Writer’s Room: Audiences More Entertaining Than the Movie

Look, we’ve all been there: you’re sitting there watching a mediocre movie, let’s say Spider-Man 3, and on screen, emo Peter Parker is in the midst of shoving Mary Jane down on the floor. The theater is respectfully silent, until a drunk dude in the back says, “Awww, sh*t,” and the entire theater explodes in laughter. Yes, that was something I witnessed, and it was instances such as these, when the audience became the show, that prompted me to ask some of my favorite writers and comedians to share their stories of times when the theater where they were watching a film became far more entertaining than the film itself.

This week’s panel includes some of your old Uproxx pals, as well as Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker from Sh*t My Dad Says/I Suck At Girls/Cougar Town, XOJane Columnist and Twitter’s BoobsRadley Julieanne Smolinski, comedian Jamie Lee, who was just on Conan a few months back, So Close to You author Rachel Carter, and my favorite San Francisco comedians and former Frotcast guests, Alison Stevenson and Leslie Small. Don’t blame any of them for the cutesy chapter headings though, I wrote those. Enjoy!

ASHLEY BURNS: Magic Mike and a Theater Full of Lawbreakers

Fortunately and conveniently, my story involves my current pick for the Best Movie of 2012 – Channing’s Tatum’s Magic Mike. Obviously, I went to see the semi-biographical story of C-Tates’ rise to fame because he’s my best friend in the world (category: celebrity I’ve never met), but I was also really excited for what promised to be a great crowd experience.

For starters, I was one of maybe five men in the entire theater, and let’s just say the other guys didn’t bring their girlfriends. *wink wink, nudge nudge* Beyond that, each row was packed with cliques of women, varying in ages, and many of them wearing customized t-shirts as if they were on bachelorette parties (I won’t actually rule that out). My favorite was a group of middle-aged women wearing homemade “LAWBREAKER” t-shirts. And most of the ladies had beer buckets or wine, and I knew that drunk chicks + C-Tates’ burnt ding dong = A+ movie experience.

But what really made the movie – which I enjoyed by itself – so magnificent was one woman, flying solo to this dick flick. She approached our row and asked my girlfriend and me if the seats next to me were taken and we said no, assuming she’d honor movie code and leave a few seats between us. Nope. She sat right next to me. And I won’t get into specific details, but she filled out all of her seat and I just had a feeling she’d be a talker.

Sure enough, she talked to me the entire film – I think she may have assumed I was like the other guys in the theater – and she was hilarious, from her depressing admittance that she had no friends since moving to Orlando, to her frame-by-frame commentary, which included gems like, “What, ain’t no brothers in Tampa?” and “Nuh uh, get Channing a girl with some meat on her bones” and my absolute favorite, when Joe Manganiello was using the penis pump: “Oh hot damn, that’s his dick.”

Sadly, I haven’t seen my favorite movie friend since.


A few months ago I was in the habit of going to see movies alone all the time because I had quit my job (long story that involves me accidentally leaving a condom in a toilet) and had nothing to do during the day. I went to a theater close to my apartment while I was menstrual. Basically, I was hormonal as all hell, which is something I would like for you to keep in mind (forever if you can). I get inside the theater and once the trailers start playing, I tear up. Just out of nowhere. No reason. None at all. Just tears, slowly trailing down my cheek. Then the trailer for Best Exotic Marigold Hotel plays, and something about it got me into straight-up crying mode. Ten seconds into it, I was bawling like a jackass. Why the f*ck was I crying? I have no idea, but was very embarrassed. There were about four other people in the theater and I was sitting in front of all of them which convinced me they could hear my sad pathetic sobs and see me wiping my stupid dumb tears.

In my irrational, overly hormonal train of thought I figured it’d be a good idea to just laugh real hard while I was crying so maybe these people would think I was crying in the good way. You know the kind of crying that happens when something is so funny you can’t help but ooze tears? The kind of laughter-tears that happen when you’re watching Youtube videos of dudes hurting their nutsacks or when you’re high as f*ck and see a homeless person poop on a bird. Thing is, there was nothing hilarious about this trailer. It was just a bunch of old people and that guy from Slumdog Millionaire saying things all British-like and being old. In fact, it looked real bad, but I powered through anyways and let out what was supposed to be laughter. However, the fake laughing was blending with the real sobbing and created this strange noise that I can only describe as “bipolar whale”. I quickly realized after about five seconds of doing this that I had made things about a hundred times worse. I could hear someone whispering to their friend in back of me “what the f*ck?” and with that was infinitely more embarrassed. I felt like a genuine insane person so I got up and left the theater. I left, having never seen the movie I payed eight dollars for. In fact, don’t even remember what movie I was going to see.

JUSTIN HALPERN: Baby Goose is for the Children

If you live in L.A., at some point somebody going to hand you a flyer asking you to be in a test screening of a movie that’s going to come out in a few months.  I always went because I was broke and you usually got free nachos.  One of the first test screenings I went to was for a movie called “Stay,” starring Ryan Gosling and Ewan Macgregor. It was supposed to be a psychological thriller but unfortunately it didn’t really work, and it wasn’t helped by the fact that it was a pretty rough cut.  Towards the end, people started to turn on it. Happens often, but what made this particularly interesting was that because it was a test screening, the director, Marc Forster, was sitting in the audience.  No one knew he was there, but I was a movie nerd and had IMDB’d that sh*t between J.O. sessions in my lonely studio apartment.  On his IMDB page was a picture of him, and I noticed him walk in at the beginning.  Anyway, he’s sitting in the back, and towards the end of the movie, you find out all the weird stuff that was happening to Ewan Macgregor was all a dream that Baby Goose was having.  People were not thrilled, especially this white trash dude in front of me.  He threw his hands up and yelled “Maaaan, F*CK this mess.  That was BULLshit.”  I turn around and see Forster now standing by the exit, but he hasn’t left.  The movie still had like ten minutes left and I thought maybe the white trash dude was done, but instead he tried to start a chant of “THIS MOVIE’S GAY. IT IS FOR FAGS. THIS MOVIE’S GAY. IT IS FOR FAGS.”  That went on for about thirty seconds and then they just cut the movie off and the lights went up and Marc Forster made a face like he smelled nine thousand farts and left.

DANGER GUERRERO: Brains for Dinner, Brains for Lunch, Why Can’t We Have Some Guts

So there was this girl I liked back in 2001, right? Like, like liked. Valentine’s Day was rapidly approaching, and since we were both single I pulled the old “Hey, since neither of us have a date…” thing that dorks in movies do, and asked her if she wanted to see a movie with me, instead of staying at home by herself. (I am very smooth.) She thought about it for a second and said “Sure. I really want to see Hannibal.” SCORE. I mean, I generally don’t watch scary movies because I am a huge baby, but I was willing to make an exception here, for obvious reasons.

Here are two things you need to know about Hannibal: 1) It is the sequel to Silence of the Lambs. 2) There is a scene where Anthony Hopkins removes the top of a very much alive Ray Liotta’s skull, extracts a piece of his brain while talking to him, cooks it, and feeds it to him front of Julianne Moore.

After this series of events happens on the big screen, a few hours into what had been a very pleasant evening to that point, we started to hear some whispering behind us. Then more, louder whispering. Then we heard the unmistakeable sound of someone puking their guts out onto a hard floor. Apparently some dude had a very weak stomach and/or was very drunk, and the brain-eating scene had caused him to involuntarily empty his stomach in the theater. It smelled bad. It smelled very bad. We spent the remainder of the film holding our noses and hovering our feet above the floor so none of his bile trickled down the slanted floor and onto our shoes, and after it was over my disgusted, now-also-green-faced date wanted to be taken home immediately.

The moral of the story is this: That guy is an asshole.

JULIEANNE SMOLINSKI: Crazy Heart of the Matter

I saw “Crazy Heart” in one of those theaters that has wine at the concession stand. There was this old couple sitting in back of us, wearing those old people berets, drinking wine and getting louder and drunker as the movie progressed. It was funny, especially given the subject matter (Don’t remember? IT WAS ALCOHOLISM). When Jeff Bridges puked for the third time, they were like, “OH GAWD. He’s hit rock bottom!” and the whole theater was laughing, which only confused the hell out of them.

LAREMY LEGEL: When Scary Movie Got Scary

There was a time in my life when I was seeing just about every new release that came out. I wasn’t getting paid for this, mind you, I was just heading off to the ol’ cinema, by my lonesome, checking out the latest offerings. Basically, I was a marketer’s wet dream. Looking back, I think it was a healthy mixture of OCD and wanting to be ready for any potential water cooler situations. You know the ones, “Have you seen NEW MOVIE X?” Yes. Of course I have. I have seen all of your movie choices. Let us discuss, and then partake of water.

Anyway, this is the story about the time I went to see Scary Movie and almost lost my life in the bargain. It is not a rebel story.

It was July of 2000 (or “aught aught”) and I was planning to see the 11pm showing of Scary Movie. It was probably a Saturday night, because I can’t imagine they had a Friday midnight showing of frickin’ Scary Movie. I had just finished my shift at the restaurant I waited tables at, so I had cash in hand, ready to dip into the delicious satire that was Scary Movie.

Note: I knew even then that this movie would not be good, but that wasn’t part of the equation. It was simply a new movie that I hadn’t seen, and my recollection is that only one film came out that week. It was poised to win the weekend, so I couldn’t let the chance pass. What I’m getting at is I didn’t head into this like some sort of idiot thinking Scary Movie would be hilarious. I knew instinctively that it would be awful. But I got my ticket thirty minutes early, took my normal (far left, last row) seat, and waited for the action to commence. This was a box to be checked, nothing more, and there was always a chance that the trailers were misleading and they were saving the good stuff for the show (Ha!).

Okay, so me, alone, back seat of Scary Movie. The place I lived at the time, Norfolk VA, was pretty much known for rougher crowds. It’s a navy town, and a place where fellas like to drink, so I didn’t expect huge amounts of decorum, but it wasn’t a big deal because Scary Movie wasn’t really worthy of anyone’s attention anyway. About 30 people were seated in the theater when the trailers started (“Nutty Professor 2? BOSS!!”)

The first three minutes of the movie were fairly non-eventful. Then, a group of about five dudes in hoodies came in, sat in the front row of the stadium seating, and started making comments to the screen. People shushed them. More comments, more shushing.

Finally around ten minutes in, one of the gentleman had had enough of the censorship and waived a gun around, slurring something to the effect of “I will have my say, sir, you shan’t silence me.” You could tell it was a 9mm or something of the like, its silhouette clear against the screen. This caused the crowd to pipe down extremely quickly. Cold fear swept over the group in short order.

At this point my self-talk was “Wow, I’m going to die in a manner that will make even the obituary writer snicker.” I won’t sugarcoat it, I was extremely sad about the whole thing, especially because I hadn’t even been shushing the group. They were annoying, sure, but I figured they’d pass out eventually. After about five minutes of further heckling someone made a run for it, you could tell because they did that “duck around the corner, don’t shoot me” thing. Three minutes later cops came in with a theater manager and hauled the guys away. Two minutes after that I left the movie. They had an employee handing out rain checks, but I demurred. It just felt like I should immediately start repressing the whole thing.

To this day, I still don’t know how Scary Movie ends, but I like to imagine it was in a hail of gunfire.

PATRICK SCHUMACKER: Where Do You Look for Punisher?

The one moment that seems to stand the test of time for me happened during a near-empty matinee of Marvel’s THE PUNISHER, starring Thomas Jane, at the AMC Burbank.   My writing partner, Justin Halpern (This was before he legally changed his name to New York Times Bestselling Author Justin Halpern), and I were seated near the back of the theater, and the audience of, oh, about nine from what I could count, was mostly silent for the film, whose anemic–yeah, I f*cking said it–take on Frank Castle never seemed to earn the R-rating it received.  Let me say this: I love Thomas Jane, but when the highlight of your film is a villainous John Travolta being dragged over open flames while screaming like Freddie Mercury challenging the Wembley crowd to a falsetto scat competition, it is not without problems.

So, we’re sitting there, and it’s the end of the movie, and The Punisher is leaving, cause now he’s killed everyone and is on the run from the cops.  And the love interest, Rebecca Romijn, stops him in the hallway.  And he’s got his duffel bag over his shoulder and she says, “You’re leaving,”  (No sh*t. See: duffel bag.)  And he responds, “I have work to do.  Read your newspaper every day.  You’ll understand.”

And then, as any human being would, Rebecca Romijn asks, “What section?”

And that’s when an audience member slumped way down in his seat at the front of the theater took it upon himself to answer the question for The Punisher.  And he didn’t just answer it in a brooding deadpan like the Punisher would.  No, he knew that would not play to the audience.  It would be too expected.  Instead, as any great showman would, he answered it with the enthusiasm of John Madden during a replay of a crushing helmet-to-helmet collision on Monday Night Football. One word.  One plosive, monosyllabic word that still rings true in my head today:


Well played, backward Starter baseball hat-wearing, Russell Athletic-cloaked silhouette in row 2.  Well played.

For those of you who care to know, or aren’t well-verse in Punisher lore, the scripted answer was, “The Obituaries.”  Apparently because either a) The Punisher plans to continue exacting fatal vengeance upon scum in the area covered by that local newspaper for the foreseeable future, or b) he is under the assumption that the obituary section of the newspaper is nationally syndicated.  I don’t know.

I still own the film on DVD, and smile fondly after having skipped through the first 87 minutes to get to this moment.  Though I usually stop and watch Travolta’s death, too.  It’s worth the price of the DVD alone, so disregard this entire post and watch the movie.

MIKE TUNISON (KissingSuzyKolber): Looper Makes It Rain

Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen it.

Looper was awesome, so I don’t include this to take a dig at the movie. But it just happened recently, so it’s fresh in my mind. The dude in question who yelled this was relatively quiet the rest of the movie, which made this one outburst all the better.

During the scene in the farmhouse where the kid first uses his telekinesis, this dude connected the dots about the kid’s place in the future. It’s the same conclusion I’m sure a lot of other people watching the movie had already reached, but he phrased it a lot better than they could have.

So dude jumps up, points at the screen and goes, “YO, THAT’S THE MOTHERF*CKING RAIN NIGGA RIGHT THERE!”

RACHEL CARTER: On the Efficacy of Abstinence Parables

While watching one of the Twilight movies (yeah, you heard that right – I saw Twilight in the theater), there was a 13-year-old girl behind me, sitting with her parents. At the part where Taylor Lautner comes onto the screen shirtless and Robert Pattinson says: “Doesn’t he own a shirt?” the 13-year-old stands up and screams out: “I hope not!”

Then, while her parents are trying to make her sit down she goes: “Take your pants off too!!”

LESLIE SMALL: Stoney Spice

I’ve had a long standing love affair with going to the movies.  What other place can a chubby kid maintain their sedentary lifestyle while still experiencing cool things to talk about at school?  Oh, you went to the zoo?  I guess that’s cool, but not as cool as watching Harrison Ford outsmart everyone and restore honor to his name in “The Fugitive”!  The movies have always been a sanctuary for un-athletic kids who live vicariously through film characters, and I was no exception.  I would spend my allowance on candy from the store and sneak it in, because I was a badass, albeit a portly one.  As if the thrill of sneaking candy in wasn’t enough, I would also go theatre hopping, taking in as many movies as my little mind could handle and then some.

In 1998, when the movie “Half-Baked” came out, I was able to go to the movie unattended, which was great, because how lame would it have been to have your parents go with you?!?!  Super, that’s how lame.  Not that I was old enough to get into THAT movie on my own, but where there’s a will there’s a way.  I was friends with this dipsh*t girl who said she was down to go sneak into “Half-Baked” with me.  My plan was flawless, the Spice Girls’ abortion of a movie [HOW DARE YOU! -Ed] was out at that same time, and we told our parents we were really excited to see it!  Looking back, I’m mad that my parents actually believed that would be something I would watch, really, shame on them!  I had scored some pot from a sketchy dude at school, which we smoked out of a metal pipe I had borrowed from my cousin.  All and all I was feeling pretty badass.  We bought tickets to “Spice World”, a move so embarrassing that I almost wanted to tell the attendant “We’re really sneaking into “Half-Baked”, I swear we’re not lame!”, however that would have defeated the purpose of sneaking in.

Once we had gained egress to the hallway of movies, my accomplice started to lose her nerve.  “I don’t know if it’s a good idea to sneak into that movie, what if we get caught?!?!”  She asked, nervously twirling her hair.  “Are you kidding?” I replied, “This is what we came to do!”  Right then I knew this bitch was bailing on my carefully-crafted scheme, and I was having none of it.  I told her, “Look, if you’re going to puss out on this whole operation I’m going in alone, I didn’t come here and get this high to watch motherf*cking “Spice World”, so get it together.”  I figured that was the tough-love pep talk she would need to assert her inner cool kid, but much to my dismay, and thanks to her altered state, she began to cry.  So I did the only reasonable thing I could, I dragged her blubbering ass to the “Spice World” theatre and told her to have fun, I would catch her later, like when her mom came to pick us up.

At this point I’m a solo criminal executing my own plan, but also really high.  I sat down in the “Half-Baked” theatre feeling weird from both the pot and being alone in a theatre.  As the movie started people cheered, and I heard the familiar sound of a lighter striking its flint, except everywhere.  Then that pungent scent started permeating the room and I thought, “Holy sh*t, people are smoking weed IN THE THEATRE!”  I was barely able to focus on what was happening on screen, and that distraction increased ten-fold when a guy two seats over passed me a joint.  A whole joint!  I never had enough weed to roll joints at that age, nor the necessary know how, and I marveled at the fact that I was deemed cool enough to have a joint shared by a much more seasoned neighbor.  The actual movie was a blast, but it paled in comparison to the experience of smoking weed in the theatre, especially with the volume being consumed.  I feel like those were the good old days, when an entire theatre full of underage kids could hang out and enjoy a movie while getting really, really high.  Needless to say I had to re-watch the movie to get the full gist of it, but the experience is one I could never forget.

JAMIE LEE: Revenge of the Shrooms

Right after I graduated college, my best friend Sara and I went backpacking through Europe. When we got to Amsterdam, we were determined to try shrooms for the first time. The guy who sold them to us emphasized that we need to “find a place to sit for three or four hours” while we were tripping, so Sara and I decided to park ourselves in a screening of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith – what we thought would be a nice, long shroom-friendly epic. And it was! In the midst of having the best visual and body high of my life, causing me to pretty much forget that Sara was even sitting next to me, her voice slowly faded back into my life when she began repeating, “I feel cold. I feel cold.”

“What?” I said, staring at her face, which looked like it was made of melted butter that I wanted to eat and/or bathe in. The movie ended and we were the only two people left in the theatre. Sara kept complaining about feeling cold. Finally, we stood up and instantly realized that she had peed all over herself. We sat back down in the empty theatre and just kept laughing until the custodians came in to clean, and even then, they didn’t ask us to leave. PeePants and I just kept cracking up like two old (and one cold) ladies. Well… “ladies.” Viva la Amsterdam!

VINCE MANCINI: Michael Bay’s People

I think it was a good two years on this job before I actually managed to weasel my way onto the mailing list for press screening invites, and when I did, I was disappointed to find that if I’d just been semi-homeless or a resident of a halfway house, I would’ve been getting invited all along. Maybe it’s a minimum-security prison field trip? Okay, so I’m not sure where they get most of the people that show up to free advance screenings, but between the civilians and the film critics, who are as bizarre a demographic as you’re going to find – we’re talking albino hemophiliacs and grown men in leather berets – it’s like a stew with too many ingredients. Plenty of theater goers have actually made their way into my reviews. There was the human hillock at The Zookeeper, who actually made me feel bad about my life choices (not that it’s hard). There was the guy in the velour tracksuit with silver dragons printed all over it who walked out of The Iron Lady. And most recently, there was the kind soul somewhere behind me during Flight, who loudly kicked over his or her empty beer bottle just as Denzel Washington was giving an embarrassingly earnest speech about his lifetime of alcoholism – the worst part of the film, but by far the best part of my theater experience that day.

Odd then that my story comes from a movie I actually paid to see. Back in aught nine, a radio show asked me if I wanted to come on and review Transformers 2.  I hadn’t been planning to see it, for obvious reasons, but I take my job very seriously, and if someone wants my professional opinion on exactly how dog poop tastes, I’m more than willing to describe it in verbose, polysyllabic detail. It was playing at the Prospect Park theater in Brooklyn, a few blocks from me and Matt Ufford’s old apartment, a theater I generally avoided because it was crappy and old, with uncomfortable stain-covered seats and an audience always filled with loud talkers. But I wasn’t riding any subways to see Transformers, and I figured explosions and robot jive talk would more than drown out the townies. I also figured that I’d be bored, just sitting there quietly, respectfully watching a robots punch each other like I was at the goddamned ballet. I decided to stay busy with snacks and at least kill two birds with one stone. I’d been wanting to try the sausage sub at the pizza place a few doors down and I figured this was a perfect opportunity. Turns out this joint’s 8-inch sub, when filled with sausage and peppers and cheese and marinara, was roughly the size of an entire loaf of bread covered in tin foil, which made it harder than I’d planned to smuggle into the theater inside the bottom pocket of my cargo shorts (oh shut up, don’t act like you weren’t wearing cargo shorts in 2009, they were all the rage!). As did the fact that it was as hot as a fresh pot of coffee. But though I gave myself first-degree burns on my thigh skin, I did manage to smuggle it in, mainly on account of no one at the theater gave a sh*t.

Once inside, the best way I can describe the atmosphere is, do you remember that bus-trip scene from A League of Their Own? Where the girls had to take their bratty kids on the road trip with them, and the kids are running up and down the aisles screaming and smearing chocolate on everyone’s faces and blowing those pinwheel toys with lit sparklers in their ears? It was like that. Let me see if I can paint you a picture: on my left, there was a middle-aged Guatemalan couple, where the husband didn’t speak English and the wife was left to translate the entire movie, and not in a whisper either, but a normal, room-volume speaking voice. I always wondered how you say “Allspark” in Spanish. In front of me, three middle-school-aged white kids who were texting non-stop throughout the entire movie, possibly to each other. And behind me, a group of high-school-aged black dudes would narrate the on-screen action with outbursts like “Oh sh*t, that’s Optimus right there!” Funny thing about Transformers, there are so many blurry, quick-cut shots of indistinguishable CGI metal that they’d occasionally fight over whether that had indeed been Optimus.

Meanwhile, I took in this whole scene while trying to unhinge my jaw wide enough to consume a cholesterol-stuffed bread loaf, with entire sauce-covered sausages occasionally squirting out the end onto my lap, staining my cargos (they were camo, luckily). Suddenly I realized. These, I thought, looking around, are Michael Bay’s people. See, I bet when someone tried to tell Michael Bay that a few of his scenes were just indistinguishable blurry balls of CGI metal where you couldn’t even tell the characters apart, Michael Bay probably thought, “Eh, f*ck it, it’s just a Transformers movie.” And the audience, when we were making the decision to text, or to translate in the movie, or to yell at the screen, or to attempt to eat a sausage-spitting duraflame log covered in cheese in the dark, consciously or unconsciously, we all on some level thought to ourselves, “Should I do this crude, obnoxious thing? Would it be fair to the people around me? …Eh, f*ck it, it’s just a Michael Bay movie.”

So it goes.