World News

Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley tops up furloughed salaries to 100%

Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley tops up furloughed staff’s salaries to 100% as he tries to move on from row over ‘ill-judged’ bid to keep stores open during lockdown

  • Mr Ashley revealed all staff have been paid their full salaries for April and May
  • In a video he gave a ‘special shout out’ to employees at company’s warehouse
  • They continued packing and sending online orders throughout the pandemic
  • Billionaire said he hoped workers safe and healthy during ‘very uncertain times’ 

Controversial businessman Mike Ashley is topping up his furloughed staff’s salary to 100% this month and says business has been better than expected as he prepares to open his shops on June 1.

After criticism for asking employees to come back to work while on furlough, trying to pay discounted prices for stock and initially refusing to close his stores, the Sports Direct boss has revealed all staff have been paid their full salaries for April and May.

In a video message he gave a ‘special shout out’ to employees at the company’s sprawling warehouse who have continued to work on online orders throughout the pandemic.

Controversial businessman Mike Ashley is topping up his furloughed staff’s salary to 100% this month and says business has been better than expected as he prepares to open his shops on June 1. In a video message, he thanked staff for continuing to work despite the lockdown 

And the billionaire said he hoped workers and their families remain safe and healthy during these ‘very uncertain times’.

Ashley, whose stores includes Sports Direct and House of Fraser, acknowledged the ‘sacrifice’ all employees have had to make in accepting initial pay cuts, including the slashing of executive pay to a maximum of £40,000.

But in a more optimistic note he says he hoped that Fraser Group stores could open from 1st June – with appropriate social distancing and safety guidelines in place.

And he praised the group’s online sales teams, particularly warehouse staff at the firm’s sprawling Shirebrook warehouse in Derbyshire, who have continued to work throughout the lockdown.

He wrote: ‘The Frasers Group is nothing without its people, and I thank you all for your continued support and hard work.

‘I want to thank all of those who committed to the revised salary. We find ourselves in exceptionally difficult times, and we know that this sacrifice was not an easy choice to make.’

After criticism for asking employees to come back to work while on furlough, trying to pay discounted prices for stock and initially refusing to close his stores, the Sports Direct boss has revealed all staff have been paid their full salaries for April and May

But he added: ‘Although the retail landscape remains uncertain, we now find ourselves with a little more clarity.

‘The Sunday before last, the Government announced their plans to restart the economy, including their proposal for the phased re-opening of retail stores.

‘Although not guaranteed, it appears we may be able to begin opening our stores from 1 June 2020.

‘If this is the case, we will be prepared for all social distancing and safety guidelines laid out by the Government.’

Ashley, who is worth £1.949 billion according to the 2020 Sunday Times rich list, continues that all staff will receive 100 per cent of their salary for May, as they did for April, including those who have been furloughed.

He wrote: ‘It is, therefore, with much pleasure and relief that I write to you today, to inform all direct Frasers Groups employees that we will not implement any salary reductions for May.

‘Our people will receive their full expected salaries, as they did in April. This applies to both furloughed and non-furloughed employees.

‘We’re very proud to be one of the only retailers to pay everyone 100 per cent of their salaries during this period.’

And in a video to accompany the letter Ashley praises the hard work of his staff, particularly workers at the Shirebrook headquarters in Derbyshire.

He said: ‘Morning everyone, I hope everyone is well and family are well. Just to say thanks for all your efforts during this unpleasant crisis.

Ashley, whose stores includes Sports Direct and House of Fraser, acknowledged the ‘sacrifice’ all employees have had to make in accepting initial pay cuts, including the slashing of executive pay to a maximum of £40,000

‘A special shout out to Shirebrook. I’m telling you they have done an absolutely amazing job.

‘So thanks everyone and I hope to see you soon.’

Ashley was severely criticized at the outbreak of the pandemic in March when he vowed to keep his Sports Direct stores open, claiming selling sports and fitness equipment is essential during the lockdown.

But the billionaire did a U-turn less than 24 hours later after Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove called the decision wrong and Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that ‘sports kit is not essential’.

All store staff were then put on furlough.

However online sales of Sports Direct and other Fraser Group stoes continued.

Ashley came under the spot light again in April when he sent a bombshell letter to suppliers asking for a 20 per cent discount on unpaid invoices for stock.

And his Fraser Group attracted fresh criticism earlier this month when managers asked staff to come back to work while they were on furlough.

Staff were asked to go into closed stores and pack up stock so it could be sold online.

At the time the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme allowed companies to claim 80 per cent of staff wages from the government but it stated that employees cannot be asked to work during this time.

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Little Fires Everywhere Director Lynn Shelton Dead at 54

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Filmmaker and director Lynn Shelton died on Friday, May 15 as a result of a previously unidentified blood disorder, according to a statement obtained by E! News from her publicist Adam Kersh. She was 54. 

She was an aspiring actor and photographer in her twenties but didn’t begin making films until her mid-30’s. According to the statement, Shelton realized she had a lifetime ahead of her to become the filmmaker she wanted to be when she saw French director Claire Denis speak at Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum in 2003 in which Denis revealed she was 40 when she directed her first feature film. 

Shelton would go on to write and direct eight feature films in the span of 14 years. 

The filmmaker was best known for her award-winning films including 2009’s Humpday, 2011’s Your Sister’s Sister, 2018’s Outside In and most recently, she directed four episodes of the Hulu series Little Fires Everywhere—an adaptation of Celeste Ng‘s 2017 bestseller that starred Reese Witherspoonand Kerry Washington

“Lynne’s Twitter bio reads: ‘I make movies and direct tv shows and I like to laugh. A lot,'” the statement continues. “Lynn indeed had an infectious laugh, was full of life and had an esprit de corps that touched many. She will be greatly missed by her family, friends, the entertainment industry and her fans.”

Many fans, friends and former colleagues of Shelton have taken to Twitter to express their condolences and pay tribute to the late filmmaker and director. 

“We lost our dear friend Lynn Shelton,” wrote Mark Duplass, who starred in Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister on Twitter. “We made so many things together. I wish we had made more. Her boundless creative energy and infectious spirit were unrivaled. She made me better. We butted heads, made up, laughed, pushed each other. Like family. What a deep loss.”

Shelton was also a highly-regarded television director on television series’ such as AMC’s Mad Men and Netflix’s GLOW

Film and television critic Charles Bramesco shared one of Shelton’s most memorable and important contributions to Mad Men on Twitter. 

“A noteworthy line in Lynn Shelton’s extensive directorial CV: the MAD MEN episode “Hands and Knees,” the one in which Joan goes for an abortion, a scene directed to sheer perfection. Sensitivity and confidence behind the camera,” he wrote. 

When They See Us creator and director Ava DuVernay also shared her fondest memory of Shelton.

“Lynn Shelton changed my life when she handed me the Directing Award at Sundance in 2012,” the director wrote on Twitter. “She announced my name with pride. Handed it to me with love. Rooted for me long after. I can’t believe I’m typing this. Rest In Peace, Beauty. Thank you for your films. And for your kindness.”

Broad City star Abbi Jacobson wrote on Twitter: “I loved Lynn Shelton’s work so much. All her characters are so real and nuanced, and funny, and I wanted to work with her so badly. What a talent. This is such sad news.”

Mindy Kaling, who also worked with the director during The Mindy Project, took to Twitter to share that she was a “dream on set.”

“Lynn Shelton loved actors and we loved her back. She was a dream on set,” the former Office star wrote. “Her lovely, sunny energy was infectious and actors always drifted to video village between takes to be around her. She had such a quiet power and I will miss her. Rest In Peace, Lynn. Love you.”

Other television directing credits from Shelton include Master of NoneCasualLOVESanta Clarita DietNew GirlShamelessFresh Off the BoatDickison and more. 

“Lynn Shelton, I am forever grateful for the little time we spent together,” wrote Hailee Steinfeld on Twitter. “You lit up the set of Dickinson the second you arrived. Thank you for your unbelievable energy. You will be deeply missed.”

Little Fires Everywhere star Reese Witherspoon also took to Instagram to share that she was “devastated” to hear about Shelton’s death. 

“I’m in complete shock that this vibrant, talented, and soulful filmmaker is no longer with us. Lynn was so passionate about our show, Little Fires Everywhere. She said the book truly spoke to her, and that she longed to direct a show that spoke meaningfully about motherhood, sexuality, race, and class in America. And she did,” Witherspoon wrote on social media, alongside a picture of the two on set. “She cared deeply about the WHOLE cast and crew, making sure we all felt heard, seen and appreciated. Lynn also shared so much of her life with us. Her love of her son, how motherhood changed her life, her life changing decisions that made her the woman she was. I feel so fortunate that I got to collaborate with Lynn on both The Morning Show and Little Fires Everywhere. Her spirit touched so many people in the filmmaking world. Her memory lives on in our vivid days together on set and in her wonderful films. Please watch her work and see her talent for yourself.”

Shelton was born in Oberlin, Ohio and she grew up in Seattle. 

View this post on Instagram

I’m so devastated to hear about Lynn Shelton’s passing yesterday. I’m in complete shock that this vibrant, talented, and soulful filmmaker is no longer with us. Lynn was so passionate about our show, Little Fires Everywhere. She said the book truly spoke to her, and that she longed to direct a show that spoke meaningfully about motherhood, sexuality, race, and class in America. And she did. She cared deeply about the WHOLE cast and crew, making sure we all felt heard, seen and appreciated. Lynn also shared so much of her life with us. Her love of her son, how motherhood changed her life, her life changing decisions that made her the woman she was. I feel so fortunate that I got to collaborate with Lynn on both The Morning Show and Little Fires Everywhere. Her spirit touched so many people in the filmmaking world. Her memory lives on in our vivid days together on set and in her wonderful films. Please watch her work and see her talent for yourself. #RestInPeaceLynn 🙏🏻💫💜

A post shared by Reese Witherspoon (@reesewitherspoon) on

View this post on Instagram

I’m so devastated to hear about Lynn Shelton’s passing yesterday. I’m in complete shock that this vibrant, talented, and soulful filmmaker is no longer with us. Lynn was so passionate about our show, Little Fires Everywhere. She said the book truly spoke to her, and that she longed to direct a show that spoke meaningfully about motherhood, sexuality, race, and class in America. And she did. She cared deeply about the WHOLE cast and crew, making sure we all felt heard, seen and appreciated. Lynn also shared so much of her life with us. Her love of her son, how motherhood changed her life, her life changing decisions that made her the woman she was. I feel so fortunate that I got to collaborate with Lynn on both The Morning Show and Little Fires Everywhere. Her spirit touched so many people in the filmmaking world. Her memory lives on in our vivid days together on set and in her wonderful films. Please watch her work and see her talent for yourself. #RestInPeaceLynn 🙏🏻💫💜

A post shared by Reese Witherspoon (@reesewitherspoon) on

After high school, the late filmmaker attended Oberlin College in Ohio and then the University of Washington School of Drama. She moved to New York and pursues a Master’s of Fine Arts program in photography and related media at the school of Visual Arts in Manhattan. 

She is survived by her son Milo Seal and her husband Kevin Seal, with whom she split in 2019. Before her death, Shelton was with stand-up comedian Marc Maron

“I self-generated my work, and I never went around asking permission to make it,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2014. “The main reason women make inroads in independent film is that no one has to say, ‘I pick you.’ I’m not pounding on anybody’s door. I’m just making my own way. You can buy a camera for $1,500. It’s insane how easy it is to make a movie.”

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TV and Movies

‘Valley Girl’ Review: Clever Jukebox Musical Pays Cute Homage to ’80s Cult Classic

Everyone knows the beats of the original “Valley Girl,” a neon-colored gem of teen-centric ’80s moviemaking that should be remembered in the same breath as “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Sixteen Candles” and yet has remained oddly hard to come by in the nearly four decades since it was released. Like most great high school-set love stories, it’s a Romeo and Juliet tale, this time configured around a pair of decidedly period-appropriate lovers: a high-ponytailed Valley Girl and a tattooed Hollywood punk. Martha Coolidge’s original film, which starred Deborah Foreman and a young Nicolas Cage, might not seem like the most obvious choice for a remake, but Rachel Lee Goldenberg’s clever homage finds a new way into the material, by turning it into a lively jukebox musical.

Anyone prone to snarking at this material from the outset will be turned from the start, and the anachronistic nature of the material doesn’t help matters. However, Goldenberg’s film manages to evoke the spirit of coming of age during a singular cultural moment. Alongside screenwriter Amy Talkington, she has even devised a smart way to telegraph that concept early on, imagining this “Valley Girl” as something of a fairy tale retelling from a contemporary vantage point.

As part of a wraparound story conceit, Alicia Silverstone (herself a teen queen of “Clueless” lore) appears as the adult version of leading lady Julie (played as a teen by the winning Jessica Rothe), who’s sharing her high school history with her own angsty daughter (Camila Morrone in a minor role). As adult Julie begins to narrate her own fraught teenage experience, the film quickly dissolves into upbeat musical, introducing the world of San Fernando Valley circa 1983 through a “We Got the Beat” singalong that is, of course, set in a mall. It’s the same “Valley Girl” story, suddenly rendered in glossy Technicolor.

That doesn’t mean that Julie’s own kid vibes to it (cue one seriously annoyed teenager, baffled by the wacky life her staid old mom used to lead), but our grownup heroine has an answer for that: “That’s how I remember it! That’s what it felt like!” Such is the ethos of the new “Valley Girl,” and one that very much works within the confines of homage. A delightful mash-up of everything ’80s, from E.T. to Madonna, Princess Diana to Roxy Music, the Jackson family to Ronald Reagan, this anachronistic retelling is faithful to Coolidge’s original film, but with its own flashy new touches.

Quickly moving away from the current day and straight back into the totally tubular ’80s, Goldenberg’s film offers much to appeal to both fans of the 1983 film and audiences eager for light-hearted entertainment filled with some of the era’s best songs. The loose timeline allows for plenty of the decade’s most treasured hits to make the cut. Gussied up with new productions of classic songs, all performed by the film’s stars (with a generous dash of post-production magic), “Valley Girl” finds new dimensions for its well-trod story.

“Valley Girl”


In Goldenberg’s hands, the requisite “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” musical montage unfolds fresh wrinkles in the story, imagining Julie (as played by the charming Rothe, best known for the “Happy Death Day” series) as someone not just looking for romance, but seeking out a fuller life beyond the confines of the nearest mall. (A later sequence set to “Under Pressure” similarly takes a familiar song and finds smart ways to suit the narrative, and it all builds to a zippy prom sequence packed with musicality.)

As is often the case with the young and hormonal, Julie finds her world blown apart by an unexpected new love interest, and Randy (Josh Whitehouse) makes for an appealing match, one that opens up her eyes to a much bigger world. While lacking in the dark sexiness and chemistry of the original (Foreman and Cage made for a formidable pair), Rothe and Whitehouse are an amiable enough duo, even as the film hinges on an understanding that first love might not always last. Other timely touches are also welcome, from amping up Julie’s latent sense of feminism to a gender-swap for Randy’s best pal (here played by Mae Whitman) that hints at different sorts of rivalries among the Valley elite.

An affection for the original is certainly not a requirement for enjoying this new “Valley Girl,” which finds plenty of appeal in a classic love story template and a litany of ’80s hits to keep the energy up. That energy only flags when Goldenberg’s film forgets its musical heart and slides back into less inspired territory, dipping into more traditional teen rom-com tropes. Fortunately, these slip-ups are few and far between, and the film builds to a bombastic conclusion that the ’80s, and some of its best pop cultural output, still have the beat.

Grade: B+

“Valley Girl,” an Orion Classics release, will be available on VOD on Friday, May 8.

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World News

Former CEO and managing director of Selfridges Roy Stephens dies

Former CEO and managing director of Selfridges Roy Stephens, 85, dies in Connecticut hospital from coronavirus

  • Roy Northway Stephens was living at New Canaan nursing home in Connecticut
  • Passed away at Norwalk Hospital on April 14 after catching Covid-19 last mont
  • At the peak of his career he became one of the giant’s of the UK retail industry
  • Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID

The former CEO of Selfridges has died from coronavirus at the age of 85, it has been reported.

Roy Northway Stephens, who had been living in New Canaan, Connecticut, U.S, for more than 30 years, passed away at Norwalk Hospital on April 14 after catching Covid-19 three weeks ago.

At the peak of his career, the ‘fun loving’ father and husband, who had also been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease nearly ten years ago, became one of the giant’s of the UK retail industry.   

The former CEO of Selfridges Roy Northway Stephens, who had been living in New Canaan, Connecticut, U.S, has died from coronavirus at the age of 85

Mr Stephens, who was born in Paignton, Devon, went on to become managing director and CEO of Selfridges Department Store

While Mr Stephens was born in Paignton, Devon, in 1934, the former retail boss, whose father was one of the founders of the United Nations, spent much of his childhood in New York.  

However he later returned to the UK after attending university in the Big Apple to fulfill his career ambitions and set about carving a name for himself in the retail industry.

It was at this point, the son of the late Reynolds and Ellen Stephens, made his way up the ladder in the world of retail and went on to become managing director and CEO of the iconic and world-renowned Selfridges Department Store. 

The store, which is the largest retail store in the United Kingdom, first opened its doors in 1909 and went on to become a household name, with the founder Harry Gordon Selfridge, now immortalised by the TV show Mr Selfridge, chairing the company until his retirement in 1941.

Mr Selfridge invested £400,000 of his own money into opening the department store at the then-unfashionable west end of Oxford Street after visiting London from his native Wisconsin, U.S.

He was later portrayed in the ITV drama Mr Selfridge by the American actor Jeremy Piven. 

During his colourful career, Mr Stephens, was able to conduct an array of civic activities and would meet regularly with business and governmental leaders, including members of the Royal Family.

The iconic department  store in London first opened its doors in 1909 and went on to become a household name

The founder of Selfridges, Harry Gordon Selfridge (pictured),  invested £400,000 of his own money into opening the department store

Mr Stephens is survived by his wife of 57 years Marjorie Stephens, his daughter, Cathy Kangas, his son Robert and their spouses Ed and Julie.

He also leaves behind his three grandchildren, Tyler, Nicole and Samantha. 

A message on the Hoyt Funeral Care Home website reads: ‘Roy was a fun loving; gregarious; extrovert; who loved cruising; disco dancing, and had a passion and love for animals.’

A private service will be carried out for the retail boss followed by a memorial celebrating his life later this year.

Mr Stephens’ death comes as it was reported that nearly 2,500 Americans have now died of coronavirus in just 24 hours. 

The increase in fatalities on Tuesday brought the total death toll in the United States to 26,094.

Harry Gordron Selfridge’s road to success

Harry Gordron Selfridge invested £400,000 of his own money to open Selfridges in 1909

Harry Gordron Selfridge arrived to London from the U.S. in 1906 and set about trying to open his very first department store

He invested £400,000 of his own money in opening a department store at the then-unfashionable west end of Oxford Street  

The American tycoon was able to turn the store into a cultural landmark in the capital and would place merchandise on display so that shoppers could examine it and would even create window displays that supported the Suffragettes

From 2003, W. Galen Weston and his family have operated the company which has been named the Best Department Store in the World four times

With a keen interest in education and science, Mr Selfridge also decided to open his own school to offer the young boys and girls who worked for him a better education

The  Selfridges continuation school opened in 1925 and catered for male and female pupils from 14 to 18, teaching a wide range of classes from reading and writing to cookery, cleaning and sewing


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TV and Movies

Iliza Shlesinger Is Beating the Apocalypse With Home Cooking and Two New Shows

Iliza Shlesinger is keeping busy during quarantine. The comedian and actress is reading lots of books (her latest: Kristin Hannah’s World War II-set drama “The Nightingale,” which offers some serious perspective during a fraught time), gearing up for the release of her untitled Universal comedy (directed by Kimmy Gatewood, Shlesinger also stars in the passion project), and missing her stand-up shows hard. But, every night, like clockwork, Shlesinger has one activity she can’t miss: serving up a fresh episode of her fledgling Instagram cooking show, “Don’t Panic Pantry.”

Alongside her husband (and professional chef) Noah Galuten, Shlesinger has spent the past month crafting tasty, pantry-friendly recipes for her followers. Galuten excels at breaking down recipes into easy to follow steps, all the better to ease already addled minds. The recipes are primarily built around ingredients that people already have on hand, or can buy during one big grocery trip (that’s also why the duo plan out the DPP meals a full week ahead, giving their audience plenty of heads up about what they need for each evening’s show).

It’s perhaps not how Shlesinger expected to be spending this particular period of time, but it does highlight her unerring can-do, DIY spirit. Two weeks ago, Netflix launched the first season of the Shlesinger-led sketch show, the appropriately named “The Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show.” When the new series hit the streaming giant, Shlesinger was already two weeks into making her other new show.

We decided [to ‘Don’t Panic Pantry’] this pretty much the moment everybody was put on lockdown a month ago, so we’ve been doing this from the very beginning,” Shlesinger told IndieWire during a recent interview. “The initial impetus for this was that everybody was freaking out. You’re at the grocery store, people are in hazmat suits, they’re screaming, everybody’s buying toilet paper. We were trying to encourage people to not panic, cook what you have in your pantry, and if you do need to shop, here are some of the essentials you should be buying.”

As fun and frisky as the show is, great care was put into crafting it on the fly. Shlesinger and Galuten want to feed people and give them something to do, but they also want them to view the nightly offering as something reliable in an increasingly weird world.



Over a month of shows and still cookin’ baby! As always, recipes and ingredients for past and future dishes are all on @galuten page. We make an easy to shop for and easy to follow dish everyday at 5pm PDT ON MY INSTA LIVE. Tag #dontpanicpantry when you post your food and remember, #tastytimescallfortastymeasures 👨🏻‍🍳🤷‍♀️

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“We did this as a way of tempering people’s fear, and when it became clear that this was going to be longer than a week, it turned,” she said. “It just went from a funny outlet for me to entertain people and my husband to inform people to something that has become a bit of a panacea. We want people to know you have somewhere to be at five o’clock every day and you have the comfort of knowing we will be in the kitchen in a great mood every day, and you can cook along with us.”

The daily show is also helping keep Shlesinger’s standup muscles limber as she endures something oddly unfamiliar to the “Last Comic Standing” winner: weeks and weeks without a traditional performance. Before the world “came to a screeching halt,” Shlesinger said she was booking 5,000-seat theaters, and was on track to ante up into small arenas by 2021. That, like so much else, is on pause right now.

“I miss my job very much,” Shlesinger said. “People always ask me like, ‘oh, what are your hobbies?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t have hobbies. I have my job. My job is my hobby.’ It’s my love. It’s my heartbeat. It’s everything. Standup has been the one constant thing in my life for 15 years. … My favorite thing to do was open my calendar and think about all the fun cities I was going to get to go to and how I was going to work on that material and experience those people. I’m trying to piece it together now through social media and reaching out to people and creating.”

Fans of Shlesinger don’t have to look too far to find even more of her work. After five standup specials with Netflix, the streaming giant launched the comedian’s first sketch series earlier this month. Filled with zany characters and relatable situations (Shlesinger, it seems, may be one of the last comedians able to find truly original humor in air travel gags), “The Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show” is both fun for her long-time fans and a nifty entry point for newbies. And, like “Don’t Panic Pantry,” it is designed to make people feel good.

“The Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show”

Courtesy of Netfix

“I really wanted to do a show that wasn’t heavy-handed politically or socially,” she said. “I think sometimes when it comes to women, we’re discouraged from that because we’re supposed to be making a social statement or it should all be about feminism. I think the most feminist thing you can do is be a weirdo and not care what anyone thinks.”

Okay, some of the sketches have what Shlesinger would term a “social point,” but many of them — like an entire gag about the kind of girl who wears perhaps terrifyingly high and tight topknots — are built to help everyone get a good chuckle. The sketch series allows Shlesinger to dig further into the kind of weird wackiness she always like to poke fun at.

“You’re always subconsciously logging information,” she said. “I’ve never thought, oh, should I do this as sketch or standup? It’s never deciding between the two. Your life is made up of weird moments, weird thoughts, weird interactions, strange encounters, odd characters, and sketch is all about showing and standup is all about telling. For me, sketch is all about, what if an emotion or a thought occupied an entire scene? What if a feeling were a whole person? It’s all about bringing color and texture to these odd moments.

Since making her debut on Netflix in 2013 with the standup special “War Paint,” Shlesinger has been a steady presence on the streaming platform. She’s not taking that visibility for granted, however. While she said she’s never been given hard viewership numbers for her specials — that’s part of the reason why she peppers her jokes with hashtags, all the better to track the social media chatter about her work — the sketch show is a different story, and she’s hoping to be able to continue it.

“I do know about the ‘Sketch Show’ streams, and I know that we are on track for a second season, but I don’t know that we’ll have one yet,” Shlesinger said. “Which is why it’s so important that people keep discovering it and keep finding it in their algorithm. Let the algorithm work for you!”

Shlesinger is working even harder. Also on Netflix for fans of her irreverent humor: Peter Berg’s “Spenser Confidential,” which stars Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke, Alan Arkin … and Shlesinger in the rare movie role. She appears in the comedy as Wahlberg’s sassy ex, and no, having five comedy specials with the streaming giant did not get her in the door for the Netflix Original film.

“It wasn’t like, this is our girl, you’ve got to use her,” Shlesinger said with a laugh. “Netflix is an amazing tool for promoting you and getting you out there, but there are people who watch ‘Spenser Confidential’ that didn’t know I did standup and there are plenty of my fans that didn’t know that there was a movie. So it’s all on you as a talent to constantly be generating that content and showing people that catalog.”

“Spenser Confidential”

Daniel McFadden

While Shlesinger hasn’t landed many film roles over the years (which, of course, no one has a better sense of humor about than the comedian herself), she seems pretty jazzed about what happened with the movie. The audition process? That was thrilling for her, and she happily put her own spirit into it. She was given just one note before coming in to read for the role: no Boston accents. She didn’t go for it.

“One of the lines was, ‘Every day I pray to St. Jude for a fuckin’ reason to leave you,’ and I’m thinking, you can’t say that without a Boston accent,” she said. “It just drips Boston. And I was like, you know what? I believe that the writer wrote this with a Boston accent in mind, and I’m just gonna do it. Nobody ever booked the part because they were like, ‘I went in, I made no bold choices, I didn’t make it my own, and I got it!’”

Shlesinger did the accent. “I memorized the lines and I just leaned into that accent and did a heavy eyeliner and it just worked, and it shouldn‘t have worked,” she said. “I’ve read for so many things over a decade and I seldom book anything. By seldom, I mean literally two other times. And it worked. It clicked.”

She might want to get used to it. Last December, Shlesinger completed another film, this one a dream project she wrote herself. The currently untitled Universal Pictures comedy — though Shlesinger says she has a title in mind — was directed by “GLOW” star and fellow comedian Kimmy Gatewood and features Shlesinger in the lead role. Details have been kept mostly under wraps, but Shlesinger said it’s based on a true story, and reportedly follows a hapless singleton who falls for a guy who is not entirely what he seems to be.

“Every time I didn’t get the part that I wanted in a movie, every time I had an audition that didn’t go well, every time somebody said no or the phone wasn’t ringing, I would turn to the script and I would just keep writing on it,” Shlesinger said. “I just thought to myself, ‘One day somebody is going to want to read the script and you better have it ready.’ This movie is hours and hours and hours of me sitting alone late night in various cities or by myself in my living room, just sort of typing away at what could be something one day.”

She’s not bothered about having to wait for the film to come out whenever things get even somewhat back to normal. She’ll be ready when it happens. “I know that I was already so grateful for my career, but I don’t think I’ll ever roll my eyes when I have to wake up from a nap to go to a show ever again,” she said with a laugh.

“The Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show” and “Spenser Confidential” are currently streaming on Netflix.

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Phish to Debut New Album 'Sigma Oasis' During April 1st Livestream

It’s not Trey Anastasio’s quarantine album, but Phish will debut their new LP Sigma Oasis during a livestream on April 1st; although the jam band is known for their prankster ways, this does not appear to be an April Fools’ hoax.

The impending arrival of Sigma Oasis was revealed Tuesday during the band’s now-daily Dinner and a Movie: An Archival Video Series, which Phish kicked off in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak to encourage fans to stay home. 

The album’s title comes from a song that Trey Anastasio debuted during a solo concert in 2018, Jambase reports, adding that keyboardist Page McConnell said the album was completed “just last week.”

Sigma Oasis, Phish’s first studio album since 2016’s Big Boat, was recorded at Anastasio’s Vermont barn in late 2019. “To have this mountaintop barn where we can go and have the idea that playing together is best and get in there and do that in a little weird way, it makes it like a show vibe because the chemistry happens,” bassist Mike Gordon said Tuesday during the livestream.

The album will debut at 9 p.m. EST on Phish’s Dinner and a Movie stream as well as the group’s Sirius XM channel and official website.

Currently, Phish is set to embark on a North American summer tour starting July 14th, but that trek’s status — like the entire touring industry — remains in flux due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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TV and Movies

Women Shaping the Future: Uzo Aduba on Finding Validation in Hollywood

On March 4th, Rolling Stone hosted its second annual Women Shaping the Future event, celebrating, raising, and honoring the influential female voices in culture. The event was the first to take place at the new Edge venue in Hudson Yards, which overlooks New York City.

To kick of the intimate conversations for the audience in attendance, Rolling Stone‘s entertainment editor Maria Fontoura invited actress Uzo Aduba to the stage to discuss her achievements (she won two Emmys for her role as “Crazy Eyes” on Orange Is the New Black) and the hurdles she had to overcome as a black woman in Hollywood.

“Growing up I never thought that there was a seat for me so I’ve decided to build my own table, come pull up a chair,” the Emmy-winning actress said, later adding: “Those things that make me unique make me different are actually the things that are most beautiful and exceptional about me.”

Aduba is set to star opposite Lupita Nyong’o in HBO Max’s Americanah, the limited series based on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s best-selling novel of the same name. She’s also portraying trailblazing politician Shirley Chisholm in Mrs. America, starring alongside Cate Blanchett who is portraying infamous conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly. The star-studded movie also includes Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem, Margo Martindale as Bella Abzug, Elizabeth Banks as Jill Ruckelshaus, and Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan as trailblazing second-wave feminists.

The day also included Grammy-winning artist Jennifer Nettles, Lauren Jauregui, actress and comedian Retta, CAN-AM’s Senior VP Josée Perreault, and playwright Katori Hall. who also all spoke throughout the event about their distinct experiences as women breaking barriers in their respective industries. Performances included Grammy-nominated artist Grace Potter, Overcoats, Diana Gordon, and S.G. Goodman.

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TV and Movies

Federico Fellini’s ‘Nights of Cabiria’: Oscar-Winning Giulietta Masina Classic Gets Dazzling Restoration

Just one year after winning the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (now known as the Best International Feature Film) in 1956 for his opus “La Strada,” iconic Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini repeated the win with “Nights of Cabiria,” also starring his wife and muse Giulietta Masina. Inspired by her brief appearance in his “The White Sheik,” the episodic drama follows Masina’s Cabiria through a series of interactions and incidents that highlight her search for true love.

When the star-studded film premiered at Cannes, Masina’s work was widely hailed as her best ever, and she went on to win the festival’s Best Actress award for her startling turn as the title heroine.

Over six decades since its release, New York City’s Film Forum is gearing up for a two-week run of the film, freshened up with a new 4K restoration, which also boasts a new translation and subtitles. The film’s 4K restoration comes from TF1 Studio in partnership with Studiocanal and with the support of the CNC. “Nights of Cabiria” was restored at L’immagine Ritrovata Laboratory, Bologna.

Per Film Forum’s synopsis: “Streetwalker ‘Cabiria,’ a seemingly tough cookie, is hypnotized at a bottom-of-the-barrel variety show by a third-rate magician, and what pours out … the innocent dreams of adolescence. Fellini’s showcase role for wife Giulietta Masina … is structured as a series of episodes: robbed of her purse and dumped into the river by a boyfriend, she responds with earthy scorn (the authentic Roman epithets courtesy of Pier Paolo Pasolini) by throwing his things into a bonfire; a famous movie star (played by actual Italian screen heartthrob Amedeo Nazzari) takes Masina off to his luxurious villa; her encounter with a man with a sack, who delivers goods to the homeless (a 7-minute scene cut by producer Dino de Laurentiis and not seen until it was put back by Rialto Pictures in 1998); a tear-drenched pilgrimage to a religious shrine undertaken with the hookers, pimps, and cripples that make up her world; and her romance with an understanding accountant (French star François Périer, the club owner in Melville’s ‘Le Cercle Rouge’) — but there’s a final devastating disillusion, followed by a resurgence that may be the most mysteriously magical shot in all of Fellini’s work.”

Film Forum will open the “Nights of Cabrira” restoration on April 17, with screenings running until April 30. Find out more about the restoration right here, and check out a brand-new trailer for the classic, exclusively on IndieWire, below.

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Normani: A Pop Perfectionist Makes Her Move

Some pop stars might go through a few different versions of the video for their first solo hit; Normani went through about 50. Written with Max Martin and Normani’s tourmate Ariana Grande, “Motivation” was a blast of airy, sexy, rhythmically savvy pop. In the video, released last summer, Normani romps through scenes from videos she loved as a child ( J. Lo, Britney Spears) while performing some truly sick choreography, including a bit where she kicks, spins, and bounces a basketball off her butt.

Everyone loved the video — except Normani, who endlessly kept tweaking it. “I obsess over things like that,” she says. “She was really in tears at one point,” her dad, Derrick Hamilton, adds. Eventually, things got so bad that a member of Destiny’s Child had to talk her down. “I literally sent it to Kelly Rowland before anybody else,” Normani says. The pair had met when Rowland served as a judge on The X-Factor a year after Normani competed on the show. “She was like, ‘You bugging just a little bit.’ ”

Normani’s perfectionism comes from a place of early-career trauma. In Fifth Harmony, the singing group that also gave the world Camila Cabello, she was the underdog. As the only black member, she often felt like “the other one in the room.” She was targeted by racist bullies online after a subset of Harmonizers believed Normani had slighted Cabello by calling her “quirky.” Trolls posted Photoshopped images of her being lynched; others sent death threats. “She’s still scarred from that,” her dad says.



In the studio with 5H, she sometimes felt similarly disregarded, pigeonholed as “the dancer.” When she was the only member whose vocals were left off a song, she began to question what the hell she was even doing. “I was devastated,” she admits. “So many things start to go through your mind, like, ‘Maybe this is my fault? What could I have done differently? Am I not working hard enough? Am I not as talented? What’s wrong with my voice?’ ”

Since then, much has changed: After Fifth Harmony ended, RCA Records signed Normani to a solo deal. She became the Beyoncé she wanted to see in the world, presenting herself as a type of performer who feels almost old-school at this moment in pop: a big-voiced dance machine with a flair for diva-like showmanship.

She scored hit duets with Sam Smith and Khalid, and slowly found her own voice. In 2018, she re-created Janet Jackson’s “Pleasure Principle” routine at the BMI R&B/Hip-Hop Awards, as Jackson looked on from the audience like a proud mom. Nicki Minaj called her “that bitch” while accepting a VMA. Beyoncé told her she’s “proud” of her. Rihanna tweeted, “Ugh why can’t I be you?!” after the star’s dance performance on the Savage x Fenty NYFW runway. Normani was later named the lingerie line’s first brand ambassador. “I’m at a loss for words because it’s just all of the women that made up who I am,” she says. “They respect what I do. Like, they actually respect what I do and want me to win. Little-girl me would have never been able to even comprehend that.”

When I meet her one January day, at a go-kart track outside L.A., she’s dressed-down in black basketball shorts and a matching black Aaliyah shirt. Last month, she went go-karting for the first time, during a friends’ trip to Austin that otherwise mostly consisted of listening to the new Harry Styles album over and over. Today, she wants to try again, though it’s really an excuse for a self-professed introvert to get out of the house.

Lately, she’s been trying to prioritize the parts of her life that make her feel like she’s 23, like friends and dating. Her faith is a grounding bit of normalcy: She’s a devout Christian, frequently attending services in L.A. Even her high-profile friendships slant toward ordinary. She spent her January on a girls’ trip to Jamaica. While touring with fellow night-in enthusiast Grande over the summer, they watched Bohemian Rhapsody on the bus and did face masks together. “I know her to have a heart of gold,” Grande says. She picked Normani for the Sweetener World Tour and hyped her up on Instagram every chance she got during and after their trek. “She is such a gracious person, and I love seeing people win when they deserve to — both inside and out.”

Normani photographed in Los Angeles on January 28th, 2020 by Campbell Addy.

Despite some go-karting bravado — she quotes Will Ferrell’s “If you ain’t first, you last” mantra from Talladega Nights — Normani comes in fourth, just ahead of the two novices she had to coach (her friend Josh and myself, fifth and last place, respectively). She’s only semipressed about the fact that her manager (second place) had been the one to crash into her on the track.

Soon she’ll have to get back to working on — if not obsessing over — her next big career milestone: her long-awaited solo debut that could turn her into a superstar. She estimates she’s about halfway through the album, and hopes to have a single out by summer. It’s a monumental step for someone who spent six years not having a say in her music. She’s learning how to open up so that maybe all the painful experiences weren’t a waste of her youth. “I want to be able to feel like I was represented in the most authentic way possible because I know what it feels like coming from a girl group and being told who to be,” she explains. “[It’s] just overwhelming now to have the opportunity to be all that I want to be.” In short, she’s figuring out what it means to be Normani, rising superstar.

By the time she was a teenager, Normani knew exactly what she wanted out of life: To be one of the “greatest entertainers of all time.” Her dreams of grandeur had started early. Soon after the Hamiltons relocated from Atlanta to New Orleans, a restless, three-year-old ’Mani began taking dance classes. “[My family] were like, ‘We got to get this girl in dance because she is bouncing off our walls,’ ” she recalls. Dancing was in her blood: Her mom was a trained dancer and her grandma had been a majorette.

In Louisiana, she spent most of her time with her maternal grandma while her parents, a flight attendant and a union president, traveled for work. Normani was shy but had a tightknit group of best friends. In 2005, when she was nine, her father was working in Tennessee when reports of Hurricane Katrina began to hit the news. Derrick realized his family needed to get out of the city, and the Hamiltons hunkered down outside Baton Rouge. Their home was destroyed in the storm, and the family moved to Houston. “It was hard for ’Mani,” Derrick says. “That’s all she knew. There were people that we knew on our block that didn’t make it. It was really traumatic.”

In Houston, Normani tried out four different schools before finding the one that made her feel the closest to comfortable. By sixth grade, however, her family decided she should be home-schooled — to better nurture her big dreams. “I was that young kid and my mom was that momager,” Normani jokes. The pair would travel back-and-forth between Houston and Los Angeles for literally any audition that came their way: acting, singing, dancing. She recorded a couple of songs that never saw the light of day, and auditioned for America’s Got Talent but never made it past the producers. “Girl, I was just trying to make it, recording trash songs,” she says.

While Normani was trying to make it big, her parents were struggling to make ends meet. “They never allowed me to see that or put that burden on me,” she says. Her career moves continued without pause. “Dance competitions that we probably weren’t able to afford. Singing lessons that I shouldn’t have been at I still did.” Now, her mom joins her on tour while her dad continues to put in long hours as a longshoreman in Houston. Normani credits him with giving her his work ethic. That came in handy when her career went full-throttle.

The members of Fifth Harmony had all auditioned for X Factor as solo artists, but were deemed not strong enough to continue competing on their own. Until the show’s “bootcamp” week, the members were strangers. Inspired by the success of One Direction on the U.K. version of the show, judges Simon Cowell, Britney Spears, Demi Lovato, and L.A. Reid put the five girls together in a group.

Though they finished third on the show, Fifth Harmony continued to get the 1D treatment: They were pushed out as a pop group that met at the intersection of Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child, with brash, empowering songs about being a “BO$$.” A handful of those songs became pop-radio staples, and their six years together revolved around an unenviable schedule of constant touring and promotion. The girls would only go home for the holidays, and even those periods were cut short by other commitments.

“We paid our dues,” Normani says, wide-eyed, remembering a time when they were on two tours at once, simultaneously opening for Lovato and headlining their own trek. “For us to be able to get through that . . . Basically, what I’m saying is, I could do anything. That shit made anything in the world easy.”

L.A. is where she has worked for some time, but she still doesn’t consider it home. She goes down South as often as possible to see lifelong friends in Houston and New Orleans, as well as her parents. When Normani would come home from 5H tours, life was moving forward without her. She missed out on prom and college, both of which her close friends experienced together. “I felt left out of some of those conversations,” she says, “and I couldn’t relate to the extent that they could because I wasn’t living that.”

For Normani, there was not much room for mental recovery on the road, especially while dealing with racist trolls. During the ordeal, Cabello came to her defense in a series of vaguely worded tweets, but Fifth Harmony were ill-equipped to handle the situation. Normani describes it as “them not knowing how to be there for me the way that I needed it because it wasn’t their own experience, and because when they look at me they don’t see me.”

Recently, Cabello came under fire when it was verified that she had shared and written racist slurs and memes on a personal Tumblr she maintained around the age of 14. Since 5H Cabello and Normani have interacted at award shows, where their paths have repeatedly crossed, but when I talk with her, Normani is still wrapping her head around those Tumblr posts. As a black woman with young black fans, she wants to be “concise” with how she addresses it. “I just want to make sure that anything I say is exactly what I mean,” she offers. “I’ll get back to you on that.”

And she does get back to me on – in writing, after deliberating for a couple weeks: “I want to be very clear about what I’m going to say on this uncomfortable subject and figured it would be best to write out my thoughts to avoid being misconstrued, as I have been in the past. I struggled with talking about this because I didn’t want it to be a part of my narrative, but I am a black woman, who is a part of an entire generation that has a similar story,” she begins, via e-mail.

Cabello has since apologized for the posts, calling the version of herself that made them “ignorant and unaware.” Many of those posts included flippant use of the n-word and black stereotypes, not too far off from the type of daily hatred Normani received while in 5H.

Fifth Harmony went the same way as most pop vocal groups: Cabello had been primed for solo success, teaming up with Shawn Mendes and Machine Gun Kelly for duets. In late 2016, after four and a half years as a quintet, Fifth Harmony announced Cabello’s departure, saying they had been informed she was leaving through her representatives.

In Cabello’s absence, however, Normani seemed to become the group’s de facto leader, dominating the solos and choreography. Her onstage confidence came to the forefront and caught the attention of both Tunji Balogun, who launched RCA’s Keep Cool imprint with her as the lead artist, and manager Brandon Silverstein, who began working with her in late 2017.

“Whenever I would see [Fifth Harmony’s] videos or performances, she always stood out to me,” Balogun says. He had met her through Khalid and Silverstein, but wasn’t sure he would be able to sign her because of 5H’s contract with a different label. Still, Balogun wanted her involved with “Love Lies,” as did Khalid, her duet partner on the song. Both were fans of her “star energy.”

Fifth Harmony released one more record together, then went on “indefinite hiatus.” Cabello became the first member to release an album and have a hit. Since then, every member has released solo music, to varying degrees of success. Normani is diplomatic when discussing the group, but she has kept a healthy distance from social media in the years since her traumatic bout of bullying. “I try not to take it personal, even though sometimes it does get personal,” she says. “I try my best not to say anything because nobody’s opinion is going to dictate where I’m going or what I’m going to do. Only I have the control to do that.”

On the Sunday of the Grammy awards, a couple of hours before Normani and I are supposed to meet for lunch, Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crashes 18 miles away. Normani is a basketball fan who loved Kobe. Like the rest of Los Angeles, she’s devastated and postpones our meeting by a few hours. When we finally grab dinner at the vegan restaurant Gracias Madre, there’s a makeshift shrine in front, complete with candles and a box where patrons can drop in notes for Bryant.

Like many 23-year-olds, Normani is just beginning to learn how to cope with death. Her grandma on her dad’s side died a year before, and Kobe’s death resurfaced some of those tricky feelings. “I’m still trying to figure out how to move forward even when things like this happen,” she says.

A bigger challenge, these days, is just learning to be vulnerable. Her competitive dance and gymnastics background primed her for a life of performing through pain with a smile on her face. Even when she was bullied, she didn’t take time off work. Now, though, she’s trying to figure out how to go easy on herself and take her time.

When Normani posed for a photo with Janet Jackson last year, Jackson shared some advice. “I’m not going to say verbatim,” Normani says, “but she was telling me to be me first before I’m anything else. I can do whatever I want to do. You can have a super pop record with a super R&B record.”

SZA, Megan Thee Stallion, and Normani (from left) photographed in Los Angeles on January 28th, 2020, by Campbell Addy.
SZA: Hair by Randy Stodghill at Opus Beauty. Nails by Teana Nails. Makeup by Ernesto Casillas for The Only Agency. Styling by Dianne Garcia for The Only Agency. Pants by Karl Kani. Boots by Heliot Emil. Belt chain by Martine Ali. MEGAN THEE STALLION: Hair by Kellon Deryck. Nails by Coca Michelle. Styling by EJ King. Bodysuit by Bao Tranchi. Top and bottom by Zana Bayne. Boots by Jennifer Le. NORMANI: Shoes by Stuart Weitzman. Skirt by Marina Hoermanseder. Belt and bra by Zana Bayne. Anklet by Laruicci. Necklaces by Laruicci and Adore Adorn. Bracelets by Laruicci, Alexis Bittar, and IZA by Silvia D’Avila Jewelry.

Normani has been thinking about genres a lot lately, especially as she inches closer to the end of her album. She’s tired of “pop” being an insult. “It’s almost like [pop] becomes a negative when it’s a black girl that looks like me, singing the records that I choose to sing because I loved them. Let’s celebrate the fact that I’m able to have a record with Sam Smith while also having a record with 6lack!”  Just an hour before dinner, she watched Lizzo take home a Grammy in a pop category, which she finds inspiring.

In the studio, she hasn’t felt constrained by either genre, working with everyone from recent pop songwriting heavyweights like Victoria Monét and Tayla Parx (both known for their work with Grande) to experimental R&B producers like Joel Compass (FKA Twigs, Jorja Smith). Along the way, she’s found herself recording music with Stargate, T-Minus, Raye, D-Mile and Bibi Bourelli as well. “I was trying to wrap my mind around it, feeling the responsibility and the pressure like I owe it to both sides,” she says. “Just now I’m coming to the realization I don’t owe anybody as much as I owe to myself first. I’m the one that has to perform these records for the rest of my life.”

Normani wants the album to be a confessional statement, less focused on hits and more on the longevity of her career. “I feel like I’m not the most open person,” she admits. In learning how to open up, she wants to write songs that connect on a deeper level with a fandom that has grown up with her. “I want every girl out there to feel like I’m going through the same thing.”

As for those Grammys across town, Normani isn’t too concerned about taking one of the golden gramophones home. She’s thrilled for friends like Lizzo and Rosalía, but the Christian side of her calls the awards “materialistic.” She’s survived the good, bad, and ugly of the industry, and being where she’s at now is enough of a reward for her.

“Oh, I’ve seen the ugly,” she says with a smile. “Even with those things, it amazes me how I bounce back. I didn’t know that I was as strong as I’ve been.”

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