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Haim, Tim Robinson and Jack Black: The 7 Best ‘Documentary Now’ Guest Stars You Forgot About


For all they teach us, documentaries can be boring. They can be too stuffy, so convinced of their own disruptiveness, and too pretentious. For every Amy or Grey Gardens, there’s plenty of self-important fluff that’s not worth anyone’s time. But there’s one unstoppable force in the genre that’s nearly always a hit, and that’s Documentary Now!.  

For seven years now, the comedy series has been skewering some of the most famous docs with ridiculous, whip-smart parodies of everything from Vice to The Eagles. How can you possibly be bored when Fred Armisen is monologuing about his past working in a Chicago sausage factory?

The IFC series, which first debuted in 2015 and is rolling out Season 4 this September, is the brainchild of Bill Hader, Seth Meyers and Armisen, who also got Dame Helen Mirren onboard as their unfailingly serious host, who delivers each absurd topic with the stoicism only a seasoned pro like her could.

While Hader and Armisen are constants in the series, they often recruit other stars to tell their fictional tales. Over the course of three seasons, Documentary Now has featured John Mulaney, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Harvey Guillen, Natasha Lyonne and dozens more, all of whom make the show the unmissable, quirky gem it is.

Season 4 is set to include appearances from Alexander Skarsgård, Nicholas Braun, Cate Blanchett (back again!), Jamie Demetriou, and will spoof films like 3 Salons at the Seaside and The September Issue, as well as Burden of Dreams and Gleaners and I and Beaches of Agnes.

But before we the Season 4 premiere drops, it’s time to travel to the not-so-distant past — let’s look back on some of the best Documentary Now guests from the last three seasons.


1

Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchett
Photo: Everett Collection

Episode: “Waiting for the Artist,” Season 3, Episode 4
Character: Izabella Barta

It’s a blast to see Blanchett, a highly accomplished actress who has two Oscars to her name, get weird in Documentary Now as a fictional artist in the Marina Abromavic spoof, “Waiting for the Artist.” Just how wow weird can she really get? Well, at one point, Blanchett, who stars as Izabella Barta, very seriously puts a bucket on her head as performance art…and that’s one of her tamer scenes. Blanchett shines onscreen with Armisen, who plays her lazy male counterpart in the art world, as she works tirelessly to conceptualize new work for her show in Budapest.


2

Haim

Haim
Photo: IFC

Episode: “Gentle and Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee,” Season 1, Episode 6
Character: Themselves

The Haim sisters lend their musical expertise to one of Documentary Now’s most well-known and best episodes, “Gentle and Soft.” The rockumentary is split into two installments, and luckily for us, Danielle, Este and Alana are in both of them. Long before Alana gave a critically beloved performance in Licorice Pizza, she sat beside her sisters for a very fake interview about a very fake band, but she sold it, baby!


3

Irving Azoff

Irving Azoff
Photo: IFC

Episode: “Gentle and Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee,” Season 1, Episode 6
Character: Alvin Izoff

Azoff is another key element of the “Gentle and Soft” episode. The music mogul doesn’t give an awe-inspiring performance, but his presence alone is a huge get for Documentary Now and for the episode about Bill Hader and Fred Armisen’s fictional ’70s rock band. Azoff, the man behind The Eagles (the main band parodied by Hader and Armisen), lends legitimacy to the episode as a thinly veiled version of himself, one of the biggest figures in music of the last few decades.


4

Owen Wilson

Owen Wilson
Photo: Everett Collection

Episode: “Batshit Valley,” Season 3, Episodes 1 and 2
Character: Father Ra-Shawbard

It’s jarring to see Wilson, the guy we all know for saying “woah” like no other, as a cult leader, but that’s why his casting is so perfect. Documentary Now tapped Wilson to play the coked out scammer Father Ra-Shawbard in the Season 3 premiere episode, which is a very clear and very successful ripoff of Wild, Wild Country. Wilson’s character sets up shop in a small Oregon town, where he boldly swindles his followers, talks to vegetables and becomes the subject of an FBI investigation. It’s as crazy as it sounds, and one of the series’ best episodes.


5

Jack Black

Jack Black
Photo: Everett Collection

Episode: “Dronez: The Hunt for El Chingon,” Season 1, Episode 3
Character: Jamison Friend

Jack Black helps Documentary Now spoof Vice in one of the show’s earlier episodes. The actor leads DRONEZ, a media company clearly inspired by the Brooklyn-born magazine. From his unfortunate facial hair to his cringey jewelry and glass of whiskey, Black seamlessly slips right into the role the as douchey DRONEZ founder. His best moment comes when he frankly deadpans to the camera, reacting with very little emotion when two of his journalists are shot point-blank. While he says their attempt at infiltrating the drug trade “didn’t work,” we know for sure what does work in the episode: Black’s perfect performance.


6

Tim Robinson

Tim Robinson
Photo: IFC

Episode: “Any Given Saturday Afternoon,” Season 3, Episode 7
Character: Rick Kenmore

Robinson, best known for his hilarious Netflix comedy I Think You Should Leave, gives his all to Documentary Now in “Any Given Saturday Afternoon,” the Season 3 bowling episode in which he plays a professional athlete returning to the game years after his initial glory. While Robinson is joined by costars Bobby Moynihan and Michael C. Hall — who are also excellent in this standout episode — he shines the most as Rick Kenmore, a former all-star bowler who, despite being crowned the “bad boy” of the sport, just can’t escape his dad’s shadow.


7

Richard Kind

Richard Kind
Photo: YouTube/IFC

Episode: “Original Cast Album: Co-Op,” Season 3, Episode 3
Character: Larry

Kind is good in every project he graces, from Big Mouth to Curb Your Enthusiasm, so his stellar Documentary Now performance comes as no surprise. In the Season 3 episode “Co-Op,” Kind belts it out as the member of a failing Broadway production forced to record a soundtrack album despite dismal critical reviews. His musical number, “Christmas Tips,” is pure perfection as he tries his best to keep up with the chaotically quick music behind him while spitting out increasingly ridiculous lyrics.





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