Review: ‘Hotel Transylvania: Transformania,’ starring the voices of Brian Hull, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Brad Abrell, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key and Kathryn Hahn

January 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

Blobby (voiced by Genndy Tartakovsky), Wanda (voiced by Molly Shannon), Wayne (voiced by Steve Buscemi), Griffin the Invisible Man (voiced by David Spade), Ericka (voiced by Kathryn Hahn), Dracula (voiced by Brian Hull), Jonathan (voiced by Andy Samberg), Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez), Frank (voice by Brad Abrell), Eunice (voiced by Fran Drescher), Murray (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) with (pictured at far right, in the front row) Dennis (voiced by Asher Blinkoff) and Winnie (voiced by Zoe Berri) in “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” (Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation/Amazon Content Services)

“Hotel Transylvania: Transformania”

Directed by Derek Drymon and Jennifer Kluska

Culture Representation: Taking place in Transylvania and South America, the animated film “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one African American and two Latinos) depicting monsters and humans.

Culture Clash: Count Dracula is ready to retire and pass Hotel Transylvania along to his daughter Mavis, but a mishap with Van Helsing’s invention changes Mavis’ human husband Johnny into a monster and Dracula and his monster friends into humans.

Culture Audience: Aside from obviously appealing to “Hotel Transylvania” movie series fans, “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in lightweight animated films with cliché-ridden and predictable plots.

Johnny (voiced by Andy Samberg) and Van Helsing (voicd by Jim Gaffigan) in “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” (Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation/Amazon Content Services)

It’s never really a good sign when a movie studio takes a sequel film from one of its most popular franchise series and sells it to a streaming service. It usually means that the movie is considered not commercially appealing enough for the studio to release the film. It’s also not a good sign when two of franchise’s biggest stars decide not to be part of this sequel.

That’s what happened when Sony Pictures Animation dumped “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” (the fourth movie in the “Hotel Transylvania” hotel series) by selling it to Amazon, which is releasing it on Prime Video. (China is the only country where Sony will release the film in theaters.) It’s easy to see why Sony thought this movie was substandard. It’s also easy to see why original “Hotel Transylvania” franchise stars Adam Sandler and Kevin James took a hard pass on being involved in this movie, whether it was because they weren’t going to paid what they wanted and/or legal issues. (Sandler and James both have lucrative movie deals with Netflix.)

Genndy Tartakovsky—who directed the first three “Hotel Transylvania” movies and co-wrote 2018’s “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation”—co-wrote “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” with Amos Vernon and Nunzio Randazzo. The first two movies in the series are 2012’s “Hotel Transylvania” and 2015’s “Hotel Transylvania 2.” Derek Drymon and Jennifer Kluskais directed “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania,” which is not a completely terrible movie. But in terms of its story, the movie is lazy and not very interesting.

As the fourth movie in the series, “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” had the potential to go on an original adventure with the franchise’s well-established characters. Instead, the movie is filled with over-used clichés that have already been in other films. “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” is essentially a not-very-funny comedy with this not-very-original concept: Two characters with opposite personalities are forced to travel together and find out how much they have to rely on each other in order to reach a shared goal. Relationships and characters that could have been developed are ignored or shoved to the margins of the story. The ending of the movie is also kind of weak and abrupt.

“Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” is also one of those sequels that doesn’t adequately explain some of the backstories of some of the main characters. If people need to watch one movie to prepare for “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania,” it should be “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation.” That’s the movie that introduced monster hunters Van Helsing (voiced by Jim Gaffigan) and his sassy great-granddaughter Ericka (voiced by Kathryn Hahn), who started off as enemies to the “Hotel Transylvania” protagonists and ended up becoming their friends. And in Ericka’s case, more than friends, because she and widower Count Dracula fell in love with each other.

The voice of Count Dracula was originated by Sandler in the first three “Hotel Transylvania” movies. In “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania,” Dracula (voiced by Brian Hull) and Ericka (who is a human) are now happily married, but it’s barely explained in this sequel how they got together. The prejudice between monsters and humans, which fueled much of the conflicts in the previous “Hotel Transylvania” movies, is only used as a flimsy plot device in “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania.” Dracula’s vampire daughter Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez) is married to a human named Jonathan, nicknamed Johnny (voiced by Andy Samberg), who’s had a hard time getting reluctant acceptance from Dracula, who thinks Johnny is too goofy for practical-minded Mavis.

But now that Dracula is married to a human, “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” does not do anything to explore this new aspect of Dracula’s life. Instead, the movie’s story goes back to Dracula disapproving of Johnny, which was the basis of the first “Hotel Transylvania” movie, when Johnny and Mavis began dating and fell in love with each other. In “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania,” Johnny and Mavis have been married for several years and have a son named Dennis (voiced by Asher Blinkoff), who is about 8 or 9 years old and who has very little screen time in the movie.

In “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania,” Dracula still owns and operates Hotel Transylvania (a hotel for monsters), but he wants to retire so that he can have more time to spend with Ericka. Dracula has decided that he is going to give ownership of the hotel to Mavis and Johnny. Mavis, who has hearing superpowers, overhears Dracula telling Ericka about his retirement plans, which he says he’s going to announce at the hotel’s 125th anniversary celebration.

Mavis is excited to find out that she and Johnny will be taking over ownership of the hotel. She tells Johnny, who’s also elated. Johnny immediately comes up with ideas of how he’s going to change the hotel.

When Johnny enthusiastically shares these ideas with Dracula, his father-in-law is so turned off, he changes his mind about wanting Johnny to co-own the hotel. Instead of telling the truth about why he changed his mind, Dracula lies to Johnny by telling him that there’s an ancient law that says hotels for monsters can only be owned by monsters. At the hotel’s 125th anniversary party, Dracula lies to everyone and says his big announcement is that the hotel will get a new restroom in the lobby.

A dismayed Johnny then asks for help from Van Helsing, who has been living as a retired eccentric who tinkers with inventions. Van Helsing has an invention called a Monsterfication Ray, which can turn humans into random monsters. The device looks like a long ray gun with a giant crystal as its source of power. Van Helsing uses the Monsterfication Ray on Johnny, who is turned into a giant green monster resembling a dragon. Even though his physical appearance has drastically changed, Johnny has the same personality, and he can still talk like a human.

Dracula is furious about Johnny’s transformation into a monster because he still doesn’t want to give Johnny ownership of the hotel. And so, Dracula angrily goes over to Van Helsing’s place to take the Monsterfication Ray and use it to turn Johnny back into a human. But the plan backfires when Dracula shoots the Monsterfication Ray at Johnny, the lasers on the ray ricochet off walls, and the rays accidentally hit Dracula, who turns into a human being as a result. Much to Dracula’s horror, he is now looks and feels like an old man, with a balding head, a stomach paunch and weaker physical strength.

Dracula’s four closest monster friends—good-natured Frankenstein (voiced by Brad Abrell, replacing James in the role), worrisome werewolf Wayne (voiced by Steve Buscemi), fun-loving mummy Murray (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) and sarcastic invisible man Griffin (voiced by David Spade)—have all witnessed this debacle. Dracula is terrified about Mavis finding out about him turning into a human and Johnny into a monster. Dracula orders his friends not to tell Mavis.

Somehow, when Dracula used the Monsterfication Ray, the device got broken, and the crystal no longer works. Van Helsing says that the crystals used for the Monsterfication Ray are extremely rare. Through a tracking device, Van Helsing finds out that the nearest crystal is in South America. Guess where Dracula and Johnny are going for most of the movie?

Meanwhile, a poorly written part of the movie has Frankenstein, Wayne, Murray and Griffin turning into humans too. It’s shown in an awkward scene where the hotel’s DJ—a green blob called Blobby (voiced by Tartakovsky)—gives the four pals a drink that has something in it which automatically turns them into humans. Blobby consumes the drink too, but he’s just turn to a green gelatin mold.

Frankenstein changes into a vain “hunk” with a tall and muscular body, Wayne transforms into a very hairy man, and Murray becomes an old man with rolls of body flab. Griffin is exposed as someone who only wore eyeglasses, so he’s naked the entire time that he’s human. Griffin’s nakedness is used for some dimwitted comedy in the movie.

Just like Dracula and Murray, Griffin is horrified that he looks old and out-of-shape as a human. This movie has not-so-subtle and problematic messages that looking like an elderly human being is a terrible fate that should be avoided at all costs. It’s the closest reason to explain why Frankenstein suddenly becomes an egotistical jerk over how he looks as a young and virile human being. This drastic personality change still comes across as too phony, and it doesn’t serve the story very well.

Mavis, Ericka, Frankenstein’s shrewish wife Eunice (voiced by Fran Drescher) and Wayne’s loving wife Wanda (voiced by Molly Shannon) find out that Dracula and Johnny have gone to South America. And so, Mavis, Ericka, Eunice, Wanda, Frankenstein, Wayne, Murray, Griffin and several of Wayne and Wanda’s werewolf kids go to South America to find Johnny and Dracula. It’s never really explained why some but not all of the werewolf kids (Wayne and Wanda have dozens of children) are along for the ride or why these kids even need to be there in the first place.

Meanwhile, much of “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” shows repetitive mishaps that Dracula and Johnny go through as they wander around Amazon River areas in South America in search of the crystal. Dracula has a hard time adjusting to life as a human. He no longer has to fear being in the sunlight, but he’s frustrated that he gets tired, thirsty and sweaty on this grueling trip. When he jumps into a waterfall that Johnny warns could be dangerous, Dracula gets bitten by several piranhas and is shocked that he can’t recover quickly from these injuries.

Johnny is the same cheerful goofball, but he still gets on Dracula’s nerves. Dracula is also jealous that Johnny now has more physical strength than Dracula does. It goes on and on like this for too long in the movie. As an example of how “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” stretches out the banality, there’s a scene with Johnny singing a Spanish version of Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” during a bus ride that Johnny and Dracula take with some local people. It’s intended to be hilarious, but it just comes across as dull and cringeworthy.

Visually, “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” does nothing special, although the movie makes good use of vibrant hues in the outdoor South America scenes. The cast members’ performances are adequate. Thankfully, movie clocks in at just 98 minutes, but the story is filled with too many recycled tropes of two opposite personalities stuck together on a road trip; the hunt for a treasured item; and the central characters being chased by people who want to find them.

“Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” doesn’t have much use for the adult female characters, who basically just worry about and react to what their husbands are doing. And because Dracula is separated from his four closest monster pals for most of the movie, that friendship rapport is largely missing from “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania.” This rapport was one of the highlights of previous “Hotel Transylvania” movies.

The movie shows almost nothing about what Dracula is like as a grandfather to Dennis. Wayne and Wanda have a daughter named Winnie (voiced by Zoe Berri, replacing Sadie Sandler in the role), who is Dennis’ best friend/love interest, but that relationship is also essentially ignored in the movie. Instead, some the werewolf children, who do not have names or individual personalities, get unnecessary screen time when they tag along during the trip to South America.

Some people might enjoy “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” if they want to see another “Hotel Transylvania” movie about Dracula and Johnny trying to navigate their tension-filled relationship. “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” is being marketed as the final movie in the “Hotel Transylvania” series. If that’s true, then the “Hotel Transylvania” movie series is going out with a toothless whimper, not a bang.

Prime Video premiered “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” on January 14, 2022.

Review: ‘The Wrong Missy,’ starring David Spade, Lauren Lapkus, Nick Swardson, Geoff Pierson, Jackie Sandler, Molly Sims and Rob Schneider

May 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

David Spade and Lauren Lapkus in “The Wrong Missy” (Photo by Katrina Marcinowski/Netflix)

“The Wrong Missy”

Directed by Tyler Spindel

Culture Representation: Taking place in Hawaii and Portland, Oregon, “The Wrong Missy” is a comedy with a predominantly white cast (with a few Asians, Latinos and African Americans) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A lovelorn, middle-aged bank executive mistakenly invites a “blind date from hell” to be his companion at a corporate retreat.

Culture Audience: “The Wrong Missy” will appeal mostly to people who like very raunchy comedies and David Spade.

David Spade and Molly Sims in “The Wrong Missy” (Photo by Katrina Marcinowski/Netflix)

Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions has been making comedy films for Netflix for the past several years, with varying levels of quality—from mediocre to terrible. “The Wrong Missy” falls on the mediocre end of the scale, and maybe it’s because Sandler isn’t a star or writer of the movie.

Except for 2019’s award-winning drama “Uncut Gems,” Sandler hasn’t been a good movie in decades. Still, there are signs that Sandler’s influence is all over “The Wrong Missy,” since the movie has plenty of jokes and gags about vomiting and other bodily functions. And several of Sandler’s relatives (his wife Jackie Sandler; his wife’s brother Chris Titone; and his nephew Jared Sandler) all have roles in the film, as do frequent Sandler collaborators David Spade, Nick Swardson and Rob Schneider.

In “The Wrong Missy,” Spade stars as bank executive Tim Morris, who is nursing a broken heart after his ex-fiancée cheated on him. Tim (who lives and works in Portland, Oregon) has reluctantly gotten back in the dating pool again. In the beginning of the film, he’s going to a restaurant/bar to meet a blind date in person.

His date texts him that she’s at the bar wearing a blue dress, but that a “meathead” is giving her a lot of rude and unwanted attention. She asks Tim to help her get away from this jerk. Tim sees that there’s only one woman (played by Candace Smith) wearing a blue dress at the bar, and she’s sitting next to a tall and muscular guy (played by Joe “Roman Reigns” Anoai), who strongly resembles actor Jason Momoa.

When Tim tries to get the woman (who’s pregnant) to leave the bar and sit with Tim at his table, the guy tells Tim to get lost because the woman is with him. Tim insists that the woman leave with him, and the man gets up and threatens to fight Tim and have management get involved. Not wanting to make a scene, Tim backs off and sits at his table, confused over what just happened.

Just then, his blind date Melissa, who goes by the name Missy (played by Lauren Lapkus), shows up at the table and admits that she played a prank on Tim and that he passed with flying colors. She tells Tim that she usually plays this prank on blind dates she’s meeting for the first time, as a test to see how far they would go to get in a fight for her.

It’s clear from Missy’s loud, over-the-top and pushy demeanor that she has no social graces and is very unaware of how embarrassing her behavior is. The date goes from bad to worse, when Missy keeps badgering Tim about him being a teetotaler, as she seems fully intent on getting drunk. Missy then gets belligerent with the couple at the bar, which causes Tim to feel even more humiliated.

Tim makes an excuse to go to the men’s restroom, but as he tries to escape through the window, Missy unexpectedly surprises him by coming out from underneath one of the bathroom stalls. (How she got there so quickly is one of those “only in a movie” situations that require a certain suspension of disbelief.) Tim is too nice to hurt her feelings and reveal that he was trying to escape from the date, but he privately vows never to see Missy again.

While he’s in an airport to go on a business trip, Tim and a beautiful blonde (played by Molly Sims) accidentally bump into each other. As he’s about to board his plane, Tim realizes that he accidentally has the woman’s carry-on bag, which is identical to his. He sees from the name tag that the woman’s name is Melissa Doherty.

As Tim frantically looks for her, he sees her in the waiting area, and they give each other their bags back with a lot of relief. Tim and Melissa strike up a conversation at the bar, since they’ve both missed their flights. During their conversation, they find out they have a lot of things in common: They’re both teetotalers, they both like the same types of music, and they’re both even reading the same book (James Patterson’s “Cross the Line”), which they have tucked in their carry-on bags.

Their attraction to each other leads them to have a spontaneous makeout session in a janitor’s closet at the airport. But their intimate encounter is interrupted because Melissa’s flight is boarding, so they quickly exchange numbers and promise to keep in touch with each other. For the first time in a long time, Tim think he’s might have found true love. During their texting sessions, Tim also finds out that she has a sexually adventurous side because she immediately asks him to send photos of his penis, which he does to comical results.

Meanwhile, back at his job, the bank that Tim works for (the fictional Credit of America) is going through some major changes. A merger has resulted in an abrasive and arrogant new CEO named Jack Winstone (played by Geoff Pierson) taking over, and he’s looking for a new president of the company. Tim’s nosy co-worker pal Nate (played by Nick Swardson), who works in the bank’s human resources department, tells Tim that he’s on the short list to be promoted to president. Tim’s biggest competition is co-worker Jess (played by Jackie Sandler), who’s nicknamed “The Barracuda” because she has a reputation for being ruthless.

Tim tells Nate about his memorable airport encounter with Melissa and how they’ve been “dating” by phone texting until they can see each other in person again. They look her up on the Internet and find out that she was a star student-athlete at Georgetown University (where she graduated summa cum laude in 2002) and that she was Miss Maryland in 2009. Nate encourages Tim to invite Melissa to the company’s upcoming corporate retreat in Hawaii.

Tim is very reluctant to make this offer, since he thinks the relationship is too new for this type of invitation. But Tim eventually changes his mind, and his invitation is eagerly accepted. Nate arranges for Melissa to be on the trip, by booking her on the plane seat next to Tim and making sure that she’s booked to stay in Tim’s hotel suite.

But when Tim is on the plane for the trip, he sees to his horror that “the wrong Missy” is the one who got the invitation. Somehow, Tim made the dumb mistake of texting “the wrong Missy” the entire time. And now he’s stuck with the Missy who was the “date from hell” for the entire trip. She tricks Tim into taking an animal tranquilizer by literally shoving it in his mouth.

She’s also very horny and not afraid to show it, since Tim wakes up to Missy sexually fondling him with her hand underneath a blanket. Missy later uses a similar tactic to have sexual intercourse with Tim, when he wakes up to find her on top of him in bed. It says a lot about the double standards in society when a woman sexually assaulting a man in this way is used as comedy in a movie, whereas if the genders were reversed, there would be a lot of public outcry and controversy over this content.

Although “The Wrong Missy” has a lot of bawdy predictability, what makes this film stand out from other Sandler-produced comedies is the gleefully unhinged performance of Lapkus, who could pass for a taller, brasher younger sister of Kristen Schaal. Missy is such a train wreck, especially when she’s drunk and stoned, that much of the film is about Tim being humiliated by her antics and trying to clean up messes that Missy makes. Missy is also a non-stop talker—at one point in the movie, Tim calls her a “blabalanche,” as in a combination of a blabbermouth and an avalanche.

And wouldn’t you know, Tim’s ex-fiancée Julia (played by Sarah Chalke) works for the company too, so she’s also on this corporate retreat. Tim and Missy have an awkward meeting in the hotel lobby with Julia and her good-looking but conceited new man Rich (played by Chris Witaske), who also works for the company. Rich is the guy whom Julia cheated with when she was engaged to Tim, and the infidelity led to Tim and Julia breaking up.

Before the trip, Tim had been bragging to his co-workers about Missy’s beauty and accomplishments. But now that he’s stuck with “the wrong Missy,” much of the movie is about Tim trying to convince his co-workers that the Missy who’s with him is the same Missy he told them about, because his pride won’t let him admit that he made a dumb mistake in this identity mix-up.

Schneider has a supporting role as a reckless boat captain named Komante, a loopy burnout who encounters the group when his boat is charted by the company for an outing in the ocean. Head honcho Jack, who wants to prove to his employees that he’s a tough alpha male, insists on going in the water for shark sighting. And, predictably, he insists that a reluctant and frightened Tim go with him. Missy doesn’t help matters, because she berates Tim into going shark sighting with his boss, thereby further embarrassing Tim in front of his co-workers. There are some very slapstick moments in this scene that involves chum and vomit, further establishing Missy as a walking nightmare.

There’s also a somewhat silly subplot where Missy has skills as a hypnotist, which she uses on Jack to improve his marriage and change how he perceives Tim and Jess. This subplot is intended to show that as crazy-acting as Missy is, deep down she has a heart of gold, is a lot more emotionally intelligent than she first appears to be, and she really does care about true love.

Some of the gags in the movie work pretty well for some genuinely funny moments, such as the opening “blind date” scene and another physically comedic scene involving a sexual threesome with Tim, Missy and another woman on the retreat. (This review won’t reveal the spoiler info about who the other woman is.) Meanwhile, other scenes don’t work at all, such as a scene with the employees participating in a talent show during the retreat and a scene with a hypnotized Jack thinking that he’s a mermaid and insisting on interviewing Tim (who’s also dressed as a mermaid) and Jess in the ocean.

And what about the Missy whom Tim think is his Ms. Right? Tim tries to frantically get her to come to the retreat anyway, but she says she can’t because of work obligations. When she does show up toward the end of the movie, the results are very predictable.

And there’s a random cameo from Vanilla Ice. It’s a scene that will probably be funniest to people in Vanilla Ice’s and Adam Sandler’s generation (Generation X), who remember when Vanilla Ice went from being the hottest rap star in pop music to being a laughingstock has-been when he was exposed for lying about having a “street cred” background.

Spade doesn’t really do anything new in this movie that he hasn’t done already in several other films, since he often plays the “horrified straight man” to a wacky comedic partner. “The Wrong Missy” screenplay by Chris Pappas and Kevin Barnett also won’t be a considered a classic in the subgenre of raunchy romantic comedies. The movie has its best moments mostly because of the eye-catching and memorable talent of Lapkus, who seems to have above-average improv skills. “The Wrong Missy” can definitely be considered a breakout movie role that could lead to better things for her.

Netflix premiered “The Wrong Missy” on May 13, 2020.

Review: ‘Call Your Mother,’ starring David Spade, Louie Anderson, Awkwafina, Roy Wood Jr., Norm Macdonald, Kristen Schaal, Bridget Everett and Fortune Feimster

May 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

David Spade and his mother, Judy Todd, in “Call Your Mother” (Photo by Jenna Rosher/Comedy Central)

“Call Your Mother”

Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady

Culture Representation: The documentary “Call Your Mother” features a racially diverse (white, African American and Asian) group of mostly American comedians talking about how their mothers have affected their lives, with some of the comedians’ mothers also participating in the documentary,.

Culture Clash: Some of the comedians describe having nonconformist or dysfunctional childhoods that are often used as material for their stand-up comedy acts.

Culture Audience: “Call Your Mother” will appeal primarily to people who want to learn more about the family backgrounds of some well-known comedians.

Louie Anderson with a picture of his mother, Ora Zella Anderson, in “Call Your Mother” (Photo by Alex Takats/Comedy Central)

If you ask any stand-up comedian who’s the family member most likely to inspire material for their stand-up comedy act, chances are the comedian will answer, “My mother.” With that in mind, the documentary “Call Your Mother” interviews a variety of comedians (and some of their mothers) to talk about how with these mother-child relationships have affected the comedians’ lives. Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, “Call Your Mother” might not have a deep impact on society, but it accomplishes what it intends to do. The film is a mostly light-hearted, sometimes emotionally moving and occasionally raunchy ride that will give some psychological insight into how and why these comedians ended up where they are now.

“Call Your Mother” includes interviews with a notable list of comedians (almost all of them are American), including Louie Anderson, Awkwafina, Jimmy Carr, Bridget Everett, Fortune Feimster, Rachel Feinstein, Judah Friedlander, Jim Gaffigan, Judy Gold, Jen Kirkman, Jo Koy, Bobby Lee, the Lucas Brothers, Norm Macdonald, Jim Norton, Tig Notaro, Yvonne Orji, Kristen Schaal, David Spade and Roy Wood Jr.

In some cases, the mothers of these comedians are interviewed alongside their comedic children: Everett, Feimster, Schaal, Spade and Wood all have wisecracking moments with their mothers, who are also shown in the audiences while their children are on stage, as well as backstage or at home. Former “Saturday Night Live” star Macdonald is also interviewed with his mother.  (For whatever reason, no Latino comedians are in the documentary, which is a shame, because there are many Latino comedians who talk about their mothers in their stand-up acts.)

Bridget Everett’s mother, Freddie Everett, is memorable for being as foul-mouthed and crude as Bridget. (Freddie even gives the middle finger to the camera, but all in good fun.) Bridget Everett says, “My mother is really one of a kind. She’s the person you meet that you never forget. She can be kind of mean, but somehow she gets away with it.”

Bridget continues, “She’s got a real naughty streak in her,” when describing how her mother was the type to wear very revealing outfits in places where it would be inappropriate for a woman’s breasts to be openly displayed. “There’s something really liberating about that in a small, conservative town.”

Like many of the comedians interviewed in this documentary, Bridget Everett is a child of divorce. After her parents’ divorce, her mother Freddie (who raised six kids) would take a pre-teen Bridget with her to stalk her ex-husband, mainly to see if he was dating anyone new or other reasons to spy on his post-divorce love life.

Bridget remembers her mother telling her to look in windows and report what she saw to her mother. These experiences are part of Bridget Everett’s stand-up act.  And just like her mother used to do when she was young, Bridget Everett dresses in cleavage-baring outfits on stage. “My mom pulses through my performance,” she says. “It’s really a tribute to her.”

British comedian Carr says although his mother “was the funny person in the house,” she often suffered from depression. He turned to comedy to help cheer her up. He says of stand-up comedians: “Most of us come from unhappy childhoods.”

Fans of Louie Anderson already know about how he grew up in a home with an abusive, alcoholic father and a loving mother, because he’s used his childhood as joke material in his stand-up act for years. In the documentary, Anderson (who’s been doing stand-up comedy since 1978) says that he started out doing self-deprecating fat jokes, but he eventually switched to mostly jokes about his family when he saw that it got a stronger reaction from audiences. He also says that dressing in drag for his Christine Baskets character in the FX comedy series “Baskets” was a tribute to his mother, Ora Zella Anderson.

Anderson believes that there’s a reason why so many stand-up comedians come from dysfunctional, often abusive households: “I think comics are about control. They’re trying to control the whole situation, because we had no control growing up.”

Anderson also echoes what most stand-up comedians said in Comedy Central’s documentary “This Is Stand-Up” about gravitating to stand-up comedy because it was their way of being the center of attention and getting unconditional love from people, even if it’s for the limited time that the comedians are on stage.

Spade is another child of divorce. His father left his mother when he was a child, and he says it had long-lasting effects on him and undying respect for his mother, Judy Todd. “My mom is very positive and upbeat and also very funny and clever.”

Todd is seen visiting the set of her son’s talk show “Lights Out With David Spade” on her 82nd birthday, where the audience shouts “Happy Birthday” to her, and she’s invited on stage with the interview guests. Todd is somewhat “normal,” compared to what other comedians have to say about their mothers. She’s almost downright reserved, since she doesn’t do anything to embarrass her son.

The same can’t be said for what comedians Koy, Lee and Gold have to say about their mothers, whose cringeworthy mothering techniques have been fodder for much of these two comedians’ stand-up comedy acts. Koy, who was raised by his divorced Filipino mother, Josie Harrison, remembers how his outspoken mother would inflict terror on anyone who would dare to criticize him.

Bobby Lee talks about how his Korean immigrant mother, Jeanie Lee, used to call his name to get his attention, just so she could fart in front of him. And when they would go to a shopping mall, she would encourage Lee and his younger brother to play in the shopping-mall fountain, while she would take a nap on the floor in a store. Lee, who is a recovering alcoholic/drug addict, also claims that his mother was fairly good-natured about his multiple trips to rehab, whereas most other mothers would be horrified or ashamed. He describes a moment during a family rehab meeting where his mother got the family to laugh so hard in what was supposed to be a serious gathering, they almost got kicked out of the meeting.

Judy Gold says in the documentary that she had the quintessential nagging, over-protective Jewish mother, Ruth Gold, who liked to leave long, demanding phone messages. Gold’s mother passed away in 2015, but Gold still plays some of her mother’s phone messages in her stand-up comedy act. She also plays some of the phone messages in the documentary and remembers that she did not get much overt affection from her parents when she was growing up.

Gold also says that her parents weren’t the type to hug their children and say, “I love you.” Instead, in her family, people would be rewarded based on whoever did the best to “one-up” the others with a quip. Still, Gold says that toward the end of her mother’s life, she did express her love more openly, and she shares an emotionally touching memory of what happened the last time she spoke with her mother.

One of the issues that the documentary covers is how mothers react when they find out that their children want to be professional comedians. Roy Wood Jr. says it was a very uncomfortable experience for him, since he had dropped out of Florida A&M University after being put on probation for shoplifting. He secretly started doing stand-up comedy in 1999, and when he told his mother, Joyce Dugan Wood, that he wanted to do stand-up comedy full-time, she was very upset.

“She definitely felt my priorities were in the wrong place,” he says. So, in order to please his mother, Roy went back to Florida A&M. And when he graduated, he gave his mother the plaque of the college degree that “I didn’t need” and began pursuing a full-time comedy career. Now that he’s become a successful comedian (including a stint as a correspondent on “The Daily Show”), Wood says of his mother’s approval: “These days, I feel supported.”

When comedian/actress Awkwafina (whose real name is Nora Lum) was 4 years old, her mother died, so when she was growing up, her paternal grandmother was Awkwafina’s main mother figure. While most people in Awkwafina’s family had expectations for her to going into a traditional profession, her paternal grandmother encouraged Awkwafina to pursue her dreams in entertainment.

Although many of these comedians say vulgar things about their families in their stand-up acts, the documentary shows that a lot of stand-up comedians have a soft spot for their mothers and like to hang out with them. Kristen Schaal and her look-alike mother, Pam Schaal, are seen shopping together at a fabric store. Norm Macdonald and his mother, Ferne Macdonald, play Scrabble and golf together. Wood’s mother Joyce accompanies him to a tuxedo fitting.

But not all of these mother-child moments are warm and fuzzy. Some of the comedians, such as Norton and Spade, admit to changing their shows to being less offensive and less raunchy if they know their mothers are going to be in the audience.

Norton says that he’s felt uncomfortable at times when his sex life (which he talks about in his stand-up comedy routine) is a topic of conversation with his mother. Norton remembers how after he did a stand-up show where he talked about his experiences of hiring hookers, he got a call from his mother suggesting that he join a gym to meet new people and improve his dating life. (In the documentary, he even plays the voice mail from 2001 to prove it.)

As for talking about their mothers in their stand-up comedy acts, Koy says that it was hard for him to do at first, but his mother and the rest of his family have gotten used to it. Feinstein says about her mother: “She likes it when I impersonate her. She gets upset if I don’t.”

Fortune Feimster says something similar, in an interview seated next her mother, Ginger Feimster: “She would rather me talk about her and be the center of attention than me not talk about her at all,” Fortune says. “She’s a good sport and she likes the attention.” Ginger Feimster says in response, “That is so true.”

Whether these comedians’ relationships with their mothers have been good or not-so-good, one thing that most people can agree on is a sentiment that Gold expresses in the movie that is a tried and true cliché: “There’s nothing like a mother’s love.” And at the very least, this documentary might inspire people to get in touch with their mothers to express gratitude if their mothering wasn’t a complete disaster.

Comedy Central premiered “Call Your Mother” on May 10, 2020.

Kate Spade commits suicide; award-winning fashion designer was 55

June 5, 2018

by Jennifer Taft

Fashion designer Kate Spade has committed suicide by hanging. She was 55. According to the Associated Press, Spade was found dead by her housekeeper in her New York apartment the morning of June 5, 2018. She reportedly hanged herself with a red scarf and left behind a suicide note saying that her 13-year-old daughter, Frances Valentine, should not feel guilty over the death. At the time of the suicide, Frances Valentine was reportedly at school, while Kate’s husband Andy was at their home in another room.

Kate Spade (whose maiden name was Brosnahan) was an accessories editor at Condé Nast before she decided to become a fashion designer. She married Andy Spade (the brother of actor David Spade) in 1994, the year after the couple founded the fashion company Kate Spade New York, which was followed by the men’s brand Jack Spade. The Kate Spade New York brand became known for its accessories (especially handbags) and then women’s clothing.

In 1999, the Spades sold 56 percent of Kate Spade New York to Neiman Marcus for $34 million, and sold the remaining share to the company in 2006 for a reported $59 million.  Kate Spade New York was sold again in 2017 to Coach’s Tapestry Inc. for $2.4 billion.  The Kate Spade New York brand currently has 315 stores around the world, including 140 in the United States.

In 2015, Kate launched another fashion brand, Frances Valentine, named after her only child.

Besides being the sister-in-law of David Spade, Kate Spade was also the aunt of actress Rachel Brosnahan, who stars in the Amazon series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

A Kate Spade New York representative issued this statement: “We at Kate Spade New York just learned of the incredibly sad news that Kate Spade has passed. Although Kate has not been affiliated with the brand for more than a decade, she and her husband and creative partner, Andy, were the founders of our beloved brand. Kate will be dearly missed. Our thoughts are with Andy and the entire Spade family at this time.”

The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) awarded Kate Spade with two prizes: America’s New Fashion Talent in Accessories in 1996 and Best Accessory Designer of the Year in 1998.

CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg and CFDA CEO Steven Kolb issued this statement: “The CFDA is devastated to hear the news of our friend, colleague, and CFDA member Kate Spade’s tragic passing. She was a great talent who had an immeasurable impact on American fashion and the way the world viewed American accessories. We want to honor her life and her major contribution to the fashion business and express our most sincere condolences to the family.”

June 6, 2018 UPDATE:

Andy Spade issued this public statement: “Kate was the most beautiful woman in the world. She was the kindest person I’ve ever known and my best friend for 35 years. My daughter and I are devastated by her loss, and can’t even begin to fathom life without her. We are deeply heartbroken and miss her already,” Andy’s statement began. “Kate suffered from depression and anxiety for many years. She was actively seeking help and working closely with her doctors to treat her disease, one that takes far too many lives. We were in touch with her the night before and she sounded happy. There was no indication and no warning that she would do this. It was a complete shock. And it clearly wasn’t her. There were personal demons she was battling.

“For the past 10 months we had been living separately, but within a few blocks of each other … We ate many meals together as a family and continued to vacation together as a family. Our daughter was our priority. We were not legally separated, and never even discussed divorce. We were best friends trying to work through our problems in the best way we knew how. We were together for 35 years. We loved each other very much and simply needed a break.”

“This is the truth. Anything else that is out there right now is false. [Kate] was actively seeking help for depression and anxiety over the last 5 years, seeing a doctor on a regular basis and taking medication for both depression and anxiety. There was no substance or alcohol abuse. There were no business problems. We loved creating our businesses together. We were co-parenting our beautiful daughter. I have yet to see any note left behind and am appalled that a private message to my daughter has been so heartlessly shared with the media,” the statement concluded. “My main concern is Bea and protecting her privacy as she deals with the unimaginable grief of losing her mother. Kate loved Bea so very much.”

Kate Spade’s brother Earl Brosnahan has also released a statement: “We are grateful for the incredible outpouring of love and support the family has received over the last few days. We should all remember the beauty and joy that Kate brought to this world. But it is sad and very hurtful, given the pain the family is enduring, that people with no real knowledge of the situation are leaking false, speculative information that maligns Kate’s character and belittles the health issues she bravely fought. We once again ask that the family’s privacy be respected during this challenging time.”

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