The Wrong Guy Is the Right Choice for Fans of Idiocracy

Dave Foley in The Wrong Guy. Photo: Kino Lorber

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.

Long before The Flight Attendant, there was 1997’s The Wrong Guy. The Kids in the Hall and NewsRadio cutie-pie Dave Foley co-wrote and starred in the absurdist action comedy. It’s unrelentingly dumb, full of incredible (and incredibly Canadian) performances, and doesn’t skimp in the explosion department. Yet it was released in America straight to video. It was in a video store (RIP) that the comedian and Late Late Show bandleader Reggie Watts first laid eyes on The Wrong Guy: “I think I saw it on a shelf and was like, Dave Foley. Oh, shit. Why didn’t I hear about this? Why don’t I take this and check it out? Watts did check it out, and he found a lifelong movie favorite.

The Wrong Guy stars Foley as Nelson Hibbert, a milquetoast middle manager at a generic multinational corporation. When his boss is found murdered shortly after firing him, Nelson goes on the lam assuming that he’s a suspect. But he’s not. The cops know it’s a hired assassin (The Umbrella Academy’s Colm Feore). The movie features truly silly performances by Joe Flaherty, David Anthony Higgins (Steve Higgins’s brother), Jennifer Tilly, and even a cameo from Foley’s KITH comedy brother Kevin McDonald. Watts explained his love for Foley, getting Canadian content over the border in northern Montana, and whether or not the Barenaked Ladies are Canada’s They Might Be Giants.

Why do you want more people to see The Wrong Guy?
It was a movie that struck me as brilliant, and I was really surprised that it wasn’t more popular. I think I saw it probably early days in New York — 2005 or something like that. As soon as it opens, there’s the whole bit about the police complimenting the assassin for being able to get into the air duct so easily, and I was just like, This is so ridiculous. This is so good. Foley’s so great ⁠— and this was also in The Kids in the Hall ⁠— at pointing out classism and corporate structures; they do it so well and are so absurd about it.

Speaking of the Kids in the Hall, was Dave Foley your favorite Kid?
Yeah, probably, just because he broke out in different ways — NewsRadio and things like that. He was just the guy that stood out the most and seemed to be the most flexible and doing the most.

He’s so elastic in this. He has a silent-film actor’s physicality throughout this whole movie.
Yeah, he’s great. I love it when he cuts up his credit cards and all this stuff he learned from The Fugitive. The whole time, the cops are like, “No, we’re not after him at all. We’re not interested.” But then Dave’s going so big. It’s amazing.

With the musical side of your career, there’s a lot of dancing and physicality to it. This is a weird question, but how do you think of your body as a comedic tool?
Oh, I think of it all the time as a tool. It’s definitely a huge part of what I do. I love movement of all kinds, and I use my body just as much as I use my voice. I can definitely do things just vocally, but when I’m performing onstage, to have my whole body be involved is way more fun.

Did you know that the cops singing by the dumpster are the Barenaked Ladies?
Are you serious? I had no idea. That’s pretty amazing.

Someone recently described them as Canada’s They Might Be Giants, and that’s been doing something in my brain recently.
Yeah, I get that, I guess. But They Might Be Giants are so them. It’s kind of like calling the Sugarcubes the B-52s of Iceland.

I can see the parallels.
Because they both had guys that just spoke-sang. You had Fred doing his [Fred Schneider voice] “Sixteen thousand dollars and all they did was dip our faces in plaster!” And then you have [Einar Örn voice] “Everything is going strange here! Ooooh!” And then you have the other higher-pitched vocalist. It’s kind of weird.

Yeah, and the female singers do a kind of exaggerated dolphin-singing.
“Dolphin-singing” is a great way of putting it. With the B-52s, I don’t know what you’d call it — like tchotchke or tribute or pastiche, but completely taken in its own way. And then in Iceland, it’s like a fairy version of that: taking fairy culture and making it their own. So it’s kind of similar.

Well, I’m going to have to listen to them back-to-back now and really drill down on this. And then They Might be Giants and Barenaked Ladies.
Yeah, I’m really going to have to check that out because all I know is the one song from Barenaked Ladies, and I don’t even know the name of it.

Something about there being “one week.”
Is it “Flagpole Sitta”?

That’s Harvey Danger.
Oh, sorry! I get them confused! [Laughs.] Terrible — I’m terrible.

Do you have a lot of affection for the type of movie that this is parodying — suspense like North by Northwest?
Oh yeah. The Fugitive, that shit — someone trying to escape and make it against all odds, someone running away from the system that they were a part of. I think it’s great, the high stakes. I’m a sucker for it.

Maybe it’s just because I’m an anxious person, but I feel like I’m always three steps away from a full-on cutting-up-my-credit-cards-and-changing-my-name situation.
Yeah, of course. I’m always ready, on some level, to do that. I’ve got a go bag, I always have my flashlight, always have a knife on me, maybe a lighter. In my car, I’ve got blankets and extra water. So I live my life in a way that, if an emergency should arise, I’m ready to go.

Infinitely more prepared than the lead of this movie, who only keeps a picture of himself riding a donkey.
Way more! He’s just the worst, dumbest, most average man possible, and they really do a great job. It’s right up there with Luke Wilson in Idiocracy — just two of the best mediocre characters played in such an absurd way.

And with both of those characters, it’s a believable level of dumb. It’s right at the edge of, This is not a person who could survive in the world.
That’s what makes it such an excellent performance. With those types of roles, you have to be likable enough but also believable enough. They’re not so stupid that people are like, God, I hate this guy. He’s so dumb! This is more like, I want him to do well, but, man, I guess he’s just not very smart. That’s a hard line.

I appreciated that this is a movie that is doing spy stuff, crime stuff, but is very firmly ACAB.
What’s ACAB again?

All Cops Are Bastards.
Oh, right. Yes, yes, yes, of course. Which is great. There’s definitely levels: singing cops, cops being stupid in different ways. But yes, they’re ultimately not the people you want to get entangled with.

Why do you think the movie went straight to video here in America?
I talked to Dave about it. I did Sketchfest and happened to be crossing the street at the same time he was and couldn’t help myself. I asked, “What’s up with The Wrong Guy? It’s such a great movie. Why isn’t it more well known?” And he said, “The studio fucked us over.” They just decided to put no money into marketing or advertising and shelved it in a way. Which is crazy to me because it’s a very high-level comedy. We were just speaking of Idiocracy, and it’s right up there with that movie. It’s just as good as that or History of the World: Part I. Just a very well done, stupid, silly, awesome movie.

Would you call yourself a fan of stupid or silly humor?
The highest form of compliment that you can receive as a comedian, especially from other comedians, is, “What you just did is so fucking stupid. That was the dumbest shit I’ve ever seen.”

When I saw the Stella shorts, or Wet Hot American Summer, for the first time, that is the dumbest shit possible. That is the epitome of dumb humor. It’s ridiculous, the tonality of it. I think there’s a very high level of intelligence behind doing that. Like the Airplane! drinking-problem joke: It’s so simple, and it’s so silly, but to pull it off, you have to commit to it on such a sincere level. You have to really understand what you’re doing and why it is stupid. To me, silliness and absurdity is the highest form of humor.

This movie reminds me of Stella in the way a lot of the jokes hinge on tropes. Like in Stella, when people kiss, they always go, “What are we doing?” And someone responds, “I don’t know.” Or in this movie, how there’s an evil farmer who’s going to shut down the bank.
Which is the opposite, a total role reversal. I love it. The bank is threatened.

Won’t someone think of the poor bank?
A bully farmer — so stupid. That’s from the same world, the same way of thinking. It panhuman. It gets rid of a lot of political power structures, hierarchies, reshuffles everything so that nothing is associated immediately with anything obvious. Or it’s reassociated in such an absurd way.

Some people will not get it. They’ll go, “That’s really stupid. I don’t get why that’s funny.” But in general, I think it’s like what Chaplin managed to do: If it’s dumb enough, most people will get it. Or they’ll go, “I know why it’s funny, but that’s just stupid.” Which is, to me, still a success.

We need to talk more about the supporting cast of this movie. Joe Flaherty is underrated even for a SCTV guy, already an underrated show.
SCTV was obviously one of the pillars of the original, I guess you would call it, alt-comedy movement. SCTV was hugely important for me growing up in Montana. We were right under Canada, so we got a lot of Canadian programming. I saw more Kids in the Hall than SCTV, but when I did see it, I was super-stoked to get it on the aerial.

Also, Enrico Colantoni.

Oh yeah.
Who’s in a bunch of shit now.

Veronica Mars’s dad. God tier.
God, that’s crazy, right! That guy, he just went massive. There’s a small pantheon of character actors that have been working that long, that have gotten to that level of recognition. That was really surprising — going back to this movie and going Oh, shit! Everyone that was cast in this is perfect. There wasn’t a misstep.

What are you working on besides The Late Late Show?
I’m still making music with my electronic project, Wajatta. I have some projects that are being pitched, theoretically. And my app, WattsApp — I’m still trying to make it worthwhile for having created it. I’m always continually excited by it, or at least by its potential.

What does electronic music give you creatively that comedic-music performances don’t? What does collaborating bring?
Well, I’ve loved dance music ever since I was a little kid. I got really steeped in electronic dance culture in the ’90s, especially when the rave movement started happening. So I was surrounded by DJs and used to go out to dance all the time. I was a fan of John Tejada and always thought, If I’m gonna do electronic music, I would love to find a sick producer — do what I do, and they do what they do, and that’s our project. And that’s what happened. It’s fun to be able to create music that people can dance to. I just want something that sounds like what I would dance to at a club.

What did you look for in collaborators for the Late Late Show house band? How did that band come to be assembled?
I knew immediately that it was going to be Tim Young because we went to school together at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle in the ’90s. He’s a brilliant musician, and I knew he’d just had a kid, so I knew that would be easy. Then I asked Steve Scalfati. He was also a Seattle guy, and he had his own company that made station audio logos and audio IDs across the world. He did soundalikes as well, so he had to reverse engineer popular songs all the time. I knew that he has the ear to produce any kind of music within seconds. I auditioned drummers, and it wound up being Guillermo [E. Brown]. He’s a friend of Twin Shadow and a bunch of other musicians in L.A. And Hagar Ben-Ari, I auditioned her in New York just before I moved to L.A. She ended up being even better than I thought that she was. She’s one of the best musicians I have ever witnessed.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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The Wrong Guy Is the Right Choice for Fans of Idiocracy