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Jewish Journal

ETV Interview: Brian Sontag, Review: The Bazaar Cafe PLUS Ritch Shydner’s Comedy Crypt!

by Steven Alan Green

December 25, 2012 | 9:47 pm

Brian "Tag" Sontag, ready to jump!

Twas the week before Christmas, and all throughout Geary,
Not a creature was trippin’, ‘cept Mr. Leary.

I’d like to share with you something I wrote the day after the horrific school shootings last week


Yesterday was another tragic day in America.   Twenty innocent children and ten innocent adults lost their lives.    Thousands of people directly affected.   Millions of the rest of us pretending not to be.  Some of us have the courage to cry.   I see it again and again and again.   Something like this happens and people get all up in arms (as it were) and demand something be done about it.   The anti-gun lobby finger points at the NRA-run gun arm of government which has been aiming at us Peace-nicks from the bushes since Kent State.   Let’s face it.   We live in a gun culture.  And, if we don’t soon take heed, we will die in a gun culture.  They are everywhere; we just can't see them. Hiding in the safe or under the seat, burning to be put to use.  One of the things I loved about living in London is that the street police don’t carry guns; they carry something much more frightening.   They carry threat.   The London street bobby is armed with a little microphone and a button in his pocket.   He or she is very polite and calls you, “Sir” or “Madam”.   They try and make you feel welcome in your own neighborhood, not the other way around.   However; should you prove a potential threat to them or to the local citizens, they will slightly push that button in their pocket and within just a couple of minutes, a van screeches around the corner and four special unit police with flak jackets and Uzies, and maybe a couple of dogs show up.    That is governance by the art of subtlety.     "The Cops" are viewed in many of our major cities as the enemy, especially in Los Angeles where police have much more to be cautious of.   The post office and the police are the only two "branches of government" the average American citizen ever has human contact with.   You got one profession who responds too slowly and one profession who responds too quickly.  No wonder, we are so confused in this country.

The day after the horrible shootings in Connecticut, I posted a joke on Facebook.   The joke goes like this: “Hey, here’s a new one…. 2,000 students walk into a school.  1,980 walk out.   What?  Too soon?”  Most of my sick Facebook friends loved this one.   Some got offended.   One actually got it.   I wasn’t at all joking about children getting shot at school.   I was commenting on it happening again so “soon” once again.    The joke was built on the double-meaning of the phrase, “too soon” and what it has come to mean in the current comedy lexicon.   “Too Soon” (in stand-up comedy terms) means, “I know it is offensive to joke about the tragedy so soon; that's the joke and fuck you if you don't get that!”  At least that’s what The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as.   It's Tragedy + Time = Comedy.  Its etymology comes from JFK jokes.   And of course, the ultimate in “too soon” jokes are Christ jokes.  How much time has to pass a tragedy before we are allowed to make jokes about it?   But the real emotion its dealing with is: "How much time has to pass before we can heal?"   That's what  "too soon" really means.  Here’s my theory.  If a joke is intelligently constructed and delivered with precision and accuracy, and the listener is extremely knowledgeable about current events and varying cultures is offended, it is the listener who is not listening correctly.    The most common occurrence going on when a joke misfires is the audience and comedian are simply not on the same page.   Clarity is everything. 

Last week, I answered a critic of my foundation with more words than I care to remember. It really hurt.  It just seemed so mean, and people have accused me of this before: Running The Laughter Foundation towards my own ends.   In any case, two weeks ago, I found myself in a bad situation.  I was two weeks behind in my rent and had no money.  The two grand coming in from England from the TV commercial was delayed again and I haven’t found or looked hard enough for that day job.  My street campaigning seemed to go nowhere and I just got caught up in things, ideas and writing.  I was hoping for a comedy and writing gig that didn’t come through, and was expecting that check.   I was up against it.   So, I thought about what this critic, calling himself, “Geri Luis” said: that I had set up the foundation just to help myself.   I thought; why not.  He’s right.   So, I posted on Facebook that I had to raise my rent, and within 18 hours, through PayPal I was able to raise all my back rent.   It’s amazing how generous people can be.   I thank you all.   Inspired by everyone’s generosity, I have begun work on putting together four new programs through The Laughter Foundation, that surely will help other comedians in need.  

ONE-NITER PROGRAM

Joining The Heckler Fund (our emergency grant program for comedians) and COMEC: The Comedy Museum Exploratory Committee, is our “One Niter Program”.   Sponsored by The San Francisco Guest House , comedians who – for whatever reason – find themselves temporarily homeless, now have an emergency place to stay for one or two nights.   The San Francisco Guest House is safe, clean and quiet.   Another program we’re developing is the, “Eat Something Program”, which is being sponsored by a few local restaurants and will premier in the new year.  Each restaurant will provide a dozen or so meals a month for a select number of comedians.   I’ve even got a local barber who will provide free haircuts.   We call that the, “Cut-Up Program.”   Plus, I'm working on finding a San Francisco based therapist to be "on-call for appointments".  I know, from personal and anecdotal experience, how important therapy is for many comedians, funny or not, successful or not.  In exchange for providing meals and beds and haircuts, these businesses get a sponsorship on the Laughter Foundation website and at the benefit at the Castro Theatre, April 1.  Any stand-up comedians in need of any of these services, please contact me for details and qualifications.  sag@thelaughterfoundation.org

QUALIFICATIONS: 

Each comedian applying for assistance will be taken on a case by case basis by impartial committee of experts in the field of professional stand-up comedy.   If you're a long standing local comedian doing open-mics, you may qualify.   If you've been on the road for 30 years and are now in need of a good talk with a shrink, we're here to help.   We’re there to fill in the gaps, when you’ve had a great set, but are too broke to eat and are just feeling shitty about yourself and everything.  Come to us.  These  four new programs should be fully operational in the new year, perhaps by the middle of January.   The One-Niter Program is up and running now.  We hope to one day have a full service system set up so that whatever comedians may need, they can get from us.   We at The Laughter Foundation want you, the comedian, to concentrate on being a comedian, developing your material, having a good time and paying close attention to your craft.   So, stay tuned for more info on these programs, as well as the upcoming benefit show for COMEC & The Heckler Fund at The Castro Theatre on The Laughter Foundation website and this blog.    Thank you for your continued support of The Laughter Foundation.   Because when you support The Laughter Foundation, you support the comedians who make you laugh.  

CLICK HERE TO DONATE NOW TO THE LAUGHTER FOUNDATION

A lot going on this week, including another edition of Tales from the Comedy Crypt with Ritch Shydner and a review of Denny Dench’s Comedy Show at the Bazaar Café as well as a linked contribution from the one and only Paul Krassner!  But first, a special ETV event.   An interview with a true comedy fan.  Brian Sontag.


Brian Sontag is a dyed in the wool Groucho Marxist, who loves butter and steaks.  He worked for the same company for 24 years. He loves as much freedom as it takes until you invade his life, and thinks laughter is the cure for everything, we need more studies.   Brian hosts the PA Podcast, which is dedicated to interviewing and highlighting all comedians.  Alongside Brian Sontag are Brian Kilpatrick and Jenny Coe.   Brian Kilpatrick does freelance work for The CIA during the week, which when quizzed, he answers, “What can I say, it pays the bills!”   In his time off, he enjoys sky diving, working as a street mime, “screwing with Tag” (Brian Sontag), day trading, listening to David Allen Green (I think he means me) Comedy skits on Acid and, of course, being part of The PA Podcast with Brian "Tag" Sontag and Jenny!   The third wheel of this mad comedy caravan is Jenny Coe, a housewife from Pennsylvania who designs beaded jewelry and, only since joining up with the podcast, discovered a natural talent and ear for audio editing. She and Mike, her husband of almost 13 years, have no children, save for their cat Buddy who is most likely to be seen gracing Jenny's Facebook profile shots.  Probably the shiest of the three, she hopes to one day write a novel worthy of publishing.  

I recently sat down with Brian "Tag" Sontag for a quick interview, as he was being called to duty to be staff sergeant for the Petaluma National Guard, who were desperate for his unique parachuting abilities having to do with a last minute emergency run on both pets and lumas.   Apparently, there was a scarred kitty cat up a tree.   I stood by the tree, looking up at “Tag” (That's Brian) trying to beckon the frightened feline into his arms, armed only with a pith helmet, half tin of tuna and a litter box with the image of Simon Cowl.   Brian is one of The Laughter Foundation’s biggest supporters and even went as far as to hock his grandma’s iron lung to make a very generous and timely donation.  

SAG: Thanks, Brian.  And, thank Grandma.   I really needed to buy that Maserati, which, because it’s a stress reliever, is a write-off by the way!     Thanks for coming through, Bri.   How you doing?

TAG:  Fine, fine, Steven.   Let me catch my breath.  Here, hold this.  

SAG:  That’s a very wet and scared cat!  OUCH!

TAG:  Quick squakin’.

SAG:  I guess you’re right.   So, you ready for the interview?

TAG:  Yeah, hang on.  Let me remove my bee-keepers outfit.

SAG:  What?

TAG:  I SAID LET ME REMOVE MY BEE-KEEPERS OUTFIT!

SAG:  I CAN'T HEAR YOU, WHY DON'T YOU REMOVE YOUR BEE-KEEPERS OUTFIT!

Brian Sontag removes his helmet, now his protective tin-foil suit, and now he's dressed as a a Mayan god.

SAG:  Brian, given recent tragic events in Connecticut, is this a time we should abandon or embrace humor and comedy?

TAG:  We should never abandon comedy and humor, however there are times a pause is called for out of respect.

SAG:  When is it "too soon" to make jokes about tragedy?

TAG:  There is no hard or fast rule there... for some, a year can be too soon to hear a joke about anything, and others a lifetime.

SAG: Of all the comedians you've interviewed, who has the best perspective on life as we know it?

TAG:  Without a doubt Tom Dreesen, just an amazing person and he has it right. One listen to my interview and most will agree.

SAG:  I have and you're right.  Who would you like to interview if you could get anyone?

TAG:  Bob Newhart or Dick Van Dyke.  It's a tie. Both big influences in my childhood.

SAG:  I once spoke with Dick's publicist, Bob Palmer.   We should talk.

TAG:  That's how we roll!

SAG:  Which of your questions to comedians seem to be the most probing and thought provoking?

TAG:  Well the simple one. Why did you go into comedy? It opens up the flood gates of emotion and story. And they are all great stories!

SAG:  Interesting.  Are the funniest comedians the best interviewees?

TAG:  Comedy is so subjective, so there is only the funniest to me or you. But for me, if I enjoy their humor, it will be always be a good interview.

SAG:  How long you been running your podcast?

TAG:  Since fall 2011.

SAG:  Please tell us about Brian Kilpatrick and Jenny Coe. I understand, like Jake Giddes in Chinatown, you can't do everything by yourself.

TAG:  Do you know the saying "Things happen for a reason"? BK is like a brother from another mother and a truly kind and caring guy with a great sense of humor. Jenny is the ultimate den mother and one of the sweetest people I have known. She keeps us level and sane. I couldn't have started this without them and their help and input.

SAG:  Tell us a little about your FaceBook groups Pokaholics Anonymous, Thinning the Herd, and Exaggerators Anonymous. How'd they get started and which one is the most fun to run and why?

TAG:  PA started this madness... as a fluke by myself and BK one late night. Then we did improv events on our group and had so much fun. We brought Jenny in then, she was a stand out! Hence papodcast.com.  Well then a comment on PA light bulbed the Thinning the Herd, we all need some of that right? Then someone posted a pic, I think Don McCleary. Then Exaggeraters happened. They all are fun to be part of I have no favorite. Each a different niche and that is cool, some people cross over and very cool. I enjoy them all and the members.

SAG:  From all you've been able to glean, do you think comedians can make the world a better place?

TAG:  Without a doubt, yes! Carlin made me laugh and taught me critical thinking. Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams taught me about being silly and letting go. I can go on, but they charge by the character here right?

SAG:  Two characters are enough, you and me!

TAG:  That's how we roll!  

SAG:  Are there comedians you'd rather not see on television, some that might offend you or make you feel are denigrating the audience?

TAG:  Nope, all should be free to express, the people will judge that.

SAG:  Did you ever have the desire to be a comedian yourself?

TAG:  Yes, if I wasn't so scared of public speaking.

SAG:  But, you sky dive!  You're not afraid of that!

TAG:  That's how I roll. 

SAG:  Are you funny every day?

TAG:  No one is, but I try to make myself laugh everyday. If others enjoy it, that's the icing on that cake.

SAG:  Do you think when times get tougher, the comedy gets funnier?

TAG:  Not sure if tough times make it funnier, but surely people need it more during those times.

SAG:  Do you validate?

TAG:  Yes, if you are a decent human being.

SAG:  How often is there a new PA Podcast interview with a comedian?

TAG:  I wish every week, but we roll with the flow of our schedules and lives. Ideally I want one per week. I pledge for 2013 to make that happen.

SAG:  If you could interview Lenny Bruce, what 3 questions would you ask him?

TAG:  Strange you should ask that. I named my cat LB BTW. Aside from that. Why the hate? You still smoke? What would your mother say?

SAG:  As not just the Enjoy the Veal interviewer for The Jewish Journal online, I am President & Founder of The Laughter Foundation. I'm really curious. Tell us what it means to you to give to a cause you truly believe in.

TAG:  I have always had a deep respect for comedians and the art of making people laugh. I feel they put their heart out there and give us that needed laughter that can help us make it through the day. They are important to society and truly under respected.  

SAG:  What is it that fascinates you so much about comedians?

TAG:  I would guess their ability to influence someone's day or life, with just words. And laughter is healing and that is a proven fact, so they can be healers.
 

Just the then the cat I was holding the entire time of the interview, clawed deep into my flesh, I heard bone, I screamed and the cat took off, its ass flashing in front of my face just for effect.   I turned to thank Brian for the interview, but it was too late; he was already paragliding off over the rooftops and into the mysterious and moody clouds, where a little by-plane picked scooped him up.  His red jumpsuit and greying beard, only made me shake my head even more when I swear I heard him say from the echoey sky, “Listen to the PA Podcast...Ho...Ho....Ho...Ho...Ho....”

Enjoy the veal,

Steven Alan Green
12/27/12


RITCH SHYDNER’S TALES FROM THE COMEDY CRYPT!

One of America's greatest stand-ups in the last 50 years, Ritch Shydner  co-created, "I Killed: True Stories from the Road from America's Top Comics"  (Random House)

In 1962, when Johnny Carson made his debut as host of the Tonight Show there were three channels on the TV.  Pick one, read a book or stare at each other. In no time Carson was The King of Late Night, and for the next thirty years the most powerful man in the world of stand-up comedy. Cable TV started to bite into the broadcast pie in the late 70’s and early 80’s, but nobody touched Johnny’s slice.  A young stand-up comedian of this era heard the overnight success stories while learning joke structure. Carson's show was the launching pad for stand-up stars like Joan Rivers in the 60’s and Robert Klein in the 70’s. Johnny’s Midas Touch was still there in 1982 when an unknown Steven Wright went from a killer first Tonight Show, to a stunning second shot only days later, and into packed theaters. Do not stop. Pass Go and collect a career.  At the very least, an appearance on the “Johnny Carson Show” was a marker of show business success that even a comic’s worried family recognized.

My first Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was on August 30, 1984. As a stand-up, this date was more important than my birthday. This birth I did. This birth I remembered. This birth I sweated. The comic’s mid-wife was the Tonight Show talent coordinator, Jim McCauley. He decided when the new Jester was ready and what jokes to present to the King. Whenever Jim McCauley entered The Improvisation or The Comedy Store, the room became electric. Doubt disappeared, hope materialized and the push for the stage resembled the Oklahoma Land Rush.  After several successful minor league stints on The Merv Griffin Show and Evening at The Improv, Jim declared me ready for the majors in the summer of ‘84. He cherry picked jokes from my act. I then fashioned segues to stitch up the disparate pieces and practiced those five minutes night after night, word for word, until it became part of my DNA. I even managed to stop drinking and drugging two weeks before my scheduled date. However, the pre-show stress caused painful shingles blisters to break out on my right hip and thigh two days before my due date. There’s no crying in comedy.

The day of the shot my message machine filled with well-wishes. My acting coach, knowing my tendency to speed talk my way to incoherency said, “Speak slowly. If you’re worried you’re speaking too slow, then slow down some more.” Jerry Seinfeld said, “You already hit the homerun. Just don’t trip rounding the bases.”  When the applause began after my final joke that night, I did as instructed and looked to Johnny for my next move. He had three basic signals for a new comic. The first was a wave to come do panel, a sign of total love and acceptance. The second was an outstretched hand with the forefinger and thumb forming a circle, meaning a passing grade, nothing special, but you lived to fight another day. That’s what I got. At least Johnny wasn’t tapping his pencil on the desk, while smiling and nodding to the music. That was the third option, the equivalent of a trap door opening beneath the comic. Few survived the execution after the pencil drum roll.  A very happy Jim McCauley greeted me behind the curtain. Jim lived and breathed with the comics he brought to the Tonight Show. His job was on the line as much as yours.  As the Show ended, McCauley positioned me along the path Johnny took every night from the set to his office. For my efforts, I got the standard reward for most first time comics, a handshake, a photo op and a second appearance. I was relieved, happy and soon on my way to drunk. My second Tonight Show shot was scheduled for February of 1985.  This time I decided I wanted more say about the material. Spending a lot of time with Jack Daniels, Peruvian Product and Sam Kinison gave me a blurred, but intense vision of a need to be edgy.  My idea was to end it with two jokes about suicide which were working in the dark, boozy clubs. Jim knew the difference between night club funny and TV funny.  A couple of relationship jokes were Jim’s choices for my closing. I agreed, but soon became obsessed with new jokes about Barney Clark, the world’s first artificial heart recipient, and the lifesaving technique of Defibrillation.  The Barney Clark joke was a reaction to a doctor’s assertion that, “Mr. Clark would lead a pretty normal life.” I complained that it would at least hinder his bowling game, and ended the bit by mimicking Clark trying to pick up a spare while dragging the two hundred pound heart-pump. I then pointed out that the Defibrillator caused the patient’s body to jump off the bed. Some sadistic doctor was sure to turn up the juice in an effort to set a record height. This bit ended with doctors using two sets of paddles to volley a patient back and forth in a game of tennis.  To me there was nothing wrong with this material. I was getting laughs by complaining and pointing things out. That’s what stand-ups do.  Almost every night I practiced with a different closer. The drinking and drugging was by now a daily chore, a tedious job. It was a huge effort to abstain the night before the show. It was not so much as a sober night as the start of detoxification. I placed a post-show gram in the pocket of my show suit, an addict’s security blanket.

The night of the show, I begged Jim to let me do the heart material, arguing it was a perfect fit with the rest of the set’s jokes of broken bones, doctor advertising, and brain storage capabilities. McCauley was reluctant, doubting if it suited Johnny’s taste.  I was a crazed comic begging for his artistic soul, which at that moment meant being the first on TV with a Barney Clark joke. The Devil was bargain shopping. Jim finally relented. The set went fine; the laughter coming at all the right places. I closed and looked for my signal. Johnny was tapping his pencil, smiling and nodding to the music.  Jim met me behind the curtain and hustled me straight to my dressing room. Jim was pleasant. He gave me a beer, but offered no pretense as to my situation. There was a problem with my set. Although all the blame clearly rested with me, Jim was the one apologizing. “I should have known Johnny would hate that heart stuff. He smokes three packs a day and worries about having a heart attack. We better stay in here for a while.”  It took me two more months of bad decisions to finally quit alcohol and drugs.  Thanks to Jim McCauley’s advice and support I did a third Tonight Show in late 1986. It probably didn’t hurt that Johnny Carson stopped smoking during that period. Jim helped me through nine more Tonight Shows before Johnny finally retired. I regret never fully thanking him for what he did for me and all the other comics in his 25 years at the Tonight Show.

Rest in Peace, Jim. If there is an afterlife, please tell me there are no pencils.

Ritch Shynder

Danny Dechi’s Comedy Show @ The Bazaar Café
12/19/12

One of the things I love about my job here at Enjoy the Veal is that I get to explore various comedy venues in new parts of town for this writer.   The Bazaar Café is a little artist’s consignments shop in the Outer Richmond, with a tiny little stage “area” and upright piano on the side, with a sign overhead warning of “doing covers”: only original songs are encouraged, which is probably not so much an artistic enhancement, but indeed, avoiding paying song performance royalties is a fiscal one.   A 7pm show scheduled start realized into a near 8 start, as the performers waited and waited for the audience to show up.   Who forgot to book the audience?  “Finals” is what host/producer Danny Dechi told me as to why his usual packed college audience locked themselves in their dorms.   Nevertheless, nothing wrong with performing for yourselves and save for one miserable live comedy reviewer from The Jewish Journal online, who also happens to be a stand-up comedian himself, the show simply went on.  I, the reviewer for the show, seemed to be - other than the other comedians, the only person in the audience.  The rest of the breathing souls around the sides and in the back shadows of the room were the comedians waiting to go on.  Maybe a real customer, I couldn't tell.  And, of course, the cafe employee behind the counter, but I think she was paid to be there.   Let the awkward evening begin.

“Welcome to the Bazarre Café!” Danny explains the show is every 3rd Wednesday, there’s food and drink, which leads to his first joke of the evening about preparing beer battered fish and deciding on using either a full bottle in the recipe or an empty one.   “There was a river so full of mercury, I could take my temperature with a salmon.”    These are not just the jokes, folks, and they’re not just fish jokes, no, this is Danny Denchi, a San Francisco pillar of cutting-edge traditional comedy performance art and I-did-the-best-I-could considering promotion.   Danny runs at least three comedy rooms I'm aware of and don't get me wrong.  I know his rooms pack out.   Tonight, though, not.  Danny explains he was released early from jury duty for eating his shoe and that he learned today that there is no crying in yoga.  “Honey Boo-Boo….Who is her father, Yogi Bear?”   Danny, in spite of some of his gawd-awful material, is hill-LAR-ious.  Did ya’ hear me?  Danny is very funny.  Not his jokes.  Him! “The big announcement of the week?  The end of the world!  Presented by the Three Stooges Marathon!”   Even when he writes to culture, Danny is a throwback to the post-Carson era of keeping the fun in the joke itself as the preeminent comedic discipline.   His new movie category for the Oscars is “Best film without Liam Neeson”; His 79 Oldsmobile’s hood ornament is a Smart Car, which he splurged with a car wash and a Brazilian wax: “Looks good, but my carpets were wrong.   I’m here all week!” fully acknowledging his jokes aren’t not only not always funny, but aren’t always even meant to be funny, which doesn’t exactly fit in with today’s personal confessional rant style of comedy.   No.   Danny is doing something more.  He’s simultaneously operating on two levels.   One is on the face of the material itself.  Is the joke funny?  What if you read the joke?  Would it still make you laugh.   That’s the first level.   The second level is that Danny is able to get laughs not just on the jokes themselves, but on the idea that he is completely unflappable; a conscious hapless fool, Peter Sellers clumsily finding his way round a dark room, choreographed down to the Nth detail.    Anti-comedy.   Imagine Roberto Benigni were he a stand-up.  Dechi’s secret?  He’s having fun and he doesn’t really care, but he wants you to think he does.  It’s a brilliant one-man double-act.     During his presentation, his phone rings, he answers it: It’s his cat, who wants him to bring back whip cream and anchovies, was both completely surreal and believable.   And, his optometrist ordering in a Chinese restaurant is classic Ed Sullivan.   Then, he played The Nutcracker with a pencil repeatedly hitting his cheek.  Yes, folks.   Danny Denchi is the “World’s Number One Number Two Pencil Musician.”  And, he’s also the emcee, so on with our show, and did a great job keeping the show moving right along all evening.  

Next up was Rebecca Ward, who introduces herself to us (well, me), “You probably know my parents, maternity and psychiatric?”  She explains she’s Native American Indian, her hubby isn’t: “he tries to get me drunk and steal my properties.”   On dating much younger men – who use her just to get into R-rated movies, she asks us (again, just me), “Do you ever think of something that you think is very funny, but nobody else does?  That’s my act.”  Not what you call a good saver; and not that she even needed one.   According to Ward, her kids have the nerve to “complain” about a 1 inch splinter and have yet no idea what real pain is like; so she holds up her thumb as if there's a splinter there, and say, "Was it a 9 pound, 8 ounce splinter? Was it eleven days late coming out of you? Did you spend three hours trying to push it out of you? No? We'll talk when you do..."  You tell 'em, mom!  Her birthday being 2 days before Christmas, she would get presents wrapped in Xmas paper, along with the admonishment, “This is for both.”   On Obamacare, “Good thing we didn’t have Bush-Care….a waxing facility”;  her car, which is a two-tone of rust and primer is really like a girl, always demanding attention then breaking down.   Meeting Madonna she wanted to say something she probably never heard before and lays on the Vogued One, “I really like your movies!”  Hill-AIR-ious!   Rebecca Ward is an adult doing comedy with a truly youthful perspective, proving it’s really quite a feat to grow up, and yet still be able to pretend.    I liked her and can’t wait to see more and in front of a proper audience.

Mike Capozzola, a stand-up comedian and talented cartoon artist, who seems like a comic caught between generational warps.   His attitude seems to come from a smarmy guest character dating Mary or Rhoda, but his material is classic Modern Awkward in the true vein of Rickie Gervais, one half the original creator of NBC’s The Office and the progenitor of The Modern Awkward Comedy Movement.  Mike’s the kind of comedian who is certainly well trained and armed for blood, but that’s not his thing.   (stand-up material unavailable for this review) 

Jill Borque’s culture is moving forward: “we are embracing diversity, but where are the Norwegian Latinas?,” left me a little unsure in which exact way was she anti-racist.   But when she explained “we” don’t have any parades or holidays, I get it.  She’s talking about her cultural heritage.  DOH!  “I can't even get a decent Lutefisk enchilada. There's no one to fix my low-rider Saab. No radio stations that play Death Metal Mariachi. Nothing. It's tough to be a Norwina.”  But, then the comedy lights momentarily went out.  We lost mental power.  I think this is where I saw bravery in performance.   After what seemed like endless incoherent ramblings for about ten seconds, this beautiful comedy mind suddenly found her place and hatched the brilliantly simple notion we all have to learn to compromise.  Dems and GOP’s, both have to come together and then she explains in simple human terms, “Look!   I can’t have everything I want at the same time!   I can’t have carbs and boobs!    I don’t have wet dreams, I have wheat dreams, doing a 3-way with a bagel and cream cheese”.  This Dorothy Parker of Pillsbury then took the spotlight from her ideas to her; absurdly standing alone on an imaginary comedy stage, doing her comedy soliloquy, knowing fully well she was being reviewed and there was virtually nobody in the audience, but her comedy mates and friends in the back and me, the comedy reviewer reviewing her.   Ironically, this is exactly why I’m there.  

You can get amazing alone time on this stage” is one of the greatest comedy save lines I’ve ever heard; unfortunately, in the venue that night, it only made things worse.    Jill Borque feels connected to us and her list of highlighted accomplishments begins and ends with being married 12 years.   Offering up relationship advice, Borque defines the Mason/Dixon between monogamy and monotony:  “Victoria’s Secret and you’re haggling at Cosco for big panties.”    Each week, she and hubby have a special communications session, “Known as a fight.”   She doesn’t fight in front of her kids, she and her husband, “fight with our eyes” is a great cinematic visual.   She’s not a “housewife”, more of a self-proclaimed, “house-bitch”; and did some “Hard Time” in dating in San Francisco.   “Stringles” – the few straight men you have to date outside your hetero comfort zone in this Craigslist world.  Her 10 year old talks to them like adults, like a Tenderloin wino, “Just one more book, momma!”  Jill Borque is The Jane Jetson of Modern Stand-Up.   Her dilemma is most relatable.   How does one deal with whiners and complainers when you’ve got enough trouble dealing with your own problems.   I’m smelling HBO series.

Charlie Ballard is warm and invites those in the back of the room to “come up!”, but of course they wouldn’t because they were other comedians.  (Actually, regular audience members rarely move up.)   He’s happy to be “back here 10 years later; the crowd hasn’t changed” made me think he was up the river, but I suspect if he was, it was on a River Boat entertaining Mel Gibson.   “I made love to a woman for the first time.   It was cool.   I’ve been gay all my life.   It was okay, but she wanted dirty talk.   ‘Where do you want me to stick this penis?’  That joke was a total lie, by the way.
Cut to me.  
Frozen.
Then.  He talks to me.  The reviewer guy.   He tells me, a Jewish Joke.  After all, “you write for The Jewish Journal!

Ballard did a classic “baby shaking” joke, following up with pointing out that I was clicking my pen and putting my hat on and off.   Referring to the Berkeley cupcake sliding scale social experiment, Ballard gloated how he tricked them by claiming he was Native American and therefore, offended, so they gave him the cupcake for free.   Following that up with, “That was a great joke!”.   Being Indian, and only bringing two people to the show (did he think it WAS a bringer?), “well, if your people hadn’t killed off our people….”, seemed like a stock joke within his culture.  Charlie closed by grabbing one of the guitars in the window, singing, “I’m not really a musician….”, leaving the mean guy in me, changing one word in that lyric.   Again, I would love to see Charlie Ballard perform in front of a real crowd one day.  I get the feeling, he’s secretly great.     And, in a good way.    

Welcome to the Fear of Large Crowds Workshop!” was the first huge laugh of the night and brought on by comedy powerhouse Bobby Salem, who arrived late.  About twenty years late.   Bobby is the classic throwback to the East Coast Club and Borsht Belt Resort Comic.  I’ve worked with many guys like Bobby on the road and they are the true keepers of the Hidden Secrets of Comedy.    Only they know the difference between a red velvet curtain and a red velvet cupcake and we are mere comedy mortals in their presence.   This is the kind of guy who probably grew up in the Bronx and literally had to survive on his wits and comedy talents.   He’s asked by a citizen of San Francisco if were a “bear” (which is a fat hairy bloke who is gay) and it bothered him; he’s not even gay.   Funny.    His same sex marriage joke of having the same sex every night is a winner, but his outta nowhere impression of Bill Cosby as The Wizard of Oz talking to the Tin Man was almost as good and enlightening as his impression of the late black comedian and Oceans 11 movie star Bernie Mac, were he Jewish.   “Israel, Oh, Lord!”  His non-sequitur, “Kim Kardashian is a whore!....(that’s the joke)” is caboosed by, his Taylor Swift joke, “Taylor Swift is a whore!”; his cat awakens him at 6am so he “broke her of that habit” by waking up at 5:45.   This guy is funny.    Daffy Duck singing Village People and a great story of a guy sneezing in the elevator only to confront Bobby with, “Well, aren’t you going to bless me?” are topped off by his impressions of Tom Jones and Jerry Lewis (“She’s a laaaa-deeeee!”); he dovens as Neil Diamond, Bruce Springstein and Queen (“We will rock Jew!”) and his closer Middle Eastern George Costanza, “I invented Habbib!” is Hill-AIR-ious…!    Danny kept the show rolling along, bringing on a boom-box and a kid’s joke and then introduced our final two acts for this very strange evening at the Bazaar Café.  

Mr. Mystic wears a top-hat a tux and a hypnotic swirl as a pendulum hanging from around his neck.   As Holly Jolly Christmas plays, he informs us he is going to levitate us, the audience, and we must do as he says.   Bringing some balloons to someone in the front row (a late arriving customer), he warns us to, “Focus!”, then space-disco music plays and nothing happens.   Of course.   And then he offers the man in the front row a $100 bill to testify he indeed levitated.   The man says he did levitate, but Mr. Mystic tells him to scram, sending back tail-between-his legs to the audience.   Other weird background music serves to soothe and calm as Mr. Mystic tries to get everyone to do strange things with their hands, clasped, twisted and otherwise.   Puff Puff the Psychic Bunny is his assistant puppet, whom only appears when Theme from a Summer’s Place is on.   Asking for a number between 1 and 1,000, he admonishes the guesser with a premade sign, “No!”.     He reads The Night Before Christmas and his book literally catches on fire, which was even funnier when you consider he claimed to have actually burned his hand.    I liked Mr. Mystic; he's a throwback to Vaudeville and every weird after school local TV host every assembled.  And if I were a child and he came to entertain my party?   I’d have entered therapy several decades earlier.  

Closing out this exercise in the surreal was Rollie Moe.   I first saw Moe in London, at a show ten years ago we were both booked on at a now defunct comedy club called Ha Bloody Ha.   Dressed like a bow-tied college professor, he holds a beer and talks in a very high voice, a strained voice, a fake voice.  A monotonic continues flat-line whine.   “We’re swimming in the ocean, you see a shark, your life passes before your eyes – Why did I eat so many Skittles?   Why did I trust Mitt Romney?   When taking communion wine in church, never ask for a second round; worm in an apple?  Robins, robins, they’re not so sweet if you’re a worm!; consider Ross Dress for Less as no way to sell clothing: How about a matching can-opener or frying pan with that dress? ; chaos implies value: our marketing plan!”  Rollie Moe is definitely nuts.  Or wants us to think he is.   From Brady Bunch aliens to why was Hitler so angry: (and let’s find out with him visiting an Ikea); to feeding penguins cheese; to great one-liners such as, why the KKK spells “clan” with a K ("they didn’t finish 5th grade"); Rollie Moe’s closer is a reenactment of Martin Scorcese’s “Taxi” acted out solely by Barbie and Ken dolls.  

When the evening ended, I thanked Danny and he offered me a gig.   But, he also told me about another comedian who needs help with some medical bills.   Danny is a man who cares about comedy and, more importantly, cares about comedians.   I think the show I saw tonight was awful in so many ways, and mostly not anyone's fault.   A comedy show needs an audience.  On the other hand, in many more ways it was truly the greatest comedy show I saw (and unwittingly participated in) all year.   Long may Danny, the World’s Number One Number Two Pencil Musician, stand-up comedian and local San Francisco comedy promoter reign.  I’m a big fan and I’m glad I went.  I only wished I didn’t have such a large laugh.   Always points me out in the crowd.

I give Comedy @ The Bazaar Café 12 Days of Christmas out of 8 Menorahs! 

Enjoy the veal,

Steven Alan Green
12/27/12

www.DannyDechi.com

"Greensleeves" by Danny


I finally got me a job.   I am housekeeper/maid service and on-staff duty at The San Francisco Guest House three days a week.  In exchange, I get free rent. So, that’s my life.   Cleaning toilets and reviewing comedy shows.   Redundant I know.   If you want to come see me perform comedy live, I’ll be at Danny Denchi's Cup O Comedy @ Emma's Coffee House TONIGHT! (Dec 27) 5549 Geary Boulevard, (415) 933-6632 FREE!  Map. Start time: 7pm.  Come and say hello.   (Just not during the show.)   In the meantime, I just want to thank everyone, my bosses over at The Jewish Journal, including my inimitable editor, Jared Baker.   The comedians I’ve met over the last few weeks since coming up to San Francisco.  Laughter Foundation supporters alike and in particular Mimi Smith, whose been a much needed friend and educated ear. And of course, Brian “Tag” Sontag and to Jenny Coe for maintaining The Laughter Foundation website so well.   Special thanks to Enjoy the Veal contributor, Ritch Shydner.   Ace Reviewer for LA, Tamsin Hollo, will be back after a short break.    Two of my favourite blokes.   And thank you everyone who donated something last week to save me from eviction.  I know who you are and I know some of you who helped out, are struggling as well.   I'll never take for granted that just because someone helps, doesn't mean it's always easy for them.   I am deeply moved and now have to live up to my word and make The Laughter Foundation a reality.  

And, thank you, my fine readership.   You’ve given this miserable misanthrope of a poor excuse for a comedian, some much needed and valued hope.   I’ve been so inspired by it all, I’ve started writing a novel and I guarantee you this.   Whether you know it or not, you are indeed all characters in it; as an artist’s work is his life, you are indeed characters in my life.   Love to you all.   Except of course, Geri Luis.   The real Jerry Lewis remains a mystery.  

Try not to shoot one another, people.

And, if you're in San Francisco tonight, I'll be on Danny Dechi's comedy show tonight at Emma's.   Come on down.

Kim, the woman who runs the San Francisco Guest House also has a music charity, a school that teaches little kids to play violin and piano.   And, her school, has a hint of yellow, my mother's favourite color and many of you know my mother went from real hard times and nothing, to building Glendale College of Business and Paramedical into a $10 million business, graduated 35,000 students, helped a lot of people,  and had the highest placement rate in the nation.  If you went to her school, and buckled down and did your work, when you graduated, you'd have a job waiting for you.  I miss Gloria Green.  She was an amazing lady, an amazing person.   And, I look up to her.  I want to be like her.  So, maybe one day, I too, can walk down the street and people see me and will go, "There goes an amazing lady."  

And, if you can afford to, please donate a little to my blog here, so that I can know that I'm entertaining you as much as I think I am.    

What?  Too soon?

Enjoy the veal,

Cheers,
Steven Alan Green
12/27/12

CLICK HERE TO DONATE TO ENJOY THE VEAL


FACEBOOK TWEETS OF THE WEEK:

Most conversations I eavesdrop on are extremely fascinating until I figure out exactly what they're talking about.

I suppose, in the case of working for a medical marijuana dispensary, random surprise drug testing is simultaneously a good and a bad thing.

Unpaid bills are like high school bullies; you gotta distract them, make fun of them, then kick them in the nuts.

Shallow person looking for a deep relationship. Willing to pretend to care. Good at nodding head when feigning interest. And, can cook like there's no Mayan end of the world. Drawback: I am a monster in bed. And, what I mean by, "monster" is when I get turned on, two metal bolts pop outta the sides of my neck, my skin turns green and I sleepwalk with a limp. No weirdos.

I love cocaine. It's like heroin to me.

NARCISSISTIC DIRTY PHONE CALLER: "What am I wearing?"

The Mayans (a nice Jewish couple from Great Neck, New York) sincerely apologize for any negativity.

Why do drivers who almost mow you down, apologize with the Heil Hitler sign?

This is exactly how it felt the last time I had Deja Vu.

Every time I'm on the 43 Muni bus from Haight to the Inner Sunset, and the prerecorded announcer lady says, "The next stop is Frederick," I want to stand up and shout, "It's FRO-derick!" And, when another bus announces, "Hyde", I crawl under my seat.

Every once in a while, a great visionary and savior like Jesus Christ, Mahatma Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, arrive in our world and fuck everything up.


THIS WEEK’S COMEDY RECOMMENDATIONS:

Los Angeles: Friday, Dec 28, BILLY THE MIME LIVE IN LA @ The Upright Citizen's Brigade @ 8pm.  For more info click here.

San Francisco: Comedienne Sandra M. Risser, Dec 28, 800pm, $8, The Stand-Up Show, Sacramento Comedy Spot, 1050 20th St, Sacramento.  More info.

Tuesday, Jan 15, Danny Dechi's Comedy Stars Pro Showcase at Neck Of The Woods! - Great line-up!  (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)

Paul Krassner is a new friend of The Laughter Foundation.   Read this literary legend's take on:  Obama, Orgies, and the Art ofOffensive Cartoons

"What Would Jerry Seinfeld Do?" on Salon.com.   Written by Andy Cowan. an award-winning writer, producer and performer, whose credits include "Cheers," "Seinfeld" and "3rd Rock From the Sun." He can be reached through his website, upanddownguys.com.

RIFF-erendum - The Steven Pearl and Al Clethen Interviews

OVERVIEW - With Rick Overton - (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!)


ODDZ 'N ENZ:  Next week, review of Nato Green @ The Punchline.  To have your comedy show reviewed or hire: sag@thelaughterfoundation.org.   Hollywood film or TV writing jobs for Steven Alan Green, contact: Noah Jones @ The Gersh Agency (310) 205-5836.  Follow Enjoy the Veal on Facebook, and The Laughter Foundation & on Facebook.  Never take life too seriously, you'll never get out of it alive!!!  SAG, SF, 12/27/12

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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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