Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy
Been a little too long. Won’t space these out so much.
The New York Daily News ran a perennial reporter-tries-comedy story today. I don’t know why editors accept such stories (or why a writer would even pitch one… ugh). I promise to try and spare you too many observations when I take some more improv class later this month. One of the reason I think we’re seeing stories like this one might be because we’re heading for another stand-up comedy boom.
Yeah, I said it.
Not withstanding the fact that comedy does better when times are bad anyway (or at least seems to), New York City has in the past few months seen the opening of three stand-up comedy clubs. Laugh Lounge, The Laugh Factory and, most recently, the return of the New York Improv. (I haven’t been to all these clubs yet, but I’ll try and do a comparison in a future entry.) This doesn’t count the relatively new PIT Improv theater and the HA Comedy Club, which is a little over a year old. (For a full run down of NYC Clubs, check this out. Damn!)
On top of that, the success of Last Comic Standing this summer (one of the few highlights in the newly-anointed year-round schedule espoused by the networks these days), stand-up comedy hasn’t been this visible since the 80s. I imagine the phenomenon of more comedy clubs is not (or will not be) a New York thing for long.
Of course new clubs will require well, acts. And though lots of people wanna be funny, The number of people pursuing stand-up, particularly in a nation filled with attention-seeking young people raised on the Real World, must be skyrocketing. (I have no evidence for this, no figures… just hunches, notions and a need for an entry today.) We got millions of Buck Stars out there, looking for the 15 and thinking stand-up is the way. And who can blame them? After all, Ant can do it, right? (Last cheap shot, promise)
Filed Under Sketch Comedy
More on SNL, God help us all:
One of the things I remember from that New York Magazine 1995 piece was an irate Al Franken yelling at Janeane Garofalo during a rehearsal for attempting to remember her lines, rather than reading the cue cards. At the time, I bought it, because I’d never seen Janeane do stand-up live, where she’s constantly referring to her notes (at least for what she wants to talk about). Her memory doesn’t seem the best. Her work-ethic may be different because she was an ensemble, but I wonder. Since they both work for Air America now, I imagine any animosity is gone. Common enemies kinda do that.
Also, is it just me, or has SNL sometimes just the biggest Vegas celebrity-impersonator show not performed in Vegas? Original characters happen sure, but so much of the cast repertoire plays with celebrity and political culture that has been beaten to death over the week by Leno, Letterman, Conan, Kimmel and Kilborn that by the time you see in on Saturday, who gives a rat’s ass? With the humor already gone, all you have to admire is the quality of the make-up and if the mimic nails his target’s vocal and facial tics. SNL may be, like Mad Magazine, a victim of its own success.
Those seeking the ultimate skeletons-in-the-closet tell-all about SNL will be a little disappointed with Gasping for Airtime. The book does have some candid details about some cast members and writers. But usually, Jay Mohr will couch a criticism or abusive behavior with some kind of praise. Take this note on Janeane Garofalo: “Though Janeane’s very funny and a talented actress, she was a drag when she worked at SNL.”
Similar stuff is said about Rob Schneider, Al Franken and, of course, Lorne Michaels. The only cast member Jay entirely dismisses is Ellen Cleghorne, and even then he at least gives her credit for hating him to his face.
More interesting then is his focus on the show’s insane pitching and writing schedule. Monday has everyone throwing spitballs at the host, which often involves lying about not having an idea or having ideas you have no intention of actually writing. Tuesday is an insane all nighter for anyone who wants to get a sketch on the show that week. A bleary-eyed Wednesday read through of 40 sketches leads to a another til-dawn rewriting session for the sketches that survive. And even then, during rehearsal, your sketch might go. The politics of what sketches get picked, with unfunny hosts (who Jay happily trashes) providing resistance at bizarre intervals, seems to have worked against Jay Mohr.
One of the things I always hear when discussing SNL with somebody is, “Why don’t they just cut a half hour out of the show?” The last half hour of the program is kind of a waste, but you still get the competition to be seen that Jay describes (and that would be even if you cut the cast in half… there’s sometimes 16 people including featured players). If there is a flaw in the show, this book has convinced me it’s not the length.
Back from Maine, having had my fill of lobster meat and bargain clothing. Also read Gasping for Airtime by Jay Mohr. For those of you unfamiliar with the title, Jay Mohr talks candidly about his two years on Saturday Night Live. Or rather, not on. Jay didn’t really make much of an impact on the show, though it’s not from a lack of trying on his part.
Jay’s short tenure fell, pretty indisputably, in a nadir for SNL. Numerous magazine stories abounded in 1993-1995 with the zombie-like headline “Saturday Night Dead.” Most notable was a way-pre-Bonnie-Fuller “US Magazine” piece about the treatment of women on the show and a general piece from Kurt Andersen era “New York Magazine” that just slammed the show. (Here’s a funny thread showing Kurt Andersen’s attempt to publicize the piece on the Internet, with a response by yours-truly circa 1995.) For a while there, it looked like SNL was going to get cancelled or Lorne Michaels was going to get fired. Even though the show is still wildly uneven (the only can’t miss part of it is Tina Fey’s Weekend Update), the show’s fate being that dire is a little hard to believe now. Heck, Lorne’s wining the Mark Twain Prize for Humor this year.
One of the most interesting parts about the book is Jay’s confession that he stole material from Rick Shapiro to create one of the few sketches of, er, his that saw the light of day. Rick, who’s kinda the patron saint/cautionary tale for downtown comics, apparently threatened to sue and according to this account proved the bit was his own. And presumably got a big check that prevented him from sucking dick for heroin for a while.
Jay feels pretty horrible about the whole affair (and by the time you get to this point with him in the book, you have some sympathy). Stealing someone else’s act is one of things that’ll get you loathed by half the comedians out there. (Though it seems a pretty typical way to start out… I recall numerous comic profiles I’ve read which state “For the first year or so, I just did (Richard Pryor/Woody Allen)‘s act.”) The fact that Jay Mohr brings it up shows a little bit of guts and makes the criticisms in the rest of the book more interesting.
More on Gasping For Airtime and other SNL books this week. Maybe I’ll even go dig up that old NY Mag article and we’ll see if any of those criticisms still stand.
Filed Under Humor
I’m in Maine next week, so Dead Frog will be on hiatus until June 28th. Meanwhile, here’s some funny for you nerds.
HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPLES?
An adventure for characters level 8-12
The following is an adventure for 2-5 Player Characters with another player acting as Dungeon Master. The party should consist of two fighters who always hog the Atari, two clerics who won’t shut up about your mom and a magic user who screwed you on a comic book trade (Rom 1 for X-Men 137! How could you be so dumb!).
At the beginning of the adventure, read the following to the PCs:
You are traveling in the hills south of Zaquotch, returning from a recent raid on an orc village. The gentle swaying of the dragon willows in the southeastern breeze spawns a sense of deep relaxation amongst you. You are certain that today will be uneventful. Nope, nothing wrong here.
This passage will lull the party into a false sense of security. For the next hour of so, let the PCs role-play. At first the players will embrace the opportunity to act out their characters’ quirks, but eventually they’ll get bored and ask you to roll for wandering monsters. Roll, but have no wandering monsters arrive, even if it’s a really good one, like a fire giant with a sword of A-hole slaying. When the PCs start threatening to go home, read the following passage:
In a clearing on the stump of a long dead oak, you discover three golden apples. They not only appear quite valuable, but they seem to beckon, physically urging you to remove them from their perch.
Being greedy pigs, of course the PCs will immediately pick up the apples. But if the PCs are suspicious, they might be stubborn about it. Reassure them you are being fair. If they still won’t pick up the apples, have them jump into the PCs hands.
As soon as the PCs have the apples, bellow out in your best angry god voice “Who dares disturb my golden apples!” Do it just loud enough so that later in the evening the PCs will be able to put their fingers on the exact moment they were completely screwed.
Have the Greek God Zeus fly down out of the sky, ridding a red dragon. Though it’s tempting to wipe out the whole party with a single fireball, it is better to role-play this situation to the max, so the PCs believe they have a chance to talk or fight their way out of this.
Anyway, Zeus will ask the PCs why they disturbed the apples. At this point, the magic user will frantically scour the Player’s Handbook for a spell. Encourage him to do so. Whatever spell he comes up with, allow it to be successful. Let the PCs revel in that success for a short moment. Then turn the magic user into hemorrhoid on the ass of a hobgoblin.
In fact, turn them all into hemorrhoids on a hobgoblin’s ass. Collect their character sheets as quick as possible. Tear them up in the PC’s faces. That’ll show ‘em for convincing you to dress up as Muffit for Halloween.
Filed Under Animation
L.A. Weekly asks a great question: why doesn’t radio genius Phil Hendrie have a TV show yet? Might just be that his talent for holding conversations with himself that sound like two entirely different people talking is just not a skill that translates the TV. And there are much worse fates, TV isn’t everything. Just ask Dave Chappelle. But damn, an animated show with him and Sarah Silverman? Other Network are you listening? (Not familiar with the genius that is Phil Hendrie? Listen.)
Dave Chappelle walks off stage after “fans” relentlessly yell “I’m Rick James, Bitch!” Not only are these people killing Chappelle’s stand-up, they’re destroying the narrow window of getting a third season of Chappelle’s Show from the man. Please people, if you go to a live comedy show, shut the fuck up!
More complaints of ambushing by a political themed comedy show - this time, The Daily Show. I saw the episode where Jill LaVine and State Senator John Vasconcellos appeared. I didn’t think either one of these officials came off bad on the show. Lowering the voting age to 14 sounds completely preposterous, so Vasconcellos looks pretty silly for making the proposal in the first place. But his logic about people taking up the responsibility given to them came through the piece. The man just looked a little out of touch but with his heart in the right place, that’s it. Which is more than I can say for the anti-Philadelphia-gay-tourism man on Wednesday’s Daily Show, who really hung himself with his own bizarre obsession with men’s buttocks.