Category Archives: Comedy

Reviews of comedy CDs

Louie

Shameless? More like fearless.

So I’ve been catching up on life after the sabbatical, and given the need to lift the spirits I opted to start with the saved episodes of Louie and Wilfred. There is too much to see and not enough time, and since I had been fairly current with both shows before the departure, they seemed like the logical places to start. Wilfred, of course, did not disappoint – still riotously funny and as black a comedy as we’re likely to get on television this year.

But Louie is playing at another level.

Where last year’s shows had been irreverent and original, the second season of Louie is exponentially greater. Not only has Louis CK become a better actor – partially because his character is so much richer – but the writing has been sharper, darker, and yes, fearless. He’s always been able to write himself as the central figure in uncomfortable situations, but now he is not only scripting extended guest roles into the mix, he’s getting compelling performances from fellow comedians.

Doug Stanhope’s recent turn as a bitter and despondent road comic was outstanding, as he skewered the celebrity of mass appeal comedians while reaching some poignant conclusions about his own life. So too was the performance from Joan Rivers, playing herself, chastising Louie on his lack of work ethic and his inability to overcome insecurity. Although Stanhope’s “Eddie” was a fictional character, he inhabited it with much of his own persona; he was the yang to Rivers’ yin as polar opposites on the comedy hierarchy.

But the jaw-dropping moment had to be Dane Cook, who Louis humbles himself to meet backstage at a gig hoping to score some Lady Gaga tickets for his daughters (the logic is that Gaga and Cook share an agent). In the scene, Cook – who has long been accused of ripping off jokes from Louis CK in real life – is bitter towards TV Louie for not coming out in his defense. Louie explains that although he didn’t think Cook stole the jokes on purpose, he likely knew that they had come from somewhere else and didn’t really stop himself, either. TV Cook is clearly angered by the lingering accusations, and amazed that Louie would still put himself through the humiliation just to get the tickets, but both men get to speak their piece without either really backing down.

About halfway through this exchange, I realized that I was watching two people who didn’t want to have this conversation in public actually have this conversation in public, albeit within the framework of a script. As clever as it was for Louis the writer, it was an equally ballsy move by Cook to participate.

And that’s just one part of one episode. Louie will not likely win the award for best comedy or best drama, but right now it just might be both.

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Finally, Barney Miller.

Finally, the entire classic series is available.

Barney Miller ranks right up there with Soap, Cheers, Taxi and the other great sitcoms of the 70s and 8os, although up until now it has gotten sold short in the home video market. Thanks to Shout Factory, yet another great blast from the past gets the proper treatment with a box set complete with extras.

I must admit I’m a little PO’d that they didn’t release the other seasons individually, but the reason is that Sony didn’t sell enough of the first three seasons to warrant releasing the remainder. But at the price – certain to dip a bit over time – I can buy the whole shebang cheaper than if I picked up the remainder of the shows year by year. Eight seasons and one hundred sixty-eight episodes plus commentaries, booklets and even the first series of Vigoda’s spin-off, Fish. That’s a great deal, even at list price.

Video: some early highlights

I won’t go overboard trying to sell you on the show; like most long-running programs there is enough video and commentary to let you make up your own mind. But it does give me a chance to tip my cap to a great ensemble who provided me with years of laughter over eight seasons: Hal Linden, Barbara Barrie, Abe Vigoda, Jack Soo, Ron Glass, Max Gail, Greg Sierra, James Gregory, Ron Carey, and my favorite, the late great Steve Landesberg. The parade of oddball guest stars in the precinct house also featured a bevy of now-recognizable actors.

So I guess my Dad (who loved the show) will be the beneficiary of my three seasonal box sets. Come October, I’m all in on Barney Miller.

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Birthday Party

Why do certain dates feature a gaggle of celebrity birthdays?

Maybe it’s just that a lot of people are born in early July, which…hmmm…would be nine months after the kids finally go back to school. Coincidence? Frightening to track your own conception back nine months and try to find a reason. I’m a week off from being an obvious St. Patrick’s Day conception myself.

Songwriter and producer Lee Hazlewood would have been 82 today. Singer Marc Almond, drummer Mitch Mitchell and even Root Boy Slim (of the Sex Change Band – that one’s for you, Billy Campbell) would be sharing a cake. Bon Scott died at 33, so it’s hard to picture him fronting AC/DC at 65, but that’s’ what he would have been doing today. Jack White, who is helping to coordinate the Michigan Music Festival I wrote about, is still a spry 36.

Some great actors were born today – Brian Dennehy, Tom Hanks, Jimmy Smits, the underrated and magnificent Chris Cooper. Fred Savage, who survived child stardom to become a solid director and producer, is still only 35. Pam Adlon – so wonderful as Louie CK’s wife in Lucky Louie and a producer and recurring character on his current show Louie (they really have to work on their show names) turns a MILF-y 45.

Of course, not all celebrants are nice people. Some might have even offed their spouses and gotten away with it, like this guy and that chick.

Odds are it’s someone’s birthday among the Prescription readers. So if you don’t have any plans, at least now you know some parties you can crash. (It’s going to be a little quiet at the Scott and Mitchell houses, but the rest should be rocking…)

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Children’s Hospital

After the first two seasons, I didn’t think it could get stranger.

Wrong!

A parody of hospital dramas and soap operas that started as a webseries on the WB, Rob Corddry’s show was eventually picked up by Adult Swim and is now in its third season. Episodes are only twelve minutes long, but consistently hilarious, irreverent, absurd and cutting edge. You don’t have to be familiar with (or abhor) the source material to appreciate the jokes, although I’m sure there are subtle zingers that I’m missing. and while there is some thread of continuity, any episode is extremely watchable as a drop-in. That’s how I found it, and I’m thrilled it made it to DVD.

It’s not really a children’s hospital – it’s named after Dr. Childrens – and yes, that clown doctor tries to cure people with the healing power of laughter. It’s sexist and racist and vulgar and offensive to every religion and nationality, but absurdly so; it deflates these vile emotions by exposing how ridiculous they are. Corddry, Jonathan Stern and David Wain have created a show that follows the path of Arrested Devlopment and makes a hard left turn. It’s not for everyone, but neither are cashews.

The ensemble cast is airtight, featuring Malin Akerman, Lake Bell, Erinn Hayes, Rob Huebel, Ken Marino, Megan Mullally and Henry Winkler. Frequent guest stars like Nick Offerman and Nick Kroll add to the madness, and Michael Cera’s character of Sal Viscuso is a great running gag as well as a clever tribute. In the closing episode of Season Two (“The Sultan’s Finger”) the show perfectly mocked the recent trend of comedy shows fawning over their ability to perform a live broadcast, combined with a priceless nod to Tootsie (Jon Hamm can do no wrong).

Combined with Delocated and the upcoming National Terrorism Strike Force: San Diego: Sport Utility Vehicle (a spin-off from CH that starts July 21st), Adult Swim has a 1-2-3 punch that will keep me going all summer.

Children’s Hospital at Adult Swim

Children’s Hospital episodes

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Major League – Another Sequel?

As my team craps the bed with the worst record in baseball, thoughts turn to happier rawhide moments. I don’t know of any baseball fan who doesn’t love the movie Major League. There are several great baseball movies, from Fear Strikes Out to Bull Durham, but none is as quotable.

Talk now centers around another sequel, either the second or the third, depending upon whether you count Major League III (sorta the Godfather III of the franchise). Many of the major actors are not only available, but willing. Let’s face it, Corbin Bernsen and Tom Berenger aren’t getting a lot of A-list offers, and Charlie Sheen has some time on his hands. Dennis Haysbert – and don’t you wish you had President Palmer handling our problems in 2011 – has given thumbs up as has Bob Uecker.

I found it hilarious that director David Ward hired Uecker as the announcer based upon his funny Miller Lite commercials, not realizing that Uecker was the announcer for the Milwaukee Brewers. Just goes to show you that when ESPN thinks only two teams matter, many Americans follow suit.

I’m hoping they do this. Baseball is such a rich subject, with so many in-jokes as low hanging fruit, that making a funny script should be easy. The trick will be finding actors who look convincing playing baseball. Things like this just won’t pass muster these days.

But damn, I’ll miss James Gammon.

Click here to read Sports Illustrated’s oral history of the film.

Click here for ten revealing facts about the original film.

Lou Brown plays for the angels now...

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Happy Birthday, Mel Brooks!

I was flipping channels and caught the end of the Get Smart movie starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway, and while it was mildly entertaining, I couldn’t help think how it paled in comparison to the brilliantly written series.

Of course, I can watch that whenever I want – a majestic box set.

And it made me miss Mel Brooks. Yes, I know he’s alive, and a spry 85 at that (pickles are nutritious, you know). But Woody Allen keeps spitting out films at a rapid pace, occasionally hitting the high marks again. But he’s long since given up zany comedy. Most of today’s comedy films are so broad and cliché that they quickly fade from memory. But the world of today is a crazy, insane place. We need crazy, insane comedy.

We need Mel Brooks now more than ever. I know he has lost so many of his reliable company; Harvey Korman, Marty Feldman, Dom DeLuise, Rudy DeLuca, Madeline Kahn, Ron Carey and Kenneth Mars have all left this mortal coil.

But as Mel himself would say, “we have much to do and less time to do it in.”

Happy Birthday, Mel! Now get busy

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R.I.P. Wild Man Fischer

One of the great things about college radio – at least back then – was that you could play anything you wanted to. I had a late night radio show where pretty much anything hit the airwaves depending upon my mood, whether it was progressive rock, powerpop or comedy. Since there were no commercials – and since I refused to play the news that was recorded and scheduled for the top of the hour – four hours of programming was a shape-shifting blob of whimsy.

Except for times when I would play a lengthy prog tune (often an entire album side) to buy myself time for a snack and a bathroom break, the world was my aural oyster. The station was serviced by most record companies, although thanks to collegiate theft, we usually had to bring our own vinyl. The station was usually staffed by the DJ and no one else, so many of the classics disappeared not long after their arrival.

One album that didn’t was An Evening With Wild Man Fischer.

Look at that cover. And this was an effort blessed by Frank Zappa? If you’re a college DJ in the early 70’s, you have to put that on the turntable. And when you did, the first thing you heard was a deranged man yelping the refrain of  “Merry Go Round” over percussion supplied by paint buckets and tambourines. You really don’t want a song like this stuck in your head:

Come on, let’s merry-go, MERRY-go, merry-go-round.
Boop-boop-boop.
Merry-go, MERRY-go, merry-go-round.
Boop-boop-boop. …

Video: “Merry Go Round

And it just got stranger from there. Of course, when you’re young and immature, you’re not thinking to yourself  “here’s a guy who’s obviously suffering from a mental disorder; this is sad“. No…you’re playing this for anyone who will listen and laughing your asses off in disbelief that anyone this atonal actually had a record deal. Given the times, an itinerant street poet dumping his thoughts into a microphone was perfectly acceptable. This was the counterculture, after all.

Video: Wild Man Fischer on the streets

But in reality, Larry Fischer was a man suffering from both acute schizophrenia and manic depression who had been institutionalized as a teen and now took to the streets selling songs for a dime whenever he felt the pep (his word for muse/inspiration, likely when his manic side kicked in). Soon his window of fame with Zappa would close, although he would later get more notoriety via Dr. Demento and by collaborating with Barnes and Barnes; he was also immortalized in comic form.

A quarter century later, on a much bigger stage, the entertainment industry would use William Hung for its own amusement in a far sicker display of public humiliation. But then again, as all television producers have learned, Americans will do anything to get on television, including debasing themselves, in pursuit of what is mistaken for celebrity. Several of the most popular shows on television are based upon the concept of people exposing their faults or fabricating a lifestyle to feed the voyeuristic, isolationist society that we have become. H.L. Menken once said that “nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public“. I don’t think he realized an entire industry would be created in the process.

But these celebretards are all too eager to volunteer. Larry was drafted.

Knowing all that I do about Frank Zappa, what was once a benign thought is now a curious question. Was Frank simply flipping the bird to the pop culture establishment by posturing Fischer as a street poet genius while putting some coin in his and Larry’s pockets? Or was Frank so prescient about the banality of pop culture that this was simply another absurdist cash cow, a latter day Elephant Man who would be carnival-barkered to the public for a short shelf-life and then disposed of when done?

Larry released three records for Rhino, but this original album has never been issued on CD because Gail Zappa owns the rights. (Apparently, Larry once threw a jar at her daughter’s head, terminating his relationship with Frank. Gail can hold a grudge.)Ironically, last week I stumbled across a documentary about Larry’s life entitled Derailroaded. While waiting for my copy to arrive, I hit the Internet on Friday in search of some reviews and comments about the film, which is how I learned of his passing on June 16th.

Larry Fischerdead at 66.

The words rest in peace have rarely been more appropriate.

"My name is Larrrr-y..."

***

And just as was set to release the above post, I learned that The Big Man has sadly left us as well. Clarence Clemons died last night from complications following a recent stroke.

I’ll let Bruce Springsteen’s words say it for me:

Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.”

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