Tim Key warns the audience fairly early on in his show that it will be more of a poetry recital than comedy show. If you have a low bent for experimental comedy than you might just characterize more as dicking around. But Key’s show constantly reframes what it is, bringing in, yes, poetry, but also odd short-films, list of animals, asides to the audience and a bit of child-like play (as opposed to childish play). TIm Key tells us early on that the title “Slutcracker” is a misnomer, but there isn’t a “nomer” for this. “Slutcracker” is as good as any.
A lot of Key’s poems are playing with perceptions, pulling back and delivering that last bit of information that reframes all that came before. (Key also challenges the characterization that they’re deliberately bad, stating “They’re not deliberate.”) A lot of it is engaged with the audience, poems being interrupted by Key’s own observation that a line is “quite lovely, idn’t it?”
Key also likes to play a man unaware of universal knowledge and customs, asking the Canadian audience if they have Shakespeare or kissing. Not seeing his Edinburgh performances, I can’t say it’s a new bit of business but it’s really fun bit of play. Key knows how to coax audience to go along with his nonsense, having once member being responsible for bringing him his beer when he wants it, rather than leaving next to him on the stage.
This audience engagement is best realized at the end, when he challenges audience members to help him go from just off stage to the top of the refrigerator on the opposite side, requiring stepping in a haphazardly-placed baked goods, a bit of pushing in places below the lower back and finally being carried by as many audience members as he can force on stage.
It’s all a bit of fun for Key, but he wants you to join in. And you should.
My first unfamiliar performer was Tom Wrigglesworth, whose show describes a true incident… no… skirmish… no… event that happened to him on the 10:15 train from Manchester to London Euston. The tale itself - Tom helping a old woman by collecting funds for her after a corpulent train manager penalizes her for being on the wrong train by no fault of her own - isn’t funny. But it’s the way Tom tells it, with the asides, the imagery and the indignation that makes for funny evening.
One of the things British performers have to overcome, even in a country like Canada which has the British monarchy on their money, is an info-dump on how some things work in the U.K. One of the marked differences - in a country with free government health care - is that the train system is all privatized with 25 different operators of the lines. Hence the letter Tom is writing when he opens his piece is to Richard Branson, billionaire owner of Virgin and operator of the Manchester/London Euston line. Or as Tom addreses him, “Dear Ricky B and the Virgins.”
Tom handles some of the information dump as he goes along, but once found himself having to explain a joke about British Health and Safety to the audience. If you’re paying attention, you’ll be able to catch most of the difference with the context clues. For example, the difference between performing a whip-around and begging.
Tom’s tale about how he and the other passengers overcome the train manager all ties together wonderfully from the set-up, even with Tom’s admission at the end of the show that part of it wasn’t true. But it’s to Tom’s credit that I was so engaged that I didn’t particularly question that part of the tale until after he mentions it.
Filed Under Just For Laughs
My plan for this year’s Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal is to put myself in the unfamiliar as possible. So heavy on name I don’t know already and have never seen. Some of this is simple logic, but I think it’ll also give me the funniest fest possible.
First, I live in New York City. And with Montreal so close, lots of the talent are New York people. I could see a lot of those NYC-based stand-ups live if I want to already, and probably have numerous times. I’ll go see quite a few still, but it seems a waste of an opportunity (and plane fare, etc.) to come here and have what would be the best night of New York City comedy I could find in another town. I want the best nights of World comedy.
And as I said, I think this strategy may give me the best laughs I could find. Surprise is such a key element of comedy… if you know where something is going, you’re probably not having a good time. I can still can be surprised by people I’ve seen before, but I love to see a show and have it be a revelation. In sports terms, the more I know a player’s moves to the basket, the harder it’s going to be for them to score on me. For this fest, I’d love to lose a lot of game by ridiculous margins.
This last point will come off a negation of any of my subsequent posts about the shows I see. I think too many of us do not let ourselves come in cold in a culture that’s littered with reviews, spoilers and, yes, blog posts. Some of the best artistic experiences I’ve had were when I had no idea what I was going to see. When I’ve walked by a movie theater and saw an art film because of the poster. When I’ve bought a book simply because of the title or first couple of sentences. When I’ve just tagged along to see a play because that’s what someone else wanted to do.
It’s a experience that you can easily replicate on your own. Why wait for the comedian to surprise you? Surprise yourself. See something you don’t know.
Filed Under Print
Last week a fantastic book called “Satiristas!” hit store shelves. Veteran stand-up Paul Provenza interviews comedians whose work in challenges society and questions what effect it has on the world at all. As the filmmaker of the documentary Aristocrats, Provenza has a real rapport with all the subject and like Mike Sacks’s book “And Here’s the Kicker”, the conversations in “Satiristas!” doesn’t dwell on the standards of where ideas come from and recognizing funny ideas. You start in the middle, literally.
The inspiration for Satiristas! was the photography of Dan Dion. Anybody who’s spent a little time in the front halls of Gotham Comedy Club knows how striking his work can be. Dan captures something about each comic making them perform for him. As he describes in the foreword, he’s not “asking the monkey to dance.” Provenza brings that idea into the text itself.
Below is a gallery of some of Dan’s photos, more of which can obviously be seen in Satiristas! and on his website dandion.com.
Filed Under Sitcom
OK. Now we know the consequences if we don’t watch this show. So we all know where we need to be in March of next year, right?
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.