Mark Ellis is wrong. He’s wrong about Doctor Sleep (“I thought it was fantastic”), he’s wrong about Chappie (“This is a huge disappointment”), and he’s definitely wrong about The Place Beyond the Pines (“falls short of its lofty goals”). The only logical conclusion I can draw is that Mark Ellis must love being wrong… which makes him the perfect co-host for Rotten Tomatoes Is Wrong, a podcast with a delicious premise for movie lovers… and they’re haters, too.
Now, I must apologize to my friend Mark, who I’ve known for several years, thanks to the Movie Trivia Schmoedown, because to be honest, it took me 20 minutes to cherry-pick through more than 400 of his reviews to find three takes where our opinions diverge. But such is my right and given Ellis’s other career in comedy, where he’s now a rising star who often performs at the famed Comedy Store in West Hollywood, I know he can take a good-natured ribbing. In fact, that’s exactly what he likes to exchange with co-host Jacqueline Coley, who was looking to move to L.A. from Austin when she met Ellis at a local press screening.
In the below Q&A, Ellis himself will fill you in on how he and Coley met and why they work together so well. But first: One development that has emerged since this interview was conducted several weeks ago is that Ellis will be taping his new hour-long special, Let’s Get This Over With at the Dynasty Typewriter Theater on Dec. 3 and tickets are on sale now. This is his follow-up to his one-hour Prime Video special Dog Stepfather, which featured some good Star Wars material — something that surely didn’t surprise anyone who knows Ellis, who recently moved to the Valley with his dog, Molly.
We pegged this piece (no pun intended) to the release of Bros, since it’s one of the funniest studio movies in years and we want to get Ellis’ take on what a mainstream rom-com both about and starring two gay men might mean for the future of comedy. He also revealed his favorite comedies of all time, his thoughts as a comic on the infamous Oscars slap, and the biggest misconception about film critics—as well as what he looks forward to most on the movie calendar each year.
LA Magazine: Could you describe the format of your podcast for folks who haven’t heard it yet and tell me why you and Jacqueline make such a great team?
Rotten Tomatoes Is Wrong has a format that everybody who’s ever looked at the Tomatometer has probably felt in their gut at some point. Because you might feel differently than a scoreboard reflecting the amalgam of critics and their feelings on a movie, or the audience score, for that matter, and so the conversation that everybody has about the Tomatometer is “why I think it’s too high or it’s too low.” Sometimes you think it’s just right, but this is a podcast that allows us to sort of vent, and the listener and the viewer get to vent through us, about how the Tomatometer, while being a great guide, may not always reflect our particular feelings about a movie. And so it’s fun from two different standpoints—if you think a movie is ridiculously high on the Tomatometer and you just don’t get it, then we’ll talk about it. And if you think a movie is unjustly rotten on the Tomatometer, you can defend your argument here.
And the reason why Jacqueline and I work so well is that we hit it off as friends first before we started working together. It wasn’t like we just got thrown into a room and they said, “you two—do a podcast!” We had great chemistry already. We don’t always see eye to eye on movies, and I think that that works for what the show is. And we’re also not afraid to sort of take fun shots at each other, whether it’s about a movie or a football team or anything else going on in our lives.
How’d you two meet?
Funnily enough, we met at a screening, but I believe it was after the screening. I think she was still based in Austin at the time, so I think we were talking about her maybe moving out to L.A. and what my experience moving from Virginia to L.A. was like, and from there we’d just see each other at screenings and just gradually started chatting more. And I think when it became a friendship versus an acquaintanceship, was when we sat together at a screening of The Meg, and she knew how ridiculously excited I was to see that movie, and I knew how excited she was to see that movie. We left, and I don’t want to speak for her, but I think that she really, really liked it, and I was like, “well, that was a movie!” And so we had a funny little debate in the lobby. As you know, we always get in our little circles and talk about the movie afterward, and that’s when we started realizing that even though we don’t see movies the same way all the time, that’s actually going to make this friendship (and presumably, the show) a lot more fun.
Do you have a favorite episode of the show or an episode that you’d like to have back?
I mean, after you tape a podcast, you kind of always think, ‘oh man, I should’ve said that differently. Why did I say that?’ Apologies to Lon Harris for going so long on the 48-frame issue on The Hobbit prequels, but I had to say it!
As far as a favorite podcast that I have, it was great… for whatever reason, I really remember the Sister Act 2 podcast because that was a movie that just kind of came and went [for most people] but it had such a curiously low Tomatometer, I think it was in, like, the teens or something, and I remember thinking, “that’s so low, and I know comedy sequels don’t always work out well,” but then I rewatched Sister Act 2 and I was like, “this is a really good movie!” It has such a different tone from the first one. And after we did that podcast, I guess a lot more of this generation’s critics went back and saw the movie and submitted their reviews, and it actually gained a lot of traction and so Sister Act 2 started climbing up the Tomatometer, and that’s when I realized that a) I love talking about this stuff, and b) this show can actually have a positive impact with some movies that may have been forgotten.
What is the biggest misconception that people have about film critics and what’s the thing they get right?
That we all think alike and that everybody who’s a critic went through the same school of criticism and was just dropped in a major metropolis and goes to see movies all the time and that’s their entire life. That’s not the case, and a lot of us do a lot of other things with our day-to-day and our night-to-night.
I think the thing that people get right about movie critics is that we are incredibly fortunate to get to see a lot of movies early and a lot of movies for free. I think that the job of a critic is a) to review the movie honestly, but the other one is to sort of remembering where you came from and remember that a lot of other people don’t have the privilege that we do, and so you have to honor that it is a privilege to get to see movies for free. We’re working hard, but it really is a nice thing to get to see them early.
What is the thing you look forward to most each year on the movie calendar?
When we start our year, and I’ll say in January for the sake of this conversation, for me as a huge movie fan, it’s sort of like when the NFL releases its schedule, and you just look at, like, “what are the real juicy games that my team’s going to play, and what are the big Monday night games?” So the first thing I look for is, “what is the first big summer blockbuster?” And then I will look at what is coming out on July 4, that weekend, and then the next thing that I do is check out the slate of October movies coming out because I wanna see which horror flicks are pinned to be released around Halloween because those are some of my favorite films to go see in a theater.
But once that release date comes out, the first thing I’m thinking about is me as a fan when I was 16 years old and I would mow all the lawns in my neighborhood to get money to go see a movie. And I’m like, “What am I mowing lawns for this year? Which movie do I really wanna put in that sweat to go see on opening night?’ I’ll shower before, of course. I’ll mow the lawns and then I’ll shower. No one should have to smell the combination of gasoline and old grass at the movie theater.
Comedy is thriving on television, so why do you think that movie studios have backed away from theatrical comedy a bit?
I think that everything is cyclical, and so I feel like movie studios—when they’re looking at major releases, as far as their tentpoles in theaters—they’re trending towards the big blockbusters, which nowadays include comic book movies and superhero films, maybe a big action film or a big horror film, or then every so often you get an anomaly like Top Gun: Maverick, but the thing that I think people need to keep in mind is that when you talk about a big blockbuster comic book film, especially within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, those movies are really funny too, so there’s a lot of comedy in there. And I think that sometimes if you’re looking at where to spend your moviegoing dollar, you look at a film like Shang-Chi, to reference this phase, and you say, “Well that has a lot of action and that also has a lot of comedy in it, so it’s really everything I’m looking for.” [As far as] studios releasing comedies, I think that they’re just very careful about what they’re going to put in theaters and put a marketing budget behind because there are so many platforms to stream it and to go VOD. And so I think that’s where a lot of comedies end up.
But I would also stress that I don’t think comedies in movie theaters are going to go away because it’s really only akin to a great horror movie around Halloween—the opening weekend experience of getting to see a comedy in a packed house with other people [who are] excited to see that movie.
You know the funny thing about is that the three-camera, studio audience sitcom is all but a dinosaur, right, and so really, the only place that we can go to hear other people sort of ratify our laughs and justify how funny we think something is by hearing them laugh too, is at a movie theater in a packed house.
Are there comedies from when we were growing up that you look back on now and think, ‘Oh, that’s problematic,’ or ‘There’s no way they’d ever make that movie today?’
Certainly. I think it’s tough to have the full human experience and not go back and look at comedies and say, ‘Well, that wouldn’t fly today,” or maybe, “That shouldn’t have even flown back then.” And these aren’t limited to comedies that I’m like, “Well, I never liked that anyway.” There are comedies that I love that have a problematic scene and we talked about one of them on Rotten Tomatoes Is Wrong. It’s the Ace Ventura: Pet Detective episode, when he finds out that “Einhorn is Finkel and Finkel is Einhorn,” and we still quote that, like, in the zeitgeist today. But the actual backstory of that is a problematic issue and it causes a lot of transphobia, and it’s not anything that would ever fly today. I think that that’s a good thing.
Bros is being billed as the first R-rated gay rom-com from a major studio. Why do you think it took so long for something like that to happen and what do you make of the film’s box office prospects?
I think America is ready for a movie like this because you take movies like Love, Simon and In & Out, and those films walked so Bros could run by being the first major studio release to feature a cast with almost all LGBTQ community members. So, this is, I think, a big step forward, and I think that even if you aren’t just looking at this movie to be a giant leap in terms of representation. Bros, from the trailer, also looks hilarious—it looks like a really funny romantic comedy regardless of who the leads are.
As far as why it took so long, look at who worked on this movie behind the scenes. Look at who’s producing it. It’s Judd Apatow, who obviously is comedy royalty. But you also have Billy Eichner and Guy Branum and folks who are prominent members of the gay community. When you see that they start to have some power behind the scenes in Hollywood, I think that that means that Bros is not just going to be a one-off, it’s not going to be an anomaly, I think that it’s going to be the start of something.
Your baby, the Movie Trivia Schmoedown, wraps up a nine-season run this fall. What has the show meant to you and how do you feel about saying goodbye after all these years?
It’s really gonna hit me when that final Schmoedown Spectacular drops on Oct. 1. And what the show has meant to me over the last nine seasons, what it taught me, is that I am a person who’s still evolving, because when we started the show, I was still very much in my own world, doing standup and just focusing on myself and my career, and then all of a sudden you’re in charge of a show where you have hundreds of personalities that Kristian and I were just sort of wrangling—back in the early days, it was just us doing everything behind the scenes—so to be thrust into a position where you have to become a leader on the fly. I loved being in the heat of battle against experts like yourself, and I also loved announcing and seeing the next generation of movie trivia enthusiasts come up through our ranks — but what I take away is the incredible sense of community that it created. The Schmoedown is coming to an end, but the family that lives in the house is what made it a home, and that is going to be a rock-solid foundation for the rest of our lives.
Where is your favorite place to perform comedy in Los Angeles these days?
My favorite spot to perform standup is my adopted home, the Comedy Store on Sunset Blvd. It was the place that hired me to work every job, really, except do standup, in the early days. You work the door, you park the cars, you sell the tickets, you kick people out, you clean up the puke, you do everything, and that allows you to get on stage a couple of times a week to see if you can do this. I was made a paid regular there, and it was the last comedy club in Los Angeles to make me a paid regular, so I really had to pay a lot of dues there, but it was just such a rewarding experience.
In the wake of The Slap with Will Smith and Chris Rock, do you worry about emboldened audience members taking to the stage, and do you worry about it more in L.A. or on the road if you worry about it at all?
As far as working clubs, either in town or on the road, I have very little concern that somebody would come on stage and try something. The Will Smith-Chris Rock incident was such an isolated thing at the most prestigious award show where it was such a weird vibe that I don’t think you could ever recreate that. But when you look at what happened with Dave Chappelle at the Hollywood Bowl, I feel like that was more of a security letdown than anything else.
What I’ve always done with my shows is make sure that there is security in the room, and that’s more just for anything that might happen, like getting somebody who’s too drunk out of the showroom, but it’s not in the back of my mind when I go up and I perform, but it certainly an eye-opening moment for a lot of comedians that jokes do have an effect. I completely sided with Chris Rock on that issue and I hope I never have another incident like that happen.
Mark Ellis’ Top 5 Favorite Comedies of All Time
3. The Nutty Professor (1996)
2. Top Secret
1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
It’s still the O.G. and the funniest film ever made—98% certified fresh. I was thinking about how Bridesmaids actually had the toughest hurdle because Monty Python and Top Secret were made before I was really conscious of what comedy is. I caught those at a very young age, and I was forming my own sense of humor when I got to see The Nutty Professor and Bowfinger, but I was already a comedian and judging everybody else’s jokes by the time I saw Bridesmaids, and it still had a similar effect on me as those other movies.
So why is Monty Python and the Holy Grail the holy grail of comedy movies for you?
It has nothing to do with its story and it has nothing to do with its pacing, it has nothing to do with all these terms that we love placing on cinematic achievements. The simple reason is that it is just so goddamn funny, from the opening credits before you even see a person, you’re on the floor laughing because you’re following along with this ridiculous story about a moose biting someone’s sister, right through the end of the film when the cops shut it down. It is so ridiculous and so quick and the jokes hit you from every character, constantly. You’re never too far from the next joke. It’s actually going to hit you the next time you see it because there’s so much that you can’t possibly get it all in one viewing. When a comedy holds up to that many repeat viewings, you know you have something special.
Rotten Tomatoes Is Wrong is available on major podcast platforms, including Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
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