The Roman Senator Gaius Cassius Longinus is best known for being the lead investigator into the assassination of Julius Caesar. The fact that Ole Cash was also one of the main plotting assassins bears no relevance. It’s like Washington trying to clean itself up. Or Jefferson, trying not to look smug on the two dollar bill. At the end of the day, what makes good comedy is the conflict between expectation and result. America is a Branding-Led Society. Maybe if we simply got a corporate sponsor for the Recession, we could solve all our problems at once. “The Recession….Brought to you by your good friends at Wall Street! Wall Street, When greed just isn’t enough….” A lot of people are still suffering quite badly; that’s right: I’m talkin’ about an audience having to sit through a horrible comedian, the bang opposite of the subject of this review. Believe me, there’s nothing like it; unless, of course you count being tied to a chair Clockwork Orange style, your eyes clipped open, as you’re forced to watch hour upon hour of QVC starring Joan Rivers. If that’s your situation, you have my complete sympathy. Where I don’t carry much sympathy is for the awful comedian who is in complete stage denial. Lissen, it’s hard to be a comedian. Trust me, I know. You have great shows where you’re a god carried out on the shoulders of the audience; or, cut-to: you are reading your own eulogy to the creepy sound of organ music. It happens to the best of us, especially when we’re starting out, literally embryonically forming on stage, trying things out, seeing what works, what doesn’t, and basically keeping the one mantra ahead down the road at all times: “Gee, I hope the audience likes me!”
Jongleurs was the largest comedy chain in the UK. Large in amount of clubs, large in audience size, large in attitude. If you were a comedian working Jongleurs, it was enough of a credit to get you booked at almost all of the other comedy clubs in the UK. It’s all about the huge Christmas office party comedy show every night of the year. It’s not a place known for its subtle thought provoking comedians, but it’s also not a circus house. It’s somewhere in the middle. Imagine Jerry Seinfeld meets Bob Hoskins with Steve Martin on banjo thrown in. It’s your working-class meat ‘n potatoes comedy. Your, “Come on mate, we’re ‘ere for a good time!” comedy. It’s also the true testing ground to see if you’re really tough. When I lived in London, I played Jongleurs quite regularly for a short while. (I’m going to tell my complete personal Jongleurs saga in future blogs.) I always “stormed it” (the British version of “Killed”), brought the house down, had them begging for more. Though, to be perfectly honest, upon reflection, there was one time, the third Saturday night show, I ate it big time. I think that’s because I hadn’t known up and to that point, there were actually two Jongleurs’ audiences: The “Nice Respectable Office Worker Not Too Drunk Out for a Good Time Jongleurs” and the “Downright Evil after Midnight on a Saturday Night in Drunken London Camden Town Yobbish Kill the American” late show.” I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing both, so who am I to judge. Having said that, the late Eric Douglas was a whole other kettle of comedy fish entirely.
The youngest son of the great Kirk Douglas (and Michael’s younger brother), Eric had personal problems. Mental illness, drugs. The perfect qualifications to be a professional stand-up comedian I would’ve thought. I witnessed Eric’s show once at the Original Improv in New York ages ago, but I left before the police arrived asking me for a statement. Having built quite a reputation for myself in LA as the village idiot at one of the two important comedy clubs, I not only had crazy-man empathy for Eric, but drew a very sharp line in my head with the mantra of the non-fabulous, “Well, at least I’m not that guy!” Regardless of judgment, there is an apocryphal story of when Eric Douglas played Jongleurs, or at least, tried to.
“And now…please welcome….all the way over from America, Eric Douglas!” The South London Lavender Hill audience applauds with marched enthusiasm. After all, they didn’t know who Eric Douglas was, perhaps he was a big comedy star in America. Let’s give him a chance and we hope he gives us a chance. So, Eric comes out on stage and immediately dies. He just doesn’t connect and has quickly morphed into a self-babbling segue artist. The London audience simply didn’t know what to make of it. Where there were, just moments earlier, laughs and frivolity at one of the coolest south of the river comedy clubs, were now the uncomfortable sounds of glasses clinking and mild discussion groups on football and darts. The audience, perhaps second guessing themselves, thinking that maybe they didn’t get the American sense of humor, gave Douglas a chance to find his footing. After all, perhaps he’s jetlagged. Oh-uh. Wot’s that? A heckler? Oh dear. Things are about to get very London.
“Tell us a joke!” arrives in the form of a “Souf London” accent (think Michael Caine with a sock in his mouth) like a welcomed grenade lob into an already hostaged crowd. Not since 1939, when Hitler bombed “The East End” (the Jewish working-class section of London) has a London neighborhood rallied so well around each other in the face of immediate misery.
“Yeah, tell us a joke, mate!” comes from another anonymous source from the other side of the cavernous comedy room. And pretty soon, like a gaggle of startled drinking geese, the entire room of 500 “punters” (paying customers) starts chirping up a cacophony of heckles, ranging from, “Next!” to (my all-time favorite) “Go back to America!” At some point, Eric cracks. Attempting to seize control, he grabs the mic, leans in and delivers with similar bravado (but none of the wit Father Kirk sported in “Paths of Glory” when he told Adolphe Menjou, “You can go to HELL!”) Eric says challengingly, “Do you know who I am?”
“No, mate, Who are you?” says one lone heckler with the disinterest of a nail-filing gangster.
“I’m Kirk Douglas’s son! That’s who I am! I’m Kirk Douglas’s son!”
Well, just to show you that the Jongleurs audiences aren’t as dumb as some of the London comedians think, a man in the crowd stands up, puts his hand over his heart and recites solemnly, “I’m Kirk Douglas’s son!” Then another man stands up: “I’m Kirk Douglas’s son!” Then another and another, until the entire male population in the audience is on their feet, reciting, “I’m Kirk Douglas’s son!,” reenacting that iconic scene at the end of Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, when the Romans confront Spartacus and his fellow slaves, asking “Who is this Spartacus?” with the sole intention of imprisoning and executing. Each fellow slave, believing in their hero, stands forth, pronouncing that it is indeed they who are Spartacus, creating solidarity not seen since the entire cast of Happy Days sued somebody. Eric Douglas retreated backstage and a great time was had by one and all, all except for poor Eric of course. Sadly, years later, in July 2004, Eric Douglas was found by his housekeeper, lying on the floor of his Manhattan apartment dead from acute intoxication from drugs and alcohol. Eric, for all the great cultural heroes in his family, just wasn’t a survivor. But, like the rebellious fighter against the status quo, Spartacus; and the split-morality plotter/investigator Cassius, comedian Rick Overton stands atop the radioactive rubble of modern America like Charlton Heston at the end of Planet of the Apes; our last hope for well thought out deep comedic truth and its twin cousins: spiritual & intellectual freedom; and Rick does it with all the acuity of a RADA trained Shakespearian actor, the kaleidoscoping mad mondo-vision of a post-modernist underground apocalyptic philosopher, and the satirical smirk of a cast unto Hell Comedia del Arte street clown.
The “Lab” is the annex of The Improv on Melrose. A small to medium-ish size showroom with red velvet proscenium canopy and a professional soundboard in the back. Its street address is one digit off from its next door parental neighbor, the legendary Improv itself, but since they couldn’t extend their liquor license, the Lab remains as dry as its comedy. A room that filled up pretty quickly as a few notable and catchy tunes (including Cocker’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On”) played in the background of a show that started relatively on time; I was impressed from the git-go. Rick Overton and Friends is just that. Rick Overton and some of his friends. Kicking off the night was our inimitable host Chris Pina, a comedian, comedy actor and one of the most prolific independent alternative comedy producers working the boards. Chris has been responsible for some of the best “smart comedy shows” both in LA and San Francisco; and yet, ironically, Chris himself seems to value the silly over the intellect. Lip-syncing Bobby Darren’s “Beyond the Sea” was an interesting way to open what was I assumed was a political comedy show. Pina is a deep-throated, rubber-faced cross between Jerry Lewis and Mort Sahl. His frenetic “welcome to the island” Dennis Hopper’s photographer to Overton’s Col. Kurtz. It’s always fascinating to see great comedy minds crumble and Pina did a great impersonation of one as he attempted, fumbled and self-aborts an apparently respectable Paul Ryan joke set-up, turning it around with an endorsement of the show itself, “I don’t want to talk about it anyway, because these guys on the show are a lot better and funnier than me,”which isn’t true: Chris is hilarious unto himself, proving it again and again with Kim Jong-un looking like a cigarette smoking man-child who needs shoulder belching or standing on a chair like Jack Black, impersonating over six foot King Rick Over-Kong. (Special note to all comedians out there: I am the critic. I’ll tell you when you’re not funny. Stop doing my job. Thank you.)
Time to bring on the first act.
Frank Conniff is about as good as you get. This Mystery Science Theatre 3,000 “TV’s Frank”, “Cinematic Titanic” and KPFK’s The David Feldman Show contributing regular looks like a beleaguered Philip Seymour Hoffman playing a 1970’s cheap cop show detective, who drinks too much ‘cause he knows too much and is one payday away from retirement or a bullet between the eyes. Explaining to us that he “loves doing this” (live performance) and that he was just pulled over by a cop and given a warning: “Don’t see Total Recall,” Conniff lets us know he’s not above a good gag. “The Valley has a great film community, the Criterion Collection of Porn”; “Paul Ryan Fever: He wants to make sick and poor people pay for the Bush Debt….(it was funnier when I Tweeted it)” and “The South should get rape whistles for farm animals; the highest grade they ever got was Hepatitis C”, were just three warm-up samplers to one of the most brilliant comedy routines ever written and performed and witnessed by this critic: Conniff’s Letters to his younger self. Frank Conniff’s “Dear Young Frank” routine is something so intellectually mind-bendingly original, intricately crafted and just downright funny, I thought, why the hell is this brilliant mind wasting his time with comedy? I mean to actually have your “older self” challenging your “younger self” to just commit suicide is not only Einsteinian impossible, but self-esteem deprivation at its extreme. Conniff should be employed by a death panel. Lighten things up a little.
Following Frank, like a western posse looking for the point of it all, was modern legendary cowboy singer and songwriter, the one and only Will Ryan (“The Official Singing Cowboy of Hollywood”) who was here to save the day, even though it didn’t need being saved. (Isn’t it just like a country singer? There’s never one when you need one.) Ryan, front man for contemporary pop-country swing band, “Will Ryan and the Cactus County Cowboys,” is as affable as Tigger, the Winnie the Pooh character Ryan most notably voiced. Ryan’s original tunes are slick, clever and remind one of Steve Allen, Dan Hicks and Victor Borge by way of Gene Autry and Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. He’s Tom Lehrer meets Hank Williams, by way of country charm school. Abandoned by the Cactus County Cowboys, who were abound the territories in other temporal musical employment, Ryan rounded up four originals solo, including “Two Thousand Head of Cattle,” and the infectious sing-along, protest song “Barbed Wire”. Ryan (Will, not Paul) was a welcome antidote to “too much thinkin’,” as was guaranteed for the evening; though for my money, it would’ve been much better to have him do two songs here, two there, instead of the extended set of four songs and then another two later on. Having said that, Will Ryan is an immensely talented cowboy and if I were tied to the tracks, I’d want him to rescue me, ‘cause I know he’d write a song about it.
Next up was comedian Scott LaRose, a single dad from Rhode Island, who seemed completely miscast on this night. From his truly clever one-liners (“I’m colorblind – I saw Blue Man Group – not funny”) to his physical routine of Spiderman building his “ass web”; Scott is one of the best comedians out there. But, tonight, the money was on Wilson. Scott just never seemed to really connect with this particular audience, who seemed focused on their expected political ideas, not Seinfeldian sophistry. An enthusiastic talented observant comedian, talking about anything but politics (and in Scott’s case: being a single dad with a kid) seemed completely out of place for this supreme evening. I think, frankly, this is where the audience maybe got a bit snotty, not wanting to lower themselves, simply because it required switching to their other brain hemisphere. This is what I have to say to all live comedy audiences: Drop expectations and have a good time. We all eat it every once in a while and LaRose, with all the heavy lifting he had to do, kept a smile and kept it pro and for that alone, my toupee is off to him. And, now….The moment you’ve all been waiting for. The man of the hour. The man who once made God himself laugh so much, volcano lava came outta his nose, the one, the only….
Okay, I admit it. I’m a Rick Overton fan, and have been for nearly three decades. But, so are many people in this town. Rick Overton has become that new cheap Thai restaurant that cooks great Pad Thai, is incredibly affordable, open all hours, and was always there. Here’s a man who has done it all and yet, beyond the current comedy cognoscenti, has received relatively little notice of late from the established Hollywood stand-up media. Forget the fact that Rick’s ingenious comedy produced two of the finest HBO comedy specials of all time; and that Rick has maintained what everybody wants out here: a respectable film acting career, Overton is our Time Travelling Master Comedy Shaman. Combining the scary truth with the imaginary mundane is Overton’s métier, as exampled in his comment on the recent heat, “like someone dropping a wet futon on you” and coupling it with a quick reality check, “Is there anyone still denying global warming?” “I don’t want to say Romney is stiff, but compared to him, Siri sounds robotic” grabs us like a fish hook as we’re involuntarily glided along to considering Paul Ryan as assassination insurance, finally dumping his idea collective with the absurdly practical paragon of all of us being part of “the Demographic Party”.
But then, he switches up and gets real. “I don’t always agree with everything Obama does, but I hate everyone who hates him, so the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” opening the door to Fox News digital vote rigging and “assholes with money” being the real problem, which turns out to be set-up for his real point: the narrowing gap between church and state, “which you could barely throw a Frisbee through.” Overton’s Mafioso Jesus killers (“Dis is Rome, muddah-fuckah!”) is safely offset by incredible zoom out self-commentary, “I don’t think God who created the universe gives a shit what the bald guy is saying on Melrose.” Hilarious “Drunken Step-God”, the Religious Right against Gay Marriage (“because it stops the production line”), the Republican Party clown car jammed with closeted gay guys, America’s ancestral fashion heritage of Puritans wearing a buckle on their closed-minded hats, to dead on impressions of what Nick Nolte’s dog hears, Morgan Freeman bragging about his voice-over career and Overton’s classic, Sean Connery, this time the Scottish hero enjoying a dog’s chew toy, imploding his guttural grunts like Bowser grabbing a gym sock in your hand. Overton’s mantra seems to be quite apocalyptically inspired: “Never get out of the boat.” Rick Overton is the Comedian of Our Age. There is none better and there never could be. He’s that good. Wake up, America and anoint this Prince of Comedic Enlightenment, whom every successful comedian or Hollywood director with a brain (from Robin Williams to Steven Soderbergh) already recognizes as just plain great. Rick Overton’s time as Industry Secret must end now.
Returning to great sentimental applause was Will Ryan, who after experiencing omni-leveled Rick Overton, seemed like soothing Sam Elliot’s cowboy at the bowling alley bar in the Coen Brother’s classic, “The Big Lebowski”, as Ryan sang and led the delightful classic sing-a-long, “Happy Days Are Here Again”. Closing the evening was Jimmy Dore, star of several Comedy Central specials, a writer performer for the Off-Broadway hit “The Marijuana-Logues”, and the host of his own weekly radio show in Los Angeles on KPFK. Dore represents the 99% of comedians. He’s a guy who speaks for the everyman, but as an intellectual. A story of meeting swingers at a comedy gig whom he partook with, “after all; they bought a CD”; compounding logic arguing with a near car accident victim who took exception to Dore’s “Sorry” with the classically stupid, “Yeah, you’re sorry now!”; getting high and watching Christian television, being qualified on advising parents because he doesn’t have kids, food trucks as restaurants on wheels, his dog having a cardiologist (but not dental), Dore charms us with homespun regular guy super funny stuff.
But then he gets serious. “Obama is the luckiest politician; nobody good ever runs against him,” “They gave Obama the Nobel Peace Prize, then he ups the war in Afghanistan and kills Osama Bin Laden,” and the explains it all, “Mitt Romney gave a speech at the NAACP, gets booed and his wife taught a horse to dance…I’m so confident, I’m not voting” are Dore’s road signs there’s a tight curve ahead, as he fishtails to downright sarcastic outrage: “Where did our money go?....Teachers! They
took it!”, Jimmy Dore isn’t a peanut gallery comedian commentator; He’s a full-fledged knowledgeable pundit with actual new ideas and solutions, and who instinctively knows and boldly states, “Americans vote against their own interests” and yet, Dore himself knows how it all acquiescently sadly ends, sold-out like “the African American owned cloth and sheet manufacture who supplies the KKK with sheets because it’s good business.”
Recalling the soothing sweet smelling desert wind, Cowboy Will Ryan’s “Barbed Wire”, codifies the beginning of the end; the ruthless, inhumane fencing in of the West, the subdivision of holy Home on the Range: “Whatever happened to our freedom? Where did it ever up an go? What are we lookin’ at tomorrow? An’ do we really wanna know? Whoa!” What a great evening out. This could’ve been Rick Overton and Relatives, or…Rick Overton and Strangers, it was all the same. Overton’s entire point is that it’s all random anyway. We just think we have an influence. Just like our dear friend Spartacus, sometimes that’s all you need in these very confusing times:
I give Rick Overton & Friends @ The Lab eight out of eight menorahs!
Enjoy the veal,
Steven Alan Green
FACEBOOK TWEETS OF THE WEEK:
The Jewish version of dumb whitey is matzoh.
Ordering coffee in LA is like proposing to a woman. You have to know exactly what you’re gonna say and if you get it wrong, the deal’s off.
Stalking is the sincerest form of flattery.
I just purchased a balloon online. Now I have monthly balloon payments. Enjoy the veal.
My post is your post.
Vice President Joe Biden said Romney wants to put us in chains. If that’s true, Romney’s assured the Castro district, West Hollywood and Christopher Street.
What do you call a boozy lounge singer from another planet?
Every time I see Mitt Romney on TV I wish it said, “You can skip this video in 5,4,3,2,1…”
I love an accept my penis for what it is. Warts and all.
THIS WEEK’S COMEDY RECOMMENDATIONS:
Beth Lapides’ Uncabaret upcoming shows: Sunday Aug 19: Casey Wilson, The Sklars, Rory Scovel, Selene Luna, Sunday Aug 26: Mary Birsong, Michelle Lee, Carlos Kotkin
Crazee Cindy’s Comedy Show in The Belly Room @ The Comedy Store, Tuesday August 21, 7:45pm start.
Comedy Store LIVE Saturday Night - Weekly Saturday Night Show 8pm Belly Room. This week: Tamara Garfield, Mary Patterson Broome, Marco Assante, Michael Lenoci, Erin Hart, Tammy Jo Dearen, Adam Barnhardt
ODDZ ‘N ENZ:
Next week is my review of Ron Lynch’s Tomorrow Show at The Steve Allen Theatre and the week after that is my interview with British comedy maven Peter Grahame. Peter runs the oldest comedy club in London, was co-founder of the Cat’s Laugh Comedy Festival in Kilkenny, Ireland and was twice voted Time Out Comedy Promoter of the Year.
It’s been a busy week for this writer. Enjoy the Veal is becoming rather popular and I wrote a political speech for Roseanne, which she really liked.
Also, my foundation, The Laughter Foundation is planning something very special for Caleb Medley, the Aurora, Colorado comedian severely injured in the so-called “Batman Massacre”. Please, if you can, the Medley family has a huge hospital bill. Donate directly to the Caleb Medley fund set up by his family. Thank you.
Help Caleb Medley
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