to think about how I was a nominee. I was focused on the moment and I was very aware that I was only the third woman [after Angela Lansbury and Ellen DeGeneres] to host the Emmys solo, and only the second lesbian.

You’re in town promoting your new book Happy Accidents. Do you feel it’s too early to write an autobiography?  Well, it’s a memoir, not an autobiography where you write about a whole life — I’m certainly not there. A memoir is instead a book about yourself built around a theme. I kept saying to my wife, I could write 15 different books. But this is the one about suffering over my suffering.

Did you write it yourself or have help?  My wife and I wrote it together — she’s definitely the co-author. [I didn’t want to use a ghost writer because] it had to sound like me. I’m not like Susan Lucci — I have a voice people know.

How did you end up working with Dallas’ Black Tie folks?  I was in Dallas before speaking at an HRC event, and I’ll tell you: You guys are organized, enthusiastic and rich. I have been getting people from here emailing me about coming back [ever since].
You very casually refer to your wife in conversation, which I think can really change the dialogue among people oppsed to same-sex marriage.  We’re very aware of that. We aren’t activists in the [overt] political way, but we let the fact we’re living our life be the example. In red carpet, people ask me about my wife now. They don’t play games referring to wife as “life partner” or “girlfriend.”

Your big break was in the Christopher Guest film Best in Show. Did working with Guest give you your comic sensibility or did having that sensibility get you the job?  Hmmm, I’m not sure. Chris Guest says he can tell within five minutes of meeting an actor [at an audition] whether they can do his stuff, and stuff like that has been cracking me up my entire life, the whole “less is more” style of comedy.

Sue Sylvester is your breakout role. How do you approach her? She seems very unlike you.  It’s all about understanding her psychology. She lives to shock. But Sue’s a warrior. It’s why she wears that track suit: It’s her uniform. She has a lieutenant in Becky; the Cheerios are her soldiers. I think of Patton when I do her. In the Madonna episode, we took a speech right out of Patton. Everything is a fight with her and she’ll create one out of whole cloth if she needs to.

I’m reading the Steve Jobs biography, and it occurs to me: He was Sue Sylvester. He lies to himself with all those false deadlines and unreasonable expectations. Everything was a fight. If he didn’t get what he wanted, he cried. Sue would never cry, but she’s suffering in her own way. Every so often she does something tender.

I think my biggest disappointment in Mr. Shuster is he keeps taking it easy on Sue and she turns on him.  Yes, for some reason, people keep forgiving her. That’s gotta end some time.

Do know what’s up for her this season?  Everything’s very late this season. Every once in a while, [creator] Ryan [Murphy] will pop in every so often and say “We’re writing some very baroque monologues for you.” We’ll see.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Vocal adrenaline

Ventriloquists are a queer bunch, as ‘Dumbstruck’ lovingly revels in

WOODEN YOU LIKE TO KNOW | Wilma, left, has a sad story related to her orientation, but finds odd comfort among vents in ‘Dumbstruck.’

3.5 out of 5 stars
DUMBSTRUCK
Rated PG. 95 mins.
Now playing at Landmark’s
Magnolia Theatre.

………………………….

An episode of Family Guy once laid out the hierarchy of the performing art as follows: “Legitimate theater, musical theater, standup, ventriloquism, magic, mime.” I’d tack on juggling, stilt-walking and swallowing flaming arrows, so I guess ventriloquism could have done worse. The point is, beyond the top 3, the list gets into novelty-act territory. Which is exactly what the documentary Dumbstruck explores.

I bet you’ve never heard of a sex scandal involving a “vent” (as they call themselves) because the work it takes to become proficient at throwing your voice aren’t exactly the height of social skills. Vents fall easily into the cliché of awkward nerds who have managed to turn their imaginary friends into careers.

Well, careers of sorts. Until Mesquite man Terry Fator won America’s Got Talent a few seasons back, the last vent you probably thought about was Waylon Flowers. He gave loveable losers hope. Fator is one of those profiled here, as well as Wilma, a woman (apparently trans, though it’s never said outright) whose life is a shambles, but who finds uncommon strength and support from her vent family.

There’s no denying the occasionally heart-warming, human moments of victory and pain, but there’s a slight sadness that creeps in as well. Director Mark Goffman is aiming for mockumentarian Christopher Guest’s tone only with real people, but the fit seems forced. (We may have to keep waiting for Goffman… to hit his stride.)

Still, it’s a quirky and at times delightful look at a fringe of entertainment that takes a lot of skill to master. You want to like these people — they need all the friends they can get.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 6, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens