Little Ukraine, a burgeoning formerly derelict section of Los Angeles, Melrose Avenue just west of LACC, is fast becoming Hollywood’s Comedy Gulag; forcing Angelino audiences into laughter camps against their will. With the newer-ly-minted “Vlad the Retailer,” exposing sexy leg just down the street (and on this night, holding a fundraiser for ailing stand-up, the much revered Rick Shapiro), The Fake Gallery has been standing out as the epitome of creative spaces for free-thinking comedians and story-tellers for 11 years. Along with the usual sorts of fringy arty-types you’d expect to find inhabiting a big open spaced “fake-art” gallery venue, are the “real, but written” characters, one would expect to find in a Colin MacInnes novel. Fake Gallery creator and owner Paul Koslowsky (himself an hilarious former San Francisco stand-up comedian) mills in the back like one of those “real scientists” Speilberg used in the Devil’s Tower sequences in Close Encounters. All but very briefly featured in David Seltzer’s 1988 film about stand-up comedians, Koslowsky remains a true comedy pioneer. “Punchline” starred Tom Hanks as a deranged comedian and surgeon (is there any other kind?...I mean surgeon) opposite Sally “You Really LOVE ME” Fields as John Goodman’s oppressed housewife; who secretly sneaks out from under her iron-apron of suburbia, daring to do what her husband won’t give her permission to do: Open her mouth in front of strangers. Ironically, that’s what we saw tonight. Self-oppressed artists attempting to free themselves. Koslowsky’s real “don’t blink/you’ll miss it” screen-time comedic impression of “drinking like a fish” will never be erased from my mind. Trust me. I’ve tried. And in the same vein, seeing Dylan Brody’s show, “Thinking Allowed” at the Fake is just like fish-drinking. Incredibly funny and over all too soon. (Much like my wedding night. Another blog, another time.)
Former stand-up comedian turned “Humorist” (as well as producer of tonight’s show) Dylan Brody (according to his own website) is “one of America’s fastest rising storytellers”…. Now, I’m not exactly sure what genre is a “rising storyteller” (I’ll Google it later) but I can tell you this with complete unabashed moral authority, Dylan is not fast. No, Dylan is your “Word Sommelier,” who very cautiously pours out his maple syrup phrases and blueberry ideas onto his own six-grain “pancakes of embarrassment,” which is, after all, what The Fake is serving hot tonight and throughout the night: Embarrassment by proxy. And that is exactly what the LA Storytelling Scene seems to have gloriously become. Surely an outgrowth of 12 Step meetings, “flawed-confessions with a twist,” if you will, only without the industry connection.
Brody is all that, and more. He is in fact the Phineas Taylor Barnum of modern angst-personae story-telling, displaying immense emotional gymnastics, flying with the greatest of ease between a cringe-worthy story of defiance involving his dog pooping on a neighbor’s lawn, to his flying trapeze worshiping introductions of “tonight’s next guest…I’m so lucky and blessed…” That’s right, Brody will recount an awkward and hilarious story for you, then, when he’s done, he will awkwardly overly-fawn over his next guest, as if Brody were Merv and we were all his righteous hipsters. He’s really quite a cultural cocktail to be sipped and savored. At some point, I began to feel as if I were not in the audience, but sitting on a panel at a seminary, only to be sideswiped by one of Brody’s completely unexpected nuclear lines. I’m telling you, this man is a genius and here’s, if not proof, then strong indication: “I wouldn’t object to prayer in our schools as long as we can also require algebra in your churches.”
Dylan Brody’s gift seems to be his accidentally living life as a wit-armed Forrest Gump, followed immediately by his gracing the stage like a reporting WWII field general, recounting each and every gory detail of his overly-insecure and assumptive little losing war with himself. He’s a frenetic lip-dangling imaginary cigarette smoking testifying coroner. Dylan’s secret is this: You have to pay attention to what he’s saying because, like all great public speakers, he’s paying attention to what you’re paying attention to.
Joining Dylan for this wonderfully surprising evening were Alex Stein, who carried us through a complex trivial adventure having to do with David Bowie’s original band, The Spiders from Mars, although he missed one ironic layer: the character Ziggy was not only fictional, but the center piece of Bowie’s narrative. The patina of which Stein applies his take on his own take of his own take, is simply delicious stuff, even if he seemed to end up circling his own comedic drain. Bob Dubac, whose amazingly hilarious thought-provoking interwoven story of losing his memory after being crowned in the head with a golf club, reminded us all of one very true thing: Messer Dubac obviously thinks way too much, which ironically gives the golf club the upper hand in moral authority and that’s why we love him so much: Dubac is completely fearless. The fabulously cute and dangerously smart SNL legend Loraine Newman, whose personal fallen angel story, not only broke your heart, but baked you a fresh new one then and there, is what can only be described as pure Americana Gothic. Newman is not just comedy history, but indeed living-art. And finally, the great Paul Dooley, veteran Robert Altman acting troupe member (and one of the stars of the great bicycle movie, “Breaking Away”) took us on a tale of Midwestern “Fargo” proportions, all centered on the magical appearance of a severed foot in the middle of the Minnesotan winter, including the required supply of bumbling “Svens” conjecturing over steaming coffee.
The theme of the evening (if there was an intentional one) seemed to be survival. Survival of the fittest and of the footest. Learning how to seize those moments of meteoric awkwardness and then to twist them into something really special and worthwhile: a great story told by great story-tellers to raptured listeners. Whether it’s a bad night in the Gulag or a good night of live comedic story-telling, survival is inevitably granted to its funniest participants. I give “Thinking Allowed” 7 out of 8 Menorah Candles UP!
SAG: Dylan, In your humblest estimation, who was the greatest Jewish comedian of the last 50 years, and why?
DYLAN: I’d have to put Garry Shandling at the top of this list, I think. Sure – Groucho Marx’s career might have lingered into the past fifty years and that would put him in that slot but he’s not really “a comedian of the last 50 years” as I think it’s intended in this context. Shandling brought an authentic, conversational tone to the craft that made him a revelation from the first time I saw him.
SAG: Do you eat pork?
DYLAN: I do eat pork. I don’t keep kosher in any way. While I am a Jew by history and think of myself as generally, culturally Jewish, I do not practice at all. I am, in fact an atheist. I am so thoroughly an atheist that when people tell me they believe in God, I don’t entirely believe them.
SAG: What was your greatest comedic defeat?
DYLAN: In 1987 (I think) I had a bit part in a film called Rented Lips. A great many people involved in the film were people I wished to impress. It was written by and starred Martin Mull, with Dick Shawn, James Coco (who died before shooting was finished and was replaced with Kenneth Mars), Robert Downey Jr. (Downey Sr. directed), Shelley Berman, Pat McCormick, June Lockhart . . . just an extraordinary group of people for a twenty-three year-old me to find himself spending time with. Mull decided that the wrap party would include a talent show, an opportunity for the comics in the cast to perform, for dancers in the cast to show what they do and so on. Because of the ruckus nature of Hollywood parties, nobody listened and I went down in flames. Then the microphone was turned off and the music was turned back on. The next morning on the set, Martin Mull uncharacteristically came over to me and said, “Back from the worldwide public humiliation tour?” He grinned at me and I hated myself.
SAG: Too Jewish.