Jewish Journal

Beth Lapides’s Uncabaret @ First & Hope - CURATING THE AUDIENCE

by Steven Alan Green

July 21, 2012 | 3:10 pm

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



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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. 

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Steven Alan Green is a New York born, Beverly Hills raised stand-up comedian, writer and Developmental Editor, who started at The Comedy Store in the 80’s heyday as one of...

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