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13 Fast Facts About Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

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Two years before they reunited for Step Brothers, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly discovered they made a great comedic duo in 2006's Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, directed by Adam McKay and co-written by Ferrell and McKay.

Ferrell played popular NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby, with Reilly as Cal Naughton Jr., the "bake" to Bobby's "shake," who didn't mind coming in second to give Bobby the win. Ten years after the film's release, here are 13 fast facts about Talladega Nights.

1. IT WAS MOLLY SHANNON WHO INTRODUCED WILL FERRELL TO JOHN C. REILLY.

In an interview with About Entertainment, John C. Reilly said that he was introduced to Will Ferrell "through my friend Molly Shannon and we just hit it off right away. That friendship bled into the relationship in [Talladega Nights], I guess." Originally, the friends has planned to work together on Anchorman, but Reilly was shooting another film. "That was a real heartbreak for me because I thought that was the chance to work with Will and Adam," he said. "Lo and behold, they put this together and called me."

2. FERRELL AND ADAM MCKAY HAD WANTED TO MAKE A NASCAR MOVIE FOR YEARS.

The two had talked about NASCAR while Ferrell was making Elf (2003). Then they went to a race. "We weren’t even huge NASCAR fans at the time, but after we started going to the track, we got swept up in the phenomenon," McKay said.

3. THEY PITCHED IT WITH SIX WORDS.

McKay and Ferrell used just six words to pitch the movie to studios: "Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver." Sony said yes.

4. NASCAR ADDED JOKES.

NASCAR helped with accuracy and getting production access to real racing events. Producer Judd Apatow remembered that "some guy at NASCAR would pitch us a better joke than we had, and then we were embarrassed that they could ride cars at 150 miles per hour and be funnier than us."

5. REILLY BASED HIS LOOK ON DRIVERS FROM THE 1960s and 1970s.

While Reilly was trying to figure out the look of Cal Naughton Jr., he looked at pictures of contemporary drivers. They looked "clean cut," but when he looked through a book about the history of the sport, he saw something he liked—facial hair. "Big muttonchops, sideburns and crazy facial hair. They look like they’re doing a bit of partying off the track, and a little paunchy," Reilly explained. "And I thought, those are the guys I want to base my thing on, the ones that were running away from the feds when they were trying to hide their stills up in the mountains."

6. THEY PRACTICED RACING FOR REAL.

Instructors at the Richard Petty Driving Experience helped Ferrell, Reilly, and Sacha Baron Cohen learn the fundamentals of racing. “The first thing they do is have you ride shotgun with a real NASCAR driver at about 180 miles an hour around the track, Baron Cohen said. " It was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life."

When McKay, Ferrell, and Reilly went to school, they all insisted on getting off the track after riding in a van for just one lap. "The scene where Ricky comes back and thinks he's going fast, but he's really only going 25 miles per hour, totally terrified. That was pretty much based on real-life experience," Ferrell later admitted.

7. REILLY WANTED TO RECREATE A SCENE FROM DAYS OF THUNDER.

"The one scene from Days of Thunder that I wanted to recreate in Talladega Nights was when Robert Duvall ([as] Harry Hogge) is alone with the car and talking to it at night like it's a person," Reilly said. "It gets almost inappropriate. 'I'm gonna buff you out and pump you full of high octane, baby' ... We were going to shoot a scene where I was talking and rubbing and then getting way too intimate with the car, but it didn't make it. That was probably for the best."

8. 200,000 RACING FANS INSTINCTIVELY BOOED SACHA BARON COHEN'S CHARACTER.

Ferrell, Reilly, and Baron Cohen were introduced in character at the 2005 UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. When Baron Cohen's character, Jean Girard, was introduced, 200,000 fans booed. McKay was worried Baron Cohen would get depressed after that, but it didn't surprise the comedic actor. "It reminded me of the last time I went to Alabama, when I was playing a gay Austrian character for [Da Ali G Show] and was booed by 90,000 drunken men at the Alabama-Mississippi football game," he explained. "The only way I got out alive was by switching clothes with the sound man.”

9. THE KNIVES IN THE LEG SCENE KEPT GETTING LONGER AND LONGER.

"The knife in the leg is a bit that in no way serves the story, but we thought it was funny," McKay said. "So we tried a small version of it and we got a big laugh. 'Oh wait a minute, let’s add more of that.' It got more laughs. 'Let’s add way more of that.' We used the sequence with the second knife—it’s out of focus, you can tell it looks awful, but we said, ‘Screw it, we’re putting it in anyway!’ Suddenly it’s the funniest set piece in the movie."

It was Michael Clarke Duncan's idea to put in the second knife. "I used to work at the gas company and when you get your drill bits stuck in the concrete you just take it out and go get another drill bit and dig around that one and take it out, so that is where I got that line from."

10. MICHAEL CLARKE DUNCAN NEVER THOUGHT HIS SINGING WOULD MAKE THE FINAL CUT.

McKay told Duncan to sing something by Donna Summer. "Last Dance" was the only song he could think of. "I thought it was going to be on the DVD," Duncan said. "I thought nobody will see it for at least a couple of months." It made the final theatrical cut, during the closing credits.

11. MCKAY WAS WORRIED THE MOVIE WASN'T CRAZY ENOUGH.

McKay asked his wife if they made the movie "crazy enough." "Are you frickin’ kidding me?" was the start of her response. "'Look what you have in this movie,’ and she named like eight things: Sacha Baron Cohen breaks [Will’s] arm because he won’t say ‘I love crepes’? They have a song on the bar jukebox for profiling purposes? So yeah, I think we did a pretty good job of taking a step forward without losing too much of what we do."

12. FERRELL'S FATHER WROTE AND PERFORMED A SONG IN THE FILM.

Roy Lee Ferrell played saxophone, piano, and keyboards for the Righteous Brothers for almost 20 years. He wrote "Goodbye Cowboy" for Talladega Nights. "Having my dad's song in the movie is neat because it's not like I said, 'Hey, put my dad's song in the movie,'" Ferrell said. "It was the director (Adam McKay) and the other creative decision-makers that wanted to include it, so that is so satisfying for both me and my dad."

13. THE ACTORS RECORDED AN INTERESTING DVD TRACK.

One DVD commentary is set in the year 2031 to celebrate the movie's 25th anniversary. In their version of events, the film changed history. Now a militia leader, Reilly called in from the "island state" of Michigan.

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12 Things You Might Not Know About MAD Magazine
Mad Magazine
Mad Magazine

As fast as popular culture could erect wholesome depictions of American life in comics, television, or movies, MAD Magazine was there to tear them all down. A near-instant success for EC Comics upon its debut in 1952, the magazine has inspired generations of comedians for its pioneering satirical attitude and tasteful booger jokes. This month, DC Entertainment is relaunching an "all new" MAD, skewering pop culture on a bimonthly basis and in full color. To fill the gaps in your knowledge, take a look at these facts about the Usual Gang of Idiots.

1. NO ONE KNOWS WHO CAME UP WITH ALFRED E. NEUMAN.


Jamie, Flickr (L) // Boston Public Library, Flickr (R) // CC BY 2.0

MAD creator Harvey Kurtzman was in the offices of a Ballantine Books editor discussing reprints for the fledgling publication when he noticed a grinning, gap-toothed imbecile staring back at him from a bulletin board. The unnamed figure was ubiquitous in the early 20th century, appearing in everything from dentistry ads to depictions of diseases. A charmed Kurtzman adopted him as MAD’s mascot beginning in 1954. Neuman later become so recognizable that a letter was delivered from New Zealand to MAD’s New York offices without an address: The envelope simply had a drawing of Alfred.

2. THEY HAD TO APOLOGIZE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.

MAD was conceived during a particularly sensitive time for the comics industry, with parents and watchdog groups concerned over content. (It didn't switch to a magazine format until issue #24.) Kurtzman usually knew where the line was, but when he was laid up with acute hepatitis in 1952, publisher William Gaines and others had to step in for him. Gaines thought it would be funny to offer a fictional biography of himself that detailed his father’s Communist leanings, his past as a dope dealer “near nursery schools,” and bouts of pyromania. When wholesalers were shocked at the content and threatened to boycott all of his titles, Gaines was forced to write a letter of apology.

3. THEY PREDICTED JOHN F. KENNEDY'S ELECTION IN 1960.

But it was a cheat. In the run-up to the 1960 Presidential election, MAD printed a cover that featured Neuman congratulating Kennedy on his victory with a caption that read, “We were with you all the way, Jack!” But the issue was shipped long before votes had been tabulated. The secret? It was a dual cover. Flip it over and Neuman is celebrating Richard Nixon’s appointment to office. Stores were told to display the “right” side of the magazine depending on the outcome.

4. ALFRED BRIEFLY HAD A GIRLFRIEND.


MAD Magazine

A character named Moxie Cowznofski was introduced in the late 1950s as a female companion for Alfred. She made only a handful of cover appearances, possibly due to the fact she looked alarmingly like her significant other.

5. THEY DIDN'T RUN ANY (REAL) ADS FOR 44 YEARS.

From the beginning, Gaines felt that printing actual advertisements next to the products they were lampooning would not only dilute their edge but seem more than a little hypocritical. After some back-and-forth, MAD cut ads starting in 1957. The decision was a costly one—most print publications survive on such revenue—but led to the magazine’s keeping a sharp knife against the throat of seductive advertising, including cigarettes. Faced with dwindling circulation in 2001, MAD finally relented and began taking ads to help pay for a switch to color printing.

6. "SPY VS. SPY" WAS CREATED BY A SUSPECTED SPY.

Cuban cartoonist Antonio Prohias was disenchanted with the regime under Fidel Castro when he began working on what would become “Spy vs. Spy.” Because Prohias’s other newspaper illustrations were critical of Castro, the Cuban government suspected him of working for the CIA. He wasn’t, but the perception had him worried harm might come to his co-workers. To get out of the situation, Prohias came to America in 1960. With his daughter helping translate, he stopped by MAD’s New York offices and submitted his work; his sneaky, triangle-headed spies became regulars.

7. THERE WAS ONE FOLD-IN THEY WOULDN'T RUN.

Artist Al Jaffee, now 94, has been with MAD almost from the beginning. He created the famous Fold-In—the back cover that reveals a new picture when doubled over—in 1964 after seeing the fold-outs in magazines like National Geographic, Playboy, and Life. Jaffee has rarely missed an issue since—but editors backtracked on one of Jaffee’s works that referenced a mass shooting in 2013. Citing poor taste, they destroyed over 600,000 copies.

8. THEIR MOVIE WAS A DISASTER.

With the exception of Fox’s successful sketch series, 1994’s MAD TV, attempts to translate the MAD brand into other media have been underwhelming: A 1974 animated special didn’t even make it on air. But a 1980 film venture, a military school spoof directed by Robert Downey, Sr. titled Mad Presents Up the Academy, was so awful William Gaines demanded to have their name taken off of it. (Renamed Up the Academy, the DVD release of the movie still features someone sporting an Alfred E. Neuman mask; MAD parodied it in a spoof titled “Throw Up the Academy.”)

9. THE APRIL 1974 COVER HAD PEOPLE FLIPPING.


MAD Magazine

MAD has never made a habit of good taste, but a depiction of a raised middle finger for one issue in the mid-’70s caused a huge stir. Many stores wouldn’t stock it for fear of offending customers, and the company ended up accepting an irregular number of returns. Gaines took to his typewriter to write a letter of apology. Again. The relaunched #1, out in April 2018, pays homage to this cover, though it's slightly more tasteful: Neuman is picking his nose with his middle finger.

10. THEY INVENTED A SPORT.

MAD writer Tom Koch was amused by the convoluted rules of sports and attempted to one-up them in 43-Man Squamish, a game he invented for the April 1965 issue. Koch and artist George Woodbridge (“MAD’s Athletic Council”) prepared a guide that was utterly incomprehensible—the field was to have five sides, positions included Deep Brooders and Dummies, “interfering with the Wicket Men” constituted a penalty—but it amused high school and college readers enough to try and mount their own games. (Short on players? Try 2-Man Squamish: “The rules are identical,” Koch wrote, “except the object of the game is to lose.”) For the less physically inclined, MAD also issued a board game in which the goal is to lose all of your money.

11. WEIRD AL WAS A GUEST EDITOR.

In what must be some kind of fulfilled prophecy, lyrical satirist “Weird” Al Yankovic was named as a guest editor—their first—for the magazine’s May 2015 issue. Yankovic told Entertainment Weekly that MAD had put him on “the dark, twisted path to becoming who I am today … I needed to pollute my mind with that kind of stuff.” In addition to his collaborations with the staff, Yankovic enlisted Patton Oswalt, Seth Green, and Chris Hardwick to contribute.

12. FRED ASTAIRE ONCE DANCED AS ALFRED E. NEUMAN.

In a scene so surreal even MAD’s irreverent editors would have had trouble dreaming it up, Fred Astaire decided to sport an Alfred E. Neuman mask for a dance number in his 1959 television special, Another Evening with Fred Astaire. No one seems to recall why exactly Astaire would do this—he may have just wanted to include a popular cultural reference—but it was no off-the-cuff decision. Astaire hired movie make-up veteran John Chambers (Planet of the Apes) to craft a credible mask of Neuman. The result is … well, kind of disturbing. But it’s a fitting addition to a long tradition of people going completely MAD.

Additional Sources:
Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created Mad and Revolutionized Humor in America.

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10 Forking Facts About The Good Place
Colleen Hayes, NBC
Colleen Hayes, NBC

On September 19, 2016, NBC started airing the comedy The Good Place, an unusual sitcom about dead people who have been sent to the heaven-like The Good Place. Kristen Bell stars as Eleanor, who should be in The Bad Place (hell) but mistakenly got sent to the former. Michael (Ted Danson) is the architect of The Good Place, and his job is to pit (and torture) some of the members against one other, including the namedropping Tahani (Jameela Jamil), the at-first silent monk Jianyu, who’s later revealed to be a dimwitted DJ named Jason (Manny Jacinto), the indecisive ethics professor Chidi (William Jackson Harper), and the Siri-esque Janet (D’Arcy Carden).

[Spoiler alert!] The season one finale dropped a bombshell on the audience—Eleanor and company had been living in The Bad Place all this time. Season two showed the characters grappling with the situation and trying to become better people so that they can eventually end up in the real Good Place. Showrunner Michael Schur—who co-created Parks and Recreationtold The Hollywood Reporter the show isn’t about one religion’s interpretation of the afterlife; he said it’s about ethics. “It is very flatly stated that this is not any one religion,” he said. “Spiritual and ethical is how I thought of it.” Academics Todd May and Pamela Hieronymi consult on the show, like on “The Trolley Problem” episode.

As you await the arrival of season three later this year, here are 10 forking facts about the enlightened sitcom.

1. MICHAEL SCHUR USED REAL-LIFE “ANNOYING BEHAVIOR” TO CREATE THE PREMISE.

In an interview with Marketplace, Schur said after Parks and Recreaction finished he found himself driving around L.A. and observing “a lot of annoying behavior, as you do.” He saw people rudely cutting others off in traffic and people littering. Disgusted, he created a game he’d play with himself, based on points. “Like if anyone was keeping score—‘What you did right there, sir, cutting me off in traffic, you just lost eight points,’” Schur said. “And I started thinking about a world where actions have actual point values that can be measured and analyzed and broken down, and that led me to the afterlife. And I thought what if it’s a game and the people with high scores get into the good place and people with the lowest scores get into the bad place.”

2. LOST AND THE LEFTOVERS INSPIRED THE SHOW.

Schur admitted The Leftovers impressed him so much that he coerced his agent to set up a meeting for him with Damon Lindelof, one of the creators of Leftovers and Lost. Over breakfast, Schur asked Lindelof if his pitch for The Good Place was anything good. “Damon Lindelof saying, ‘This is something’ is the reason that show exists,” Schur told Vulture. “So thank him, if you like it.”

Schur told Lindelof about the season one twist, and Lindelof helped Schur with the scenarios. “I needed a person who is conversant in the language of science fiction or genre writing, which I am not, to say to me, ‘Here are some things that are gonna happen that are dangerous. Here’s what’s gonna happen, here’s how to avoid it.’ So that was a huge part of how I operated going forward.” Schur paid homage to Lindelof to the point that the show is littered with Easter eggs, including a photo labeled October 14, 1972—October 14th is the date of the departure in The Leftovers.

3. BECAUSE A 16-YEAR-OLD NAILED THE AUDITION, D’ARCY CARDEN DIDN’T THINK SHE’D GET THE ROLE.

Ted Danson and D'Arcy Carden in 'The Good Place'
Colleen Hayes, NBC

D'Arcy Carden, a member of sketch comedy group the Upright Citizens Brigade, had wanted to work for Schur. So when she got the email for the audition, she prepared. She didn’t think she’d get the part, though, and had even considered quitting acting. She was intimidated to audition in front of Schur and executive-producer Drew Goddard. “But for some reason, the second I walked in, they were calm and smiling and laughing and it felt very comfortable,” Carden told GQ. “It felt too comfortable, because I was expecting, I don’t know, snobby a**hole Hollywood dudes? But they were very cool. I walked out feeling, ‘Sh*t, that was actually the best.’”

A 16-year-old boy also auditioned for the part of Janet. “So they really didn’t know what they wanted,” Carden said. “A 16-year-old boy! Who, by the way, is a genius. When I saw him, I remember texting a friend who had done a movie with him and I was like, ‘I’m auditioning after him. Why am I even here? He’s of course going to get it.’” But Carden got cast as Janet, a role she said is “shocking to me that it was so difficult” to play, because Carden doesn’t have emotions or much to react to.

4. SCHUR NAMED MICHAEL AFTER AN ARCHANGEL.

When Schur wrote the pilot he didn’t know what to name Ted Danson’s character, so he wrote in “Ted.” However, while taking a tour of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, he discovered the archangel Michael, “the angel who weighs people’s souls and decides whether their souls are good or bad,” Schur told Vulture. “I was like, ‘What’s the name of that archangel?’ And the tour guide said, ‘That’s archangel Michael.’ And I was like, ‘Well, that’s the answer.’ The answer is that he’s named Michael because in the world of the afterlife that makes perfect sense.” Schur said people commented on how the character is also his name. “Immediately, everybody was like, ‘Oh this is an interesting meta-commentary on the creative process because the main character has the same name as the guy who created the show,’” Schur said. At first he thought it was a silly assumption but later realized “maybe they’re right.”

5. MANNY JACINTO BELIEVES HIS CHARACTER SUBVERTS ASIAN TV STEREOTYPES.

Vulture asked Manny Jacinto if he thought “Jason subverts stereotypes” and Jacinto said he thought so. “I think when they were coming up with Jason/Jianyu, they were trying to figure out something different and one of the things that popped up was that you don’t really see a lot of dumb Asian guys on mainstream television,” he said. “He’s usually intelligent or the model minority. I’m not saying playing Jason is pioneering, but it’s so great for me to do because it’s not a stereotype.” Jacinto liked the fact his characters weren’t just the IT guy. “And I’ve had my fair share of those, so I guess you just have to go through the ranks before you get to be Jason Mendoza.”

6. KRISTEN BELL NOW USES ETHICS WHEN DEBATING WITH PEOPLE.

Kristen Bell in 'The Good Place'
Colleen Hayes, NBC

“The subject matter is ethics, all the things we need to fix,” Bell told the Los Angeles Times. “Earth’s current bad mood—it’s all in this show.” She explained she takes lessons taught in The Good Place and adapts them in her conversations. “Everyone is debating something nowadays, and now, I can actually say at a dinner party: ‘Well, I disagree with that because, you know in moral particularism, cited by [British philosopher] Jonathan Dancy’—like, I actually have a sound argument as to why I believe certain things.”

7. TED DANSON IS "THE BIGGEST CHILD" OF ALL ON THE SET.

Manny Jacinto told Vulture an on-set story of a time Danson ate Swedish Fish in an unconventional manner. “I don’t know if this was a party trick or if it just came to him on the spot, but he was able to eat the Swedish Fish through his mouth, take a piece of it, and then snort it through his nose like a booger,” Jacinto said. “Witnessing that moment right there was like, ‘Oh my goodness, if anything, Ted Danson is Jason Mendoza. He’s just the biggest child out of all of us.’ I just remember that, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment, Ted Danson taking a booger out of his nose.”

8. IT TOOK A WHILE FOR JAMEELA JAMIL TO WARM TO TAHANI.

Jameela Jamil, William Jackson Harper, Kristen Bell, and Manny Jacinto in 'The Good Place'
Colleen Hayes, NBC

Jamil—a TV host in England who hadn’t acted much before she landed The Good Place—told Vulture she didn’t think Tahani deserved to be in The Bad Place, but instead maybe “a Passive Aggressive Narcissistic Place.” She described Tahani as “a nightmare. I could never be friends with someone like Tahani, but that makes her all the more fun to try and love. I’ve grown to love her over season two. I couldn’t stand her in season one—I love playing her, but couldn’t stand her. But in season two, I’m warming to her, and that’s the power of Mike and the writers.”

9. WRITER/PRODUCER MEGAN AMRAM CREATED SEVERAL PAGES OF PUNS FOR AN EPISODE.

In the season two episode “Dance Dance Resolution,” which aired in September 2017, Michael tried to reboot The Bad Place hundreds of times, so restaurant names kept changing. The pun-loving Amram conceived restaurants like From Schmear to Eternity, Biscotti Pippen, Sushi and the Banshees, and Hot Dog on a Stick on a Stick. Schur told Vulture the script contained six to seven pages of puns. “Partially she was doing it to lean into her stereotype as a person who loves puns,” he said. “But also, it was just straight-up impressive.” On Twitter, Amram shared her abridged list of eatery puns, including Miso-Gyny and Polenta to Go Around.

10. DANSON FELT “GUILTY” BECAUSE HE KNEW ABOUT THE TWIST.

From the beginning of the series, the only actors who knew about the season one twist were Danson and Bell. Danson explained to Entertainment Weekly that when he told his friends the plot of the show—“it’s about the afterlife and I play a middle management person there, and someone gets in there on a clerical error and everything goes nutty”—he could see their eyes glaze over with boredom. “And I could just see that flicker in their eyes and it pissed me off, so I immediately told them the twist ending and they were totally impressed,” he said. “But to tell you the truth, I was wracked with guilt, but luckily the people I told, I called them and said, ‘Please, dear God, [don’t tell anyone],’ but all of my friends are so self-obsessed that they’d probably forgotten already what I had told them.”

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