Posted by Steven Alan Green
1961 was the breaking point for two creators of mass fantasy: 20th Century Fox and post WWII Germany. Whilst the last gray brick was laid in the dreaded, highly symbolic and literally divisive Berlin Wall, ten thousand miles away, in the highly appointed office of the head of what was once the most important film studio in the world, facing a board unceremoniously honored with a stinging run of recent box office failures (most notably Cleopatra) studio president Spyros Skouras convened his finest army of architects and charged them with a desk-pounding master plan to create a “city within a city,” which would be partially funded by Fox’s new owners, The Aluminum Co. of America, more commonly known as Alcoa. And, thus, like a futuristic set going up on the former famed Fox Lot was born Century City. An aluminum Oz in the foggy distance from Beverly Hills, and with equally incredibly flippin’ high parking rates. Century City. Home to HBO, Comedy Central and Ronald Reagan’s former private office. Century City, where Fox HQ doubled as Nakatomi HQ in Fox’s 1988 mega-hit Die Hard, which if came out today, would sound like a Will Ferrell film about a mortician on Viagra. Three years ago, after coming back to LA after living in London for nearly twenty years, I had the unique experience of staying in Century City for more time than I care to remember. London is full of parks and people walk the street and life is everywhere. Not this industrial park. Well, there was a little bit of life in the near distance. The Coffee Bean at the base of what can be considered the Sphinx of Hollywood: the Creative Arts Agency HQ monolith.
The hustle-bustle of robotted suits made way every morning, when I’d grab my favorite stool, open my laptop and sip on a nice cup a joe. One day, I ventured my way there and saw that there was a long line, thought to myself, “Hmmmm,” perhaps I’ll travail elsewhere this morrow,” which is clearly odd behavior to me now, considering having lived in London for 20 years, I finally learned the art of patience via the “queue,” the cornerstone of British Civilization. Nonetheless, I was now playing an American. I’m not gonna stand for a line! Who do they think I am! Don’t they know who I think I am?!!!! Pirouetting on the heal of my Nick Ashley motorcycle boots, I suddenly found myself face to face with an overly-perky young lady, who beamed eyelash to eyeball with me, blurting out enthusiastically as if she were a paramedic shouting, “CLEAR!”, “Are you Sam?” I just smiled, nodded and whimsically said, “Who else?” (Subconscious here: This just might not turn out to be just another adventure-free day.)
Part of the reason I came back to LA was to tend to my then very ill mother, the late great Gloria Green. She was an incredible lady who survived all kindsah shit you wouldn’t believe, turned her life around with a vision and helped tens of thousands of other people turn their lives around too. I’ll write about her one day, but she always talked about “a wrong number” which became the serendipitous key to her incredible success. I have a nephew. Sam is his name. My grandfather’s name was Sam and my initials being “SAG,” my nickname is sometimes “Sag,” as given to me in the early eighties by Comedy Store cover girl extraordinaire Marianne Basford. My mother loved my nephew so much and she loved me so much and being the youngest of three children in my family and my nephew being both the youngest and oldest in his, she would what often who confused was saying she. (see how I did that?) We were in New York once, staying at The Plaza, my mother says, “Steven, get me a yellow.” I had no clue what she was talking about. What, was she Elvis? What gives? She meant, “Call me a cab.” Flashback forward, so there I am, completely out of the blue being called, “Sam” by someone who didn’t know me. The proper thing to do would be to say, “Excuse me?”, but ever since moving to England, I found that “Excuse me,” no matter how inflected, can indicate a challenge to an argument. “We” say, “Sorry” over there. In any case, that’s not what I did.
Without missing a beat, I pumped up my newfound American enthusiasm to match hers and said through my huge nightmare clown-like grin, “And, you are….?” “I’m Cindy, your new agent’s assistant! I’m so excited to meet you! Let me buy you a coffee!!” (WTF, right?) So, we get to the cashier and I order an iced latte, not anything hot: I had a plan. So, I ask her, “So, you say you are a fan of my work, what’s your favorite..uh..of….my….work?” Immediately she chimed back, “I think my favourite book of yours….” (Oh, I thought to myself: she is confusing me with a book writer, not a screenwriter.) “…My favourite book of yours is Utopia.” I thought and thought and repeated “Utopia” under my breath like I was searching for my car keys. “Yes, Utopia. Yeah, I really liked writing that one. Thanks. You know, there’s more than one Sam…are you sure….” And before I could finish, she said, “There’s only one Sam Miller!” Okay, it’s starting to come clear to me. I’m a book writer named Sam Miller who wrote a book called Utopia; and she’s my new agent’s assistant at CAA. Cool. It’s a book, and this is CAA, so it must be about movie rights. I have a screenplay or two…No. I must put an end to this folly immediately, come clean, apologize and maybe – who knows – make a connection for my own writing or not. The iced latte arrives and I ask her to hold it for me, explaining she’s gonna want to pour it over me in a second when she realizes what’s going on. Completely ignoring me like the good agent’s assistant she is, she said enthusiastically, “Oh, don’t be silly! Let’s go outside, grab a table. I’m such a HUGE fan of yours!” Sitting at one of the little metal tables in the CAA plaza like I was in The Bourne Mistaken Identity, she then asks me if I’m alone or is my writing partner coming. I revealed to her, “Look. I’m not who you think I am.” Acting completely shocked, she said, “You mean you’re not Sam Miller who wrote Utopia?!!!” Extending a friendly hand, I said, “No, my name’s Steven Alan Green, I’m a writer and comedian and have been working with an Oscar winning….” She jumps up and as if she were screaming rape, “AND YOU MADE ME BUY YOU A COFFEE!!” She ran off, complained to building security, who laughed, giving me the thumbs up once she was gone. This is what Sit ‘n Spin is all about. Having a funny true personal story to tell that involves awkward embarrassment, farcical randomness, fantastical tangents, dashed dreams, ironic positioning and mostly of all, that extremely rare commodity in Hollywood: Authenticity. Maggie Rowe and crew have created a literal cathedral of authentic story-tellers, in fact, story-writers (scratch that: story-livers); and the whole thing convenes every other Thursday at The Comedy Central Stage in Hollywood. Sit ‘n Spin is the grandmammy of the LA story-telling circuit, and yet she’s a granny in a hiked up mini-skirt, breast-line exposed, thumb out, ready to hitch a sexy and dangerous ride with the smelliest Hells Angel she can find.
The stage is simply set, with flats, a table and a microphone stand. The audience is gallery perched and you know straight away, this show must be good: they don’t charge to get in. Unlike 90% of the shows this reviewer has seen, Sit ‘n Spin actually started reasonably on time. 8:10pm start for a 8:00pm advertised start is pretty damn good. Compare that to most shows I see, which can start as much as an hour late. That can’t be good for audience or performers. I know why this is. The venues want to sell as many drinks as possible and they “don’t want to disturb the show”. But (and I’m gonna write extensively about this another time), take a cue from England. The comedy clubs over there use the Interval System. A break or two breaks, between every other act. For the audience to get up, stretch their legs, have a fag (a smoke), take a splash (go for a piss) and buy a drink (buy a drink). Anyway, a delayed start is a big annoyance that Sit n Spin fortunately doesn’t offer. Off to the right of the stage, Franklin Bruno, a single man on electro-guitar, sang a little ditty narrative of a woman buying cheap sunglasses and moving onto Faustian misadventure; the lesson learned: Live life like a pair of cheap sunglasses you don’t care if you lose. I like that.
First up, was Ilyse Mimoun… Oh, can I interrupt myself and point out there was no emcee, no introductions of any kind, the entire show had a certain “parole board” feel to it, which for this writer, was quite nostalgic. So, where, oh yes. Ilyse. “The word ‘vagina’ gets bandied about these days…” (I can see why there was no introduction.) Ms. M then begins to explain her purpose of focus, by establishing herself as a sort of Ludwig Wittgenstein of pussy. Harping, as it were (British readers get the joke), on the fact that that what most men call “the vagina,” is in fact, “the vulva”. I didn’t quite see where this was going at the beginning; but in due time it served as metaphoric prologue to the main plot of her story: fashion choices. “I reject the notion that a woman should be appealing,” “I think men are not as shallow as we think,” and “I try to get this outfit together; I don’t want to die alone” are her inner narratives, defending her against her best friend Rena, whose interventionist sage fashion advice includes, “Underwear can work for you!” Postulating Loser-ville Hell is wearing skinny jeans to Trader Joes, Ilyse Mimoun brought it home with irony from men; her next boyfriend confirming for her what she knew all along: “Belts are for suckers!”
Danielle Bernabe was next up at bat, and I mean “bat”. “So, four of my friends have planned their own deaths,” was her opening salvo; and let me tell ya’, nothing like going from fashion to death to make you question your own sense of Life’s priorities. Explaining more carefully than she needed to, Danielle clarifies the fantasy stems from her own insecurities. “As a narcissist, I wish people would talk about me like that now,” referring to common-place all-bets-are-off eulogizing. She muses on her own funeral, trying to reassure the audience – who sat like individual tombstones – that “I’m not planning my own death, just the party after.” Meeting with her After-Life Coordinator, post-life use of Facebook, and demanding that all pallbearers wear ties, Danielle carried on with detail after detail of what dying really means in terms of what we all pay attention to all the time in life: vanity, confirming that, much like the soul, neurosis carries on. The Martha Stewart of Death suggests how horrifying it would be to die in her apartment; seeming her day job would prohibit anyone finding her body for a day and a half and that the first dance at the after party would have to be either Sweet Caroline or Don’t Stop Believing. Again – not to be rude – but one thing I definitely learned in England is that, Woody Allen being the exception, Americans have a problem connecting death and humor. Should Danielle Bernarbe ever play the UK, they would love her. To death.
Michael Feldman, a blurry visual cross between Jessie Eisenberg and Howard Stern, opens with, “I first learned about the word ‘nigger’ by accident.” Oh my. So did just we. Trying to wind out of trouble with his mom, Michael explains to his family that he thought a video game he was playing used the term. Soon enough, he developed the unconscionable habit of beating the side of his head exactly three times, saying to himself, “No, no, no!,” thus was his OCD born. Perfectly neurotic and practical, he apologies to god before masturbation, winging his way to a delightful little number of his toilet-sitting ritual of singing a little song. Insightfully noting that, “It’s much easier to believe in rules than randomness” actually touched deeply upon the theme of not only this evening of story-telling, but all of personal story-telling. The one defacto rule I’ve noticed in story-telling is that everybody’s protagonist are themselves and that’s not just an “LA Thing,” that’s the world we live in. Or should I say, “I” live in.
Julie Lynch (the only one to sit down at the table) starts her story in mid-conversation; how she met “Ted” at a bar, giving us a unique eavesdropping quality. Looking like she was just brought in for questioning, made the audience feel like the parole board at Shawshank. “Give me the fucking dollar!” was part of her casual parlance as a professional stripper; replacing it with “would you like fries with that?” were she doubling the late-shift at Taco Bell, would be merely a lateral employment move. Julie sinks her very sharpened teeth into it, as she tells us of Ted, a regular customer at The Satin Dolls Club, whose weekly encroachment put to shame and erased the imaginary Gaza Strip border between Titty-Shaker and “Gentleman”. Like an obedient dog, Ted brought Julie weekly gifts: cash, a whip and handcuffs, as a sinister prologue for giving her the most disturbing of gifts: his business card. A weekend gig at The Palace arrives with Ted giving her a heavy hat box containing a massive vibrating dildo was the breaking-point. In Ted’s mind, they were in a relationship, culminating with a hotel room sexual soiree, where Julie at long last realized, Ted didn’t give two flippin’ cents about her feelings; something she reminded herself she still had, ending a very scurrilous story with just a tincture of required dignity.
Keith Blaney took the back-alley evening in the completely other direction, with his fourth grade recount of getting on The Skipper Chuck Show, populated by First Mate Scrubby and Officer Freddy “teaching us to walk our bikes and not be assholes”, “jungle juice” and Yoo-Hoo Sponsors. This TV kids show – with chimpanzees dressed as train engineers – got him through Catholic School. Peace, Love and Happiness was his mantra and ultimately, even though Keith never knew what kind of navy Skipper Chuck ruled, he knew he wanted in. We follow Keith in his firsthand adventure to the big city and into the television studio with the same kind of “you know this world” quality in Wes Anderson films. Returning to the show and winning the big contest, affords Keith and his crazy fighting family the worst of all possible inflicted punishments: a Disneyworld vacation together. His mother throws up on the Mission to Mars ride, his father vehemently insists on having ice cream on Main Street are only two of the reported neurotic infractions the Blaney Family accrued – their actual crime (according to Keith’s subtext) was that his controlling family cannot live and enjoy life in the moment – and how Keith himself seemed to be randomly caught up in their cosmic comeuppance, as the aeroplane they were all on suddenly loses an a propeller, forcing them, for the very first time, to get along. We never found out which was more disappointing for him: Skipper Chuck or his family surviving, but beyond a doubt, Mr. Blaney has a clear grasp on comical narrative, which is a difficult Olympic event to begin with, but to add being an unwitting player, makes it unquestionably the more difficult of all tasks; and this is why Keith Blaney is a master story-teller. He knows his opinion is all that really counts in entertaining us. And in this, “Who am I to judge?” modern world we live in, Keith Blaney proves, that even though he’s still that kid who never got over the Skipper Chuck let-down, he’s the man. And, speaking of survival…..
Suzanne Whang (a TV presenter and comedian who has survived breast cancer) resets context for us all with a great story of her paternal Grandfather, the honorable Rev. Chai Kyung Whang, being more famous than her own House Hunters fame. Making for a very rich cultural stew, he was funny in church, played multiple musical instruments and made it clear to her from the start, that you only have one grandfather in this life who is a minister and plays the musical saw. Communicating the simplest emotions to his favourite grandchild often got chopped up along the way from Korean to English; “I’m impressed” transposed to its bang opposite, “I impress you,” mirroring exactly what is Hollywood’s number one problem. Language awkwardness unwittingly scribed a birthday card to her Hadabuji (Korean for “grandfather”), which she mistakenly misspelled as “Hadaboji,” (which means grand vagina) literally ending up with “Happy Birthday Vagina”, and yet he became an important spokesman for the modern zeitgeist of the Korean people, appearing on The Voice of America, being asked the secret of eternal life, raising a finger to his head, then suddenly dropping dead then and there from an aneurism, living and thus dying by his own life’s motto: Always leave ‘em laughing. Suzanne implored us to know that she is brave only because of him, triggering many in the audience to emit challenging sniffles amongst the rest of us cold-hearted cynics. Ultimately, Ms. Whang underscored with a truly breathless, “I am funny because of him,” leaving one and all to venture on the notion that indeed, like it or not, we are mostly made up of our ancestor’s DNA.
Sit ‘n Spin was created at the HBO Workspace by Jill Soloway in 2001 (with producer Jaclyn Lafer in tow) and moved to The Comedy Central Stage in 2004; with Maggie Rowe joining production in 2002, Anderson Gabrych as second mate and successful TV writer/producer (and formerly of the funniest comedy duo since Bush Cheney, The Funny Boys) Jim Vallely as the show’s respected mascot. There is no better piece of live entertainment in Los Angeles, and at zero ticket cost, I recommend making your reservations now. You never know what you might learn about yourself through other’s lives. Especially, if they lived to tell about it.
I give Sit ‘n Spin a grand 9 out of 8 Menorah’s!
Enjoy the veal,
Steven Alan Green
FACEBOOK TWEETS OF THE WEEK:
The American sprinting team has been caught planning on cheating in London. Olympic officials confirmed a plot was unearthed which would’ve exposed the US Sprinting Team to images of Jerry Sandusky just prior to the starting gun.
How come a guy with a shaved head looks tough, but a bald guy looks like an accountant?
The Golden Rule does not apply if you are a masochist.
I’m tired of seeing that guy on television with orange hair. And, I’m talking about Regis.
In the first reported copy-cat crime since the tragedy in Colorado, a man broke into the new Woody Allen film, and complained to the crowd.
New Enjoy the Veal feature…
THIS WEEK’S COMEDY RECOMMENDATIONS:
Caleb Medley is a local Aurora, Colorado stand-up comedian who was severely wounded in the recent Batman shootings. As he lays in hospital, uninsured, his medial bills mount up. Let’s help Caleb and his family by contributing whatever you can to the fund set up by the Medley Family. Thank you, Steven
Help Caleb Medley
To contact Steven Alan Green email firstname.lastname@example.org
10.11.13 at 1:51 pm | Steven Alan Green back from the comedy dead.. . .
5.23.13 at 2:31 pm | On the occasion of my old pal and nemesis Jerry. . .
5.16.13 at 12:22 pm | A great new opportunity for our favourite. . .
4.7.13 at 5:32 pm | It seemed like an impossibility before, but I am. . .
2.20.13 at 1:09 pm | My long-awaited review of Nato Green @ The. . .
1.15.13 at 9:49 am | My public appeal to the director of Duel, 1941. . .
10.11.13 at 1:51 pm | Steven Alan Green back from the comedy dead.. . . (21)
9.26.12 at 3:32 pm | I hereby call upon the powers that be in. . . (18)
1.15.13 at 9:49 am | My public appeal to the director of Duel, 1941. . . (5)
July 21, 2012 | 3:10 pm
Posted by Steven Alan Green
What a great week for a comedy blog! Two theatre shootings in as many weeks. Colorado and Fred Willard. It’s depressing, I tell you! Depressing! The world seems to not just be getting worse and worse, but indeed like Demi Moore recently, revealing long hidden or camouflaged hurt. Well, as a comedian, comedy writer, super-lover and supper-lover, it is incumbent upon me to continue to try and show you – “The Discerning Comedy Public” – not just why live comedy is a very important part of your daily dose of mental vitamins, but how it works. On you. The audience. You see, I don’t really think most of you out there in Comedy Audience-land actually understand both the powers and responsibilities you possess. For, just like this coming national election, the power for change is always at the base. And the same thing in Hollywood. The dumbing down of Hollywood perfect stormed when the take at the gate pinnacled with Rambo: First Blood. Heck, you didn’t even have to understand fucking English, to enjoy this family fun packed summer comedy hit. You see, it’s all about getting close to the water. The Beach. Semi-Innocent Bikini dancing California Girls is what the old ugly limp-dicked limo’ed billionaire wants. His master plan (being to take over Hollywood) includes “getting the girl,” and the only way that is gonna happen is if he can produce a mega-crap-hit. We, the audience, being of stoned minds and fat bodies, deserve better. But, like Mitt Romney, we don’t know any better. We need to learn how to be an audience, because after all, at the end of the day, the audience is profoundly the most important part of not just the commerce of the Entertainment Industry (mental picture: a dirty smoke-stacked factory in the business of assembling modern culture) but also the part of the Entertainment Industry we seem to continuously ignore at our own peril: Curation. Curation of the audience. (“WTF! I HOID dis Steven Alan Green was a nut-job pseudo intellect type guy, but DIS over-fabricated nonsense takes the Rugelach!”) Read me out….
As a still-working stand-up comedian, I crave an audience. But, not just any audience, I crave a smart audience. I mean let’s face it. For more than two decades now, with the possible exception of the Laugh ‘n La’Chaim Comedy Show at my local retirement home, like Joan River’s magical face, the audience has gotten younger and younger; while at the same time, and going in the bang opposite age direction, most of my generation’s comedy geniuses are growing older and older, but also getting funnier and funnier; and rarely the twain shall meet; ‘cept for maybe at an awards show; and even then. Why is this? Why has the audience become so flipping stupid? And, more importantly, who cares? Well, I care ladies and germs and here’s why I care: I want my mommy. Comedy has become an irrefutable boy’s club and we all know where boy’s clubs can lead: religious and sexual oppression like we see in foreign countries such as Saudi Arabia and Disneyland. Free the Woman, I say! Free the woman in all of us. Beth Lapides is the Emily Post of Comedy, by way of Batwoman (metaphoric compliment courageously created after, and inspired by the tragedy in Colorado). What Beth has curated in legendary comedy show Uncabaret is as remarkable as it is an underground institution. When Lincoln freed the slaves, he had no idea about Rap Music any more than he did about theatre safety. And yet, the invisible and ever-present connectivity of all romantic and magical events is there: Irony. Mega-perspective which keeps us safe on the road and cleanses our soul. If you’re over 35, you’re not going to a comedy club. Why would you? Comedians on television are most often in their early twenties, and while many of them are good, few of them are great enough to deserve a personal visit. Going to see a live comedy show has become like seeing a contemporary popular music show. The older generation, the better part of the audience (educated and having lived life a little) is simply not invited. And since the comedian on stage is likely to talk about things like Droid vs Apple, weed law and conquering pussy – clearly subjects the older audience don’t give a royal fuck about; they’re just gonna stay home instead, zap some Trader Joes and try and figure out why the hell Huell Howser talks like that. And given that the major comedy clubs serve alcohol with the age of 21 being a requirement to enter (and 37 to exit), mathematically, you have a very narrow comedian/audience demographic aggregate age of around 25. However, if by chance (I’m just sayin’) you could bring modern comedy artists into a mature and intelligent work environment, and add a psychoactive twist to it all, and set it in a Deco-sconced time-machine, then you might just again start to regain my coma’d interest.
Fifteen years ago, Beth Lepides got the idea that comedians needed active participatory triage with their chosen art. Before Larry Charles directed “Curb” or “Borat,” Kathy Griffin got on the D-List, or Judd Apatow directed “Knocked Up” (and by doing so, recreating a new golden age of Hollywood Comedy) they all came to (and through) Beth Lapides’ Un-Cabaret to find their authentic voice, re-connect with their creativity, share their pain, vent their anger and turn their lives into comedy. Un-Cabaret creator, host & and featured comedian Beth Lapides and founding producer Greg Miller applied artistic criteria to stand up and created an ‘alternative comedy’ revolution, valuing story over jokes, meaning over form, urgency over polish, and intimacy over schtick, and I sincerely thank http://bethlapides.com for not just the aforementioned information, but 99% of the wording as well. Couldn’t have written it better myself. What Beth does are two things. Two very important things. First, Beth books the most interesting comedians, story-tellers, and raconteurs alive (and not in prison), but secondly and much more interestingly frankly, Beth runs both ends of the show: The show on stage and the show in the audience’s collective head. After opening with an original cabaret song about change (“change makes us so unhappy, but you gotta change to be happy”) accompanied by Mitch Kaplan on piano and Denise Fraser on drums, Beth, in her semi-transparent bustier, and perfectly balanced under her Two Joans (Crawford & Jett) hairdo, welcomed the first act of the evening, the ininimital Margaret Cho. And as the “orchestra” plays on the Cho-ster, Beth races backstage, out some secret door, unobtrusively re-entering the club like many men and women in this town do (from behind) and over to her Ice Station Zebra command station, a lone standing microphone in the dark of the audience, where Beth will inflict her Potter-esque magic, like the white witch of comedy she is (“White Witch of Comedy” is a registered catch phrase of Enjoy the Veal; the sole international rights ownership belonging to Enjoy the Veal, Steven Alan Green, and his vile imagination.) Completely unelected, she represents the audience at this human trial; and with trained surgical caution of interrupting onstage flow, Beth’s “talking from the Back Mic” is the higher audience’s id, questioning, leading, and prodding her performers to talk about things in the literal now, most importantly: who they are now. No reminiscing here, unless it happened this morning. In a world of overly-prepped product based on market study, this is not just the most unique form of audience interaction, this is true revolutionary intervention. Because, at the end of the day, all we the audience ever care about is authenticity. Something that rings true, but without those annoying irrefutable details, is like a medieval chastity belt; we can never actually put our finger on it. And, that’s just the point in this Conflicting Information Age we are trapped in: we don’t really want nor need answers or even the right questions for that matter, we need, and we know we need, Human Connectivity. But, enough about poor Fred Willard.
Margaret Cho, irresistibly Cho-Rageous (“Cho-Rageous” is a registered…Oh, never mind…) in her tattooed arms and guitar round her neck, reminded me of Winona Ryder when we liked her. Maggie explains to us she is a bisexual; that’s she’s the “B” in LGBT; the “B” often silent. And with that first joke, we the audience know we’re in for a great night. I mean, what comedy club opens with Cho? You close with Cho! What this says to me is that Beth wants to not just push the comedian into the pool, but the audience as well. Are you strapped in? Good. The American born Korean-American doesn’t work alone. Her Korean immigrant mother is her Dead Costello to her Living Abbott, whom Cho evokes in exorcisably frightening authenticity. I mean, I never met her mom, but feel like I wouldn’t want to; she scares me. Greatly illustrated personal stories of how when you sublet, you buy into the property owner’s life, making their giant dildo fair game; or how accepting the existence of some Atlanta peachy bitch who wouldn’t return Margaret’s rental deposit; the logic of because it was cheaper than bail, are not just hilariously emoted with expert patina of detail, but actually become prologue for upcoming stories of growing up in real fear of her father’s deportation or her mother’s penny-pinching, peer group humiliating ways, such as telling her daughter she doesn’t need glue for school, just use rice paste instead. Taking us back to puritanical filth, a story of a motorcycle accident was difficult to hear, and yet the most visually rewarding as she explained very clearly, that motorcycles, in general, are the world’s biggest vibrators. You can see why her parents had to come to America. They knew Margaret was on her way and didn’t want to get thrown in Korean prison. Beth joined Margaret on stage and the two hippy lovebirds closed out with four attempts to sync up in a truly uniting coffee house song about her dog. I was ready to go home; then I realized, Hey! This show just started! Next up was perhaps the most interesting man in the world; and I don’t mean that Jewish actor who portrays the Spanish guy in the beer commercials.
Taylor Negron is Oscar Wilde meets Holden Caufield by way of Ikea. Negron, a successful actor in this town, leads several double-lives, including being perhaps the Larry David of his day; meaning: All the comedians in the know, knew the future Seinfeld and Curb creator, was special way back when, even when Larry David would curse out the audience for being dumb and walk off in a rage. Well, Mr. Negron’s manners are much more Taylored than that, and, in a way, that’s what Taylor’s act is all about. Manners of confusion. “I’m so old, I remember when Gunsmoke was on the radio”; “I remember when the smart money was on Jermaine Jackson”; and, “I went to UCLA……for lunch!” are Taylor introducing himself as if he were applying for enrollment in playschool. Taylor was so laid back, he delivered the UCLA line without the pause that makes it funny, signifying to us that ultimately, he doesn’t need to rely on it or anything. He doesn’t know what he needs; and that’s part of his fascination. His grandma was a socialist who took in lesbians; he lived in a huge Pasadena house once owned by a silent film star….and that’s when the molestations began”; to which Beth chimes in, “To you or by you?” evoking the biggest knowing laugh of the evening. (I know what Beth is doing here. She’s auditioning straight men.) Negron, ever-fascinated with celebrity worship, but not with the actual celebs themselves, told of how he recently saw Roseanne on Larry King (I hope it wasn’t literal, because Piers Morgan’s the guy now) opening up too much about being molested, and publicly fantasized if he (Taylor, not King) were actually molested, he’d be a big star, which was an interesting algorithm to ponder, but we couldn’t because we were sideswiped by Taylor’s mother (who, my guess, hangs out with Cho’s mom) chiming in, “But, who’d molest you?” Taylor is just that; a tailor who weaves the channel-surfing emotional landscape; embroidering it with charming little cultural insights, as if he’s been studying us Earthlings; knowing he’s superior to it all, and yet can’t let go of his favorite earthbound emotion: being completely bewildered every day of his fucking life. Publicly unveiling he had a tumor removed last year and being at Cedars hearing on a distant radio that “Taylor had died” and believing he was dead until the readjustment of facts revealed the news referred to Elizabeth Taylor; and counter-setting with escaping to Puerto Rico and watching South Park in the hotel, Taylor Negron is the jewel in the crown of live story-telling; because he’s lived to tell about it and does it so concisely. “Dreams are vacuum packed – when you’ve lost everything” combines the timeless with the pointless, which ultimately is how Taylor Negron sees the concept of Life itself. As just that: a pointless concept.
Tig Notaro (Comedy Central Presents and The Sarah Silverman Program) is the great-great-granddaughter of the Mayor of New Orleans, immediately segregating Hollywood stereotypes from the rest of us. Supplanting her mantra of revealing her mother just died, with a quick and enthusiastic, “Thank you so much for coming out tonight!,” Tig, a pixie-like waif (who looked like Justin Beiber were he male) continued the much-loved theme of the night: death, with a true story of how after her mother died, the hospital sent her dead mother a questionnaire, asking her dead mother how was her stay at the hospital. Hilariously going through each severely inappropriate question, including everyone’s favorite, “Do you have any suggestions?,” to which Tig replied, “Yeah, stop sending brochures to dead people,” Tig moved from the surreal to the primitive, with an incredibly brilliant physical comedy routine, based entirely on the squeally sound the stool makes when pushed on the very stage, with her or especially “Tom” from the audience sitting on it. I can’t explain it to you or anybody for that matter; but trust me, this stool pushing routine was the funniest thing this comedy writer has seen since a double-act I once saw, where one guy is the ventriloquist and his partner, the dummy, who was really a child under the spell of muscle relaxers. And just when you completely forgot of the reason we’re all there, Beth Lapides, the White Witch of Comedy, from the Back mic reassures us and Tig, she didn’t just tell a story, she created one. Oh, Lord. Good to be back in nursery skool. And, that’s what Uncabaret is also about: Regression. Death and Regression. I guess you gotta go one way or the other.
Closing out the show and opening his set with the brilliant line, “I’m kinda scrambling now, ‘cause I had a bit on Tig’s mom dying,” was longtime Simpson’s writer, comedians’ favourite Dana Gould. “Nothing is as it seems and everything is a disappointment” and “When you stop believing in god, you can be happier” are laying out his theme menu. Stretching our muscles with the post-ironic conception of the premise that any comedian (meaning himself) would do a joke based on “Retardo Jesus,” hopes the audience collectively understands that the audacious execution of said joke is the joke. Nailing his point even further, Gould asks our trust in that even “rape” jokes can be funny (it’s all about context) and then eerily side-stepping to a piece about imaginary class-warfare at Comic-Con and its simply being another form of child abuse, “…like Frank Sinatra Jr.” Looking back on this post-Batman-Colorado, Dana retroactively proved himself not just a great observer of the important intricacies of modern human behavior, but also – in this case – acted as Comedy Clairvoyant, warning us, basically, that the future is now and we should be scared; and very much so. And just when Gould seemed to be even frightened of his own powers, he brought us back into the warm and fuzzy now with marriage, which he described as, “Small lies and compromise until the sweet embrace of death” (there’s the “mommy theme” again); remarking how “we’re all here because of the internet,” which acted as a seemingly misplaced No Trespassing Sign, just before it all too soon morphed into a take on how the Internet’s original business model was porn; finally bringing us home to the notion that “people believe that if you live life according to the rules, you get to live in a cloud-based gated community,” Dana Gould proved to us once and for all, that when the much anticipated and over-hyped Apocalypse finally arrives, he’s the comedian you want to be listening to. He knows less than we do and that’s only, because like Beth Lapedis, he asks way too many goddamn questions. Uncabaret “experiences” every Sunday @ “First & Hope” and Beth wants me to remind you that, in spite of the venue being downtown, it’s really easy to get to and parking is plentiful. Now, there’s neurosis for you. Apologizing for downtown.
I give Uncabaret a Fellini-esque 8 ½ out of 8 Menorahs!
Enjoy the Veal….
Steven Alan Green
FACEBOOK TWEETS OF THE WEEK:
Delta Airlines out of Amsterdam found several needles somehow snuck into their on-board food. Not missing a beat, American Airlines not only offering needles in their food too, but are adding a charge for it.
What do you call a European dictator who listens to jazz and wears a beret? Hipler.
Forget Mutt Rimney’s tax returns, what I want to see is his manufacturer’s warranty.
I think if Mutt Rimney wants to be president so bad, Obama should just sublet the White House to him and use the money to pay the mortgages of Bain Capital victims.
NEW OLYMPIC EVENT: The 400 Meter Drunken Dart Toss.
I mean if we can’t all peacefully go see a film glorifying violent vengeance in the safety of our own multiplexes, then what has this country come to? The so-called buttered popcorn is risky enough.
The Batman Massacre in Colorado is the best thing to happen to Netflix in a long time.
Special author’s note: Starting in the next few weeks, I will be launching a blog within the blog, a special series entitled,“Jerry Lewis: The Devil’s Genius,” in which I will examine why the bad boy of comedy (and my former best friend) is perhaps the most misunderstood American comedian since…since…well, since Jerry Lewis. This is how bizarre a blog series this is gonna be. Stay attuned.
July 14, 2012 | 1:22 pm
Posted by Steven Alan Green
Jeb. Wot an odd name. I’ve known a few “Jebs” in my lifetime. Jeb Clampett, for example. No, wait a second; let me google….Oh, JeD, with a Dee. Jeb, Jeb, Jeb… Oh yeah! Jeb Fink, a Canadian comedian whose girlfriend managed the Calgary branch of the Yuk-Yuk’s comedy empire, comes to mind. My second of two Canadian stand-up tours in the late 80’s, set up by Yuk-Yuk’s owner and visionary, a very funny stand-up comedian himself, Mark Breslin. Mark was down here in LA working as talent coordinator for the first TV show on the new Fox Network, The Joan Rivers Show. Me and my cohort-comedy Andrew J. Lederer (not to be confused with Andrew Jonathan Letterer; a famous postman in the mid-west) somehow wrangled Mark to not just see the dozen or so comedy slaves being put up for auction by their “masters of management,” but to also see us: “Store Regulars” (Comedy Store) who were funny, had film and TV acting and writing credits, but for a variety of deep conspiratorial circumstances having to do with the nature of things, never had the opportunity to perform on the all-important Oz’s Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson; the wizard who could perhaps give Andrew a heart and me a brain. After seeing our shows, Mark spoke with me about my “mostly work the crowd” set, which was highly inappropriate and unusable for a stand-up slot on TV. Nevertheless, my brain grinned, thinking he was leading up to an outstretched handshake and a comically long scroll. Instead he politely said, “No cigar.” All the blood in my body evaporated instantaneously. Then Mark told me to call Connie Winkelmann at the Toronto office; there would be a stand-up tour of Canada waiting for me. Mark was a mench, and I had one of the greatest times of my life, headlining in another country and playing some of the greatest audiences from Halifax to Moosejaw. But, when I returned for my second call of comedy duty, I was sent out west. Starting in Edmonton, the actual Aurora Borealis lit up the sky and I imagined my name in a neon rainbow, leading down to the club. And, indeed it was a great gig. The Edmonton audiences were very friendly to this Angelino, in spite of the fact that their local boy Oilers hockey star Wayne Gretzky was now working for the Kings. Winding my way through Winnipeg (the coldest city in North America) circling the west to my final destination: Calgary; home of the Stampede. Long story short (too late for that, bub!), I got into a stage argument with an audience member who decided to tell me what was and what wasn’t appropriate to joke about. Trying to joke my way out of it; it just got worse, his wife joined in, it led to the manager of the club putting in a complaint about me to Breslin. Somewhere between cocky and nervous, I met with Mark back in Toronto. After frankly explaining my side of things, Mark calmly looked at me and said the following: “Steven, the audience is always in the way….” He then offered me 35 weeks work a year, would I only move up to Toronto. The manager of the Calgary club was Judy Simms and her boyfriend/comic was Fink. Jeb Fink. The man behind a great new performance venue here in LA is named Milne. Jeb Milne. And, just like that slightly horrid experience of mine in “North America,” Jeb Milne has created a completely separate world, void of the common rules and regulations set forth by “The Boring Way Things Should Be Done Handbook,” which for some, swear by. Jeb (a successful animator and all round creative guy) has created a Modern Munchkinville called Wiztend; an animated entertainment and living complex in Venice, nestled tween the soothing sea and roaring Lincoln Boulevard traffic. Jeb Milne is the Munchkin Mayor. In the 1960s the building was a bar and restaurant (4H Club), frequented by Jim Morrison & The Doors and Gregory Hines, who was the lead singer in the house band for several years.
The main reason music venues are so good for the art form of live comedy is that (as a London stand-up comedy agent once pointed out to me) comedy is more about acoustics than visuals. True enough. I’ve always said that one of the reasons The Comedy Store (in Hollywood) Original Room was one of the greatest comedy clubs of all time because of the J.J. Abrams bright train light gunned directly on the stand-up with intense police investigation authority; but, it’s also the sound. Performing live comedy requires a defined balance between the sound level of the comedian against the roaring sea of audience laughter. Plain and simple: If they audience can’t hear you, they can’t laugh. Witzend, being a live music venue provides, not only a sound system that delivers, but also the warm and friendly roadside atmosphere missing from most “Chuckle and Buck” comedy nights produced in every “venue” from crack houses to Laundromats around the mish-mash comedy geography of LA.
Mod Vod (billed as “A Modern Vaudevillian Comedy Show”) is the brainchild of Anne-Marie Symons, an actress and stand-up from Cork City, Ireland. With her flowing ginger hair and welcoming smile, she indeed does display the pixie. But, oh how deceiving looks can be. Right out the box (as it were) she was as filthy as a drunken Ruskie sailor; but she did it contextually, which is good. Gossiping on her relationship with her strictly Irish Catholic mother, who ironically warned her, “For fuck sake, Annie-Marie, you can’t swear in America!”; then quickly moving on to getting mad at her husband enough to want to “cut off his balls,” Anne-Marie set the potential tone of the evening at a place I didn’t expect to be so early in the evening, let alone at all. Usually, a comedy show will build to the dirty, unless of course, it’s billed as a dirty show, then it can start low and dig even deeper. Nonetheless, in spite of the fucking language, Ms. Symons did a great job at vamping up the crowd, bringing enormous supportive energy into the room and gave us a general feeling that we were into a great night of vetted professional comedy. And, indeed it was, though I began to think maybe what they meant instead of Vaudeville was Burlesque, because the first act she brought on was high energy and very funny Chad Korb, whose routine on how ever-changing music trends dictate what music you can have sex with was not only original, but delivered in demonstrated one-man skits, categorizing the nuclear differences between musical genres and sexual positions. Korb’s “cock-Asians” routine was a right cracker, because even though the joke was of Beavis and Butthead thinking, his ability to bury the pun till the end was pure brilliance. Dan Ahdoot (billed as from The Tonight Show) brought notes with him and made it abundantly clear he was trying out new material tonight. Fair enough, but I have to say, I remember in the old daze (cue bitter musical score), when Garry Shandling would come back to The Comedy Store to work on his Tonight Show material, Garry would not open with the new material; he would instead do a set first, and then and only then, if the audience was fed and on his side, would he bring out the sheet of new material. Having said that, Dan was resolute and subtly clever to the point where you ended up questioning your own intellect. Lightly opening with the required “Siri and Droid” material, he quickly moved about the behavioral landscape with very unthought-of-before notions such as “the ex-girlfriend whose left behind hairclip’s smell still makes me sentimental,” reminding everyone in the room that comedians can not just be stalkers, they have to work it into their act.
Returning to the stage, Anne-Marie spoke between the lines with a Tourette’s inspired, “I should not be doing comedy,” smoothly segueing into introducing the “Vaudeville” part of the evening. Joel Ward is an excellent magician and consummate entertainer. From the WTF was that bowling ball dropping out of a big sketch pad drawing of said heavy object, to his absolutely amazing rope and card tricks (both of which were audience participatory and indeed dependent) Ward was funny and a true original. Next was Tracie Walker from Atlanta, whose instinct to work her environment was a hallmark of difference. “The only black girl in a Woodland Hills bar/comedy club” was her anecdotal opening gambit, making it clear to us, that this comedian was a woman first and a black one second. From her societal observations (“I can see why white people wanted to own us….it’s called adoption now!”) to her hilarious “black people talk with their butts” routine (which she demonstrated, but only after she explained the premise; something you’d be surprised how many comedians don’t do), Tracie was the audience’s, as well as this writer’s favorite of the evening. Oh-oh…Here comes our sparkly hostess for the eve, who was appropriately enthusiastic for Tracie’s victory, but also made a crucial emcee-ing mistake. The next act, Scott Mouro, had the polar opposite energy and focus. Whereas Tracie used herself and body in a purposeful, political and entertaining way, Mr. Mouro seemed the victim of his own library demeanor, opening up with acknowledging the sound guy who was his life partner and then took us on a way too personal journey into the shame of coming out to your Southern family. I’m assuming Anne-Marie booked all the acts and therefore knew what was coming. And, what would’ve been very helpful to everyone, including and especially Scott, was if the emcee had done the following: “Let’s hear it one more time for Tracie Walker!” Let the steam out of the room. Next, knowing full well that Scott Mouro’s act had the energy of a mortician eating porridge, Ms. Symons should have toned herself down first, preparing the audience’s focus ready for something much more subtle, something that requires full attention. Instead, she brought out Scott like he was the next trapeze artist, which made it very hard for anyone to focus on the subtleties of being slightly out of place, which is what his act was all about. Closing out the evening was Southern Belle Bobby Oliver, who’d dismiss that moniker as she clung proudly to the front porch of her trailer home. “I recently gave up caffeine and sugar…Luckily I didn’t give up beer and weed!” was exactly the kind of line this audience wanted and needed to hear. Pot jokes. “You’all know I’ve been living in LA too long because I put bottled water in my bong” is not only very funny, but said everything Martians needed to know about LA 2012. Lines like, “The last time I had sex with someone other than my husband, gas was a dollar,” had one foot in the River of Joan and the other foot up the audience’s ass; because this comic doesn’t take shit in life and that includes dumbass audiences. She likes to talk dirty to her husband, so she hired a ghost writer for sex-talk…and ends up fucking the ghost writer is pure Billy Wilder or Preston Sturges. Bobby Oliver may not yet have the respect sometimes snotty LA can be, but it is clear she cuts her own way and after all, isn’t that what we really want from our comedians? To lead us from the madness and confusion of our own lives and into and through the Wicked Forrest of Sick and Demented Thoughts; where, if we’re lucky enough, will not end in sleepy fields of medical marijuana poppies, as we reach out to the ever-distant and misty castle of the Wizard himself.
I give Mod Vod 6 out of 8 Menorahs!
Enjoy the Veal,
Steven Alan Green
FACEBOOK TWEETS OF THE WEEK:
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are neck and redneck in the polls.
If Mitt Romney was Noah, all the animals would’ve been on the deck of the Ark.
Writing a book on masturbation. Unfortunately the research is playing havoc on my typing abilities.
If the Lone Ranger was a raver and drove a Range Rover, he’d be the Raver Lone Ranger in a Range Rover.
The sight of your face brought a tear to my eye. And, when I say “tear,” I mean my eye ripped from cornea to retina. I’ve got to get to Emergency.
July 7, 2012 | 2:55 pm
Posted by Steven Alan Green
When you check into a fancy hotel, you usually find a mint on your pillow. A nice little gift and thank you for your patronage. But, if in mid-conversation, someone offers you a mint, it usually means you have very bad breath, you ignorant, self-centered loser. Either way, it involves that skull-encased organ above your neck, and in Donald Trump’s case, I don’t mean his hair. Your brain, my friend. Your brain. The thing you own outright, unless of course you still haven’t paid off your student loan. The two most famous brains in history – Albert Einstein’s and the rubber one in the jar called “Abby Normal” by Marty Feldman’s character “EYE-gore” in Mel Brooks’ brilliant classic film Young Frankenstein – are indeed polar opposites and represent the full arc of intellectual evolution and devolution respectively or, more appropriately, disrespectfully. Troy Conrad’s “Set List,” a show where proven stand-up artists are forced to make things up in front of a live crowd, is nothing short of genius, and by total unexpected coincidence (as well as manipulative journalism) is playing at The Mint nightclub on Pico.
Like the Hollywood agent who never returns your email, The Mint is a well-established Los Angeles institution. Since 1937, The Mint has been a local landmark, where many music greats have not only played, but broke to fame as well. Stevie Wonder, Willie Dixon, Natalie Cole, Ray Charles have graced its well-seasoned stage. (And rumour has it, Cher drove by in a limo.) Current venue owner Todd Christiansen (and his front office cohorts Matt, Brandon, Casey and Deana) continue The Mint’s brave tradition of cross-genre bookings. And, just like the ever-completing circle of Life, Comedy comes home to its humble beginnings: the music scene. Many of the modern comedy greats of the last 50 years cut their comedy chops in the 1950’s Jazz Scene and the 1960’s Folk Scene. Lenny Bruce had the sinewy sax lines of John Coltrane, Steve Martin had his Hillbilly come Hipster sincere country folk charm of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Mr. Bojangles” and Mr. George Carlin had both. No less than young and fertile master comedy imaginations being consciously nurtured and subconsciously influenced by the echoey presence of harmonic innovative improvisation, and indeed evolving into the “Verbal POV” of their ages. They were underground before it was hip to be, and it was a great time if you were lucky enough to be an anonymous shadow in the crowd. When the Arena Age exploded in the Seventies with giant rock shows and the Comedy Big Bang woke up Hollywood’s all too serious ass, the very hydroponic conditions needed to create great comedy art from nothing seemed to be swept by the wayside in favor of the ever-fearless marketeers. And even though there is no live music at Set List, the plain fact that it happens (when this reviewer saw it) in an historical music institution is no coincidence. Set List presents stand-up comedians like the great jazz artists of their day. It may seem like it’s all about improvising, but it’s really about creating something more emblematic and indeed profound. Set List is artistic self-empowerment; and on that level alone, Set List is not just a great comedy show, but indeed a very socially relevant and important one. Make no mistake; Set List is the hippest show this reviewer has seen so far on his journey as a “Capitalist and Comedy Critic” for this fine established online journal.
The idea that well-established stand-up comedians, who have spent weeks, months, perhaps years, writing and refining their original comedy material, come out on stage one by one, not having a clue what they are going to talk about is simply too delicious of a concept to immediately accept. There is no established theme of the evening, other than, “You’re on your own, pal!” Out of the nest, and here ya’ go! Many of my good readers must have seen that strange looking homunculus in the dark corner of a comedy club, frantically racing through voluminous hand-scrawled notes like Ted Kaczynski when the Feds were at the door. That is no terrorist. That is a comic. Jokes and ideas and routines scribbled on cocktail napkins all kinda made sense when they wrote ‘em down the night before at the orgy. But, as the spotlight now beckons them like gladiatorial re-birth, as the introduction of their name to 300 paying people becomes imminently a scary reality, their hearts speed up and it can quickly become a matter of self-affirming hypnosis that the proven material (“the stuff that always works”) is still not only very funny and “will work again,” but underlying is the fear of the truth that it is less likely still relevant; or even insanely worse: the “Crutch Material” they’ve been cloning and re-cloning for centuries, and was
all that funny to begin with. That can’t happen with Set List. And, thank God for that. Or should I say, “gods”: Set List Creator Troy Conrad, and producers Paul Provenza & Barbara Romen.
Starting the show off with way too much energy than we deserved was emcee for the night Sean Green. Sean kept it charming, short and sweet by explaining the simple rules of the evening, like a cop, asking if we knew the rules of the road. And there really was only one rule: Make up your stand-up set on the spot. Suggestions flashed on the black back stage wall act as visual cues for the stand-up to start talkin’. And there they go. Lazy-ass comics being forced to make up stuff about “Rodent Politics,” and inconsequentially segueing into the “the last man to use the moon-based bathroom,” was a very fun sentence to write. The amazement comes in several forms here. First off, the imagination of the “get drunk and play Scrabble” suggestions to begin with, but also the well-oiled ability of the comedian (for the most part) to go with it without hesitation or pause. There was the occasionally hemming and hawing as a comic here or there stared down at the suggestion as if it were a draft notice for the Civil War, but, like the surprised cat who looks at you when you catch it rooting through the garbage, any self-doubt was always encased in humble clear glass jars of public self-acknowledgement. And, if the comedian gets stumped on a subject, he or she can always resort to the “Audience Box”, a small box awaiting use on a stool by their side, which contains hundreds of fortune-cookie like random suggestions. In the end, the box often served as nothing more than a fake life-preserver, a Twilight Zone prop; its “help” often proving more fatal than the bird in hand.
Jeff McKinnon was the evening’s first experiment and his opening bane was “Silence Sucks,” which he matter-of-factly morphed into a routine on Marcel Marceau being gay. Flashed topics such as “Tropical Fish Cabaret” and “Global Warming Cookbook” were handled like a plumber trying to fix too many leaks, leading to “My Big Closer” (that’s actually written above the last topic of all performers’ sets): “Earthquake Circumcision”. My first thought was that Jeff took the suggestions too literally, as if he were a marionette, but, then I thought about it. That just might be his thinking and writing style. And, after all, he’s making this shit up on the spot in front of not just the audience, but colleagues, some of them movers and shakers and some without diarrhea or Parkinson’s. This first act confirmed my theory of Conrad’s Theory:
That the real comic is always hiding in there somewhere
. You just gotta trick him out. Following Jeff was Alonzo Boden, whose opening line, “If I paid attention to those emails, I would know how this shit works!” got the first giant laugh of the evening, which was not only deferential, nearly apologetic for temporarily losing ground, but spoke directly to the audience as well, who themselves may not have yet absorbed the concept as much more than “comics making shit up on stage.” Watching Alonzo was like watching a person trying to catch birds with his hands, and yet, that became his act as he fettered away with “Erection Chess,” “Google Therapy” and “The First Person to say WTF!,” which he brilliantly pinned on Eve, Big Finishing to cheers with “Saddam’s Steam bath,” which has “an average temperature of 100 & Fuck!”
This show is about how good comedians are as writers; indeed thinkers. It’s like being in the balcony of the operating theatre, peering down on famed and brilliant Dr. Laurie Kilmartin as she dissected herself from the awkwardness of her first topic, “Psychic Morticians,” moving forward with “the downside of being dead,” which she characterized as “easier than being on this show”; and she did it with the professional control of Sigourney Weaver in Alien (the first film) as she tore through “Taxidermist Tweets,” “Strippers in Church,” and her big closer, “Occupy Disneyland” which was smartly peppered with a nice little call-back to a “Metrosexual Gravedigger”. Jake Johanson was not only next, but he was the first comedian to incorporate the actual game into his banter (I know comics hate that term…”banter”) with gems (and that word) like “Which brings me to my next topic.” Brilliant! Because, in my humble truth (no opinions here) the seamless incorporation of self into the situation – any situation – is the hallmark of any great comedian: Comedy content is mostly dependent on context. (Not so much in reverse as it would disprove god; read more in my fictional book: “I Know Not the Fuck What I Speak” available nowhere.) Not only that, but the game not only shows the sinewy veins and skeletal tissue of the stand-up art-form that Set List Creator Troy Conrad wants to expose, but reveals inspired comedy blood pulsing through it to the brain and from the heart.
Comedian and innovative comedy producer Paul Provenza has become the Gordon Ramsey of Comedy, taking us inside the comedy kitchens with his and Bab’s Roman’s “Green Room” on Showtime (and before that, “The Aristocrats”) and now this; the next logical step: testing comedians at their own game. An “AIRF test”. “Am I Really Funny?,” “really” in this case meaning absolute. Jay Leno can’t play this game; he relies on writers. (Well, Jay would probably do very well at this, but you know what I mean. This game ain’t for softy successful guys.) Aussie Monty Franklyn smoothly followed with “Italian Sausage Envy” and “Dyslexic Astrology” and closed with darker than dark, “Death Camp Microwaves”. Following him was Dylan Brody, the King of False Awkwardness, who made it all seem very real with quips like, “The creative process is anxiety producing”. Dylan (one of my perennial favorites) is the best damn comedy writer I’ve seen since Mitt Romney’s campaign manager. He’s Woody Allen meets Sun Yi. Next was local comedy guru David Feldman who at first seemed as uncomfortable and confused as an Orthodox dry cleaner just getting in a huge order for starched hoods. And yet – because Feldman can’t help it, he was truly the funniest of the night. Dealt the low hand of “Psychedelic Diarrhea” (well under his intellectual pay grade) Feldo hilariously took us back into the classroom to learn of Freud’s parental teachings, segueing into a delightful little number on global imperialistic history, but equally, was charming – and dare I say: Human – with freshly cooked authenticities such as, “I wish I had a joke right now!” And it reminded me what the entire evening was all about. Laughter. CPR (Conrad, Provenza, Romen) and crew actually care about the quality of the comedy going into their black-board comedy stew. They not only care, they know their onions. Puckish British import Matt Kirshen (whose enormous smiling teeth are part of his regular stand-up) desperately succeeded in putting his rubber stamp on just how good his own joke creations and tellings thereof, are, with a big Cruise-ing smile. Picking up on something Feldman was saying about Nazis, Kirshen pointed out that “the camps really needed a makeover anyway” and therefore was the most fascinating to watch because Matt’s mind is constantly working, turning over and over, like a bisexual prostitute on a time-clock. Closing out the evening was Wil Anderson, a high-energy, fast-talkin’ glamour cowboy from Down Undah, who morphed the “just silly” suggestions as “Giraffe Office Cubical’” into seemingly long crafted relevant social diatribes. He was amazing.
And that’s just the point of Set List. To make you forget that what you’re watching and hearing is being created in the very moment. It’s like the lobster in the tank you pick; you can never imagine it being killed, even after you’ve eaten it. Sure, I would’ve liked to have occasionally seen the subjects of a more substantial and real newsworthy category, rather than continual random silliness; and I also thought it might be interesting to lose the seeming randomness of suggestions (which were projected from a carousel slide), making it more of a “directed comedy set” with somebody actually picking and choosing curated suggestions based on where the comedian was already going – But that’s just how I like
burger. Troy Conrad’s Set List has found The God Particle of Comedy here. And if there was a Nobel Prize for The Evolution of Comedy, I would nominate Troy Conrad (along with Provenza & Romen) and I know I’m not alone in that opinion. Then again, if you’re asking me, I would also nominate Snooki. After all, the only real substantial difference in the two is that unlike Snooki, Set List’s controlled comedy chaos is intentionally funny. It’s like “Mission Im-Prostitute”. (ahem...)
I give Set List my first 8 out of 8 Menorahs!
Enjoy the Veal,
Steven Alan Green
Set-List plays regularly at Nerdmelt and UCB and will be at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Just for Laughs, and is now a TV show on Sky Atlantic in the UK.
FACEBOOK TWEETS OF THE WEEK:
I drink so much coffee, my name is Macchiato.
I never metaphor I didn’t like.
Liberals tend to be much more intellectually minded than Conservatives.
Conservatives tend to be richer than Liberals.
Moderates tend to be poorer and smarter than either.
Extremists tend to be dumber and richer than them all.
GENERAL COOKING QUESTION: When microwaving fish, is it necessary to remove them from the tank first?
Jesus never worried about demographic.
I noticed dusting the Vatican didn’t yield the God Particle. I’m just sayin’...
Mitt Romney would make the greatest president of all time. And, there is no such thing as global warming. And Santa Claus is real.
Chaos and Calmness were married today and are expecting a baby boy named Commerce.
They’ve found new evidence that Amelia Earhart landed near and lived on a South Pacific Island. Downplayed, but just as interesting, they say amongst Earhart’s artifacts, they found Obama’s birth certificate.
Apparently Tom Crusie and Katie Holmes split because of Scientology. Tom wanted to raise Suri as a full-fledged orthodox cult member, but Katie wanted to raise Suri as Reformed. In the end, a settlement was reached when Tom and Katie both got iPhones; now they can both have Siri.
And, when God said, “Let there be light!,” just who exactly was he speaking to?