I’m at MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art in the absolute heart of downtown L.A. and it’s an odd scene. I think I will hate it. But then there is pizza. And someone named Jibz Cameron a.k.a. Dynasty Handbag. Fred Armisen is there too — yeah, the “Portlandia” guy. Only he’s playing electric guitar, wearing a blond wig and speaking like an overly-enthusiastic English folk rocker. Jack Black may or may not be running around. For a moment I think it is a dream and I pinch myself. It is a dream, but not the kind you can wake up from. So I go with it.
MOCAtv is doing some dynamic interactions with YouTube and by that, I both mean “Dynamic Curtains” (Jibz Cameron’s alter ego’s possibly nonexistent sister) and the sort of explosive content that you will instantly love or loathe. I did both — occasionally at the same time — and it was beautiful to feel overcome with such pure, unadulterated emotion. I was there because MOCAtv is ramping up their YouTubedness (did I just invent a word?! MOCA will do that to you) by bringing forth the sort of avant garde comedy that only the brilliantly perverse and the mad “get.” MOCAtv has perfectly captured the experience of actual MOCA with its contemporary gems — like a wall of enormous Mark Rothko paintings opposite a tiny Piet Mondrian and the bizarre, i.e. a terrifying installation piece of a funeral scene for a mannequin. MOCAtv, like real MOCA, is everything — it’s good, bad, ugly beautiful, sanguine, melodramatic, obtuse, fucked, everything. Pick your adjective and I shit you not, it’s in there.
“Ambiance Man” was the piece of the evening — a series of shorts starring Jibz, Jack Black and Fred Armisen that were filmed entirely at the YouTube Space(!) and directed by the lovely Alix Lambert. Imagine superheroes and villains filtered through a sheet of LSD and you only are only just beginning to grasp the surreal spectral majesty of Armisen as an foppish 17th-century dandy whose superpower is to enliven the mood of social events. Now imagine Black and Jibz as the baddies — “Unidentified Odor” and “Buzzkill.” Fortunately for you, you don’t have to imagine too hard because by the time you read this, the initial episodes of “Ambiance Man” should just be hitting YouTube — and they will continue to arrive over the next month.
I think the real travesty of the evening was that I got to speak to Jibz and Alix before the show rather than after — so I had not even a sniff of an idea what the hell I was in for. And Jibz, who is a human chameleon in the best sense of the word, was so sweet and guarded, I had no idea that a true character Artist (yeah, capital A) lay beneath her fleshedy-flesh. “You want a quote … about a relevant action in time and space … that is applicable to the event we are going to participate in now, in the surrounding area. Oh God. That’s not good enough?” she intoned into my recorder, as I stood there, forcing it at her like a fat tourist in a pleasant sweater. After my favorite P.R. lady ever, Jackie, probed her to be a little more forthcoming with my silly self, she capitulated. “Okay,” Jibz said. “I play Buzzkill — a real downer. I’m part of a duo of villains with Jack Black — he plays Unidentifiable Odor. He’s round and smelly, I’m small and pointy.”
And asked about how this whole show came together with the litany of high-caliber performers and artists, Jibz let slip that she was sort of a catalyst for the whole awesome cavalcade. “I was doing some of my own work on MOCAtv, premiering some videos of mine, and so their people introduced me to Alix, who’s the creator of the show, and I was sort of in conversation with Jack about another project and I thought he would be the perfect person to have in it with me. And he asked Fred because they already knew each other. They’re celebrities.”
For director Alix Lambert, the project was a bit more of a long-term concept. “It’s an idea that I’ve had for many decades … since I was a teenager. I had a funny idea about a superhero who does more everyday stuff, fixes your bad date situations.” While she swears that she didn’t have a specific bad date that spawned the notion of “Ambiance Man” she did admit that there was a situation in which a roommate’s friend had the unique ability to change the mood of the room just by passing through it. “We dubbed him ‘Ambiance Man’ and that became a running gag.” Finally, I asked Lambert, who just had another short film accepted into the Sundance Film Festival, what it was like to have an idea from so long ago finally become a reality (and one starring Jack Black and Fred Armisen at that). She said, “Well, I like to have an idea sit around for thirty years and then I get around to making it.” Based on my love of “Ambiance Man,” I can’t wait to see Lambert’s next idea come to life in another 30 years.