July 14, 2012
Mod Vod (quite odd, but I’ll give it the nod) @ Witzend
Jeb. Wot an odd name. I’ve known a few “Jebs” in my lifetime. Jeb Clampett, for example. No, wait a second; let me google….Oh, JeD, with a Dee. Jeb, Jeb, Jeb… Oh yeah! Jeb Fink, a Canadian comedian whose girlfriend managed the Calgary branch of the Yuk-Yuk’s comedy empire, comes to mind. My second of two Canadian stand-up tours in the late 80’s, set up by Yuk-Yuk’s owner and visionary, a very funny stand-up comedian himself, Mark Breslin. Mark was down here in LA working as talent coordinator for the first TV show on the new Fox Network, The Joan Rivers Show. Me and my cohort-comedy Andrew J. Lederer (not to be confused with Andrew Jonathan Letterer; a famous postman in the mid-west) somehow wrangled Mark to not just see the dozen or so comedy slaves being put up for auction by their “masters of management,” but to also see us: “Store Regulars” (Comedy Store) who were funny, had film and TV acting and writing credits, but for a variety of deep conspiratorial circumstances having to do with the nature of things, never had the opportunity to perform on the all-important Oz’s Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson; the wizard who could perhaps give Andrew a heart and me a brain. After seeing our shows, Mark spoke with me about my “mostly work the crowd” set, which was highly inappropriate and unusable for a stand-up slot on TV. Nevertheless, my brain grinned, thinking he was leading up to an outstretched handshake and a comically long scroll. Instead he politely said, “No cigar.” All the blood in my body evaporated instantaneously. Then Mark told me to call Connie Winkelmann at the Toronto office; there would be a stand-up tour of Canada waiting for me. Mark was a mench, and I had one of the greatest times of my life, headlining in another country and playing some of the greatest audiences from Halifax to Moosejaw. But, when I returned for my second call of comedy duty, I was sent out west. Starting in Edmonton, the actual Aurora Borealis lit up the sky and I imagined my name in a neon rainbow, leading down to the club. And, indeed it was a great gig. The Edmonton audiences were very friendly to this Angelino, in spite of the fact that their local boy Oilers hockey star Wayne Gretzky was now working for the Kings. Winding my way through Winnipeg (the coldest city in North America) circling the west to my final destination: Calgary; home of the Stampede. Long story short (too late for that, bub!), I got into a stage argument with an audience member who decided to tell me what was and what wasn’t appropriate to joke about. Trying to joke my way out of it; it just got worse, his wife joined in, it led to the manager of the club putting in a complaint about me to Breslin. Somewhere between cocky and nervous, I met with Mark back in Toronto. After frankly explaining my side of things, Mark calmly looked at me and said the following: “Steven, the audience is always in the way….” He then offered me 35 weeks work a year, would I only move up to Toronto. The manager of the Calgary club was Judy Simms and her boyfriend/comic was Fink. Jeb Fink. The man behind a great new performance venue here in LA is named Milne. Jeb Milne. And, just like that slightly horrid experience of mine in “North America,” Jeb Milne has created a completely separate world, void of the common rules and regulations set forth by “The Boring Way Things Should Be Done Handbook,” which for some, swear by. Jeb (a successful animator and all round creative guy) has created a Modern Munchkinville called Wiztend; an animated entertainment and living complex in Venice, nestled tween the soothing sea and roaring Lincoln Boulevard traffic. Jeb Milne is the Munchkin Mayor. In the 1960s the building was a bar and restaurant (4H Club), frequented by Jim Morrison & The Doors and Gregory Hines, who was the lead singer in the house band for several years.
The main reason music venues are so good for the art form of live comedy is that (as a London stand-up comedy agent once pointed out to me) comedy is more about acoustics than visuals. True enough. I’ve always said that one of the reasons The Comedy Store (in Hollywood) Original Room was one of the greatest comedy clubs of all time because of the J.J. Abrams bright train light gunned directly on the stand-up with intense police investigation authority; but, it’s also the sound. Performing live comedy requires a defined balance between the sound level of the comedian against the roaring sea of audience laughter. Plain and simple: If they audience can’t hear you, they can’t laugh. Witzend, being a live music venue provides, not only a sound system that delivers, but also the warm and friendly roadside atmosphere missing from most “Chuckle and Buck” comedy nights produced in every “venue” from crack houses to Laundromats around the mish-mash comedy geography of LA.
Mod Vod (billed as “A Modern Vaudevillian Comedy Show”) is the brainchild of Anne-Marie Symons, an actress and stand-up from Cork City, Ireland. With her flowing ginger hair and welcoming smile, she indeed does display the pixie. But, oh how deceiving looks can be. Right out the box (as it were) she was as filthy as a drunken Ruskie sailor; but she did it contextually, which is good. Gossiping on her relationship with her strictly Irish Catholic mother, who ironically warned her, “For fuck sake, Annie-Marie, you can’t swear in America!”; then quickly moving on to getting mad at her husband enough to want to “cut off his balls,” Anne-Marie set the potential tone of the evening at a place I didn’t expect to be so early in the evening, let alone at all. Usually, a comedy show will build to the dirty, unless of course, it’s billed as a dirty show, then it can start low and dig even deeper. Nonetheless, in spite of the fucking language, Ms. Symons did a great job at vamping up the crowd, bringing enormous supportive energy into the room and gave us a general feeling that we were into a great night of vetted professional comedy. And, indeed it was, though I began to think maybe what they meant instead of Vaudeville was Burlesque, because the first act she brought on was high energy and very funny Chad Korb, whose routine on how ever-changing music trends dictate what music you can have sex with was not only original, but delivered in demonstrated one-man skits, categorizing the nuclear differences between musical genres and sexual positions. Korb’s “cock-Asians” routine was a right cracker, because even though the joke was of Beavis and Butthead thinking, his ability to bury the pun till the end was pure brilliance. Dan Ahdoot (billed as from The Tonight Show) brought notes with him and made it abundantly clear he was trying out new material tonight. Fair enough, but I have to say, I remember in the old daze (cue bitter musical score), when Garry Shandling would come back to The Comedy Store to work on his Tonight Show material, Garry would not open with the new material; he would instead do a set first, and then and only then, if the audience was fed and on his side, would he bring out the sheet of new material. Having said that, Dan was resolute and subtly clever to the point where you ended up questioning your own intellect. Lightly opening with the required “Siri and Droid” material, he quickly moved about the behavioral landscape with very unthought-of-before notions such as “the ex-girlfriend whose left behind hairclip’s smell still makes me sentimental,” reminding everyone in the room that comedians can not just be stalkers, they have to work it into their act.
Returning to the stage, Anne-Marie spoke between the lines with a Tourette’s inspired, “I should not be doing comedy,” smoothly segueing into introducing the “Vaudeville” part of the evening. Joel Ward is an excellent magician and consummate entertainer. From the WTF was that bowling ball dropping out of a big sketch pad drawing of said heavy object, to his absolutely amazing rope and card tricks (both of which were audience participatory and indeed dependent) Ward was funny and a true original. Next was Tracie Walker from Atlanta, whose instinct to work her environment was a hallmark of difference. “The only black girl in a Woodland Hills bar/comedy club” was her anecdotal opening gambit, making it clear to us, that this comedian was a woman first and a black one second. From her societal observations (“I can see why white people wanted to own us….it’s called adoption now!”) to her hilarious “black people talk with their butts” routine (which she demonstrated, but only after she explained the premise; something you’d be surprised how many comedians don’t do), Tracie was the audience’s, as well as this writer’s favorite of the evening. Oh-oh…Here comes our sparkly hostess for the eve, who was appropriately enthusiastic for Tracie’s victory, but also made a crucial emcee-ing mistake. The next act, Scott Mouro, had the polar opposite energy and focus. Whereas Tracie used herself and body in a purposeful, political and entertaining way, Mr. Mouro seemed the victim of his own library demeanor, opening up with acknowledging the sound guy who was his life partner and then took us on a way too personal journey into the shame of coming out to your Southern family. I’m assuming Anne-Marie booked all the acts and therefore knew what was coming. And, what would’ve been very helpful to everyone, including and especially Scott, was if the emcee had done the following: “Let’s hear it one more time for Tracie Walker!” Let the steam out of the room. Next, knowing full well that Scott Mouro’s act had the energy of a mortician eating porridge, Ms. Symons should have toned herself down first, preparing the audience’s focus ready for something much more subtle, something that requires full attention. Instead, she brought out Scott like he was the next trapeze artist, which made it very hard for anyone to focus on the subtleties of being slightly out of place, which is what his act was all about. Closing out the evening was Southern Belle Bobby Oliver, who’d dismiss that moniker as she clung proudly to the front porch of her trailer home. “I recently gave up caffeine and sugar…Luckily I didn’t give up beer and weed!” was exactly the kind of line this audience wanted and needed to hear. Pot jokes. “You’all know I’ve been living in LA too long because I put bottled water in my bong” is not only very funny, but said everything Martians needed to know about LA 2012. Lines like, “The last time I had sex with someone other than my husband, gas was a dollar,” had one foot in the River of Joan and the other foot up the audience’s ass; because this comic doesn’t take shit in life and that includes dumbass audiences. She likes to talk dirty to her husband, so she hired a ghost writer for sex-talk…and ends up fucking the ghost writer is pure Billy Wilder or Preston Sturges. Bobby Oliver may not yet have the respect sometimes snotty LA can be, but it is clear she cuts her own way and after all, isn’t that what we really want from our comedians? To lead us from the madness and confusion of our own lives and into and through the Wicked Forrest of Sick and Demented Thoughts; where, if we’re lucky enough, will not end in sleepy fields of medical marijuana poppies, as we reach out to the ever-distant and misty castle of the Wizard himself.
I give Mod Vod 6 out of 8 Menorahs!
Enjoy the Veal,
Steven Alan Green
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