Magazine article The New Yorker

Funny Boy

Magazine article The New Yorker

Funny Boy

Article excerpt

The six-part HBO comedy series "Eastbound & Down," now just past its halfway point, appears, on the face of it, to be another prefab house of laughs of the kind that's been extruded, over and over, in the past couple of years by the belching adolescent-humor factory of Apatow, Ferrell, Stiller & Rogen. Will Ferrell is the only one of those comedy machers who's directly involved in "Eastbound & Down." (He and his partner, Adam McKaywho co-wrote and directed a couple of Ferrell's vehicles and started the Web site Funny or Die with himare two of the show's executive producers.) Still, the many interconnections among "Eastbound" 's producers, writers, directors, and performers and the members of the funny firm would require a seminar to enumerate; they and a half-dozen or so othersincluding Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and Jack Blackform an omnipresent happy band, a sort of Boobsbury group, who create and play characters that range across the spectrum from slacker to jackass, and the body odor emanating from "Eastbound & Down" will be recognizable to anyone who has seen such films as "Superbad," "Drillbit Taylor," "There's Something About Mary," and "Tropic Thunder."

One of the newer inductees to the core group of funnymen is Danny McBride, the star of "Eastbound & Down"; in the show, he's Kenny Powers, onetime Major League star reliever with a fastball of a hundred and one miles an hour, a speed that steadily decreased as his self-destructivenessa combination of bad attitude, bad habits, and bad karmaaccelerated. Kenny, profane and bombastic, sees his own story as epic: in a voice-over at the beginning of the first episode, he says, "When my ass was nineteen years old, I changed the face of professional baseball." As a rookie, he helped his team win the World Series, but eventually his careless ways caught up with him. "Sometimes when you bring the thunder you get lost in the storm," he explains. Even this early in the series, we sense that a good character has entered our midst. Kenny Powers, we're delighted to discover, is totally full of it.

If you've seen any of the half-dozen movies that McBride has appeared in over the past few years, his playing this kind of role, and being so good in it, won't surprise you. For one thing, he looks the part of a pitcher gone to seed, with a puffy body that comes complete with gut and double chin, and baggy eyes that suggest both not enough sleep and too much sleeping it off. But he was new to me, and at first I didn't quite know why he held my attention; I just knew that there was something about Danny. His film roles have mostly been smallhe is a movie-pyrotechnics specialist on location in "Tropic Thunder"; a slovenly bum with too much self-esteem in "Drillbit Taylor"; and has a cameo in "Superbad"and all spring out of his starring role in a 2006 movie called "The Foot Fist Way," in which he played a small-town Tae Kwon Do instructor. I think that part of what enables McBride to seem so at home in his own skin is the fact that he's also a writer and has control of much of his material, and he isn't working alone. He and his two collaborators, Jody Hill and Ben Best, were students together at North Carolina School of the Arts. They wrote "The Foot Fist Way" and "Eastbound & Down" (another college mate, Shawn Harwell, substituted for Best on three episodes); Best appears in both; and Hill appears in "The Foot Fist Way" and directed that movie and two episodes of "Eastbound. …

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