Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy
I’ve defined comedy on occasion as the art of surprise. There’s a lot of stand-ups who can’t help but surprise because they are working with thoughts rarely expressed or said. There’s extreme power there. They can’t help but surprise with things they say. So it’s perhaps an easier shortcut to funny, right?
It’s probably a far too simple a way of looking at it. But I think it points out what’s so impressive about a comic like Jim Gaffigan. The danger in working with the everyday is not that you don’t get laughs. You can and will. But it’s the nature of the laughs that you will get. It’s harder to surprise when you’re working something people know because it’s in the fabric of their daily lives.
We laugh for a lot of reasons. Often when a comic talks the everyday that elicits the laugh of recognition. Of the “I’ve done that.” Or “That’s true.” They’re good. But they’re not the hard surprise laughs, that open up and show things anew.
Those recognition laughs are certainly a part of Gaffigan’s act.But what makes Gaffigan a great comic is that he doesn’t stop there. He’ll break it to find what’s on the other side of recognition, where the everyday becomes strange again.
Here’s a fast food bit that’s in the special “King Baby” that Jim Gaffigan did during a recent sit down with Letterman:
The simpler comparison of how fast food goes through you is taken to the non-parallel of spinach and dysentery, an anti-comparison which makes it sharper. But even richer, he finds that little bit of our relationship in time with fast food restaurant and matches it with our dating lives. To me it created a comparison I won’t forget the next time I surrender to a late night urge to eat at a McDonalds or Wendys.
It’s really, the most desirable results of a surprise: a new recognition. A connection that can’t be escaped. Even if it’s about something as simple as what we eat, it makes the common life refreshed. Something I think many could use in these times.
It seems ridiculous to talk about King Baby, without giving you some of it. So here’s Gaffigan on his love of bologna.
King Baby airs tonight on Comedy Central at 9 PM and will see release on DVD and CD on Tuesday.
Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy
Jim Gaffigan has a new special coming on March 29 entitled “King Baby” and he’s got a fantastic promo for it that’s hysterical funny in it’s own right, particularly if you’re a comedy nerd. Watch:
It’s a fun play off of Gaffigan’s own everyman persona and accessible material, but it’s also just a brilliant send-up of the ubiquitous way comedy specials are marketed these days - shaky rough type on black screens, with all the promotion copy screaming “Edgy!” It’s a great jab to make at comics who assert their countercultural bona fides in between every joke.
After the jump is Gaffigan’s extended riff on a topic other comics are afraid to touch. But Gaffigan’s going to chew it up. Prepare yourself and then click through for Gaffigan’s “Bacon” bit.
Over the past few months, Robin Williams has been immersing himself in stand-up with a new tour entitled “Weapons of Self-Destruction.” Now, in what seems to be the culmination of the effort (but not the tour), Williams comes to New York to perform the show for only five performances at the Neil Simon Theatre. Williams arrives in New York April 28th and leaves May 3rd. Tickets are pretty much what you’d expect them to be - $70 to $150.
A day or so ago, Robin Williams’ YouTube channel was updated with clips from the current tour. But they don’t really give you a look at the show, which reportedly covers politics, technology and some of Williams’ own issues with alcohol. They’re just jokes for whatever city he’s in that night, which is a little odd. “Hey, here’s the twenty seconds you’ll miss if you weren’t in Chicago!” Lookee:
It’s an odd version of web marketing… to give away the toss offs to other cities. It’s unlikely that would be his best stuff. Well, he doesn’t look to troubled for an audience.
If you’d like to see the regional New York humor of Robin Williams, tickets go on sale at Ticketmaster on Sunday.
Update: This is one of the times I wish I eschewed from even this slight snark. Robin Williams has had to postpone the tour because of health problems, specifically surgery to replace an aortic valve in his heart. Obviously, I hope it goes well and that he gets a chance to finish the rest of the tour.
I’m sure I’m beating a dead horse here about joke stealing, but I just thought this was a pretty amazing parallel with a current respected comic. And I haven’t written anything this comedy wonky in a while.
So here’s a video (but really only audio) putting together Jim Gaffigan and Larry Reeb, a Chicago comic who came out of the first comedy boom. Here it is:
I totally agree. Jim still rules. And this is not anything like joke stealing. Obviously, someone can say Jim saw the bit and then did it and claimed as his own. But I think it’s important to share how two people can come to what seems like the same end, without knowledge of one another. Particularly with something short like a joke.
As I’ve pointed out on previous bits, this jokes takes a very common experience that probably anyone who wears glasses can relate to. The more unique the setup, the more it’s protected from other comics taking as their own. I think it’s telling that almost every case here, non of these disputed bits are necessarily, the signature jokes of a comic. They’re not “Hot Pockets”, they’re just the experience that lie in the ether that all comics can draw upon.
But the question revolves, in all these cases, the punchline. Now let’s talk about riffing, and how a joke gets built. The exaggeration is found by reframing what glasses are - making a parallel between other objects and showing how we treat glasses applied to them. This is where comedians are a little bit like Platonic philosophers - asking, “What is the nature of glasses? What are they?”
Both Jim and Larry go looking for parallels to the situation. Jim actually latches on to one before he moves on to the one that’s in dispute. That is, glasses as a cosmetic enhancement, and then others of the same ilk. It’s not super fertile necessarily and doesn’t have the tensions that are involved in the later parallel, but he does use it.
Both Jim and Larry come to a second parallel: Wearing glasses to other items that help with more extreme physical handicaps. I think it’s telling how audiences sophisticated has grown enough that just 10 years later, Gaffigan doesn’t have to explicity make the parallel that Larry does. We get it from the beginning. it doesn’t even necessarily hurt that he’s reframing what glasses are - jumping from being something cosmetic to something necessary. We’re all faster now and these connections are made quicker than they were just a decade ago.
Jokes really are a little bit like magic. People don’t necessarily know that just like magic uses the logic of the mechanical world - physics - that jokes uses the logic of the mental world. But they both still work on logic - and that logic can’t be broken. There’s only so many parallels one can make to glasses that will logically make sense in a ways that will elicit laughter from an audience. You can’t make a parallel that isn’t true. (That’s some of the thrill in the great comedians, they make the parallel that you haven’t seen but has always been there - it’s like writing a new equation to describe the physical universe. It was always there but you didn’t realize that’s how it worked until someone wrote it down.)
An illusion made by one magician could actually be performed in multiple ways (and thus discovered multiple ways). But it looks the same to the audience. They don’t know a different technique is at play and it doesn’t really matter because they’re just experiencing the end results - either awe ( magic) or laughter (jokes).
It’s going to be interesting to see how audience’s growing awareness of the similarities in performers will change how comedians perform. In some ways, it makes sense that more alternative comedy will get popular. It’s a little but like Penn & Teller - showing the wires behind the act but still pulling off the illusion.
I’ve been more than a little curious to see what the results would be for “Funny People”, the Judd Apatow film which explores the life of a stand-up comedian (Adam Sandler) after he has a near death experience. Apatow’s been pretty straight forward that this is a “serious movie”, even though it’s exploring stand-up to some degree. The first trailer just went up today and it definitely tips to the serious side. Look:
That didn’t have a ton of laughs, huh? There’s some good stuff in there - the bit with his creepy doctor plays quite well. But the balance is in telling the dramatic story here (possibly pretty much all of it, as trailer are wont to do these days).
One of the things often said about comedians doing dramatic work is the danger that the audience will expect something with a larger laugh-per-minute scale than they’re going to get. If that’s what this trailer is trying to circumvent, it’s a success. The only question is Apatow’s desire to make it “twice as funny” as his previous works, which I imagine is something we’ll see as more of the stand-up shows up (particularly the contempt for Aziz Ansarai “Raaaandy”).
My favorite part about the trailer is that, at least for now, there’s no suggestion that there’s going to be any sort of easy lessons about life and stand-up (a la some folks much-hated film “Punchline”). There’s definitely a chance that sort of facile parallel will be there - almost dying in life and dying on stage. But my read suggests that this is a story that could happen to a lot of people, it just so happens since these people are actually professional funny, it allows jokes to fall in there naturally, cause that’s what these people do. It’s something that Robert Schimmel, who’s actually dodged the cancer bullet, does pretty well.
Hopefully we’ll see more of the funny side of things soon. “Funny People” opens July 31st.
Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy
George Carlin receives the 2008 Mark Twain Prize tonight. It was not supposed to be post-humorous tribute to George Carlin, but he goddamn died soon after hearing he would receive it. From the looks of some of the promo videos, it seems like the show will be in the right spirit despite George’s unfortunate absence.
Here’s a particularly insightful clip from Jon Stewart, who details exactly how Carlin would lure you in with a fun little verbal notion, and then when he had you, introduce a larger truth.
“George Carlin: The Mark Twain Prize” airs tonight on PBS at 9PM, and then has subsequent re-airing later this week. Check your local listings.
After the jump, here’s part of the “Place for Your Stuff” routine and then Margaret Cho going through some of George Carlin’s actual stuff that he saved all his life:
Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy
I suppose some might take the title of stand-up Jake Johannsen‘s next special a bit literally. But “Overnight Comeback” sort of points out the oddness of a comedian’s life - you may be selling out shows across the country, but if you’re not on TV, you’re perceived to be absent from the culture.
One of the interesting changes about how stand-up specials are produced is that they’re increasingly in the hands of the comedians themselves, rather than a cable network. This naturally brings more control and ownership of the final product (and of course the money on the DVD sales), but makes for unfirm dates of when the general public will see it. There’s a suggestion that “Overnight Comeback” will premiere on either Comedy Central or HBO, but we’ll just have to keep our eyes open for when and where Johannsen will make his debut. Showtime seems like a likely spot too, perhaps even more so than HBO, who I don’t believe has bought many pre-made stand-up specials.
The following promotional but assertively un-viral video was put up by comedian Emery Emery, who will direct the special. (Emery Emery was also the Editor and frequent cameraman for the documentary Aristocrats) Many references to Two Girls and a Cup here, but no video from it, so have no fear of pressing the play button. Well, have some fear… Johannsen does expose about as much as YouTube will allow.