Maximum Truth: Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen talk Grifter Comedy

Ike Barinholtz and Dylan O'Brien in Maximum Truth. Courtesy of Momentum Pictures.

Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen spoke with Solzy at the Movies about their new political satire focusing on grifters, Maximum Truth.

Maximum Truth is a new comedy directed by David Stassen and starring Ike Barinholtz, Dylan O’Brien, Blake Anderson, Brianna Baker, Beth Grant, Max Minghella, Mark Proksch, Tony Rodriguez, Kiernan Shipka, and Tiya Sircar. There are many veteran improv comedians with small roles, too. One of which might be considered a spoiler so consider this your warning.

Barinholtz stars as political grifter Rick Klingman, who takes along his buddy, Simon Tarnum (Dylan O’Brien), as they attempt to take down a congressional candidate (Max Minghella) without any evidence whatsoever. Like most grifters, they’ll do anything that they can for money and fame.

The ability to improvise while filming a comedy movie is so important. It’s certainly a benefit to Maximum Truth, which finished production before Ike Barinholtz shot White House Plumbers and the History of the World Part II writers room started up. As David Stassen says towards the end of our conversation, there is not a single scene in the film in which there isn’t an improvised line, joke, or physical moment. Ike Barinholtz said that it’s a little bittersweet to be releasing the film during the Writers Strike.

Maximum Truth is now playing in theaters and available on VOD.

Maximum Truth key art.
Maximum Truth key art. Courtesy of Momentum Pictures.

What was the genesis behind Maximum Truth?

David Stassen: I think our brains over the last eight years or so of watching cable news had finally been broken. We just finally came out of it with hopefully a comedic version of our take on truth, or lack thereof, in politics and in people who navigate in that space of politics and news and people try and make a name for themselves. A mockumentary was just a fun way that I knew Ike could get the most out of it.

Ike Barinholtz: We’ve always been very attracted to grifters. We always thought there was something very funny about the energy of people trying to get something from someone, whether it’s money or clout or whatever. It feels like we are living in the roaring 20s of being a grifter. Whatever space you’re operating in, right? Whether it’s politics, wellness, food, sports, or entertainment, it feels like there’s just so many different ways to try to just kind of make money from people. I think politics is the one where it has real world consequences. Those are the people who to me—Dave and I are just like, these people are insane. They’re insane.

There was just this collection of these types of folks that we have been seeing on the news, online, and on YouTube. We’re just like, we just got to tell an insanely stupid story about two of these. Dave and I have always been—we think the dynamic between an older guy and a younger guy is very funny, especially when the older guy is trying to look cool. We wanted that uncle-nephew kind of thing with Rick and Simon. We just started talking this out. Dave and I’ve written a lot together and we spent weeks and weeks talking through structurally what it should be. We just started writing it and we wrote it very fast. We’re like, Okay, this is feeling really good. Let’s just try to shoot this as quick as possible. Sure enough, QC, who did Get Out and The Oath, came in and we’re like, Great, let’s go. Let’s shoot it right now. We were able to go from idea to actually shooting in a pretty accelerated amount of time, which was really fun for us.

Yeah. In terms of film, was this before or after History of the World Part II?

David Stassen: Before.

Ike Barinhotz: This was before. Basically, right when we finished this and Dave was getting through editing and stuff, we were starting to fire up History of the World writers’ room so it was basically one fed into the other. I was shooting White House Plumbers right after I made this and it’s kind of funny, I was thinking these two guys that Dylan and I are playing are basically the spiritual descendants of Woody and Thoreau. I think it shows you how the de-evolution of political operatives—even Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy, who were crazy psychopaths who were obsessed with money and clout, they were so much smarter and more together than Rick and Simon. They actually had life experience and stuff. It was just funny to shoot these almost concurrently, two kind of grifter political operative shithead stories and to show that how much has changed.

Both this and The Oath deal with politics. Is it fair to say that your foundations for political satire got their start while studying improv and sketch comedy in Chicago?

Ike Barinhotz: I think it might even predate that a little bit. I remember when I was very young, I saw a thing called Tanner 88, which was an old HBO movie. It was a mockumentary about a guy running for president, Michael Murphy. A couple years later, I remember watching Bob Roberts with Tim Robbins, which is, again, a political satire that kind of feels like you’re in the room with them. I just always was attracted to that world. As I was doing improv is when we started getting things like Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and Chris Guest started showing that you could have that mockumentary, very basic bare bones style and still tell, I think, somewhat dynamic stories with deep characters. While I was honing my chops, I started seeing that like, oh, yeah, because Spinal Tap came out when we were kids, and I love that movie but it almost feels a little bit 80s and different. Whereas Guffman, Best in Show, The Office, Parks and Rec started showing us mockumentaries in a more contemporary setting, which I think started programming my brain to that’s a thing that I want to do.

David Stassen
David Stassen. Photo credit: Stephanie Wheeler.

David Stassen: Just to add to that, I think also, we both grew up in Chicago and it’s famously politically corrupt. We grew up hearing stories about how the first Mayor Daley ran the town or how this aldermen got the project to happen in his ward. Whatever the case may be, we kind of know right away when you’re a kid in Chicago, like, oh, yeah, politician—that’s code for corrupt.

Ike Barinhotz: Yeah, it’s very demystifying, I think, for us. We’re the opposite of Aaron Sorkin, who’s like, ah, these politicians, they just want to get in the room together and do what’s right for America. Dave and I are like, they want free food and $6,000. That’s what they want. I think we are looking at it from a bit of a different lens but I think that lens is funnier.

I noticed a lot of familiar improv comedians in the credits.

Ike Barinhotz: We got very lucky with our casting. When we were kind of writing this, we were able just to kind of draw from our stable of weirdos. There’s a big scene where there’s a fundraiser where Dylan and I are at. We have five or six different archetypes. We were just able to call Kiernan Shipka and just be like, Hey, do you want to play insane person who carries an M-18 rifle everywhere? She goes, Yes. We asked Tiya Sircar, Hey, do you want to play one of these horrible YouTube reactionaries who’s like constantly live streaming? She’s like, yes. We were able to just have so many friends come and spend a day or two with us and it was a real joy to film.

I wasn’t expecting Seth Rogen to show up at all.

Ike Barinhotz: Yes, yes, yes. We want a couple of surprises, a  couple of pops in there where all of a sudden, you’re like, Whoa, that’s kind of cool.

David Stassen: Yeah, I think Seth is sort of twofold. One, it’s just that pop and then exciting. It’s fun. But also, beginning of the movie, you see this low rent guy having a very low rent, protests outside of theater in upstate New York. But then you meet Seth, and you’re like, Oh, this guy is low rent, but he’s actually so annoying that he has gotten to people the level of Seth Rogen. He’s important and he sucks. He’s low status and he thinks he’s high status. He is worming his way into the mainstream pop culture and this is a guy that we have to study and understand.

Ike, had your known that your father would find a new level of fame because of Jury Duty, would you have found a role for him?

Ike Barinhotz: Yes! Yes!

David Stassen: Oh, yeah.

Ike Barinhotz: It’s so funny. We shot this before he even shot Jury Duty, before he was even cast in Jury Duty so the thought of him becoming a Hollywood ingénue was so—honestly, had you said to me, in a couple of years, your dad is going to be a cast member on a huge hit TV series, I would have been like, Come on, you’re messing around. I don’t know if we could get him now. He’s very in demand. He’s traveling the world. I think he’s dating Taylor Swift. He left my mom and yeah, he’s with Taylor. He’s gonna break up with her and she’s gonna write a song about it. Taylor Swift is my mom now. What if Taylor wrote a song that just blasted me? Not even my dad. “I fell in love with the man. His son’s a piece of shit.” I don’t know. Maybe she won’t. Maybe she shouldn’t. But yeah, no—

David Stassen: She’s going through the whole Maximum Truth world. She had Dylan in her video.

Ike Barinhotz: Yes. Yeah, she directed a short with Dylan. We hope to get Alan Barinholtz in a sequel. We’re in negotiations with his team.

Craig Cackowski in Murder Bury Win
Craig Cackowski in Murder Bury Win. Courtesy pf Gravitas Ventures.

In terms of improv, was there instruct and instructor that’s had the most meaningful impact on your career?

Ike Barinhotz: That’s a great question. Yeah, I’m gonna give you two people, Mick Napier and Craig Cackowski. I remember taking their classes almost simultaneously, one at the Annoyance, one at the old iO. For completely different reasons, they both unlocked parts of my brain that really allowed me to start to go from being not that good to being passable. I always kind of think of those two dudes. Craig Cackowski is a guy who we get to work with a lot and I still text with Mick so I still gonna be friends with him.

David Stassen: Well, I never took improv classes. I had to go to all of Ike’s early improv shows before he—

Ike Barinhotz: You went to a lot of them.

David Stassen: I learned a lot. I actually worked at Second City as a busboy. I’ve been to 8,000 shows of my friends. I love improv because it’s so valuable on set. I wish I could do it. I always watch shows and be like, Oh, I would have said this there. In my head, I’m like, that would have been funny. But the few times I’ve had to act, it’s so hard to do. It’s so impressive the people that do it well and it makes a script come to life. I feel like there’s not a single scene in our movie that probably doesn’t have an improvised line, joke, or physical moment. It’s stuff you discover on the day. I don’ know how you make comedy without it.

Ike Barinholtz in Maximum Truth.
Ike Barinholtz in Maximum Truth. Courtesy of Momentum Pictures.

I imagine that’s something a lot of comedies filming or having an issue with right now.

Ike Barinhotz: Yeah, you can’t be doing it right now. It’s a little bittersweet right now releasing this during the strike. In a world where there was no strike, we think this would—it’s just a weird time, right? It’s a weird time but we have to do it. We think this is the fight and we are committed to—we need a better deal. I think we will hopefully get one. It sucks right now. It’s not fun. No one wants to be out picketing. No one wants to be not working. I think we have to look at this moment as kind of like, Hey, before things start to really change and get out of control, let’s make sure that we keep our infrastructure and the way we’ve been doing it for many, many years. It’s a crazy time.

What do you hope people take away from watching the film?

Ike Barinhotz: I mean, the thing is, the most important thing is we do not want this to be homework. We don’t want you to be like, oh, man, I have to Google a bunch of stuff now. We just want you to laugh really hard at the stupid people being dumb. We set out to make just a rip-roaring, crazy comedy that doesn’t have any unpacked trauma that you need to wade through. It doesn’t have any violence or anything that’s going to make you really feel bad. We want you just to go and laugh at the dum dums.

David Stassen: Yeah, just laugh. It’s just a comedy. Take away from it what you want, but yes, we just had a lot of fun on set and hopefully, it comes through in the movie.

Thank you so much. It was so nice getting to catch up.

David Stassen: Yeah, thank you.

Ike Barinhotz: You’re the best. Love you. So good to see you, really, really truly. Thank you for talking to us.


Ike Barinhotz: We’ll see you soon.

Momentum Pictures releases Maximum Truth in theaters and VOD on June 23, 2023.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.