Michael Showalter is best known as one-third of Stella, the Marx Brothers-inspired comedy troupe whose unfortunately short-lived 2005 Comedy Central show (hey, at least now we’ve got Mind of Mencia!…that was sarcastic) nonetheless gained a considerable cult following and had fans hungering for more absurdist humor from Showalter and Stella co-members Michael Ian Black and David Wain.

Now Showalter has traded his Stella persona of goofy-faced, oversensitive man-child for that of a self-obsessed, boorish talk show host (perhaps his terrible experience on The Tom Green Show paid dividends) in The Michael Showalter Showalter, an ongoing original collegehumor.com show and parody of staid, serious interviewers like that master Charlie Rose.

The redundantly titled short webisodes, which began in January 2007, star Showalter’s same-named alter ego, a vain, assholic prima donna whose supposedly serious show (all-black backdrop, espresso props for fellow comedian guests) is repeatedly undermined by “behind the scenes” footage revealing Showalter’s manipulative, childish behavior.

For example, between chewing dip, admitting his hatred of performing stand-up “en stäge,” and talking about his father’s problems with the KKK (“He’s Greek, so he had trouble joining it”), Showalter stop-by Zach Galifianakis confronts his host about the strange emails Michael keeps sending about wanting gas money for a long past two-mile trip.

David Cross must put up with Showalter pushing his script containing a custom made role for the bespectacled funny man, while Andy Samberg gets insultingly confused with Adam Sandler (and also addressed as “Ami Sanderg,” among other names) and Jack McBrayer is treated with complete disrespect for not bringing along 30 Rock co-star Tina Fey (Showalter: “We’re going to be back here next time with someone else better”)

The funniest bit has Showalter and Paul Rudd reenacting David O. Russell’s notorious tirade on the set of I Heart Huckabees that was leaked on YouTube a few years ago. “You’re a grown-up, so act like a fucking grown-up!” Showalter screams as he hurls detritus from a nearby desk. It somehow manages to be funnier than the real thing, no small feat.
Rudd happens to be one of the better guests on Showalter, bringing his A game by acting “in character” as a surly jerk named Randy, bullshitting some new age mumbo-jumbo about being in touch with the universe, and imitating Yoda imitating Gandhi. Unlike the behind the scenes segments, the Showalter’s interviews seem to be completely improvised, and it’s clear which guests can flow with Showalter’s on-the-spot weirdness and which ones are less adaptive.

Rudd, Galifianakis, and Wain (his and Showalter’s passive-aggressive back and forth on the failures of their collaborative work in Wet Hot American Summer is a perfect example of comic timing honed from years of working together) are terrific, while Cross, McBrayer, and Michael Cera often seem detached and adrift. But there’s rarely an episode that’s entirely unfunny, and if worse comes to worse there’s always Showalter himself, who’s simply terrific to watch even as an intentionally bad interviewer.

Who else would have his name spelled out on the wall of his set, with a rifle mounted overhead for no discernable reason? Or ask best friend Black about his penis size? Not Charlie Rose, that’s for sure.
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