Events

2018 Vulture Festival Los Angeles: Sunday

For pop culture junkies, it’s easy to go way too hard at the Vulture Festival knowing that you could be getting the inside scoop on Syfy’s Deadly Class one moment and touring Grand Central Market with Phil Rosenthal and Nancy Silverton the next. We learned our lesson from last year and paced ourselves accordingly on Sunday, focusing on a handful of the festival’s returning “signature” events. Read on for some of our favorite moments from Day Two.

Amber Tamblyn and Roxane Gay Host Feminist AF

There’s nothing like a good walkout jam, and co-hosts Amber Tamblyn and Roxane Gay nailed it with a throwback to M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” as they took the stage alongside guests America Ferrera, Ada Limón and Carmen Maria Machado for their Feminist AF reading series. Gay began by reminding the audience that just last week, 110 women were elected to the United States Congress. This transitioned nicely into a reading of “Be a Good Boy,” from the collection Forty-Four Stories about Our Forty-Four Presidents; the flash fiction piece centers around an intimate moment between John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie in their White House bedroom as John considers how the building does not feel like home.

Poet Ada Limón captivated the audience with “How to Triumph Like a Girl,” a visceral evocation of female strength through the image of an “8-pound female horse heart.” Though the poem was written several decades ago, it was recently published in her collection Bright Dead Things and won a 2015 Pushcart Prize. Carmen Maria Machado followed with her self-described “hit single,” “The Husband Stitch,” from Her Body and Other Parties. The story—whose title refers to an extra stitch given during the repair process after a vaginal birth, supposedly to tighten the vagina for increased pleasure of a male sexual partner—plays on the schoolyard tale of the girl who wears a mysterious green ribbon around her neck.

Pants-sharing BFFs America Ferrera and Amber Tamblyn closed out the reading series, each sharing intimate, emotional essays. Ferrera read an excerpt from her personal contribution to an anthology she recently edited, called American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures; the essay discusses a trip to Honduras when Ferrera encountered her estranged father’s grave by happenstance. Tamblyn followed by taking us back to Election Night 2016—a night she spent at the Javits Center in Manhattan amongst fellow Hillary Clinton supporters, watching “Katy Perry anxiously chew[ing] on a celery stick.” Tamblyn’s essay, from her upcoming collection Era of Ignition, follows her journey through carrying a pregnancy to term post-election and her worry about keeping her daughter safe in this world. She ended her reading by playing a recording of her daughter’s heartbeat, eliciting heavy sighs and a smattering of sniffles from the audience.

Off Book: The Improvised Musical Podcast Live!

At this point, our Vulture Festival experience wouldn’t be complete without an absurd musical number from Rachel Bloom. Thanks to Jessica McKenna and Zach Reino of Off Book—an improvised musical podcast, just like the tagline says—a lucky handful of folks got to experience just that, in an oddly fitting velveted lounge in the basement of The Hollywood Roosevelt.

McKenna and Reino are forces of improv nature, spinning a hilarious melodic tale about Disneyland’s Tower of Terror ride right before our very ears. There was fantasy! There was drama! There was a song about STDs! At one point, they even sang a number about being forces of literal nature with McKenna’s “Lightning” and Reino’s “Thunder” shepherding special guest Bloom along in her role as “Hurricane.” I can definitively say that I’ve never seen or heard anything like it. And, as McKenna and Reino told the audience, it’s impossible to experience that exact musical ever again.

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Events

2018 Vulture Festival Los Angeles: Saturday

Deftly avoiding a sophomore slump, the Vulture Festival was back in Los Angeles for the second year in a row, and this year’s lineup was just as jam-packed as the inaugural iteration. Not only did the festival host conversations with cultural icons such as Cynthia Nixon and Busy Philipps, but it also had panels with new fan faves such as Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat and Crazy Rich Asians) and Lana Condor (To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and Syfy’s Deadly Class), as well as a handful of pretty nutty feature events—improvised musical podcast taping with special guest Rachel Bloom, anyone? Read on for some of Dinner Party’s favorites from Day One.

Scrubs Reunion

In this age of reboots and remakes, you can’t help but wonder—even worry—any time the word “reunion” is used that a “major announcement” will shortly follow. Seriously though, can’t we all just reminisce about how great a show was without fearing that it will spark a subpar reboot from a network?! Well thankfully, this weekend’s Scrubs Reunion was just that. In what the panel (featuring stars Zach Braff, Donald Faison, Sarah Chalke, John C. McGinley, Ken Jenkins, Judy Reyes, Neil Flynn, Christa Miller, and creator Bill Lawrence) described as the “first one of these things we’ve all agreed to”—namely because of the free booze—the vibe at the Scrubs Reunion was truly just that of friends reflecting on fond memories.

Whether it was laughing about Sarah Chalke’s inability to finish a scene without breaking or trying to understand all of the multiple layers of The Janitor, there were plenty of laughs and “remember whens” at this reunion. Most importantly there was even a surprise appearance from The Todd—notably not invited to speak on the panel, but he made up for it but showing up in his full costume, banana hammock and everything. The panel even had to stop at one point because they had fallen down a deep hole of their own inside jokes before remembering the audience wasn’t in on all of the jokes.

Creator Bill Lawrence did reference and express gratitude for the intense dedication and love from the fans of Scrubs as one of the main reasons the show was able to be as bold as it was. Yes, Scrubs was a hilarious comedy with wacky fantasy bits and slapstick delivery, but it also dared to be real by dealing with solemn topics such as life and death. In the fourth episode, the viewer and doctors in training are all told that on average 1 in 3 patients admitted will die; however, the surprise—SPOILER ALERT—comes when all 3 of the patients-of-the-week die, and the characters are left to deal with the finality of death. Lawrence acknowledges that taking a major turn like that so early in a show’s course could have been the kiss of death for Scrubs, and the studio even advised against it. Thankfully, Lawrence took the risk and the fans loved it; Scrubs set itself apart from other network comedies of the early ’00s because of its ability to balance comedy and drama, all in 22 minutes.

So why no reboot? According to Lawrence, it is both because reboots feel like a cash grab, and all of the actors seem to be doing fine. Lawrence jokingly promised that if any of the actors on the panel were in a crisis, he would help them out—but only with a “small movie” and only in the form of a “where are they now.” Thankfully the cast of Scrubs is, in fact, doing well, so there is no need for the stress and worry of a “will they or won’t they ruin my favorite TV show.” Instead, we can all just gather seventeen years after the premiere and laugh about what it means to know that you’re no superman.

Constance Wu: In Conversation

Constance Wu has lived one hell of a 2018.  Not only has she been able to trade in her ‘06 Prius and swap out her apartment for her very own house, but she’s also enjoyed the fifth season of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat and starred in the major romantic comedy hit of the year, Crazy Rich AsiansThis has been an amazing year for Wu, but she mentioned that it has not always been easy, particularly because she felt a lot of anxiety surrounding Crazy Rich Asians—and not about whether it would be a box office hit or slump. Rather, she was worried about what it meant for such an underserved audience. A reflection is the best way to sum up Saturday’s conversation; yes, there were questions about both her TV and film projects, but mainly, the conversation focused around her Asian American identity and what it means to be a woman in Hollywood during the era of #MeToo.  

Wu mentioned that she, like most Asian American actors, struggled at first with how her identity would play out in her characters. At first, she said she wanted to play parts that didn’t take race into account at all, but as time has passed, she realized that doing this was robbing her characters of a fully formed identity and experience. A character’s race (or gender, sexual orientation, and so on) should not be the only thing defining a character, but it is a large part of how the character sees themselves and how they fit into their worlds. Wu said that to ignore her race in the efforts of “color blind” casting was to erase her lived experiences and oversimplify these characters. By taking on roles such as Jessica Huang in Fresh Off the Boat and Rachel Chu in Crazy Rich Asians, Wu has been able to utilize her lived experiences and elevate characters that are not just complex and fully formed, but most importantly, real.

A theme that lasted throughout the conversation was challenging the notion that anyone should have to soften their experiences for someone else’s comfort. This came up frequently while talking about her experience as an Asian American, and specifically an Asian American actress, but it was also discussed when speaking about what it means to be a woman during a pivotal time in Hollywood history.

Wu’s struggles—and honestly, one I very much related to—was best summed up in her recent panic over whether to use an exclamation point or a period in an email. Her point was that women used exclamation points to soften the blow of their sentences; she argued that by ending “can’t wait to discuss this further with you” with an exclamation point, she intentionally created a more easygoing and cheerful sentiment in comparison to the same sentence with a period, which would have been more forceful and direct. With this example, Wu addressed the idea that as a woman, she is expected to put other people’s comfort over her own truth and experiences. In the end, she said that she—with the help of her therapist—decided that it’s still ok to use exclamation points, but not to fall back on them when you mean the sentiments of a period.

Ever the entertainer, Wu kept the conversation from lingering too long in the shadows of these complex topics by peppering the conversation with fun facts. My personal favorite was Wu’s obsession with Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next.” For the record, Wu loves the song because she believes it is using both an exclamation point and a period—which is where she seems to want the future to be.    

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Events

Yours in the Sisterhood: An Evening of Female Storytelling at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery

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There’s nothing quite like driving into the Hollywood Forever Cemetery after dark, under the light of a blindingly bright full moon (or, more precisely, a super blue blood moon). Along with about a hundred other women and allies, I tiptoed around shadowy graves to the Masonic Lodge for the first meeting of The Secret Society of the Sisterhood, a new monthly storytelling event featuring an incredible lineup of iconic, diverse women.

Without revealing too much about the meeting—it is, after all, a secret society—the evening’s stories all revolved around a central theme, “Reclaiming My Time.” A few highlights: Jade Chang took us on a deep dive regarding the true insidious nature of the slightly pervy but seemingly innocuous punchline, “That’s what she said.” Last-minute replacement Del Harrison gave us her honest opinion about getting involved with men on cocaine. Spoiler alert: it ain’t pretty. Mara Wilson told a story about the time she came out to her parents—and they were, to her surprise, not that surprised, thanks to a comment from her childhood charm school teacher. And Randa Jarrar gave us a glimpse into the world of BDSM, a community where she felt safe, compared to “the vanilla stuff that was scary, undiscussed, unnegotiated.”

Candles were lit. We took a group oath. Somebody quoted Ursula Le Guin. Another invoked Beyoncé. There were some tears and many, many laughs. At one point, I had a friend hold my cup of wine because I was laughing so hard I needed to clutch my gut with one hand and fan myself with the other. If that’s not enough of an endorsement for you to attend the next meeting, I don’t know what is.

The Secret Society of The Sisterhood will meet once again by the light of the full moon on March 1st. The lineup includes author and stand-up comedian Jen Kirkman, writer and producer Gloria Calderón Kellett, actress Nicole Byer, and former rock and roll groupie Pamela Des Barres—with more sisters to be announced soon! Tickets are $25 online and $30 at the door. For more information, please visit The Sisterhood’s website.

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Events

Secret’s Out: The Secret Society of The Sisterhood Comes to Los Angeles

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If your interests include storytelling, celebrating human connectivity, and hanging out with a group of brilliant, diverse women in a cemetery under the light of a full moon, this event is for you. On January 31st, The Secret Society of The Sisterhood, a monthly, topical storytelling event, will launch its inaugural meeting at The Masonic Lodge in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

The Sisterhood brings together some of the most iconic women of our generation to read or perform something prepared for the theme of the evening. The theme for January 31st is “Reclaiming My Time.” Special guests for this month’s meeting include a handful of celebrated and prolific multihypenates:

  • Mara Wilson, star of Matilda and critically acclaimed author of Where Am I Now?
  • Jamie Lee, comedian, writer, and star of the hit TV show Crashing and author of the bestselling book Weddiculous
  • Marianne Jean-Baptiste, singer-songwriter and Academy Award-nominated actress
  • Jade Chang, celebrated author of the The Wangs vs. the World
  • Our Lady J, songstress and accomplished writer and producer for HBO’s Transparent
  • Randa Jarrar, award-winning writer and author of Him, Me, Muhammad Ali

Trish Nelson, writer, performer, and founder of BanterGirl, created this event series and will be hosting the evening. Nelson is also one of the people who recently came forward about abuse in the service industry, speaking out against Ken Friedman in the The New York Times. Her experience is one of the things that motivated her to create the new series in Los Angeles.

Chevalier’s Books, L.A.’s oldest independent bookstore, will be at the event, selling the works of lineup members, in addition to a curated selection of titles from other must-read female authors. A number of female artists will also be on site to create pieces during the event that will help capture the evening’s experience for audience members. Those items will be featured and available for sale in the lobby after the show. And to top it all off, ticket holders will be invited to an intimate post-show gala with complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres in the Eastern Star Room.

Proceeds from The Sisterhood events will go to various female-centric charitable organizations. For the January 31st gathering, proceeds will be donated to WriteGirl, an organization developed to help young girls find their voice through creative writing mentorships.

The Secret Society of The Sisterhood will commence on January 31st at 8:00 p.m. at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery’s Masonic Lodge. Tickets are $25 online and $30 at the door. Parking is free (yes, really!) onsite. For more information, please visit The Sisterhood’s website.

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2017 Vulture Festival Los Angeles: Sunday

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Am I completely and totally exhausted from all of the excitement of the Vulture Festival this weekend? Yes. Is my head still spinning from all the dazzling insight I’ve learned about my favorite pop culture obsessions? Yes. Would I do it all again next year? Absolutely. Read on for some of the highlights from Day Two.

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: 100th Song Celebration Sing-A-Long

If you haven’t already watched the comedic genius that is The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, do yourself a favor this Thanksgiving holiday and watch an episode or two (or ten!) of the critically acclaimed cult favorite. The Vulture Festival event was a little less like sitting through your typical panel and a little more like finding yourself in the middle of a musical theater rehearsal—albeit one that features folks from network TV alongside 400 super-eager extras.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend co-creators Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna, along with cast members Vincent Rodriguez III, Scott Michael Foster, Donna Lynne Champlin, Pete Gardner, Vella Lovell, Gabrielle Ruiz and David Hull treated a packed audience to some tasty trivia about the cast, a peek behind-the-scenes of some of the show’s most memorable musical numbers, and, of course, those promised sing-a-longs.

A few fun facts: Rodriguez, who plays Josh, auditioned for his role by accompanying himself on the guitar while singing and rapping “Thugz Mansion” by Tupac Shakur. Why such a bold move? For one, he had the song ready from his audition for the Broadway musical Holler If Ya Hear Me. Bloom added that the audition instructions asked for them to “showcase musical ability such as singing, playing guitar, or rapping” and mused that Rodriguez had understood it to mean he had to do all three, all at once.

On the other hand, Hull, who plays White Josh, auditioned for the role of Greg but didn’t even get a callback. However, the casting director noted that he “kind of looks like a white Josh” and decided to create that role if the show ended up going to series. However, Hull wasn’t notified that a part was being written for him, and it wasn’t until much, much later that Hull received a call about White Josh.

As for the sing-a-long, I hate to say that you had to be there, but well, you really had to be there to experience the magic that comes from belting out “Let’s Generalize About Men,” “Getting Bi,” and “West Covina” with the cast. But, a small consolation for those who couldn’t attend—Paula’s new song, “Very First Penis I Saw,” debuted at the festival, and it, my friends, is an absolute delight that is coming to your TV very soon.

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American Vandal

The ever-lingering question of “Who drew the dicks?” was asked once again during the American Vandal panel, featuring stars Jimmy Tatro and Tyler Alvarez, co-creators Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda, and showrunner Dan Lagana. Although many—including friends of Tatro and Alvarez—are still confused as to who was actually guilty of the crime after the show’s premiere on Netflix, the creators felt pretty certain they had answered it in the season finale.

“We feel like we told you exactly who did it,” Lagana argued. “[We] just had Peter (Alvarez) have a moral compass at the end, saying, ‘If I didn’t have hard evidence, me definitively saying who did it on camera in my doc would make me no better than the school system…but I have my theory!’ It’s like, that’s his theory! That’s who did it!”

However, the answer to the bigger of question of what’s in-store for Season 2 of American Vandal remains more elusive. All Perrault and Yacenda would share is that it will take place at a brand new, preppy high school, with Peter and Sam (Griffin Gluck) investigating yet another hilariously absurd crime.

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Lena Waithe and Common Unveil The Chi

The festival concluded with an advance screening of the upcoming Showtime drama series The Chi, followed by a discussion with creator and producer Lena Waithe and executive producer Common. Officially premiering on January 7th, The Chi follows the lives of folks living in the South Side of Chicago. The show deals with a number of difficult, yet extremely important social justice matters, and with the pilot episode, Waithe puts one of these issues at the forefront of the conversation: Why do black bodies have to die before their lives start to matter?

Before you think that this is just another one of those way too serious, didactic TV dramas, think again. At its core, The Chi has a joyful heart—not to mention a sense of humor snappier than a Chrissy Teigen clapback—though this doesn’t quite come through in the show’s premise, nor its heavy-handed teaser trailer. Both Waithe and Common grew up in Chicago, which undoubtedly allowed for them to create an authentic portrayal of, for better or worse, one of the country’s most notorious locales. This reputation is not entirely unwarranted—and the show doesn’t shy away from that fact—but The Chi also depicts the South Side as a complex, nuanced place with a robust cast of characters and stories that you can really sink your teeth into.

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2017 Vulture Festival Los Angeles: Saturday

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Imagine being airdropped down into the dead center of your favorite pop culture obsession—be it TV, film, or podcast. That’s probably the easiest way to describe the whirlwind that was this weekend’s Vulture Festival at The Hollywood Roosevelt. Read on for some of the highlights from Day One.

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Stranger Things: Inside the Upside Down

There seemed to be people crammed into every last nook and cranny of the sold-out Stranger Things panel on Saturday afternoon to hear about the latest season—and beyond!—from creators Matt and Ross Duffer, producer Shawn Levy, and actors Finn Wolfhard, Paul Reiser, and Linnea Berthelsen. The cast and crew seemed eager to please their fans, sharing story after story about the making of the second season, the introduction of new characters, and how the Duffer Brothers seemed to get some “glee out of trashing Joyce Byers’ house.”

Turns out, this season’s favorite bromance between Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) And Steve (Joe Keery) and wasn’t originally in the script. The shifting dynamics in the younger kids’ friend group left Dustin out of the inner circle, and the Duffer Brothers didn’t want to leave Steve “in his room crying about Nancy” after the couple’s breakup. The solution to this sticky plot dilemma? Creating a “meet-cute” for the two characters at the Wheeler residence, which then paved the way for some of the season’s funniest and most delightful onscreen moments.

Another surprising tidbit? Newcomer Berthelsen’s character Kali was supposed to be Eleven’s 30-year-old brother. What’s more, the Duffer Brothers had first intended for the season’s opening scene to be completely different. Said Matt Duffer, “We just wanted to do a car chase, it’s really childish. But it builds from there. I wanted people to think ‘Did I click on the wrong show?’”

The new plot line allowed them to experiment with that episode, and, for better or worse depending on your opinions about “The Lost Sister,” we may not be done with Kali and her crew just yet. Hinting at the future of Stranger Things, Ross Duffer mused that they were in the “very early days of season three.” But after realizing what he may have unleashed, he quickly corrected himself by declaring, “That’s not official, that wasn’t an official announcement. We’re just working on it, just for our own amusement—for fun!”

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Search Party Scavenger Hunt

First, there was a scavenger hunt across Hollywood (that may or may not have involved riding a mechanical bull). Then, there was a party, during which learned that Phoebe Tyers is a twin and that Alia Shawkat smells really good. But that’s neither here nor there—just watch the new season, why don’t you?

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Jill Soloway and Lena Waithe

Due to a last-minute event change, Jill Soloway, Emmy-award winning director and creator of Transparent, sat down with Emmy-winning writer and actor Lena Waithe (Master of None, The Chi) for a conversation about ways to “topple the patriarchy”—especially in the entertainment industry. However, Soloway declined to address the allegations surrounding Jeffrey Tambor, stating, “Because there is an investigation that we are amidst, I am not able to say anything at all about it. I’m trying to just protect the process and make sure that we have a process with the most integrity to make sure… that it turns out fair.”

Instead, Soloway spoke largely about the 50/50 by 2020 initiative, where companies and organizations are challenged to place women in 50% of all higher-level positions across the workforce. Waithe added, “I wish there was a mandate that no show could be funded without making sure that the [writers’] rooms are a reflection of society.”

Waithe and Soloway expressed their support for better and fairer writing opportunities for women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ communities. As for creating safer working environments, Soloway shared only a few thoughts on the matter: “What if we don’t have sex with people at work? We don’t talk about sex at work, and we don’t touch people at work. Just to try it.”

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Get Your Pop Culture Fix at Vulture Festival Los Angeles

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Calling all pop culture lovers: Are you feeling a little empty inside after realizing you blew through the new season of Stranger Things this Halloweekend? Did that fresh new trailer for Annihilation leave you chomping at the bit for Natalie Portman’s next performance? Perhaps you’re already missing the cast of Scandal even though there are still three episodes left? Or maybe you’ve been holding out all these years for the chance to ask Damon Lindelof about the ending of Lost…and the meaning of life? If so, the folks at Vulture Festival Los Angeles have you covered.

Just like its NYC-based cousin, Vulture Festival Los Angeles has one hell of a stacked lineup. Besides the talent mentioned above—Natalie and Kerry?!?–the festival features the likes of Ava DuVernay, Ryan Coogler, Sofia Coppola, Roxane Gay, Amber Tamblyn, Issa Rae, Lena Dunham, Ed Helms, Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, Ted Danson, Jonathan Ames, Robert Pattinson, and a whole bunch of other ridiculously cool people.

What’s more, the weekend-long festival offers a wide variety of pop culture panels, screenings, and other awesome—if slightly absurd—events. There’s an 8:30 a.m. private tour of The Broad art museum with New York magazine and Vulture senior art critic Jerry Saltz. There’s a scavenger hunt across Hollywood with the stars of Search Party. There’s even a 100th song celebration sing-a-long with Rachel Bloom and the cast of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

And to top it all off, tickets to most events are only $25 and include access to the AT&T Vulture Lounge poolside at The Hollywood Roosevelt and a free drink. If you’re in more of a “treat yo self” mood, however, a limited quantity of all-access Vulture Passes are available for $495.

Vulture Festival Los Angeles is going down on November 18th and 19th at The Hollywood Roosevelt and a handful of other venues in the L.A. area. To see the full lineup or to purchase tickets, please visit the Vulture Festival website.

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