Tag Archives: Bill Hicks

Stewart Lee Rides Again

The new season of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle is upon us.

Not everyone gets Lee. Then again, not everyone got Bill Hicks, or Lenny Bruce, or Mort Sahl for that matter. There are those today who don’t “get” Doug Stanhope or Louis CK or Marc Maron, either. Y’know…because they don’t tell “jokes”

“There’s that word again: jokes. Does it matter if Lee doesn’t have jokes, in the usual sense? Is his humour, mainly derived from a tortuous style and pregnant pauses, hilarious on its own merits? The gag of Lee’s performance is that he’s not prepared to give general audiences what they expect from stand-up comedy — with a pace that makes Steven Wright look like Lee Evans. Lee would rather breakdown the minutiae of his own material, during the gig itself, and preempt audience criticism in the moment.”

Read the rest of Dan Owen’s piece here.

Load up on Stewart Lee here and here.

R.I.P. Jackie Cooper.

Famous to many for The Champ, also for his career rebirth in the Superman movies. But when I was a kid, I knew him best as the towhead who had a big crush on Miss Crabtree. I didn’t blame him.

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Best Comedy DVDs of 2010: #2, #1

We conclude the countdown of the ten best comedy DVDs of 2010…

#2) Jim Jefferies: Alcoholocaust

Foul-mouthed, inebriated and a master storyteller, Jefferies will no doubt read enough reviews comparing him to Billy Connolly, at least the early era version. While that’s a worthy compliment, it does him a disservice, for Jefferies has evolved into a ribald storyteller whose annual assaults on Edinburgh draw earned comparisons to George Carlin, Bill Hicks and Richard Pryor. I don’t know what type of Hell he has visited, but he came back with a bag of demons that need to be excised, and the more pints that he consumes, the more he rattles that bag. Clearly a skilled and disciplined writer, he hits the stage with absolutely no inhibitions and a fuck you attitude. He’s going to tell the truth as he sees it, and if afterwards you are left like chum in the water, so be it.

Whether he’s cursing out a heckler, cracking a vulgar joke or spinning a yarn that will have you gasping for breath, Jefferies is consistently gut-busting funny. He’s often crass, sexist and graphic, but he’s relentless. His closing story is about trying to set up his childhood friend with a hooker…a friend who is disabled and terminally ill, by the way. Somehow he blends this hilarious over-the-top yarn with the men’s code of honor so that when you piss yourself laughing, you feel noble while doing it. (Comedy Central UK)

***

#1) Stewart Lee: If You Prefer A Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One

For sheer cerebral comedy entertainment, I don’t think there’s a better comedian on the planet right now than Stewart Lee. Erudite and culturally aware, his shows tend to evolve around a half-dozen thoughts at most, yet he mines them with the efficiency of a master surgeon and gets every scrap of meat off the bone. He’s not going to dumb down for you, and if you’re not paying attention, you’ll still laugh at the surface but totally miss the deeper, better levels. He’s had an amazingly prolific career, and although not as well-known in the States he is (rightfully) a legend in the UK. And as great as his recorded legacy is, this latest show might be his masterwork.

What I love about this show is the way you get the full monty – the brilliant opening with its impeccable timing and sight gags, the deep-seated rants against some celebretards clogging the television, an involved story that keeps going further than you dared think it would and then a burst of actual physical comedy with exasperated fourth-wall pleas and overt call backs. And then as a close, the three worst words in the English language – comedian with guitar – juggles both a transcendent emotional moment and a priceless tangent. Lee gives it to you straight, like a pear cider made from 100 percent pears. Absolutely brilliant. (Comedy Central UK)

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Best Comedy Albums of 2010: #3-2-1

Year End List caveat: I’m splitting comedy albums apart from comedy DVD projects, so if someone had a DVD that was basically the same as the album I’m rating it as an album. If someone winds up in the DVD category that doesn’t mean their album wasn’t top ten material…just trying to find some way of being fair. That said, there’s not an item on either of these lists that I don’t think is worth your immediate attention…click to hear clips and judge for yourself!

Maybe the most amazing thing about my list – and I didn’t realize what was happening until after I locked everything down – is that nine of the top ten were debut albums. That is partially due to the likelihood that an established seller will more likely get the financial backing for a DVD project. But it also signals the fact that a group of brilliant writers and performers (many of whom have been staff writers for successful and established shows and performers) are getting an opportunity to get their unique voices out there. 

It’s heartbreaking to realize how many great comic minds we’ve lost in recent years, but it’s reassuring to know that so many have picked up the torch.

Finalizing a top ten was tough, determining the top three was exasperating.

But here we go…

***

#03: Kyle Kinane, DEATH OF THE PARTY

Great imagery and material; immediately captivating with an incredibly original style. Sure, he looks and sounds disheveled, but this album straddles the line between stream of consciousness riffing and nuggets of cosmic gold. I will always marvel at the way Mitch Hedberg’s brain worked for puns and one-liners; and I think Kinane’s storytelling presentation is on that same level of greatness.  (A Special Thing Records)

***

#02: Anthony Jeselnik, SHAKESPEARE

He might be the smartest writer out there; if you don’t believe it just ask him! Deliberate slow pacing, where he clearly enunciates every word to squeeze every nuance, silence and twist for maximum effect. You have to be very skillful to present yourself as an arrogant know-it-all constantly baiting the audience, but when your CD is one perfectly constructed joke after another, you are acquitted. (Comedy Central Records)

***

#01: Auggie Smith, SMELL THE THUNDER

A great combination of social exasperation, political/religious commentary and brilliant writing. Smith’s album is a blend of Patton Oswalt, Dave Attell, Lewis Black, Bill Hicks and Doug Stanhope – basically everything I like about standup comedy. Great pacing, exceptional delivery and inflection, and even his throw-away lines are hilarious. In a year when many strong comedy albums were released, this was the cream of the crop. (Rooftop Comedy)

***

Next week: The Best Comedy DVDs of 2010.

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Dave

Ever flip channels and stop on a movie you’ve seen a few times, but you settle in to watch it anyway? Of course you have. And when it’s heavily does with commercials, and you’re thinking “I have that DVD” but you sit there anyway? Okay…maybe that’s just lazy…but that must be one good movie. Usually it’s a broad comedy I can quote line for line, like Caddyshack or Major League or Animal House. It usually isn’t a plot-driven movie.

But tonight that happened to me with Dave. Again.

The plot, simple but brilliant – a corrupt administration finds a look-alike to double for a critically ill President so they can continue their illegal agenda. Kevin Kline as the titular character is the head of a temp agency, a nice guy who puts others before him and a dead ringer for the incapacitated President. At first agreeable to follow orders, he soon sees both the diseased plans of the ambitious Chief Of Staff (Frank Langella, great as always) but also the opportunity to do something for the right reasons.

Director Ivan Reitman had stumbled badly after a winning trifecta (Meatballs/Stripes/Ghostbusters), but this film resurrected his credibility. The cast is uniformly brilliant, with Sigourney Weaver, Ving Rhames and Kevin Dunn providing excellent support. Don’t even get me started on the brilliance of Kline, surely one of the most underrated actors of his generation. Great cameo roles for Bonnie Hunt and Laura Linney. And a Charles Grodin sighting? That’s bonus points, son. And kudos to Gary Ross, who also scripted other movies with big heart like Big and Pleasantville.

The only sad thing about Dave is that it makes me wish our leaders had those same unselfish, uncorrupted qualities. Much like Dennis Haysbert’s performance as President Palmer on the early episodes of 24, I came away wishing that just this once, fantasy could be reality. But they don’t, and it’s not.

But there I go again, talking about the deeper meaning of a film that is ultimately a redemption story about second chances and good triumphing over evil. Sometimes, even in the guise of light comedy, deeper points can be made. And when flipping channels on a Monday night, sometimes a well made movie can be appreciated for being  just that.

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Stand Up Wit…The 100 Best?

When I first posted this blog almost two years ago, I added the bulk of the content on the tabbed sections, which are more static than the main page. No need to update my essay on comedy that often, for example. It’s a pretty straightforward piece about how I got interested in stand-up, some of the classics who knocked my socks off and where my tendencies and loyalties lie. The main thrust of the piece is that most people take comedy for granted and settle for the lowest common denominator, largely because they are not exposed to the more unique and daring comedians unless they make an effort to seek them out. And not many people look for things they don’t know exist.

Part of that essay was a link to Comedy Central’s list of the Top 100 Stand-Up Comedians of all time, a 2004 ranking that like most lists is jammed with hits and misses. Hard to argue with a top three of Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Lenny Bruce, but when Louis CK is sitting at #98 and Ricky Gervais doesn’t even make the list, it’s time for an update. The report was assembled by Comedy Central staff and management polling a group of comedians, although some accused the network of goosing up the ratings of some comics who had product on the label and/or specials on the network. (That logic fails to explain Freddie Prinze at a lofty #49, though.)

Across the Big Pond, of course, things are a bit different – many of their great comics are complete unknowns over here, and there are several panel shows that provide them an opportunity to become more familiar to the audience. And the UK list was voted upon by the public, so it tends to skew way younger and more mainstream, although even the general public proves they appreciated Bill Hicks more than we did. (I thought  we learned that lesson with Jimi Hendrix…) Here’s the new top ten:

1 BILLY CONNOLLY
2 RICHARD PRYOR
3 RICKY GERVAIS
4 BILL HICKS
5 EDDIE IZZARD
6 PETER KAY
7 BILL BAILEY
8 CHRIS ROCK
9 MICHAEL MCINTYRE
10 VICTORIA WOOD

In a word…wow.

 There were a lot of changes between the 2007 and 2010 lists and some of them are completely laughable. I can understand the increase in popularity for people like Sean Lock and especially Stewart Lee, but Lee Mack and Alan Carr just blew by too many people for my taste. And Michael McIntrye goes from nowhere to the 9th greatest standup in history? But George Burns falls off the list? Some veterans made upward moves, although still vastly underrated (Bill Cosby, George Carlin) while others (Joan Rivers, Lenny Bruce) took a serious tumble. Ah, those silly gits.

Here’s the updated 2010 list. Happy grumbling!



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Stand Up Wit…Joe Rogan

Good to see comedian Joe Rogan becoming a bit more prolific. After a brilliant debut in 2000 (I’m Gonna Be Dead Someday) and an under-the-radar followup (Live From The Belly Of The Beast) the next Spring, almost seven years passed before new material was released. Talking Monkeys In Space makes three releases in the past four years, and I’m hoping he keeps punching – while not classics, there’s enough solid material to recommend them, and Rogan’s style is engagingly honest and approachable.

Joe’s material isn’t going to break any new barriers; the bulk of it here deals with getting off, getting high and the magnificence of daily life when those two urges are properly satisfied. As a new father, he’s also seeing the circle of life come full circle, which leads to some funny revelations but also some uninspired bits about breast milk. I found his bits on evolution and psychedelics to be the (ahem) high point of the show; some of my favorite comics (Doug Stanhope, Bill Hicks) are psychic explorers and their material is so much better for it.

The length of the actual set is alarmingly short, but he does follow up by placing a couple of mikes in the audience for a Q&A session. Must admit that I cringed at the thought, dreading a series of ridiculous questions about Fear Factor and the UFC, two things I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about. But Joe rips into each audience member in clever and playful ways, both mocking their (mostly) inane questions and yet answering them with great appreciation. It’s obvious that the crowd has great affection and loyalty to him, and when an audience has your back no matter what, you can be free to do anything. 

What’s endearing about Rogan is that he has no delusions about being a “star”. He readily admits that his exposure on television has given him the opportunity to have a career in comedy, whether a good experience like NewsRadio or a ridiculous paycheck like Fear Factor. There’s a great moment when someone asks him about getting started in the business and he discusses the long and painful road of failing miserably to learn from your mistakes. It’s no wonder that comics who rip others off get under his skin so much.

Listen to clips at Amazon

Joe Rogan podcast

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R.I.P. Greg Giraldo

I was all set to type an essay about Arthur Penn, the distinguished director who just passed away at 88, when I received word that Greg Giraldo passed away this afternoon. Arthur, you’re going to have to be patient with me.

I was saddened to hear that you passed on today, but you’ve had a long life filled with achievements and recognition. When you’re pushing 90, the news is sad but not shocking. Giraldo, on the other hand, was literally half your age. This year, thanks to some major network face time, it seemed like his career was finally transcending from revered cult audience to the widespread acclaim that he so richly deserved. And now he’s gone, forever, four days after being rushed to the hospital in critical condition.

I am heartbroken.

My condolences to his family and many friends, as well as the millions of people around the world whose days – hell, lives were brightened by his comedy.

Video: Just For Laughs

Greg, I hope you are finally at peace.

I hope you can tell Mitch Hedberg how much we miss him. Please give Richard Jeni a hug, and I’ll bet Robert Schimmel could use one as well.

And please confirm that Andy Kaufman is really up there. If Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix could hold their tongue for two years, there’s still a chance Andy is laughing his ass off somewhere in Minnesota. With Elvis.

There will be a hole in my heart every time I watch a Roast knowing how much better you would have made it. But I can only imagine how great the roasts are on the other side, with Hedberg and Kinison and Pryor and Hicks and Lenny and Carlin and Rodney…that room is a little too full, if you know what I mean. Tell the people in charge we need the giants down here, especially now.

And thank you for every smile you put on my face, every laugh that overtook me, every tear that flowed from my eyes because I was doubled over and gasping for air. You had a gift and you shared it with me. I’ll have to make do with the albums and DVDs and internet videos…and memories.

Rest in Peace, brother.

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