Category: Stand-Up Comedy

Letterman Rights the Bill Hicks Wrong

Filed Under Late Night, Stand-Up Comedy

Tonight on Letterman’s Late Show, the long censored permorfance by the late Bill Hicks finally was shown. Though David Letterman certainly may have failed in 1993, he demonstrated a level of class tonight. Simply admitting by his error, sincerely and completely, he’s shown himself to have grown into one of our most authentic and human comic voices. I imagine some will wonder if Letterman is taking the fall for a short-sighted CBS decision. I can’t see that. Letterman’s never been one for the company line, frequently teasing his home network. Perhaps CBS was bothered by the content, but Letterman likely didn’t disagree at the time.

Of course, Letterman didn’t dwell a lot on the whys of the decision to censor Hicks. I wasn’t disappointed by that. Any attempt to point out the sensitive part of the act (likely the “pro-life” material) could have come off as an excuse. Better to just own up completely, and let any rationale proven wrong become an internal guide for how to run your show.

It was wonderful to see Mary Hicks talk about her son. It reminded me a lot of when Johnny Carson would have regular folks on his show. The authenticity of how people respond to a conversation makes for something often memorable, rather than just a celebrity relating a packaged anecdote. Mary’s simple “OK, what else you want to know” was a simple human and very funny moment after a slight bit of tenseness where she let Letterman know simply, how difficult of a time that was.  If Jimmy Fallon’s producers were watching, here’s a unique late night tradition that’s been lost in the past decade or so, and would be a welcome return for a new show.

As for the performance by Hicks himself, it’s aged pretty well. It the audience he performed for that hasn’t. Even in today’s world where gay marriage is the front lines of our culture wars, I have a hard time imagining any late night audience so vigorously whooping and applauding a facetious suggestion that a book about a gay couple is disgusting. (Although arguably, Hicks hit the idea awfully hard to set up his preference for the Two Mommies book.) Bill’s comedy may have been before his time, but at least a part of that audience is still there in 1993.

Update: Here’s the Late Show’s video, featuring highlights of Dave’s conversation with Mary Hicks and the full version of Bill Hicks’s act:

Posted by Todd Jackson at 10:57 PM | Comments (2)

PBS Looks into What Will “Make ’Em Laugh”

Filed Under Funny 2.0, Print, Stand-Up Comedy

Tonight in most areas, PBS will air Make ’Em Laugh, a history of American comedy that I’ve been looking forward to for a while. I’ve already picked up the companion book for the series and the amount of depth of material and history that they use to draw lines between past and (relatively) contemporary comedians is impressive. Plus, it’s damn gorgeous. If this is the resource material they used to build the documentary, your comedy nerd appetite will probably just be wetted. I don’t see how they’ll get it all in.

Tonight’s two episodes are “Would Ya Hit a Guy with Glasses?”, which focuses on the comedian as outsider, and “Honey, I’m Home!”, which focuses on sitcoms and the comedian as the center of a family. It’s an interesting, and somewhat diametrically opposed paring that keeps comedy from being in a simple box. Also a little interesting - they are Chapters Four and Five of the companion book. The first chapter in print focuses on physical comedy, and while it’ll probably be entertaining, it doesn’t necessarily seem like the best tone setter for a TV series about comedians. Physical comedy can be polarizing. Good choice there.

There’s six episodes in all that will air on PBS, but there’s also a seventh, which focuses on web comedy entitled “Teh Internets”, and appropriately has been released only there. You’re not necessarily going to learn a lot from the video - if you’ve visited this site, you know this shit. It’s more of a Best Week Ever look at the subject. But it’s fun to see that those talking heads are a lot of favorite web comedians (the ones who are intentionally funny) and also Amy Sedaris doing some single person sketches that have a bit of fun with some web memes. Here it is:

If Sedaris ever has a cocktail party with all those web-themed treats, let me know. Yum.

Since PBS is decentralized, the airtime (and date for that matter) might be different for Make ’Em Laugh. You should check the schedule at the Make ‘Em Laugh site to find out when it’s on in your area.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 11:27 AM | Comments (1)

Review: Aaron Karo’s “Just Go Talk to Her”

Filed Under Records, Stand-Up Comedy

It’s little surprise Comedy Central opted to release the Ruminations author/columnist’s debut digitally: like June’s Bo Burnhan precursor, it’s a far less riskier way to roll the dice on an untested, or, in Karo’s case, highly polarizing talent. On one hand there are the 50,000-plus mailing-list devotees the animated 20-something has amassed since his freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania. On the other there are those who have actually seen Karo perform outside of a Student Rec Center. The latter may be inclined the write him off as Dane Cook by way of a Frat House; an alcohol-and-sex-obsessed (and moderately sexist) preacher on the merits of Dudedom not nearly as funny as he is a pandering to a crowd that doesn’t know any better. And those latter detractors would be pretty much dead on.

Talk’s hour of material falls into three categories: Getting drunk, getting laid and getting laid while drinking. There are shades of Dave Attell in the tales of excess (and in a later chunk on a one-time-use vibrating cock ring), as well as surprising hints of Jeff Foxworthy (“You know you’re a Voluntary Alcoholic if…”). Callbacks are shoehorned in with brute force, and even when he attempts a bit of crowd work, patter concerning nachos falls distractingly flat, though far more distracting is the album’s mixing, which grants the hooting, shrieking audience as much play as the headliner. As far as Karo’s observations on females, er, sorry…“chicks” go, there’s little introspection and even less empathy. “Breakups are tough…if you’re a girl,” he chuckles. “If I had a girlfriend I was thinking about proposing to, I’d relish it as long as possible. I’d buy a ring…and then wear it on my cock. And then get a tattoo right there that said, ‘Ain’t payback a bitch?’”

Upon noticing a “hot chick” in the car zooming past at 60 miles per hour, Karo quips, “I guess I kinda just felt she was hot. I think maybe I had Spider-Sense. ‘Cause my balls started tingling.” He’s definitely got an admirable flare for business, but he has yet to use that power for good instead of evil. But give Karo time. Now that he’s staring down 30, he might venture from the stifling Bros Before Hoes Approach. The storytelling skills and likability are there, it’s just a matter of applying it to material of substance. Surely he wouldn’t mind joining the ranks of his peers who get paid, laid and praised?

Posted by Julie Seabaugh at 05:34 PM | Comments (7)

Louis CK’s “Chewed Up” hits CD/DVD December 16

Filed Under Records, Stand-Up Comedy

He’s easily in my current Top 10, Top 5, even Top 2 of comics working today not simply for his material/persona, but Louis CK’s post-Lucky Louie re-dedication to the art form (see also a post-Fear Factor Joe Rogan) has ultimately yielded three hours in three years (Shameless, Chewed Up, and autumn’s Hilarious tour) with room left to develop a pilot for CBS and pop up in David Wain’s Role Models and Ricky Gervais’ upcoming This Side of the Truth. As he recently put it,

“Okay, I had a TV show, it was good, it’s over. What do I have the best chance of actually getting? Being Steven Spielberg, even though no one’s asking me to direct movies or thinks I can? At the time I got a new agent who said, ‘I can put you in theaters all over the country and you could make a living and more doing stand-up, and work wherever you want to.’ I thought, ‘Well, I could do that and try to be as good a stand-up as possible, like, try to get to the point where I’m a really, really good comedian. And if I do that, probably things will go well. I don’t think it’ll be a wasted effort. I don’t think no one won’t give a shit that I got really much better at that.’ So that was kind of the way I went. And I got addicted to laughter. I can’t get off the road. I just love having such a good time. I’m so obsessed with these specials now and I get to really just open my mouth and say how I’m really feeling at last.”

In honor of its December 16 CD/DVD release, herewith is a sampling of context-free Chewed Up highlights:

“I would happily blow 20 guys in an alley with bleeding dicks so I could get AIDS and then fuck a deer and then kill it with my AIDS. I would do that in a second.”
“She got an abortion on Christmas Eve? Oh my God!”
“I will grind it up in the Cuisinart and blow it up her ass with a straw!”
“When you’re getting ready to be a dad nobody pulls you aside and says, ‘You know, you’re going to be cleaning the vagina a lot because every time she takes a shit it goes straight up her twat.’ They don’t tell you that!”
“Women are non-violent, but they will shit inside of your heart.”
“I was thinking the other day that you can figure out how bad a person you are by how soon after September 11th you masturbated, like how long you waited…and for me it was between the two buildings going down.”
“What are you, out of your fucking mind? You think I’m just going to rape you on the off chance that hopefully you’re into that shit?”
“When you become a woman is when people come out of your vagina and step on your dreams… you’re not a woman ‘til you’ve got long, chewed-up nipples. And you’re not a man ‘til you’ve sucked one of those fuckin’ things either, by the way.”

CK’s Hilarious tour continues into 2009; look for a filming date sometime in the first quarter.

Posted by Julie Seabaugh at 07:27 AM | Comments (0)

Review: Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk With Me”

Filed Under Live Events, Stand-Up Comedy

It’s been four years in the making, including a debut at this year’s Just For Laughs festival and a recent “Sleeping While Standing” fine-tuning tour, and yet, as previews for Mike Birbiglia’s Off Broadway one-man show come to a close, the self-effacing comic readily admits he’s still working on the stage equivalent of a final cut. Longtime fans of the Comedy Central and Bob and Tom fave have come to expect such perfectionism from his stand-up, a trait now underlying each measured pause, painstakingly controlled rise and fall of pitch and endearingly befuddled utterance of trademark phrases “I knooow!” or “Oh! No!” And while he’s grown away from a more sarcastic style over the course of four albums, here Birbiglia delivers his most cohesive and introspective material yet.

Sleepwalk is partially comprised of established bits revolving around the theme, as the title implies, of the writer/solo performer’s battles with REM behavior disorder, which causes a person to physically act out their dreams, occasionally resulting in injury or worse. Bridging the gaps, Birbiglia utilizes the storytelling chops most recently featured in April’s What I Should Have Said was Nothing DVD to bring conjoining themes of romantic commitment and father-son bonding into the mix. Though it may be difficult for some to follow the diverging plot threads’ chronology and there are no outright applause breaks, the laughs per minute are strikingly high, particularly for frequent callbacks. He’s animated when it matters, just as he’s quietly – even deathly – solemn at key moments, and longtime fans in particular will delight in mentions of Birbiglia’s brother Joe, as well as a few moderately threatening bears.

Overall, Birbiglia brings no huge surprises to a performance he could essentially do in his sleep (pun intended), but great use is made of a minimal set (blue backdrop, stool, The Promise of Sleep medical reference) and key behind-the-scenes contributors (director Seth Barish, producer Nathan Lane). It’s a compliment to say he delivers nothing more than what is expected of him – that is, a unique, ever-evolving performer who consistently raises the bar for young comics everywhere.

Posted by Julie Seabaugh at 02:58 PM | Comments (1)

Making Fun of the Zebras isn’t Edgy

Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy

This is a guest post from Matt Ruby, a New York City comedian who blogs over at Sandpaper Suit. He is the cohost of “We’re All Friends Here,” the comedy chat show/podcast with boundary issues.

Why am I excited for an Obama presidency? Because it means I won’t have to sit in the back of another NYC alternative comedy show watching some 20-something white dude who dreams of being “the next Bill Hicks” spout off on how lame McCain and Palin (or Bush/Cheney before that) are.

Oh really, you mean you DON’T think Sarah Palin is smart? And you think she talks funny? And John McCain is old? Thanks for the news flash.

This is lame because:

  • What’s the point of making fun of Republicans in the East Village? Everyone here already gets it and is on the same page.
  • Stewart and Colbert have this beat covered pretty damn well. If you’re not bringing a fresh perspective, what’s the point?
  • Who wants to hear a kid talk about politics anyway? Watching someone without life experience talk about politics is like listening to a virgin explain how to fuck.

I get that this guy wants to be “edgy.” But walking into a room and telling everyone there that what they already think is right is not edgy.

Edgy is telling audience members why something they think is wrong, or missing the point, or stupid. It’s presenting a new point of view, not just confirming preexisting ones. You wanna be edgy in a NYC alternative room packed with liberals? Make fun of NYC alternative/liberal crowds. (There’s plenty to mock on both sides of the fence.)

Some examples:

Greg Proops, in Houston, making fun of country music and the people who attacked the Dixie Chicks (audio). He also goes after “God is on our side” types and Rush Limbaugh in other parts of the set.

Bill Burr telling the entire city of Philadelphia why he thinks they’re a bunch of “stupid Philly cheese-eating fucking jackasses” (video).

Todd Barry, at a show in Cambridge, Boston, calling out a “narrow-minded fake liberal fuck” for stereotyping the south (audio, starts 1:29 in).

Paul F. Tompkins telling a UCB LA crowd why he hates the odd pets of “crazy hipster alternativo types” (audio).

Chris Rock, in his classic “Niggas vs. Black People” bit, telling a roomful of black people why he hates “niggas” (video, starts 10:18 in).

(Some of those are obviously edgier than others but you get the point.)

Bottom line: If you want to be edgy, don’t come into the lion’s den and make fun of the zebras. Come into the lion’s den and make fun of the lion. That takes real balls.

You can see “We’re All Friends Here” live tonight (Thursday, Oct. 30) at 8pm at The Slipper Room in NYC (show details).

Posted by Todd Jackson at 10:56 AM | Comments (6)

Four Cautionary Tales for Setting Stand-Up to Music

Filed Under Records, Stand-Up Comedy

MTV launched a massive Hulu-style music video website earlier this week and it’s pretty great if you’d like to go study that 80s-90s art form (not so much now, right?). But with my interest in the funny, I had to go through and see what comedians are on there. Setting punchlines to music is real dangerous. Watching these will make you appreciate Zach Galifianakis and Demetri Martin all the more. This will probably be the most painful post ever to view in its entirety.

Sam Kinison’s “Wild Thing”
I suppose this one is debatable, but to me this was the biggest sign that Kinison was starting to diverge from the shock and surprise of his screaming to making it all about the screaming and the revenge that went in tandem with it. There’ are no setups in this, just the punches.

Rodney Dangerfield’s “Rappin’ Rodney”
I’ve always throught of Rodney Dangerfield as kind of a transitional comic - one who clearly had borscht belt influences, but who took that rapid-fire gag machine and combined it with the persona driven act of today. It never felt creaky. Except right here, when Rodney one-liners are meant to be a rap.

Jeff Foxworthy’s “Party All Night”
Even when this was made in the early 90s, I don’t think anybody had thought of Foxworthy as a comic with much to say about single life. Wow, look, punks dancing to country music! That’s crazy! Hard to believe it was directed by Weird Al.

Hey, isn’t that Todd Glass as a cop at the end?

Howie Mandel’s “Watusi”
I had never seen this one before, but good Christ is it horrific. It fits his trademark prop-tastic nonsense style, but the non-sequiturs lose even the semblance of charm when set to music. I tried to watch a second time to give a more detailed thoughts, but I just can’t get through it.

Funny thing: Chris Rock also had a video on the new MTV site (and not for “No Sex in the Champagne Room”) but when I went looking for it to write the post, it was gone. Definitely a sign he’s got good management.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 05:39 PM | Comments (0)
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