Last week the question of who will play Barack Obama on Saturday Night Live was the cause of much speculation. It’s ultimate answer being the part-Venezulean, part-Japanese, non-African-American Fred Armisen has caused a little controversy. Some argue that there must be one African American comic out there who would be a great fit for the role.
Though my questions are more about the problems with anyone making a funny Obama impression right now, I can see why some might be disappointed. SNL currently has one African American cast member, and no matter how good Kenan Thompson might be, there’s a lot of the African American experience that just naturally won’t make it to air with only one representative of color.
For those in New York City bothered by SNL’s decision and looking for an alternative, tonight is the last night of The Black Comedy Experiment, a festival of African American comics which is committed to reflect the diversity within that community. A lot of talented young comics are performing, a reflection of that there’s as many ways to be funny and black as there are being funny and white (or any race for that matter). Among the shows tonight:
All of the shows take place at The Tank at Collective Unconscious.
I only got to drop by for the second half of the last Invite Them Up and ended up watching most of it was the bar because Rififi was appropriately packed for this last show. Some highlights of what I saw:
Another thing I saw: a sign informing the audience that they were shooting the show for a documentary. A lot of early movements in comedy there’s been very little documentation, other than the writings of some folks who were there. So you see the end product - what makes it to TV. Not the inspiration and work that made it. All I have of the landmark show “Eating It” are memories - being at Rebar, watching Louis CK threaten to throw a stool at people to discover if it was funny or not. With Invite Them Up, along with the CD/DVD set put out by Comedy Central Records and various web video, there might be a documentary of this final night. (I’ll catch that Eugene Mirman bit then.)
Afterwards, I made my way to the performance space and stood in the room for a minute. Nothing’s really changing - both the venue and the performers will be around. But it was a moment in time. I wanted to feel the shift in the scene for a second.
Then I went home. I was sleepy.
In the Summer of 2009, Just For Laughs and TBS will pair up for the “Just For Laughs: A Very Funny Festival” which will be held in Chicago. The only top line talent mentioned right now isEllen Degeneres, but there’s also the obvious tie of working together with Second City. No exact dates have been set for the five-day fest as of yet.
A while back I talked about if we need a new festival after the loss of Aspen’s US Comedy Arts Festival. Although I’ve seen some suggest that this is the replacement for that, but from my read the Very Funny Festival seems far more consumer oriented. Also, considering the likely closeness to the industry heavy 2009 Montreal Festival also produced by Just For Laughs, I don’t see this as an Aspen replacement.
TBS will also be taking “The Comedy Festival” off HBO’s hands. With that fest and this new Chicago festival, TBS is making a big play to be Comedy Central’s main competitor. The “very funny” theme has been a part of TBS for a while and with its concentration on sitcoms, to me it marked itself as the less-edgy competitor for Comedy Central. With both fests under TBS, this could be a big play to become a major player in stand-up on TV, something which Comedy Central has had mostly to itself for quite a while.
Comedy Central, of course, wouldn’t let their territory go easily. They have their own fest now, the South Beach Comedy Festival. It’ll be interesting to see if Comedy Central takes on a second fest as well.
When I questioned the need for an Aspen Comedy Festival, I wondered about the point of holding a fest when the web seems to bring comedy talent out of the woodwork. These latest developments have answered my question: comedy festivals are branding opportunities for networks. They’re to say to the public, particularly in TBS case, “Hey, we’re where you can find the funny!” Hence almost all the big USA fests having a more consumer appeal. They’re not deal making events, they’re a synergistic diversification of a business model.
You might wonder if any city besides Chicago was in the running for this new fest. Well, I have a completely circumstantial hunch that New Orleans was considered. Again, totally circumstantial.
But don’t be disappointed for the Big Easy, one of those old-fashioned homegrown fests is currently in the works. The New Orleans Comedy Arts Festival will be taking place on April 3rd to the 5th at the La Nuit Theater. How quaint!
Filed Under Live Events
Ian Lendler, our man in San Fran, gives his second report from the Sketchfest. Freaks and Geeks may not seem like a natural for Dead-Frog, but this is exactly the show I would have picked as well.
It’s good to catch up with old friends. That, in effect, is what several hundred of us did at Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco over the weekend, when we attended a reunion of the cast for one of the greatest television shows ever made: Freaks And Geeks.
Again, with such an unbelievable line-up on offer during the San Fran Sketchfest, it’s incumbent our Your Dead-Frog Correspondent (YDFC) to justify why he chose this event over, say, the wildly popular Match Game with Jimmy Pardo, Patton Oswalt, or the newest latest thing, Whitest Kids You Know. So why, out of all of these did YDFC choose Freaks And Geeks?
Well, you could argue that the Judd Apatow school of comedy (which is actually the James Brooks school of comedy…discuss…) now rules Hollywood. 40-yr-old Virgin and Knocked Up were easily the best comedies of the last few years. And Freaks And Geeks, as creator Paul Feig remarked during the show, was the prototype of shows that have become gospel in the last few years. With it running story lines, mixture of comedy and drama, and large cast of characters that evolve from episode to episode, Freaks and Geeks could easily fit in alongside Lost, Sopranos, Mad Men, and The Wire.
You could argue all these things. But why bother? The reason YDFC went to this shows was that Freaks and Geeks kicked ass. And YDFC, like the hordes of fans that have driven the Freaks and geeks cult, wanted to glean any information that could shed light on how the show managed to kick so much ass.
But as moderator Patton Oswalt noted, we talk endlessly about the greatness of this show, but that’s not why we were at Cobb’s and that’s not why anyone is reading this now. So let’s get to the good stuff:
The participants in the show included creator Paul Feig, Linda Cardellini (Lindsay), an unrecognizably tall John Francis Daley (Sam), Samm Levine (Neal), a very possibly stoned Martin Starr (Haverchuck), Busy Phillips (Kim), David Allen (Mr. Rosso, who’s character, due to legal reasons, was almost named Mr. Del Monte), and Steve Bannos (Mr. Kowchevski)
So what did we learn?
There was general gossip of the “wasn’t it fun being on set together?” sort which is always fun to listen to but doesn’t really read very well in print, so YDFC will spare you.
The floor was then thrown open to some surprisingly nut-job-free Q&A. The only fairly dull question being: “What are you guys doing now?” (Answer: That’s what imdb is for. Stop wasting everyone’s time. Although it must be noted that Feig’s answer, “I’ve got a series of young-adult sci-fi novels coming out,” took everyone by surprise.)
However, the answers (ER, Bones, the writers’ strike, etc.) weren’t as instructive as the fact that every one of those actors have gone on to totally decent careers. It’s rare feat for a cast that included three 14-yr-olds and a bunch of 19-yr-olds to go on to bigger things (just ask Gary Coleman and Danny Bonaduce). And it provides some clue as to the show’s enduring qualities.
Paul Feig, Judd Apatow, and Mike White set out to create a show in which teenagers were portrayed as they actually are— awkward, gawky, frustrated, and misunderstood. There were no snappy one-liners. No witty repartee. So was it any surprise that when they asked a cast of teenagers to just be themselves, that’s exactly what they got?
My good friend Ian Lendler, author of Alcoholica Esoterica, checked out a couple of the shows from the excellent San Francisco Sketchfest for the blog. He’s got two reports from this past weekend. This is his first.
So the San Francisco Sketchfest line-up looked something like this:
SFSketchfest is clearly throwing its hat in the ring to make the Aspen and Montreal Comedy Fests look like corporate wussies. Simply put, I love this festival. So the question looms: with a limited amount of money to spend, what show to see?
For Your Dead Frog Correspondent (YDFC), the answer was simple: An Evening with Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist (and Patients).
Why? It reminds me of the golden days. When Comedy Central was trying odd shows, intelligent shows, before they devolved into the Daily Show/South Park/and also-lots-of-things-which-suck network.
But mainly, the show had the strangest comedic timing this side of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, courtesy of Dr. Katz and the funniest human being on the planet, Jon Benjamin, playing his son, Ben. Comedy is all about timing and the show’s laconic rhythms made it a unique source of humor. You didn’t hear jokes like it anywhere else on television.
Comedians value anyone who can wring laughs out of people with a unique style, and perhaps that’s why Jonathan Katz became something of a comedian’s comedian. And he returned the favor, giving a spot on his couch to a number of comedians before they hit the big-time.
That’s to say nothing of the surprise patients that showed up each night. On Friday, it was Robin Williams sporting a giant horse head… umm… for no particular reason. And on Saturday, The Office’s actor/writer/producer, B.J. Novak.
So the question was: What would Dr. Katz be like on-stage? Two people facing each other in a faux-therapy situation and speaking in quiet tones is a tough sell. Fortunately, the crowd was there to show its love.
To be honest, the show wouldn’t qualify as the funniest event of the festival. But then again, the television show was never guffawingly uproarious. It just charmed you with its quirkiness. And Dr. Katz certainly did that on-stage. He was clearly enjoying playing the straight man as he giggled his way through setting up each comedian for their jokes.
The stand-out patient was Andy Kindler. Though he’s always struck me as a little too reliant on “I’m a Jew” humor, his anguished worrying turned the show into something out of Portnoy’s Complaint.
This highlighted an odd quirk of the television show. The best guests used Dr. Katz’s couch in the intimate confessional style of a real psychiatric office. That was why Ray Romano and Emo Philips’s low self-esteem kvetching made them better guests than, say, Mitch Hedberg, who despite being a far superior stand-up, just delivered his normal one-liners.
So despite the fact that B.J. Novak is a certified genius for his work on The Office, his funny one-liners (“People love Popeye, but he’s a devious guy. He opened a chain of restaurants and he doesn’t serve spinach at any of them…Popeye wants to keep us weak.”) simply came off as funny one-liners and nothing more.
Kudos should also be given to Robin Williams, who seemed on the verge of launching into his standard once-inspired now-tiresome riff-shtick until he veered into panic attack mode (“Dr. Katz, you told me go into rehab. Now my career’s in the toilet. What do I do?”).
Dr. Katz, too, provided the audience with the briefest moment of confession, revealing that he suffers from multiple sclerosis. Although he was just as quick to brush off this bad news with what he openly confessed was the worst joke of the evening: “How do you deal with terminal illness? Some people climb Mount Everest. Some people sleep with lots of women. I’m going to mount Geena Davis.”
Which just goes to show that Dr. Katz may enjoy being the straight man for other comedians, but Fate is the best straight man of all. And in that case, Dr. Katz is more than willing to take his place on the couch and find the punch-line.
Neil Hamburger was already opening the show prior to its 8PM start time. Setups like “Why does God give people AIDS?” still got great participation from a wandering-in crowd. (The answer: “So they have an airtight excuse from seeing the latest Robin Williams movie.”
The show was filled with video from the Adult Swim show along with appearances by many of their discoveries including Pierre getting great applause for “Doo Dah Doo Doog”
and James Quall with impressions of George Carlin if he was in Gone with the Wind:
“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. I’ve thought of much more interesting words to say.”
A bulk of Tim & Eric’s time on stage were as Casey as her Brother running through five (5!) songs as the pair. They came to the stage wearing a train costume, Chinese Dragon style - their movements knocking over “The Comedy Festival” sign, much to the delight of the audience. Included in the set was “I don’t want to go to school”, “No sunsets”, “Right way to Rock and a Right Way to Roll.” The final song, “Hamburgers” saw Casey and his brother (in a bit too brief of a hamburger costume) pelting the crowd with hot dogs. Casey vomiting on stage at the end.
There was a little clean up after that.
Ron Lynch followed with a bit about an “animatronic comedian” who had to re-teach people how to laugh out loud after surgically installed iProds had destroyed live comedy. Among his lessons:
“If everyone else is laughing at it, it must be funny. If only you are laughing, you are crazy and will be put into a small box.
The show climaxed with Tim as a BMX biker attempting stunts on stage. At this point the show had felt a little long and Tim & Eric seemed to know it, telling us “You’re not getting out of here that easy!” and advising ushers to “Lock the doors in the back” and “Turn off the air conditioning.”
Audience members were selected for a stunt - three attendees in white hats (who had previously grooved out to a Beaver Boys video). They lay side by side for a big jump.
But Tim won’t do it, tell us he needs a fourth and that we “don’t have the balls” to be it. At that moment, an audience member rushed the stage to do it, but Tim repelled him quickly with the lack of balls accusation. After a couple of dismissals later (including “You’re a woman!” to a female volunteer), Eric becomes the fourth and lies across the three other volunteers.
Tim, then in an amazing visual feat that must be seen, not blogged, jumps the quartet in his bike. Amazing.
The end saw Tim tells us (and Eric, it seemed) that Eric’s dad has died with music and fog interrupting the confession to his frustration. (See my previous post about confusions between salutes to fake deaths / real deaths). Eric looks sad and then dances off.
Afterward the show, I spoke quickly with Eric about the recent video war on aspecialthing over the message board’s top 20 list. Eric asserted after their video taunts of Eugene Mirman and Andy Kindler that they expect to see themselves at the top of the next list. They believe they’ve said their peace on the matter, but if any other members on the list make videos against them they are ready to respond in kind the same day. Even if that person is #1 on the list, Paul F. Tompkins. Eric: “We have inside knowledge of things with his family. We will take him down.”
Live shows that feature what’s so funny on the web are always hard. Sometimes they turn into marketing/advertising presentations, sometimes they feature guest whose humor is more accidental than conscious. This show dodged a fair amount of that. Hosted by Pete and Brian, the show featured work from the Blerds, John Roberts, Chelsea Peretti, Machinma, Garage Comedy and Funny or Die. The highlights:
The Blerds shared videos made for places outside the web that fell apart before they saw the light of day, including an ad they did for Jose Cuervo because “we’re too edgy for Mexican boose online.” The Blerds also played a video for their late friend Pat Brice. I was happy that no one laughed during the intro for it, so many comedy shows have salutes to faux dead friends now that I’m worried that talk about real dead people might be taken as jokes.
Chelsea Peretti did a live version of “All My Exes” with out web comedy genius ZeFrank as her guest. Peretti reminisced about their good times together and ZeFrank corrected her - when Peretti asked him what he was thinking about in a photo where he wistfully looks out a window, Ze said, “escape.”
My favorite part of the 5 PM show (a brutal time for comedy) was Garage Comedy - stand-up Brody Stevens took the stage dealing with texted heckles from audience’s members and the live player. Stevens talked non-stop, deflecting Twitter-ed bullets like “I don’t think old Blue Eyes would approve of white Jew thighs here” and “I’d rather be losing money downstairs right now” with verve and energy. He even got down into the crowd and requested old-fashioned verbal heckling.
Funny or Die demonstrated how the Internet was destroying the environment, presenting pictorial evidence of Google dumping baby polar bears onto ice floes every time someone searches for their own name. They then debuted a new video showing their own commitment to Mother Earth featuring The Green Team (Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Adam McKay). I’d embed here, but the video hasn’t made it to the web yet. But here’s a quote from it:
Make love to Mother Earth. Make a small hole, fill it with a little bit of water for lubrication and go to town.
Update: Funny or Die has posted the “Green Team” video. Here it is: