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As part of the Tribeca Film Festival, this panel saw Rachel Dratch, Susie Essman, Rachael Harris, Debra Messing and Samantha Bee spending time on the topic of women in comedy that, soon after moderator Jay Roach introduced it, was asserted as horrible. Dwelling on the pressures of being funny and female in a male-dominated business doesn’t sound like an ideal Sunday afternoon.
Some of the highlights:
Afterwards, I talked with the very funny Catie Lazarus, who’ll probably end up on a panel like this one day (how’s that for a backhanded compliment?). Both of us agreed that, strangely enough, that the panel needed more of a male presence. Because the problem isn’t with the funny people on stage, it’s with the executives in power who can’t see and don’t think there’s an audience for it. Get more of them on stage and challenge their notions. As Susie Essman put it, the question isn’t “Why aren’t women funny?” but “Why don’t more men find women funny?”
As I walked to the panel, I started thinking about my first exposure to stand-up comedy, which was from watching Joan Rivers guest host the Tonight Show. I’m not really certain of how she’s influenced my appreciation of the art form, but I know that your first introduction can leave an impression. Seeing how she can entertain my mother certainly sparked my interest. And what I think what’s important about this is that when some future up-and-coming male comedian list his influences, he’ll say “Sarah Silverman” or “Tina Fey” or “Janeane Garofalo.” Because that’ll mean we’re broaching equality, that female comics aren’t just markers for how to make it in a male-dominated industry but how to make it period.
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First off, it’s great that a comedy festival is a big enough to advertise on TV. And then, it’s even better than it can hire great creatives to make a spot like this. I kinda wish I was goin’ now.
Folks performing at the Melbourne Fest include Dylan Moran, Ardal O’Hanlan, Rich Hall and Jim Henson’s Puppet Up!, which was part of 2006’s Aspen and Vegas Fest. There’s also a course in comedy appreciation called Dissecting the Frog.
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I’m not in San Francisco for the Sketchfest, but Dead-Frog tendrils reach pretty far. In this case, to writer Ian Lendler, a friend who knows funny. Here’s what he saw:
An auspicious start to the evening: The opening act for Red Wine Boys was Triplette, a 3-woman sketch group. The actresses themselves were extremely talented; the material was middling. But comedy is about the element of surprise, and there’s nothing like live theater to introduce that.
While running off stage, one of the actresses managed to smack face-first into an iron railing holding up a curtain. She then performed the rest of the act while bleeding profusely and holding a cold compress to her head. It became such a funny gag that Your Frog Abroad Correspondent (YFAC) became convinced that the whole thing had been faked. YFAC then revised his opinion after the show when the actress was escorted off to, what was assumed to be the hospital, with a large bandage on her head. The fact that it was real did nothing dispel the fact that a bit of the ol’ ultra-violence goes a long way to breaking up the monotony of basic sketch-comedy. There’s possibly a lesson in that for any sketch groups out there.
But on with the show: It was almost like a night back in Luna Lounge, NYC, with the Red Wine Boys Todd Barry and Jon Benjamin acting as hosts for a series of quick stand-ups by Mirman and Showalter. Barry and Benjamin (of Coach McGuirk fame) are two of the funniest human beings in America this side of pre-breakdown Dave Chappelle. And together, they’re even funnier. But it’s worth asking “Why?”
They don’t do punch-lines. They don’t have a shtick or props, although they did occasionally gyrate erotically with their glasses of red wine to thumping techno music. This show was as shticky as they get in that they were imitating fine-wine lovers, but that hardly mattered. They could just as easily have been the Pet Rock Boys or ‘65 Ford Mustang Boys. This show was just Barry and Benjamin riffing off each other. They are pure stage presence.
They took questions from the crowd. YFAC dared to ask what was wrong with white wine. He was informed by the Red Wine Boys that he was not, in fact, a man. And where were his balls? And would he be leaving his balls on the seat when he left the theater? And how could one leave one’s balls behind as that seems a physical impossibility?
They then handed out samples of their own line of wines (sample styles: “Cum-thumping Cabernet” and “Less Funding For AIDS Shiraz”). After this, they introduced the acts, each of whom kept their bits short.
Eugene Mirman showed the audience the false-bottomed can of shaving cream he’d snuck onto his flight to San Fran. Its contents were a picture of George Bush and a pack of condoms. He then read from an e-mail exchange he had with a band that invited him to one of their shows through Myspace. An exact quote from his e-mail response to the band: “I’d love to come to your show…I often like to send my dick on vacation…blah blah blah…your mouth.”
For his act, Michael Showalter pulled a page from the Cringe shows that have made their way around America. He read a faux-Kerouac poem he had written while in high school in suburban New Jersey. Sample passages: “I smoked a reefer with two unemployed actors across the hall of my apartment building. They don’t know shit about fuck.” “In my room is a 6-string guitar…it only has 3 strings.”
Everyone then joined together on stage to sing “It’s Raining Wine” while sipping copious amounts of said beverage. Todd Barry in particular seemed to enjoy this product in large amounts throughout the night. A great night of comedy.
Ian’s also particularly qualified to judge anything even tangentially related to alcohol as he’s the author of Alcoholica Esoterica, a collection of lore and info about booze. It’s informative enough that you’ll feel smarter talking about inhibition-lowering beverages, but not so much that you turn into Cliff Clavin. Check it out.
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I’m very pleased to say that Dead-Frog will be one of the sponsors of this year’s San Francsico Sketchfest. The line-up this year is very impressive right from the beginning with an opening night gala on January 11 featuring the comedy team Stella.
I won’t be able to be there, as I’m grounded in New York for a bit, but here’s some of the highlights I see on the schedule:
There’s more. A lot more. Including shows from sketch comedy groups Elephant Larry, Killing My Lobster, Troop and Kasper Hauser. Plus, the Benson Interruption, Invite Them Up, Comedy Death-Ray, Naked Babies and a Tribute to Mitch Hedberg with rarely seen footage.Simply if you’re in the bay area, you’d be a fool not to gorge yourself on as much comedy as you can stand. Check the SF Sketchfest site for more details. Enjoy.
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In New York City? Dead-Frog is proud to give its reader’s a chance to attend “In the Spirit of Bill: A Tribute to Bill Hicks” . On what would have been the late comic’s 45th birthday, the show will celebrate his legacy with rarely seen footage of him as well appearances by comics like Lucky Louie’s Rick Shapiro and the 2006 winner of the Bill Hicks Award, Jeff Kreisler. The show is also a fundraiser for The Bill Hicks Foundation for Wildlife Rehabilitation. The show takes place this Sunday, December 17 at 9:30 PM at Comix.
When a comic of my generation uses a term like “Mr. Warmth”, it’s usually meant to be entirely ironic. But with Don Rickles, there’s a level of sincerity underneath it. Earlier in the day, Whoopi Goldberg described him as able to get away with his insult comedy because “there’s no malice” about it. It’s true, but there’s also a genuine care and like of people that comes through too, particularly at this late stage of his career and life.
The show will probably be the most Vegas-y of the shows I’ll see; there’s songs and a little soft shoe thrown into the mix. The delight of Rickles is, of course, his interactions and putdowns of the audience. One woman was told, “Are you a Japanese lady? If you’re not you better get your teeth fixed.” Even bits I feel I’ve seen a thousand times, such as Rickles doing a take after he tells a man his wife is stunning, are still hilarious. The laugh may come from recognizing something familiar, but to me it’s also still brutal to hear a performer just slam someone like that.
Rickles doesn’t spare his friends at all - chef Bobby Flay was in the audience and we were encouraged to go to Flay’s restaurant and to “get what I get, the runs!” Even someone with an apparent handicap could not escape Rickles. He told one apparently blind woman that he’d “speak to Jerry Lewis. I’ll get you on the show.”
Much of Rickles’ act has him reminiscing about his friends and his 47-year history in show business - and the people he mentions, damn, so many of them are gone. Carson, Sinatra, Dean. It’s lays real edge to when he talks about his annual Christmas plans with Bob Newhart and parenthetically adds “God willing.” To me, even some of his bits are stereotypes I don’t even know or remember - they’ll pass with him.
Another song saw him telling James Cagney to watch out for our young troups overseas in between verses of “Yankee Doodle Daddy.” His presence was so strong that I actually felt stirred when Rickles strongly asserted that we would win the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite my own misgivings about the war. Also particularly poignant are Rickles’ mentions of his mother, who he obviously adored for standing by him when other’s booed.
There’s still so much humor sprinkled throughout all this heartfelt material. He swung right from Yankee Doodle Dandy to sharing memories of serving two years in the Navy: “The was a Jap there, saying, ‘Where are you Jew?’ And we had a Pollock Captain going, ‘We’re over here!’”
The show is the whole package and I heard many comment afterward surprised at how much they enjoyed it. If you’re a fan or even if you’re curious, you should check him out when, God willing, he plays the Golden Nugget February next year. (As a side note, Dave Attell was also in attendance and was acknowledged from the stage by Rickles who thanked him for “paying full price for the ticket.”)
Measuring an entertainer from today that lives up to the talents and spirit of Andy Kaufman seems to me to be an almost impossible task. Andy Kaufman was a master of misdirection and the core of the comedic arts: surprise. How can you possibly say that one performer is the most unpredictable?
But the event judges showed themselves equal to the task, following up last year’s selection of Kristen Schaal with Reggie Watts, a comedian/musician who uses sound as a comic canvas. He began his set by speaking completely unintelligibly but hilariously for several sentences until he said clearly, “and that’s why I got into comedy.” Then ‘starting off by starting”, he went into one of his two songs which featured some incredible beatboxing into equally impressive verbal tap dancing. A later number was introduced as a “gentle” song about an elf, with the first lyric being a raucous “Hell yeah.” One of his most dazzling feats to me was watching him turn his confession that he had gone “gay” and was meeting with “gay integration counselors” that seem right out of a right-winger imagination into the blandest of corporate speak. (Check this clip called “Scrotor” to get a better idea of what Reggie is capable of.)
One of my favorites from the show were the especially fascinating Charlyne Yi, who collected some valuables from the audiences including some change, gold earrings and a camera and offer that along with the $125 in her pocket for someone to come up and punch her in the face. It was an incredibly beautiful awkward moment that despite the promises of it being “a very good trick” the diminutive Yi had a hard time finding a taker. (You can find some videos of hers on You Tube here.) Another interesting performer was Red Bastard, who resembles a devil with several disturbing bulbous implants on his belly and ass. His honesty at the hopes of being “plucked out of these dumps to be some place reputable like the American Airlines Theatre” was biting at both ends. Also enjoyable was Ken Barnard, who gave us a reading, in character, from his favorite novel - Rocky 3 (“The third is a series of five. Well, the author is working on a sixth). Ambrose Martos got the audience laughing for several uncomfortable seconds while he sat silent waiting for someone to ring a bell that launched him into a spontaneous birthday party for the bell ringer - complete with favor, present, party hat and cake.
One note: performers were asked to keep it clean, because Andy always did. And I have to say, that this show had the most kids I’ve ever seen at a comedy club and, even in environment where more conceptual and bizarre comedy reigned, they didn’t seem out of place at all.