Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy
Comedian Mike DeStefano died from a heart attack late yesterday. DeStefano’s comedic life was defined by fearlessly broaching the hardest and darkest parts of the rest of his life. The comedian was a former heroin addict and HIV positive. He lost his wife Franny to AIDS and then soon after, his father, with whom he had a tempestuous and complicated relationship.
Much of this was discussed in his recent one-man show “Drugs, Disease and Death: A Comedy” The show was produced by my friends at Cringe Humor, who became incredibly close with Mike. If there was anybody who was a reflection of what a Cringe comic is, DeStefano was it. He was a master of comedic alchemy - changing pain (lead) into humor (gold). For such miraculous events, gasps musts accompany the laughs.
“Drugs, Disease and Death” was a work in progress, but still a triumph for the comedian. The version I saw was one of the more joke-heavy versions of the show, but I was told the night before there were tears from Mike as he recited his story. Fully realized, balancing the emotion and humor, I have no doubt that it would be a comedic milestone for any who saw it. I’m blessed that I saw him and feel great sadness that so many others will not.
I’m going to share the following clip of Mike, even though it’s not representative of how funny the man was. But it’s probably the best reflection of him as a man. It’s rare in life to know the best thing you ever done. Mike did. It’s called “Franny’s Last Ride” and it’s from The Moth. (Updated video from the official Moth YouTube Channel. And as Sean McCarthy points out, this is from HBO’s Aspen Comedy Festival.)
Update: CringeHumor is planning on showing footage they shot from “Drugs, Disease and Death” for an upcoming show at the Barrow Street Theater. Proceeds will go to the Narcotics Anonymous charities that DeStefano worked with. Originally, DeStefano was supposed to do his one-man show “A Cherry Tree in the Bronx” at Barrow Street on Wednesday, March 9th.
Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy
There’s no way of making sense of this, but Greg Giraldo is dead at the age of 44. His death comes just five days after he was found unconscious in his New Jersey hotel room, reportedly due to a overdose of prescription medication. Friend and fellow comedian Jim Norton was the first to relay the news through his twitter account.
The man made a lot of people laugh hard, me included. This is one of the bits that always got me, no matter how many times I heard it. It’s called “Death by Chocolate” and it starts about two minutes into this clip.
Condolences can be left on Greg’s Facebook page
Donald Glover opens his show with a warning: he’s not so good of a comedian that you should stick around if you vomit on yourselves, which apparently happened with one woman at a gig. He certainly wouldn’t stay, even if it was a Zombie Bernie Mac show at the Apollo.
Glover is definitely funny enough to stick around for in all kinds of uncomfortable states, but despite the title of his show, I couldn’t think of why anybody would vomit on themselves. Maybe my tolerance for body gags is far higher than the aforementioned woman, but I don’t think Glover is delivering grown-up Garbage Pail Kids jokes on stage.
This is some great shit about shit in Glover’s show. A female friend of Glover’s tells him she’d shit on anyone attempting to rape her, sparking some amazement from Glover that she can do that on command. Glover claims him and his asshole are always on their third date (“I’m not ready…”). And the show closes with a story about how he and his foster siblings would deal with their time at Home Depot (“Auchwitz for Children” Glover claims.). It involves the toilet section of the store. Saying more would spoil it.
As Glover points out, the N-word isn’t a big part of his life. Race is not something that he’s immune too, which become obvious as he relates the groundswell internet campaign for him to play Peter Parker in the next Spider-Man movie. A consistent reference point for those who opposed him as the webslinger seemed to be Shaft and actors like Michael Cera playing theblaxploitation anti-hero (Glover appropriately points out that this casting would too be awesome). Fanboys seemed to assume that Shaft would be an equivalent sacrilege for Glover, who sincerely loves Spider-Man as much as they do.
Glover does cover race a bit in his act, but the targets of racist words aren’t him or other blacks. They’re inanimate objects, like his seatbelt or slightly more animated objects, like Denise Richards. The distinction between whites and blacks are still there, but Glover grew up with enough colorblind friends that can’t see why he can’t play pranks on random white women.
It’s not post-racial. We’ll never be post-racial. As Glover prescribes, we all need to start using the N-word for everything. Once everything can be called that, once everything is dragged to that bottom, it’ll be meaningless. But as Glover warns, “We’re going to lose some of you white people in the process.”
I caught Jamie Kilstein’s show on Thursday. And wish I hadn’t. I wish I had waited ‘til tonight. I’ll explain in a bit.
KIlstein has a point of view politically and is just not built in a way that he can’t express it. And he does, punctuating points of his rants with a stamp of his foot, emphasizing things like the insanity of religious doctrine where a Fundamentalist Christian sect can demonize something as wonderful and human as hugs. They’re amazingly delivered seemingly without pause - Kilstein’s lung power must be incredible - and often end with audience applause, not just from the physical feat but from agreement of a political view that seems rarely heard when media cameras appear to unfailingly air the dissents finding right-wing organizations.
Kilstein is preachy. And there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be. He believes in something, a trait still too rare in comedians, and he should do what he feels like to get heard. But he said something late in his show that made we wonder. At one point, he stated (paraphrasing) “I realize if I pause, you laugh. And you don’t hate me.” It made me think that perhaps a slow roll of a rant would allow him to hit those jokes more (which are there already), that he could sneak more of his ideas in minds behind the cover of funny. That could be wrong. Maybe they’d cover the points too much.
The best part of the show for me was near the end, when Kilstein talked about the relationship with his father and his realization that he was probably the instigator of most of the distance between the two. It was a look at Kilstein as a person more, as someone questioning himself - in somewhat of an opposition that came before, which is full on angry young man at times. Not righteous but certain of the “wrongeous” of other groups. His coincidentally disastrous attempt to fix that relationship is a hilarious story where he ends up accidentally doing the things he wanted to apologize for is amazingly human and real.
Early in the show, Kilstein revealed his father was coming to the show on Saturday night, driving up from New York after hearing how important it was. The questioning that come from his realization about his dad might tinge the whole show. It’ll likely be an amazingly awkward evening for Kilstein, perhaps coloring the rants early in the show. It’ll be an interesting night. Sorry I’m gonna miss it.
Tim Key warns the audience fairly early on in his show that it will be more of a poetry recital than comedy show. If you have a low bent for experimental comedy than you might just characterize more as dicking around. But Key’s show constantly reframes what it is, bringing in, yes, poetry, but also odd short-films, list of animals, asides to the audience and a bit of child-like play (as opposed to childish play). TIm Key tells us early on that the title “Slutcracker” is a misnomer, but there isn’t a “nomer” for this. “Slutcracker” is as good as any.
A lot of Key’s poems are playing with perceptions, pulling back and delivering that last bit of information that reframes all that came before. (Key also challenges the characterization that they’re deliberately bad, stating “They’re not deliberate.”) A lot of it is engaged with the audience, poems being interrupted by Key’s own observation that a line is “quite lovely, idn’t it?”
Key also likes to play a man unaware of universal knowledge and customs, asking the Canadian audience if they have Shakespeare or kissing. Not seeing his Edinburgh performances, I can’t say it’s a new bit of business but it’s really fun bit of play. Key knows how to coax audience to go along with his nonsense, having once member being responsible for bringing him his beer when he wants it, rather than leaving next to him on the stage.
This audience engagement is best realized at the end, when he challenges audience members to help him go from just off stage to the top of the refrigerator on the opposite side, requiring stepping in a haphazardly-placed baked goods, a bit of pushing in places below the lower back and finally being carried by as many audience members as he can force on stage.
It’s all a bit of fun for Key, but he wants you to join in. And you should.
My first unfamiliar performer was Tom Wrigglesworth, whose show describes a true incident… no… skirmish… no… event that happened to him on the 10:15 train from Manchester to London Euston. The tale itself - Tom helping a old woman by collecting funds for her after a corpulent train manager penalizes her for being on the wrong train by no fault of her own - isn’t funny. But it’s the way Tom tells it, with the asides, the imagery and the indignation that makes for funny evening.
One of the things British performers have to overcome, even in a country like Canada which has the British monarchy on their money, is an info-dump on how some things work in the U.K. One of the marked differences - in a country with free government health care - is that the train system is all privatized with 25 different operators of the lines. Hence the letter Tom is writing when he opens his piece is to Richard Branson, billionaire owner of Virgin and operator of the Manchester/London Euston line. Or as Tom addreses him, “Dear Ricky B and the Virgins.”
Tom handles some of the information dump as he goes along, but once found himself having to explain a joke about British Health and Safety to the audience. If you’re paying attention, you’ll be able to catch most of the difference with the context clues. For example, the difference between performing a whip-around and begging.
Tom’s tale about how he and the other passengers overcome the train manager all ties together wonderfully from the set-up, even with Tom’s admission at the end of the show that part of it wasn’t true. But it’s to Tom’s credit that I was so engaged that I didn’t particularly question that part of the tale until after he mentions it.
A favorite of comedy geeks, David Cross recently wrote the book I Drink for a Reason, a collection of funny essays. He has also gone on tour to support the book, giving fans outside of the coasts a chance to see him perform stand-up live for the first time in five years. (You can check out David Cross’s upcoming tour dates here.) I talked with David about the differences between writing a book and stand-up, why he turned off his Google alert and how his family life is off-limits on stage, at least for now.
What were the challenges you found in writing a funny book as opposed to writing a bit of stand-up or a comedy sketch?
Well, I guess the ideas don’t flow as naturally or prolifically when I’m sitting down to write because you’re writing in a vacuum. When I’m writing stand-up there’s such a give and take in the energy. Plus I’m talking out loud. I never talk out loud when I write.
It’s all my interior voice. Ideas, whether they’re good or bad, come easier to me when I’m talking on stage. That’s sort of the way I write on stage. I have the idea and I just sort of riff the idea until I’ve done the set a bunch of times. And I pick and choose what I say and then that becomes a bit.
I’ve never met somebody who sat down and just wrote jokes. So that genre doesn’t come easily to me. But it was nice to be able to have the idea written down on a piece of paper and be able to edit it there once it was done.
Like if you set up a bit of stand-up wrong, then you’re in that place and can’t go back and fix it.
Yeah, but then I can comment on that. “Oh I fucked that up” or whatever. It’s just so different because you’re communicating in a completely different way.
I just find it to be very hard. I’m amazed when I look at old National Lampoons with Michael O’Donoghue and Doug Kenney and how they’re able to make me laugh out loud. It’s very difficult. You rely on the readers’ sense of timing. You have to figure out how to get that comic pacing in their head.
Well, I probably do have the benefit, if people are familiar with my work, of assuming that the voice that you have when you’re reading it is my own. You can sort of hear my voice in it. I’d be interested to talk to somebody who liked reading humorous books, who’s not familiar with my work at all, to see what they thought of it. Because they wouldn’t have the benefit of knowing what cadence I use. And that’s another huge difference. You don’t have the benefit of pausing and gesticulation and intonations and cadence. There’s no performance to it.
You could put something in italic like Spy would.
That’s all you get.
Italics or bold.
You get an ellipse or all caps.
There you go. The typographic ability of stand-up in print.