Tag Archives: Bill Maher

Heeeeeere’s Johnny!

Nineteen years ago today, Johnny Carson said goodbye.

Retiring after thirty years at the age of 66, Carson walked away from a show that became part of the fabric of American pop culture. Much like Ed Sullivan’s variety show, unknown performers could become instant superstars just by nailing a single appearance. Carson didn’t start the Tonight Show (Steve Allen and Jack Paar preceded him), nor would he finish it, but his impact upon it and the late-night talk show design will forever be paramount.

Other talk shows of the day were warm and fuzzy (Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas) or a bit cerebral (Dick Cavett); Carson blended both with a parade of incredible guests and a willingness to be as serious or silly as the situation required. He let people be themselves. During his reign, the show’s title became secondary to the man; artists simply referred to “being on Carson“.

On his final night, Carson went out with grace and class:

And so it has come to this: I, uh… am one of the lucky people in the world; I found something I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it. I want to thank the gentlemen who’ve shared this stage with me for thirty years. Mr. Ed McMahon, Mr. Doc Severinsen, and you people watching. I can only tell you that it has been an honor and a privilege to come into your homes all these years and entertain you. And I hope when I find something that I want to do and I think you would like and come back that you’ll be as gracious in inviting me into your home as you have been. I bid you a very heartfelt good night.”

Video: Excerpts from the final show

Although he never came back into the public eye, his legacy lives on through everyone who speaks into a microphone from behind a desk, and the advent of cable television has allowed many students to co-exist in the form. While initially his replacement Jay Leno and his protegé David Letterman split the bulk of the audience, a flood of worthy children now occupy the night-time hours and will be worthy successors to their aging mentors.

Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher have taken the political end of the spectrum to new heights; Stewart is often singled out as the most trusted source of news on television, despite his consistent disclaimer that his is a comedy show. (Speaks volumes about the networks, doesn’t it?).

After holding slots previously occupied by both Leno and Letterman, Conan O’Brien’s new TBS effort proved that people will follow the man, not the show. The embarrassing NBC debacle was followed by the guerilla Team Coco movement, and Conan remains a strong brand and a unique personality.

After shaky starts, Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson and especially Jimmy Fallon have proven to have solid and consistent programs that attract first-rate guests and feature brilliant writing. Along with smaller network show hosts (Chelsea Handler, George Lopez, Mo’Nique, Graham Norton), the comedy/music/chat formula is in good hands.

But to a person, each will point a finger back at the master, Johnny Carson.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Tweety Birds

Six months have passed since my last Tweet, so I am wondering if I should blast out another message. Since I post every day, I guess I don’t see the need to tell people that they should stop by, since twenty-six months of daily posts should be enough to subtly infer that you might want to stop by regularly. I mean, after all, I’m trying to attract readers and thinkers, not someone with the attention span of a gnat on fire.

I really don’t want to waste anyone’s time telling them daily what the daily post is about – you can sign up for email or use an RSS feed for that. and frankly, I don’t think you’d really care that I ate a really great cheeseburger or that I went to a movie in a theatre for the first time in four months or that Mountain Dew still tastes like dog piss, or at least how I imagine dog piss would taste, not having actually sampled the nectar first hand.

But I do occasionally check in on some comedians who Tweet, and for them, the recent Oscar broadcast was like shooting fish in a barrell. I’ve had a long week, so let’s keep it light with Ten Tweeters you should check out – at least for their Oscar wit! Have a great weekend!

(01) – Norm MacDonaldBy the time the dead guy montage starts, Kirk Douglas will be in it

(02) – Nick KrollStutter is the new retard

(03) – Bill MaherIf you’re black and want to make it in Hollywood you better be a swan

(04) – Joan Rivers The smart nominees get Botox injections before the Academy Awards so if they lose, we won’t see the rage lurking behind their frozen faces.”

(05) – Chelsea Peretti I know nothing about fashion but I wanna say shoulder cut-outs were a miscalc

(06) – Drew Carey To everyone disappointed in last nights Oscars: Serves you right for watching in the first place.”

(07) – Moshe Kasher Wow Franco is ruining lines that were pre ruined by the writers.”

(08) – Natasha Leggero Anyone know what corporation is shoving Anne Hathaway down our throats?”

(09) – Patton Oswalt  Whoever hugs Reese is gonna slit their jugular on her jawbone…”

(10) – Whitney Cummings When did Gwyneth Paltrow become the Sarah Palin of country music?

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I Still Miss Tough Crowd

Seven years ago tonight, Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn made its official series debut on Comedy Central (a short test run of the show aired in 2002). A round-table discussion featuring four stand-up comics and host Colin Quinn, Tough Crowd‘s scope was everything and anything – race, religion, politics, current events, celebretards and whatever else the writers and the producers found chat-worthy. Issues would be raised and covered, sometimes a brief skit was included and then some bizarre audience participation games and/or final summaries from the comics would close the show.

It was fast and loose, and although the panelists had an idea of what the topics would be, it was anything but scripted. More often than not the comics would launch into tirades at each other, especially if a joke bombed (as it often would) or someone pandered to the studio audience for an applause break (a mortal sin for the regulars and an excuse for a verbal beat down). And by regulars I mean the most frequent panelists who cycled in and out; it seemed as if at least two of them were on every program. Quinn assembled a veritable All-Star team of cutting-edge comics who were quick on their feet, sarcastic and fearless; that they were also friends made the viewer a fly on the wall in a raucous no-holds-barred bullshit session.

Regulars included comedians Nick DiPaolo, Greg Giraldo, Judy Gold, Jim Norton, Patrice O’Neal, Keith Robinson and Rich Vos. Other frequent guest comics included Dave Attell, Todd Barry, Lewis Black, Billy Burr, Louis C.K., Jim David, Marc Maron and Greg Proops among many, many of the top names that sat in on the madness. It seems like everyone sat in at least once – George Carlin, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Robert Klein…you just weren’t seeing that many amazing comedians that frequently anywhere on television at the time, let alone that informally.

For those not used to him, Quinn seemingly bumbled his way through cue cards and stage directions, but Colin’s style had always been to keep moving forward, even if he ran himself over in the process. And Quinn always insisted that the blown gags, the awkward silences, the comics talking over each other remained in the broadcast, warts and all. Above all, Quinn wanted honesty, and although it was unlike anything else on television and certainly not for everyone, it was real.

Although the panelists did try to score points against each other, and it did give them a chance to work in some topical material, there were several moments when a controversial discussion turned fascinatingly serious and animated. Of course, they drove the car into the brick wall on occasion, too, and that was half the fun.

But soon Comedy Central seemed to stop promoting the show, and whether it was a battle to tighten the structure of the show (no way would Quinn ever do that) or the argumentative nature of the program not fitting in with The Big Picture remains unclear. But they let it die; by the end of 2004 it was over. Comedy Central was having great success with Dave Chappelle, but everything they tried to fill the Tough Crowd slot with – Blue Collar Comedy, Adam Carolla, Graham Norton – died quickly. Every time they come up with a Jeff Dunham Show and it sinks like a stone, I figure it’s just karma biting them in the ass.

Laurie Kilmartin was one of the writers. Her thoughts here.

Many current shows now use the same format – Bill Maher has three guests who discuss issues, but he has both the freedom of language and the restriction of audience that HBO brings. Chelsea Lately has two segments where the host (Chelsea Handler)  riffs on a news item and then has three guest comics pile on (albeit far tamer than Tough Crowd). and now we have the excremental Marriage Ref, which combines the host/panel format with reality television into a train wreck of a program.

There are dozens of Comedy Central products available and a humongous video library online, but Tough Crowd has been buried like a bad habit. No DVD. No reunion special. No re-airing of over two hundred episodes. On that network, Tough Crowd is forgotten.

But not to the fans. It lives and breathes in the hearts of anyone who loved the show.  And so tonight I tip my hat to Colin and Greg and Nick and Jim and Keith and Judy and Patrice and Rich…and all the writers, staffers and producers who had the brains and the hearts and the balls to make controversy entertaining every night.

Here’s hoping Comedy Central does the right thing – even if only to make some money – and makes those shows available again. In a universe where According To Jim stays on the air for eight seasons, surely Tough Crowd fans can be thrown a bone?

Best of Tough Crowd, Part One

Best of Tough Crowd, Part Two

Wiki site

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Stand Up Wit…David Feldman

David Feldman is an award-winning television comedy writer who, despite that success, toiled behind the scenes for years before doing his own material onstage on a regular basis. And when the stand-up appearances were successful, it still took him almost the entire decade to release his first comedy album. Hopefully Left Without Paying will generate enough buzz to prompt him to jumpstart the pace a little bit; I’d like much more from him before I punch my ticket off this mortal coil.

Feldman is pretty old school in his delivery, he enunciates dramatically with a slow and clear cadence. It’s as if a more hyper monologue-centric comedian was slowed down; imagine Rodney Dangerfield not sweating and using a bigger vocabulary, or early Woody Allen with less stutter and more confidence.  As expected from a writer for Dennis Miller and Bill Maher, two comics known for their biting sarcasm, Feldman’s barbs are fast and razor-sharp.

Feldman can dole out quick 1-2 punch lines but also revels in leveraging his physical appearance as a safe and ordinary looking guy to bait the audience into unsuspecting turns. What will start out like an innocuous topic that gets supportive applause will turn on a dime, or he’ll launch into an offensive joke demeaning women or the elderly. Of course, the crowd will take the bait and gasp, which sets him up to feign shock and with a shrug and a dismissive “Whaaat?”

Video: Cannabalism

He wouldn’t be a successful, award-winning writer if he didn’t have a boatload of great jokes, and this CD is loaded with them. I won’t spoil them here, but you’ll be pirating several at the office the next day. Favorites include the greatest Elvis impersonator, wet dreams, frozen sperm, cheating lists, deadbeat kids, the football injury, the Humane society for people…there are a few dry spots, but he’s wry and clever far more often than not. And, of course, wriggling out of a bit gone horribly awry is just as much fun for him.

Video: Sexual Harassment

Recorded with crystal clarity at the Acme Comedy Club in Minneapolis in front of a strong crowd, Left Without Paying is  a solid debut. Although Feldman currently records podcasts, I hope we get another album, and soon.

Buy Left Without Paying here.

David Feldman’s website

David Feldman wiki page and IMDB page

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Irreverent Laughs

Feeling a bit irreverent and acerbic today, and I could really go off on organized religion, and celebretards, and gullible people and mind contol and politics.

But why not leave that to the professionals?

 Life is short. Laugh every day.

comedy mask

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Happy Birthday, Tom Lehrer

Man could tickle those ivories, too.

Man could tickle those ivories, too.

Tom Lehrer is a ripe old 81 today, although that mind is probably still whip-crack smart. One of the first and most popular musical satirists, along with contemporaries like Mort Sahl he was among the new wave of intellectual comedians, although Tom did it best with song rather than story. It would be tough to draw a line back from any satirist, whether a political pundit (i.e. Bill Maher) or ribald songman (Stephen Lynch) without intersecting Lehrer somewhere along the way. Mark Russell might have been more political, Steve Allen more broad; Tom Lehrer was probably your ideal bridge between Mad Magazine and adulthood.

Tom Lehrer’s website.

For those old enough to remember, I’m preaching to the choir, of course. But a generation (or two?) who have grown up laughing at SNL’s Weekend Update (or the latest incarnation, Best Week Ever) might want to check out That Was The Week That Was, featuring a brilliant cast and group of writers (including Monty Python members and even writer Roald Dahl!). As always, an American version was adopted and the names involved are stunners – everyone from Woody Allen and Nichols & May to Gene HackmanBuck Henry and Alan Alda. Lehrer wrote satirical songs for the show, and a collection of them were released after the show left the air. That’s about when I discovered him and realized he was much funnier than the Allan Shermans of the world (no slight on Sherman – Lehrer is sharper than most). Literate and witty – imagine that – a deadly combination.

Happy Birthday, sir!

...and not a bad time to be getting on board, either.

Poisoning Pigeons In The Park

The Masochism Tango

The Vatican Rag

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