Russell Peters as talk show host Jayme Stillerman in "The Clapper"

Tribeca 2017: Dito Montiel and Russell Peters on “The Clapper”

Romantic Comedy Stars Ed Helms and Amanda Seyfried

Apr 25, 2017 Web Exclusive
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For his latest feature, writer-director Dito Montiel (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Fighting) tells the story of Eddie Krumble (Ed Helms), a man whose life – and second chance at love – is thrown into chaos by unexpected (and undesired) viral fame. Fresh to Los Angeles and still recovering from the sudden death of his wife, Eddie eeks out a meager-yet-happy living working as a “clapper:” a paid seat-filler at studio television tapings. When he’s not laughing at bad jokes or feigning intent interest in infomercial pitches, he’s making special trips to a gas station to flirt with a soft-spoken night attendant named Judy (Amanda Seyfried).

Eddie’s comfortable life explodes when a provocateur talk show host (Russell Peters) recognizes him sitting in multiple TV audiences, and showcases a highlight reel of Eddie’s many disguises on his late night show. Eddie loses his job and worse yet, his newfound fame drives a wedge in his relationship with the shy Judy.

The supporting cast of Montiel’s new comedy features a lot of famous faces, including Tracy Morgan, Adam Levine, Leah Remini, P.J. Byrne, James Ransone, Todd Giebenhain, and Alan Thicke.

The Clapper made its premiere at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival on April 23rd. Writer-director Dito Montiel and actor (and standup comedian) Russell Peters took some time out at the fest to talk to us about their new movie.

Austin Trunick [Under the Radar]: Can you tell me where your concept for The Clapper came from?

Dito Montiel: Well, I’m from New York. My friend and I, we both needed jobs and a place to live. I got offered a job out in Los Angeles working in a dub room, in a recording studio. I needed to go somewhere, and he said “I’ll go with you,” because he needed something to do, too. We both went out there, and he got a job as a “clapper,” or a paid audience member. He’d get paid $75 to do a show, and sometimes he’d do three shows a day. He’d have to change the way he looks for each of them. He’d literally have a [fake] moustache, or he’d bring sweaters so he could switch them [between tapings]. They don’t want the same audience at every episode. He’d do infomercials and Judge Judy. [laughs] Lots of infomercials, and if he got to ask a question he’d get an extra $100, which was a big deal.

When he finally got to ask a question, they gave him an extra $100 and then he was sort of blacklisted for a month because his face was on TV. He couldn’t work again, and he was really upset about it. I got to thinking it was kind of an interesting concept, that fame sort of screws you up. That was the beginning of it, and I just started writing from there.

Russell, what made you interested in your role?

Russell Peters: Well, for me, it was a chance to work with Dito. Secondly, I’m not exactly a talk show darling. I don’t do very many of them, and I don’t get asked very often. So for me it was a chance to be the host, and to kind of take a shot at them. Not so much in a mean-spirited way, but more of an “If you can’t beat ‘em...”

There are some pretty obvious models for your character. Did you look at  talk shows to get ideas?

Russell: I mean, no, they’re pretty much all the same thing with a different head attached to it. If you lined up all of the talk shows, I think the only one that would stand out would be Kimmel as far as doing anything groundbreaking, or really fun and interesting. Otherwise they’re all kind of the same thing: monologue, guest, guest, band, good night. And so, I think I was just taking that into consideration and trying to make it as mundane as possible. [Laughs]

The two main characters are both technophobes, but their whole story comes from this viral fame that suddenly happens around them. Dito, was it a challenge to write the sort of characters who don’t understand the Internet, or don’t have cell phones, into our modern world?

Dito: Yeah. [The world’s changed] even since writing it. Initially, Eddie would go into an Internet café, and Internet cafes are pretty much gone. There are still a few in Hollywood, and the one we actually filmed in was right across the street, funny enough ... A lot of the thought that went into it was that it’s a changing world, and Eddie, Judy, they’re the last of their kind. They’re like a payphone. These things are going away soon, and Eddie Krumble won’t survive much more in this world.

It’s funny. A friend of mine [who came to the premiere] only a year ago asked me if he should get a computer or the Internet. I said, “Listen, man. Just get the whole thing!” If you’re asking a question like that, maybe you shouldn’t get anything. [Laughs]

Russell: I have a cousin who was like that. He asked me if I had an "E-mail machine.”

Dito: That’s good! [Laughs] And so, [those people] are still out there. They’re forgotten even more now, because people are so far beyond it. My father was a typewriter mechanic. That’s like being a blacksmith at this point!

Russell: We went to a restaurant and there was a typewriter hanging on the wall. My daughter literally asked me, “What is that, Daddy?” I said, “It’s a typewriter.” “What does it do?” I said, “It’s like a computer with no screen.”

Dito: They look really cool in coffee shops.

Russell: Hipsters love them!

Jayme Stillerman, Russell’s character, is the antagonist at least as far as Eddie Krumble’s story is concerned. But do you see him as a villain? Or, is he just providing the public with the entertainment that they crave?

Russell: I think he’s unwittingly the villain. He doesn’t want to be, or desire to be. He’s doing this thinking it’s all in fun, but doesn’t realize he’s unraveling somebody’s life. And once he does realize that, he tries to help them piece it back together.

Dito: Right. It wasn’t so much [we wanted] to vilify anyone, or even vilify fame itself. It was just that the situation that Eddie is in, it's that fame screws him. I imagine he would be fine with fame if it payed him. Or gave him stability. And so this is messing with this guy.

He was fine with the way his life was, and he didn’t need it to be rocked. I imagine these days most people think of fame as something like, why wouldn’t you want it? Initially we played the film to a small audience. That was in Hollywood, so there were a lot of actors. A lot of them were like, “Why wouldn’t he just be excited?” It was because everyone was laughing at him.

Russell: We live in a time where there’s a lot of famous people without talent.

Dito: Or are fine with however they’re famous. It doesn’t matter if people are laughing at them.

Russell: Right, it doesn’t matter. Somehow it will equal dollars for them. And sadly, that’s happening more often than its not. People are getting famous without talent, and the more talented you are, the less famous you’re likely to be.

From what I understand, Russell, your career really blew up through going viral on YouTube. I’m wondering you can relate to or understand what these characters are going through?

Russell: When it happened for me, I guess I was one of the first YouTube success stories. I was excited and panicked at the same time. I was excited that people wanted to see me, but I was panicked because my stuff is now in front of you and at the time I didn’t know if I had it in me to come up with other things that were good quick enough. What it gave me is that I developed a muscle that allowed me to think quicker and produce quicker out of necessity. And so, it was a good thing for me. But it is a double-edged sword, though, because you want them to find you, but then you have to protect what you have so that they don’t see what you’re doing. So, it’s a tough one, but it’s a damn good problem to have.

How did you career in standup comedy prepare you to take on acting roles?

Russell: Once you get comfortable on stage, you develop a self-awareness. Once you’re comfortable being you, and then you get an acting role, you know who you are and you can understand who you want to be, or who you want to project. It’s always a variation of who you are, or an extension of what you’ve seen or what you think would happen in a situation.

It’s just like doing a character on stage, you know? When I’m doing an impression of somebody, it’s basically the same thing, only you’re maintaining it for the sake of a film.

What do you two have coming next? Dito, you don’t seem to let more than a year, year-and-a-half go by between projects. Are you working on a new film?

Dito: I’m writing right now, so yeah. I don’t make Yes records, man. I make Ramones records. [Laughs]

Russell: Well, I have this move called The Clapper coming out. [Laughs] And then another movie called Ripped coming out in June, with Faizon Love. And then I have a series coming on Netflix in the fall called The Indian Detective. And then at some point I need to get working on my standup, so that I can get back on the road.

***
The Clapper premiered at The Tribeca Film Festival on April 23rd. 



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