By Shani R. Friedman
Last week, hosts Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas came to Brooklyn with their comedy podcast How Did This Get Made? For those like me who haven’t heard the podcast, which has done nearly 200 episodes since its 2010 start, it’s an incredulous but loving critique of really terrible movies that should not have gotten beyond the initial pitch. It’s like Mystery Science Theater 3000 but with comedians instead of robots supplying the commentary.
Fortunately for the intrepid trio, selections like the 1982 bomb Yes, Giorgio, starring opera maestro Luciano Pavarotti – which was their pick for their first show of the evening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) – inexplicably do get the green light.
The three will be familiar to anyone who has seen The League, Grace and Frankie and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Each has a distinct personality: Scheer is the patient educator, Raphael the inquisitive, contemplative one, and Mantzoukas complements their more low-key demeanors with his excitable, irate energy.
The evening began with Scheer telling the crowd they were bringing “true art to BAM” and remarked of the audience, “It’s 7:00 PM and you’re already drunk on rosé.” He polled the crowd and a surprisingly high number had seen Yes, Giorgio. The plot, such as it is: Pavarotti plays Giorgio, a married opera singer who pursues Kathryn Harrold’s Pamela, a “lady doctor” (as per the trailer), wooing her with a hot air balloon ride and food fight. Of the casting decision, Scheer said, “One day I hope to be as confident as the person who thought of Pavarotti as a romantic lead.”
The movie, surprisingly, did not lack for talent off-camera. It was written by Norman Steinberg, who co-wrote Blazing Saddles, and directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, who (no slouch) helmed Planet of the Apes, Patton, and Papillon. Schaffner didn’t direct a movie for another five years, and according to Scheer it was because he was so traumatized by the experience working on Yes, Georgio.
When Mantzoukas joined Scheer on stage, he wasted no time sharing his viewing experience, exclaiming, “This movie felt like a crime had been committed! … I felt like I was in an active blackout.”
Raphael, who had not been able to sit through the entire movie, said, “Pavarotti’s performance – if you call it that – was pixelated. I thought, ‘When this clears up I’ll get something.’ I did not.”
Scheer said it had a budget of $19 million, to which Mantzoukas responded, “To be fair, $18 million of that was for the food fight….That scene was like the anti 9 ½ Weeks.”
In examining Pavarotti’s physique, the three were kind of fatist. They showed a still of him from the back and he dwarfed the frame, such that you couldn’t see Harrold. Raphael quipped, “I appreciated that they did not show a lot of physical content.”
Curiously, they were also very incensed at the adultery. In the 90s, Pavarotti in fact left his wife of 35 years and took up with his 20-something assistant, whom he later married.
Toward the end of the show, the hosts opened it up their enthusiastic fans, which was my favourite part. Scheer went into the audience and upstairs to take questions. Their nickname for the dwellers of the upper tiers is “balcony monsters” (a coinage that adorns merchandise, much to the delight of their listeners). The questions were fairly uninspired, which seemed to only further fuel Mantzoukas’s bottomless, hilarious outrage.
The evening concluded with Second Opinions. During the regular podcast, Scheer reads from five-star Amazon reviews that are rhapsodic, sometimes poetic, and judging by the ones he read, also very funny. In tribute to Pavarotti, audience members were also invited on stage to sing their alternative opinions. Scheer initially wanted to give each person 30 seconds, which prompted Mantzoukas to become apoplectic, especially as more and more people came up. “You guys know you’re not going to get on American Idol, right?” he snarked.
There were some very talented people offering their witty assessments, including a trio of actual opera singers. Raphael, not a lover of the genre, was moved to say, “I do feel like my opinion on opera is changing.”
Though disappointed that the movie didn’t meet his high hopes, Scheer’s sentiments seemed to sum up the night and a universal philosophy nicely: “I believe in the power of song over everything.”
The second screening of the evening at BAM was Daniel Barnz’s Beastly (2011). To listen to episodes of HOW DID THIS GET MADE?, visit the show’s archive on earwolf.com. For more information, follow on Facebook.