Category: Live Events
Saturday, during the late New York show for the Comedians of Comedy, the arguably funniest line came from the audience. And with a bill featuring David Cross, Brian Posehn and Eugene Mirman, that’s saying something. It requires a bit of set-up, but it’s a great story and a good lesson for those who think they have something to say. Here’s how it happened.
- First, during Patton Oswalt‘s initial set he confessed a desire to defend Bill O’Reilly during the controversy about his surprise that a visit to Harlem’s Sylvia restaurant was a civilized experience. Why? Because it was obvious the Bill O’Reilly is retarded.
- Later, Maria Bamford performed, showing the range of her voice to skewer everyone from her Mother to a rest of the planet, with a surprising tour of dialects. As she was going into her closing bit, about going to comedy clubs and “working on an act that could appeal to everybody”, a man from the audience yelled, “Keep working!” The Bammer got past the rude interruption quite nicely, going into the bit which satirized the barren relationship comedy from some female stand-ups.
- Patton came to the stage immediately after. From my angle, it looked like he may have jumped in just to get a chance to slam the heckler. Patton started laying into the douchebag. The douchebag gave his best defense of his outburst that he could possibly manage: “she sucks!” It continued like that for a moment, until another audience member yelled “Patton! Lay off him! He’s obviously retarded!” A brilliant callback that pleases Patton so much, he collapses prone on the stage. He describes his experience at that moment akin to Jesus rubbing his belly.
So what have we learned? Don’t heckle. Instead, contribute.
Best way to do that: laughter. But if you must say something, look for your shot, play with what’s come before and build on it, not tear it down.
For almost five years in Los Angeles, Scott Aukerman and BJ Porter have been putting on a show called Comedy Death Ray. The live show is revered in comedy circles for bringing up some of the new favorites of stand-up, many of which get their first exposure to a bigger audience on Death Ray. The show also allows some very funny people like Zach Galifianakis, Doug Benson and Todd Glass a place to experiment and play. Just this week, Comedy Central Records released a double CD set of Comedy Death Ray featuring two different shows with two distinct flavors. Besides being performers, Aukerman and Porter have written for sketch comedy shows like Mr. Show and have an upcoming pilot for Fox called The Right Now Show that just happens to be taping tonight. I talked about both projects with the pair along with the dangers of self-indulgence and the need to stay a little silly.
I’m in New York, so I’ve never actually seen a Comedy Death Ray show.
BJ: Holy… you should kill yourself. No, we taped it.
That’s what’s cool to me. It’s often that these seminal shows are lost to history. People will say you should have been there with the Ding Ho or Luna Lounge. There’s no Ding Ho CD or Luna Lounge CD.
BJ: Or Dane Cook’s bedroom when we opened his mouth, basically.
Scott: You should have been there…
The man is an entertainer.
BJ: That’s a wise start. Shitting on the people on our label.
I don’t think Dane Cook’s going to do another CD on Comedy Central Records.
Scott: I’m sure they still sell the old ones though.
True. How are you putting it together for someone like myself who has never seen a Comedy Death Ray show?
Scott: I would say we had two goals when doing this CD. The first goal is to introduce people who have never seen the show before to the best comics that are on the show. And goal number two is to introduce people that they never heard of before and give you a bit more flavor of what the show is actually like.
And those goals are very much in line with the philosophy of the show from the very beginning. It’s the very best people who are out there…
BJ: Mixed with newcomers.
That’s something I really love, because a couple of these people aren’t often in NY and don’t have their own CD. So I can take that track and say, “Here’s this guy I like” to a friend.
BJ: There’s two different disks recorded at two different shows. And they’re two very different shows. The San Francisco disk was in front of 450 people and was a real professional show where people did their best stuff. So to some people that’s going to be their favorite disk.
The second disk was taped at our all-night anniversary show. And some of those sets are taped at like 4:30 or 5 in the morning, when people are a little groggy and not doing what they would do if they knew it was being recorded. That said, that disk has an entirely different flavor. It’s more experimental. It has more of the newcomers on it. It has people doing stuff that you won’t see on Comedy Central or HBO specials.
The second disk, as somewhat of a comedy snob, is the purer disk. Like Zach Galifianakis’ “Live at the Purple Onion” DVD, not necessarily is it going perfectly, but you get that sensation of what it’s like to be at a live show.
BJ: Brian Posehn went up at 4:45 in the morning. And he gets lost at a certain point. I don’t know if we kept him getting lost on the CD. That joke isn’t as technically well delivered as I’m sure it is in his Comedy Central special. But the whole disk has this looseness and flavor to it where anything can happen that a lot of people will prefer.
I think a lot of time in comedy, you’ll get the end result of a movement. You’ll get SNL but you won’t see Second City and Lemmings before it. And this is a great way that someone can trace someone’s act – “oh, this is where that came from” and so on.
BJ: Then there are other people… I read a review of it today and the guy only liked disk 1. And he was disappointed that Patton Oswalt’s bit was something he had heard before. He only wanted the famous people. He’s like, “Disk 2 is horrible. I don’t know any of these people.”
In three years, he’ll put that same disk back in and go…
BJ: Oh wow! (laughs)
Variety reported earlier this week that the U.S Comedy Arts Festival, previously of Aspen, isn’t going to move to Santa Barbara. Or anywhere else for that matter. At least, right now. HBO folks say the fest is on the “back burner” and when you visit the website for the festival, you get a redirect to the Vegas event coming later this year. That kind of says to me that the back burner might not even be in the “on” position right now.
With the ability of young talent to really get themselves out there over the web and the number of Sketchfests and Improv fests that bring young troupes to cities where talent reps can see them in person, I’m not convinced that the U.S. Comedy Arts Fest is necessary. Particularly when you consider how Montreal attracts much of the continent in the first place to the Just For Laughs festival.
So assuming the point of the Aspen fest wasn’t the skiing (which I’ve heard some argue in the past), where’s the best place to put the fest so it does the most good? Here’s some considerations:
- Climate One of the biggest problems with the last Aspen fest was the snow pretty much made everyone drive in from Denver. In 2006, I was on the last plane that got out of the Aspen airport before a storm came. Someplace warmer would be nice.
- Midwest I think it’s a good idea to keep the thing roughly equidistant to the coast fulcrums of comedy - New York and Los Angeles. Makes it more likely everyone will show up.
- No Rich Playgrounds Aspen has a mystique yes, but I know from a few sketch groups who are invited by the festival to perform that the festival doesn’t even pay for all the members in the troupe to come. That’s insane. Yes, it’s an honor and people find a way to get there, but I think it’s a necessity to be able to put up all of the talent you want to show off.
- Comedy TraditionI think it’s great to put a fest someplace where there’s less comedy regularly, because it makes for a unique event. If you stuck the big industry fest in Chicago, it’s just a funnier-than-average Friday to Sunday.
My first thought after listing all of these was Austin, Texas. I’ve never been there, but it has a nice reputation for incubating rising talent. To my mind, the only thing missing from SxSW is comedy. (A funny thing: there is a comedy fest going on down there this Labor Day weekend The Out of Bounds Improv Festival with a nice whimsical touch of having a miniature golf tournment attached to it.) But maybe Austin has too many fests and events already and adding another would be less than special.
So if they do it again, where should America’s big industry comedy fest be? Show your work.
Update: There isn’t going to be a 2008 fest, according to HBO spokespeople. Kind of makes answering the question even more rhetorical.
Greg Boose of Chicago wrote me about an event featuring three legendary National Lampoon writers - Anne Beatts, Chris Miller, and Brian McConnachie and offered to summarize it for me (and you). Here’s his report:
Anne Beatts approached the small stage at The Hideout on Chicago’s north side without a smile. In fact, she looked kind of annoyed. Josh Karp, biographer of Doug Kenney and moderator for the evening, engaged her in conversation until she seemed to relax. While Beatts flipped through tagged issues of National Lampoon magazines and laughed with Karp, Chris Miller, perhaps the magazine’s dirtiest writer and the known true force behind “Animal House”, found his way to the stage. He was trailed by the tall Brian McConnachie, who created the hysterical magazine parodies “Guns and Sandwiches Magazine” and “Negligent Mothers.”
It’s rare to have these three together for a reading. I’d guess there were about 200 anxious people in attendance Monday night, but I also once guessed there were 252 pieces of candy in a jar when there were over a thousand. A lot of dudes, though. Older dudes. Older dudes with beatnik glasses who were totally prepared to show each other that they definitely remembered this article and that cover.
After some introductions, Beatts showed off some of her past NL work through a projector - among her work is the pictorial “Hitler in Paradise” and the famous Ted Kennedy/Volkswagen ad. She then settled in to read the story of how she became a part of one of the most powerful magazines in America (“on her back”), how she won over its boys club, and how it came to be that she was dropping acid with two of the most brilliant humor writers on the planet on the eve of Jim Morrison’s death in Paris.
McConnachie, a man closer to seven feet than six, bearded, straight-faced with excellent delivery in his recounts of National Lampoon lore and later with the audience’s questions, read a story that he wrote specifically for the night titled “The Ding Dong Hoodlum Priest.” Loud laughs. Many paragraphs were interrupted by applause. He went on to play an audio clip from a musical he wrote in 1974 entitled “Moby!” where John Belushi plays a lonely Ahab.
Chris Miller took over. Starting with an anecdote about how he showed up to work one day at his corporate job to find all his furniture missing (he was fired), he then shared how his sex-focused stories first appeared in National Lampoon (one was handed off to Doug Kenney by an editor at Playboy). Miller went on to tell some you-would-not-believe stories from his fraternity days at Dartmouth that were too over the top to appear in Animal House (but that should be in his recently re-released book, “The Real Animal House”).
Miller’s short story of the night was about a telephone collector calling a broke young man by the name of Bernie Boom-Boom. To avoid talking about the overdue bill, Bernie lies to the woman on the phone saying that he is the bass player in her favorite punk band. The collector gets excited. Really excited. Starts confessing to being at every show and watching the bulge in his pants as he plays. The story turns strange when a pair of female lips appear in the earpiece, and Miller goes on to read such great lines as “His balls were throbbing like small hearts.” By the perfect end there wasn’t a pale cheek in the bar.
Josh Karp did a nice job moderating between the writers and was able himself to deliver some compassionate stories about Doug Kenney he learned over the years while compiling research for his 2006 book, “A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever.”
The audience took advantage of the question-and-answer period. One question that came up and up again was if they were impressed with any of the comedy out there today. None of the NL alums seemed willing to drop any names. Miller said that the comedy pool is diluted now and that their magazine was once able to pull the best talent in the country together in its pages. There was Internet mentions. Somebody brought up The Onion. One guy wanted to know more about Miller’s slight mention of the masturbating competitions that went on in his frat house.
Time to go. A band needed to set up. Carried instruments made their way toward the stage and the crowd dispersed to let them through. I wanted to quickly thank Beatts for the fun night, but was blocked by a tall, expressionless fan-boy with a see-through mustache who brought forth a gym bag bursting with his entire library of old National Lampoon mags and other books for Beatts to sign. He swung it out in front of her and mumbled. She didn’t seem too thrilled - she looked kind of annoyed again. While I waited, I caught a quick glimpse of one of her first autographs to him that started: “I’ll never forget you…”
Here’s a nice clip from the night Greg sent along too. It’s part of Anne Beatts reading. I always find it enjoyable to watch funny people make other funny people laugh. Because it’s so rare.
Greg Boose lives in Chicago. He still has all ten of his toes. You can read some of his online work at gregboose.com.
Filed Under Live Events
This Tuesday, July 10th, New York Magazine presents A Bad Art Auction featuring works collected and curated by Zach Galifianakis. It’s heavily implied that a few pieces of the bad art were made Galifianakis himself. So if you bid and win, you can tell friend who look at your walls and say “What the hell is that?” You can go, “An Original Galifianakis.” Plus, Band of Horses will play a set. Tickets are $30 and you get a free subscription to New York Magazine with your ticket. It’s all to benefit NY Cares, a charity dedicated to helping fellow New Yorkers.
If you’ve ever watched one of the Blue Collar specials, you might remember that Jeff Foxworthy and company all join together on stage at the end for a round of storytelling or catchphrase riffing (some might argue spewing) on Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck.” At this year’s Bonnaroo, David Cross, Aziz Ansari and Nick Kroll did a wonderful parody of the later. Part of what makes this so fun is that though Bonnaroo’s a music festival, it’s one set in the south — Manchester, TN. So it feels a bit like a mind bomb.
Kroll’s Southern accent is insanely funny but Cross’s is disturbingly accurate. My favorite joke of the whole set: “If the bumper sticker on your Toyota Prius says ‘This Car’s a Faggot’, you might be a Dead Neck.”
A slightly different version of the bit, shot at a second Bonaroo show is after the jump.
Filed Under Live Events
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:
- Rachael Harris mentioned that she believe that women were probably going to have to write for themselves in order to get the quality comedic parts. Though when the question came to who would back them, i.e. put up the money… that was sadly, harder to answer.
- Rachel Dratch said that lots of people wanted to see Will Ferrell fall down with no clothes, but that they didn’t want to see her do it. After more than a few “I do"s sprang up in the crowd, Dratch gamely launched into giving the audience what they wanted.
- On the subject of whether teenage boys wanted to see women be funny, Susie Essman said that she’s stopped most often by teenage boys so that she can tell them “to go fuck themselves.” Studio don’t seem to get that appeal.
- Besides the much publicized revelation that Debra Messing stood up to network execs for her character on Will & Grace to be small-breasted, she also related as story of a scene where she improvised Grace airing out a fart from her dress. The bit apparently got huge laughs in rehearsal, but sitcom director Jimmy Burrows said it was “too gross.” There was some frustration from Messing in the desire to not keep her character too precious but not being allowed to fart.
- Jay Roach, who’s directed quite a few comedies, described male and female responses to humor as similar to sex. Men are easier to make laugh - there’s a very direct way. Women require a bit more subtlety, the foreplay of the comedy world.
- Jay Roach also told of how he couldn’t get a greenlight for the comedy “Used Guys”, which was all about women ruling the Earth and men are commodities for sale. Despite a seemingly female friendly plot, executives put the kibosh on it because they didn’t think it would reach women because of its futuristic setting.
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.