Though there’s been a rush of iPhone apps in the past year, the limitations of developers’ imagination for apps that are funny has pretty much ended at fart noises. A new release this week is trying to break beyond novelty and become something reliably funny, that you’ll open more than just two or three times to annoy your friends.
The iPhone app is called This Just In and features anywhere from 10 to 15 new jokes a day about current events—politics, pop culture, sports… anything in the news. It’s a joke style that you see right at the beginning of every late night talk show - the monologue. But it’s getting to you before Letterman or O’Brien or even Leno, at his 10 PM time spot, have a crack at it. The faster, the funnier - jokes from This Just In have the first shot at surprising you.
And better, comedy writers who have written for many of those shows, along with writers from The Onion and College Humor, are writing jokes for the app. There’s actual talented comedy writers behind each joke and it’s all being curated by someone who has fantastic comedy chops, who I’ll talk about a little later.
Monologue jokes are, by nature, a little hit or miss. You may not be up on the target or just heard the take on that target before — I think we could all manage a serviceable “Bill Clinton is Horny” gag. But the idea should always be, you don’t like the last one, maybe you’ll like the next.
This Just In does only an OK job with “Can’t eat just one” navigation. It’s always a two step operation after you read a joke to get to another. You’re either hitting “Back” to return to today’s jokes or your diving deeper by topic or the joke writer. Either way you’re on a category page rather than a page with something else funny. Your mileage may vary, but I’d rather go through the app “joke, joke, joke” rather than “joke, options, joke, options, joke…” That said, it’s great to dive deeper into either a comedy writer you find particularly funny - and particularly good for the writer who can grow an audience for their other efforts. Anything you find particularly funny can be sent to your Twitter or your Facebook page.
The company behind This Just In is iLarous, which was born from last year’s writer strike as comedy writers began to look directly to cut out the network middle man and reach audiences directly through the web. iLarious comes from the mind of Fred Graver, creator of “Best Week Ever” and one of the first writers for “Late Night with David Letterman.” Graver has been producing good stuff for over 25 years starting with the National Lampoon. He knows the funny.
This Just In is one of many ideas forth coming from iLarious, including another app that will semi-adapt another segment of the talk show - the celebrity interview. It’s called WITTR, and will feature talk between pro comics like some familiar BWE faves like Paul F. Tompkins, Paul Scheer, Christian Finnegan and Doug Benson.
Full disclosure: I talked with Fred Graver as this was being developed and very well may write a joke or two myself for it. Fred offered me a review copy of “This Just In”, but I paid for mine in the app store. If you’re interested where funny could go next, you should too.
It’s only $1.99 with subsequent month-long subscriptions to current jokes are 99 cents (a 3 month-long sub is available for $2.99 - which is a couple cents more than month to month. I’m sure that’s a bump that’ll get evened out somehow.)
A favorite of comedy geeks, David Cross recently wrote the book I Drink for a Reason, a collection of funny essays. He has also gone on tour to support the book, giving fans outside of the coasts a chance to see him perform stand-up live for the first time in five years. (You can check out David Cross’s upcoming tour dates here.) I talked with David about the differences between writing a book and stand-up, why he turned off his Google alert and how his family life is off-limits on stage, at least for now.
What were the challenges you found in writing a funny book as opposed to writing a bit of stand-up or a comedy sketch?
Well, I guess the ideas don’t flow as naturally or prolifically when I’m sitting down to write because you’re writing in a vacuum. When I’m writing stand-up there’s such a give and take in the energy. Plus I’m talking out loud. I never talk out loud when I write.
It’s all my interior voice. Ideas, whether they’re good or bad, come easier to me when I’m talking on stage. That’s sort of the way I write on stage. I have the idea and I just sort of riff the idea until I’ve done the set a bunch of times. And I pick and choose what I say and then that becomes a bit.
I’ve never met somebody who sat down and just wrote jokes. So that genre doesn’t come easily to me. But it was nice to be able to have the idea written down on a piece of paper and be able to edit it there once it was done.
Like if you set up a bit of stand-up wrong, then you’re in that place and can’t go back and fix it.
Yeah, but then I can comment on that. “Oh I fucked that up” or whatever. It’s just so different because you’re communicating in a completely different way.
I just find it to be very hard. I’m amazed when I look at old National Lampoons with Michael O’Donoghue and Doug Kenney and how they’re able to make me laugh out loud. It’s very difficult. You rely on the readers’ sense of timing. You have to figure out how to get that comic pacing in their head.
Well, I probably do have the benefit, if people are familiar with my work, of assuming that the voice that you have when you’re reading it is my own. You can sort of hear my voice in it. I’d be interested to talk to somebody who liked reading humorous books, who’s not familiar with my work at all, to see what they thought of it. Because they wouldn’t have the benefit of knowing what cadence I use. And that’s another huge difference. You don’t have the benefit of pausing and gesticulation and intonations and cadence. There’s no performance to it.
You could put something in italic like Spy would.
That’s all you get.
Italics or bold.
You get an ellipse or all caps.
There you go. The typographic ability of stand-up in print.
Well, no one could say Russell Brand didn’t try.
Last Wednesday, he work-shopped some material for hosting MTV’s Video Music Awards at “The Green Room” on Bleeker Street. Brand had hosted the show last year as well, but the crowd didn’t know what to make of his jokes about the Jonas Brothers and their promise rings. It was enough of a debacle that Brand spent a fair amount of his first United States comedy special talking about it. Good fodder for one show, but I’m sure he’d rather talk about something else in a second U.S. special.
The first thing you would notice about the impromptu show was the female/male ratio of the crowd. It tipped about 80/20. Brand’s lusty persona has a hold that’s really rare in the comedy world. I can’t remember the last comedy show where the opposite sex from my own was so strongly represented.
Brand framed the evening for the audience, but first realized he was a bit hungry and bemoaned he left behind a banana backstage. No worries however, an audience banana is quickly produced and in between mouthfuls, Brand told us how he wanted this year’s stint as the VMA’s master of ceremonies to go much better, specifically a desire to avoid “death threats.” So he was gong to try his material out on us. We were heavily encouraged to raise our hands if we believe Brand was nearing territory which would make him a target for more than a joke.
Hand-raising was the least of the contribution Brand sought from the audience. The audience acted like a writer’s room at times for Brand, offering punch-up for bits. Sometimes it was just a word - don’t say “Fuck”, say “Nail.” A long diversion occurred about what word to use for asshole. (“Orifice” - not specific.)
But a few times it was a bit more. One in the crowd had a reaction to the tail end of the joke, and Brand immediately earnestly question that didn’t he have to have a third thing, citing comedy’s “rule of three.” It was a generous assumption that the audience would know what he was talking about.
Brand might have been too generous. Brand at one point elicited suggestion for a bizarre thing he could suggest Pink might do in her performance. A voice from behind me yelled, “Pink comes out and fucks Michael Jackson’s corpse.” Thankfully, lost in the din of other suggestions.
Another joke about P. Diddy and Jennifer Lopez elicited a response that it should be about P. Diddy’s current girlfriend. Russell Brand made a good observation that true for constructing all monologue jokes, stating that “a fact that nobody knows, it’s almost like it’s it’s not a fact.”
A variation of this is also a lesson for Brand, which, after watching his parts of the VMAs, I think he’s unfortunately had to learn twice. Brand’s obsessive sexual persona is great for his stand-up, but it’s still so unknown on these shores that people just wonder “why is this British guy is saying dirty stuff about our pop-stars?” If the jokes rely a bit on who you are, and you’re still relatively unknown, then no one is going to get your jokes. Brand knows this, he even said so much in that aforementioned first US special.
I think the VMAs are a terrible place to try and be funny anyway. Just like the Oscars, the audience is full of music folks taken a relatively meaningless awards far too seriously (see Kanye). The best reaction you’re going to manage is clapter - the clapping for a political point of agreement- not laughs. Brand’s best moment was when he referred to Britain having free healthcare, and it was more of a statement than a joke. (It was a popular line the night he was working out material as well. And wasn’t part of his initial monologue. No wonder he moved it up.)
And Brand’s talent is two fold, the second being something that’s could never be part of the VMAs but was part of the show I saw. He’s more than just a prancing pervert, but dares into metaphysical stream-of-consciousness, where he imagines that we’re all connected backwards to prior generations and each other by umbilical cords, suggesting that as a reason to cast a kinder eye at celebrity. His mind ventures in places that MTV just doesn’t cover unless it’s pretentiously shown in a rarely aired music video. I can’t imagine MTV offering the VMAs again, but if they do, hopefully, Brand won’t try and make the third time the charm.
This story about Jon Stewart having playing good host with neo-conservatives reminds me of that joke that ends “But you fuck one sheep…” Not that Jon’s a sheep fucker, but it’s assumed that he’s supposed to be a confrontational partisan. I think it’s because of his infamous Crossfire appearance which ultimately destroyed the show. A single, out-of-character conversation colors the expectations for what people think Stewart is doing.
It’s amazing how much the media avoids understanding that the most constant target of the Daily Show is the media itself. Particular the constant yelling and screaming of positions with attempts to score points without any attempt to understand, to bring clarity and focus to the people at home. If there’s any one thing Stewart will not do with his guests, even those with views he disagrees with, is add to the frustration that passes for political discourse on TV. Just like he’s shown the news media that they can play a clip that demonstrates a politicians lie, he’s also demonstrating how to make entrancing, education and often, still funny, talk about the issues of the day.
But it often seems many media folks just assume he’s just as much of an assertive pundit as Limbaugh, Hannity or Olbermann. Like what feel like 99% of our news media sometimes. They’re so involved with this sheep, they can’t imagine anyone else doesn’t want to fuck it too.
Filed Under Just For Laughs
There it is, publishing date of July 29, perfect manifestation of the biggest downside of Just For Laughs: The reacclimation. It’s not merely the detoxing, or the catching-up on sleep, or the returned attention to unanswered e-mails and voicemails and general treadmill of real-life responsibilities. It’s the epic emotional crash from the Festival high that hits hardest.
Of course folks on the 5:30 Sunday flight to New York had it even worse, when inclement weather forced Godfrey, Christian Finnegan, Horatio Sanz, Kevin Brennan and several other comics to board a plane at Trudeau, fly home, circle the city, and head back from whence they had just come for a final night in Montreal. Add the lingering after-effects of the final evening in the Hyatt Bar—around 4 a.m., lingering revelers discovered that taps hadn’t been turned off at last call a few hours back, thus an impromptu kegger raged until roughly 5:30 a.m.—and a good chunk of talent and industry was looking at a tough 24 hours.
But overall the close of the annual equivalent to Comedy Summer Camp left a slightly unexpected impression. The June debut of Just For Laughs Chicago raised questions about the effect its timing and physical proximity would have on Montreal, and there were several familiar Festival faces that opted to remain stateside for their one yearly comedy gorging. In terms of talent, multiple sources admitted that there weren’t as many boldface names as in years past. The overall scope of the Festival, however, unquestionably exploded.
Official stats put numbers at 718 artists in 306 shows in two dozen venues, not counting outdoor and street-fair performances. The Film Festival arm’s debut of Funny People was a massive draw, as was the second incarnation of the simultaneous three-day Comedy Conference. And that’s exactly where things got overwhelming. Used to be there was time aplenty for afternoon lounging, a mad stampede of shows, then nightly socializing. With panels and events from 10 a.m. to at least 5 p.m., things got a lot tougher. Throw in the onslaught of newly participating Zoofest shows (at peak, about two dozen a night), and things got darn near impossible. At least JFL remained semi-discriminate enough to put their stamp on only select Zoofest shows (some of the off-program stuff I wandered into was absolute bottom-barrel crap). Who and what will return next year? Remains to be seen, come July 15-25, 2010.
Filed Under Just For Laughs
He’s already a star in Canada for his correspondent gig on CTV’s Canadian Idol as well as The Jon Dore Television Show (A female passerby joined our conversation outside the Cabaret Theatre to gush, “I watch you religiously…when I’m not homeless.”) Then Variety named him a 2009 Comic to Watch and he spent the week hopping from the Comedy Nest’s Comedy Night in Canada to Best of the Fest to Go West! to Galas and everything in between.
Dore was certainly winning on his own, but word quickly spread after his Friday-night Alternative Show appearance, when he brought New Face Rory Scovel on stage to perform at the same time under the guise of a time crunch. The ruse repeated Saturday night: Host Andy Kindler apologized for the show running long, and out Dore came with genius musical wordsmith Reggie Watts to talk over each other for seven straight minutes. In all honesty, neither was actually doing his act per se, but instead simultaneously rambling and listening intently, filling the spaces with improvised absurdity and subtly mocking themselves, the onstage “character” all comics embody to some degree and pretty much the entire show and Festival as a whole. Both even returned for an “encore,” with Dore soulfully crooning Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” as Watts flexed a foreign tongue on a nonsensical ditty apparently containing a “Ching chang chong” chorus.
“Maybe I’m old school,” Kindler mock-apologized following the thunderous applause. “But I found it very distracting.” Distracting? Yes. Perhaps the most memorable set of the entire Festival? Yes again.
Filed Under Just For Laughs
Leave it to Bill Cosby to put things in perspective. Think two or even three seven-minute Festival sets a night is adequate? On Saturday, Cosby performed to 3,000 in Place des Arts’ cavernous Salle Wilfried Pelletier for two hours and ten minutes, waited 45 minutes for the old, impressed crowd to file out and a new, eager crowd to file in, and did it all over again. And the stuff he did…it was good.
Gray-haired and comfortably bumming in a long-sleeve t-shirt, sky-high sweatpants and Crocs, Cosby spent the majority of his time at stage center, seated in a chair draped with a red sweater reading “Hello Friend,” a nod to his own Ennis William Cosby Foundation. In that chair he hemmed and hawed about one singular topic: Marriage. “So there I am,” he began. “Mrs. Cosby. My wife. That’s what I want to talk about. This Evening.” He leaned back and rolled his eyes in despair. He sat poker-straight, making dazed, hangdog, “old-person” expressions. He knelt on the stage to depict himself cutting down a Christmas tree for the sake of “romance” and hunched forward, hands on knees, explaining and warning what one was in for as one aged. There were car rides, health woes, grandkids, Biblical reinterpretations, wolves, wives and mothers. Things weren’t as tight towards the end as they had been at the beginning, and it was an uncomfortable physical effort just watching him perform for so long, but in terms of tone, cadence, exaggeration and outright life wisdom, the 72-year-old is clearly still one of the top storytellers around.