Looking for some quality comedy entertainment to check out? Who better to turn to for under-the-radar comedy recommendations than comedians? In our recurring series “Underrated,” we chat with writers and performers from the comedy world about an unsung comedy moment of their choosing that they think deserves more praise.
2021’s Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is a relentlessly silly film. It focuses on best friends Barb (Annie Mumolo) and Star (Kristen Wiig) getting their groove back at a middle-age-friendly luxury hotel. They hit a snag, however, when supervillain Sharon Fisherman (also Wiig) decides to rain vengeance down upon the city of Vista Del Mar in the form of killer mosquitoes. She sends her henchman (Jamie Dornan) to do her evil bidding, but he winds up entangled with Barb and Star’s vacation of a lifetime. There are cameos by Reba McEntire and Andy Garcia and a crab puppet that sounds like Morgan Freeman. There’s a club remix of the theme song to Titanic. There are multiple song-and-dance numbers in a film that is — technically — not a musical. It is a party in movie form, designed to be seen in a big, tipsy group. But alas, the pandemic robbed us of the rowdy Barb and Star screenings it so richly deserved.
Fortune Feimster mostly came to Barb and Star as a fan, even though she’s in a teensy part of the film. “I’m in this Talking Club part. So it was like I was watching the movie for the first time as well. I had no idea what was coming. So I feel like I got to enjoy it as a viewer myself,” she says. Feimster feels like the movie deserved more: big party screenings, Halloween costumes, maybe even a sequel. “A lot of gay men quoted it to me,” she notes, “which you always know is a sign of a good movie — if the gay men are onboard. They already want a sequel.” Feimster recently discussed the appeal of big-budget comedies, her new special Good Fortune on Netflix, and the communal comedy-viewing experience.
What made you want to talk about Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar?
I was lucky enough to be a part of it, so I am a little bit biased. But it was supposed to have this big theatrical release, and they were doing so many cool things leading up to it. I felt like it was really gonna be one of those cool moments where you go to the theater and people could dress up for it, invite a lot of friends, and it’s like this whole community thing. But unfortunately, the pandemic hit just a few months before it would have come out. It ended up coming out maybe a year later on the streamers. The people that watched it really loved it and still quote it. But I just feel like it did not get the kind of love and attention that a movie like that would have normally gotten.
People keep arguing about whether or not big-budget, or even mid-budget, comedies have space in theaters anymore. What do you think about that?
I mean, I want to think that they do, because as a comedian, I would like to be part of those projects. It’s hard these days, because we did get accustomed to waiting for things to stream online. We got this mentality of Oh, even if it’s in the theater, it’ll come online at some point soon. I can see how with the big action movies and the Marvel movies, seeing it on the big screen has a whole different effect. But I do think there is something really special about going to see a comedy with other people. There’s that group mentality of you laugh and that person laughs, and they laugh, and it makes you laugh more, so you’re having this collective experience of laughing. The movies like Barb and Star and Anchorman — with those kind of silly, big wacky characters — are the movies that are fun to see in a theater. I remember when it came out just being like, Man, I wish we could put on some culottes and invite all of our friends and go see this together.
What do you imagine a rowdy Barb and Star screening would be like?
I think it would be very tropical — a lot of tiki drinks and people wearing ridiculous outfits. Lots of chunky jewelry for the ladies and pink button-up shirts for the guys. Maybe people would have even dressed as Barb and Star, wearing wigs and whatnot. Filming it, when Kristen and Annie walked in and those outfits, I had no idea what they were gonna look like. I just started dying laughing. Then when they started talking in that accent, I could barely compose myself while we were filming.
It did make me wonder if, in the same way that people have like a theory that words that start with K are funnier …
Oh really? I’ve never heard that.
People think that K is the funniest consonant to start a word with.
I’m wondering whether ar is the funniest sound to end a word with, because that would explain not just Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, but also the continuing relevance of Talk Like a Pirate Day.
It definitely has that — like that quirky feel to it as soon as you hear it.
When you’re writing and performing stand-up, how much are you thinking about specific word choices, and how much of it are you just speaking extemporaneously?
I do a lot of storytelling. I’m just kind of trying to get out the information first. I’m not as focused on the funny. Of course, I’m thinking about what’s funny about it, but I’m not thinking about the specifics of the funny yet. So I get it out and think, Okay, does the structure work? Does this make sense? Is this being told in a way where people are paying attention? Once you get that sorted, I then start going in more meticulously: Is this word funnier than this word? How can I get a laugh in this moment, because there hasn’t been a laugh for 30 seconds? That can happen by just tweaking a word.
I’m not crazy about it, where I’ve got to figure out the best word at all times, but you definitely give yourself a little bit more creative license to play. And if you find chuckles on one word and not another, you’ll start shifting. But also, I have the Southern accent, so sometimes you can get laughs just on how you pronounce something. I definitely rely on that, too.
Vanessa Bayer is so funny in the Talking Club scenes, especially the way that she wields her power. When they get kicked out, she says, “We have three simple rules,” but, no! You have so many other unstated rules, Vanessa Bayer.
That’s what made me laugh so hard. There are so many rules to this freaking club that go unsaid. Filming that scene felt like being at summer camp, because it was just the six of us. We just laughed all day and had the best time. At one point we had to shut down production for an hour or two because there was a thunderstorm, and Kristen was like, “What’s everyone’s favorite candy?” Then suddenly all this candy showed up. We were all in a circle waiting for this thunderstorm to pass, and they poured all this candy out in the middle of the circle. It really felt like we were in Girl Scouts or something all over again.
What did you learn from watching Kristen and Annie as stars who wrote their own material?
I love that they even got the movie made to begin with. It’s very difficult to get any movie made these days, but I want to keep seeing these crazy comedies get made. I remember reading the script going, I don’t know how they’re gonna pull this movie off. It’s the most insane thing that I’ve ever read, but I can’t wait to see how they do it. And they did it!
I read the script on an airplane. I was touring. At one point, I don’t remember what scene it was, but I had tears streaming down my face crying laughing. Rarely does a script translate in that kind of way. I remember people were staring at me going What is wrong with this person? I was shaking, crying, laughing.
It’s one of those movies that you have to go back and watch several times, because you don’t realize how many jokes you missed. Every time I watch it, I discover something new that I love. They really thought about all of these jokes over and over again. Tommy Bahama, Trish. Reba McEntire, the song about the seagulls. I mean, it’s just nuts.
Reba being in the movie and the early use of Shania Twain felt very affectionate toward that era of women in country.
That’s the thing that I love about Annie and Kristen: They think about that stuff. From the costumes to the wigs to the music to who would be a funny cameo, they’re very detail-oriented. It’s cool to see people really care about the vision of their project, from beginning to end.
The movie keeps referring to Vista Del Mar as being for middle-aged people, and Barb and Star keep being referred to as middle-aged. When does “middle age” start?
Oh gosh, I don’t even know. These days, people are acting younger and younger. Is middle-aged like 60? It depends on who you ask. If you ask an 18-year-old, middle age for them is probably 40 or 45. And if you ask someone in their early 40s, they’re like, “Oh God, no. It’s like 55.”
Tell me about your new stand-up special.
It’s called Good Fortune, and it picks up kind of where my first Netflix special ended. That one was very much about me growing up and figuring out who I am and coming to terms with my sexuality, and this one is very much me as an adult — things like getting engaged and getting married. It’s sort of peeling back that curtain of like, Who am I? I might be different than what meets the eye, and just sharing with people. How I do life might not necessarily be what you would expect. Also how things in life don’t always work out in the way that you thought they might in your head. Not everything is like a Pinterest picture or how you see it on TV. How do you take this thing that went awry and find the positive in that? That’s very much a thing that goes throughout the special: taking things that could be a negative and finding the good in that.
Star goes through a little of that identity stuff in the movie. She thinks she’s undesirable and discovers she’s actually a sex-on-the-beach type person.
Yeah, absolutely. That was the fun at the beginning of this special: talking about stereotypes, and how I’m perceived because of my broad shoulders and bigger stature. I’m that quote-unquote “tomboy.” But, you know, I’m a bit daintier on the inside. My wife, who presents more feminine, was actually the one holding the fort down and being the butch one.
Speaking of hidden depths, we have to talk about what a surprise Jamie Dornan’s performance is in the movie.
Right? I honestly think he surprised a lot of people. They had no idea because he’s done a lot more serious things and been the object of desire. He was so funny. People loved how funny he was and loved how insane his song was. It showcased him in a way that nothing has before. I’m like, This guy could star in comedies. He’s really funny.
He’s this sex symbol. But in this movie, he has to be very vulnerable in a way that’s not stereotypically sexy.
He’s unaware of his hotness in the movie. And he’s supposed to be this evil guy, but he’s too sweet for that, so there are a lot of layers to his character. But there’s a simplicity to him just being kind of surprised by everything. I like how the three of them interacted. I thought they were a funny trio.
I was honestly a little sad that they didn’t become a throuple, that two of them paired off. For a second, I thought we were getting the first throuple rom-com, but I guess we’re not there yet.
I did think that too. It seemed like that was the way it was going for a while, especially after their one wild night. That’s another moment, the club remix of “My Heart Will Go On,” that you’re like, How do they even think to play that song? But it’s so funny. And then there’s the lounge singer singing about boobs. There’s so many gems in this movie.
I’ve been a fan of that guy since the early 2000s, Richard Cheese the piano player. I have his records.
During the pandemic, Kristen and I were texting, and she was talking about how they would go on deep dives on YouTube. That’s how they found that piano guy.
Final question: The movie’s plot kind of hinges on a big, dumb drink. What is the dumbest, fanciest drink that you ever had?
There was this place in L.A. that was very casual in Beverly Hills, Trader Vic’s. It was like a tiki bar. It had been around for years. When I moved to L.A., it was on its way out but still had that Old Hollywood thing. You could envision all those big stars back in the day going there. They were famous for one of those big, giant bowls, those tiki drinks with eight straws in a bowl. And it had like a flame in the middle — it was almost like a salsa container, where you put chips on the outside and salsa in the middle, but for alcohol. You ordered this giant tiki drink and could share it with all your friends. So I just remember that had to be one of the stupidest drinks that I ever had — and probably the most expensive, because it was Beverly Hills.
You know, it’s crazy: I thought for sure that those drinks with all the straws would be dead because of COVID. But they’re …
Still a big thing, right? They’re back.
They’re back and bigger than ever. Like you said, people love a communal experience.
You would think COVID would have killed it, sharing any kind of germs with anyone. But you know, people like a community drink, I guess. Not me.
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