Tag Archives: George Carlin

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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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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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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Remembering Robert Schimmel

Another great one left us far too soon.

I couldn’t believe the news when I heard it; I had been travelling and hadn’t even known he was in the accident the week before. The first time I checked in to see what was up on the news, there it was. I knew I wanted to write something about his passing but I needed time to collect my thoughts. Like most sudden shocks, I think a part of me was hoping that it was just a bad dream.

Goddamn it.

Talk about irony – one of the funniest routines on Robert Schimmel’s first album was about his daughter cracking up her car (and his solution for how to pay the bill let you know immediately which side of the PC fence Bob was sitting). Now, tragically, Robert died not from the cancer he had suffered from, but from injuries suffered in an automobile accident, his daughter behind the wheel. Maybe God has a twisted sense of humor after all.

I think those of us who followed his career figured that he was bulletproof by now. Diagnosed with cancer, Schimmel not only fought back but made lemons out of lemonade, using his personal tragedies as the source of brilliant material in both his stand-up act and his book Cancer On Five Dollars A Day.

Video: 1994 Las Vegas special

My good friend Bill and I have long enjoyed turning each other on to new comics we come across, and when Schimmel hit the radar it was Bill who was on board first. As always, he was on the horn to me as quickly as possible with his stamp of approval, an imprimatur that I consider gold. And he was spot on – one listen to Comes Clean and I was sold for life. Here was a guy who suffered no fools, especially himself, and made no bones about the fact that we all engaged in some strange and stupid behavior on a daily basis.

No letdowns after that debut album, either – If You Buy This CD I Can Get This Car, Unprotected and Life Since Then (much of the latter also parsed as Reserection) skewered everything – religion, family, social morality, sex, celebretards and…did I mention sex? Bob had flawless delivery and could spin a great story, but somewhere in there he’d weave in a bit about bestiality or masturbation or porn films like other comics tell airplane jokes.

Video: Total Gym

Most great comics suffer pain, and Schimmel had anything but an easy life – divorce, heart attack, cancer, cirrhosis, hepatitis C infection – even the death of his young son. But nothing was safe when it came to his material, and to be able to knock back those challenges with humor is almost superhuman.

Schimmel was uncompromising – sexual, sarcastic humor flowed out of him so naturally that even some who would normally be offended by such topics and language would have to laugh. Like all great comics, he spoke truth – exaggerated truth, sure, but his material rang clear and genuine. If you’re going to do edgy stand-up, you need to see life through a different prism than most everyone else. Why would we waste time listening to someone who can’t?

Video: The All Girls School

Rodney Dangerfield gave him an early break – as he did for so many up and comers – but thanks to the tone and content of Bob’s act, network television was not in the cards. He was a huge success on pay cable and uncensored radio, but watching this guy work a room was the only way to truly appreciate him.

Naturally the cancer treatment affected his performance; his voice was a bit weaker and his stamina and energy had clearly waned. But his mind was as sharp as ever, and he learned to shift down a gear to still dazzle with great inflections and impeccable timing.  Sixty wasn’t an age, it was a speed.

Schimmel story about Rodney Dangerfield

Schimmel story about George Carlin

I know people die every day, we all lose them, it happens every year and as one gets older the list of those gone by gets staggering. But that doesn’t make it easy. I was shook when he was diagnosed, but I got to see him perform and speak with him briefly not long afterwards and he had the same manic glint in his eye as before. Seeing that recharged me, and frankly I believed that he had kicked cancer’s ass…or at least scared it away for a little while.

Video: Hollywood Squares

Now I’m remembering the countless times I have all but done a spit-take listening to his routines. I’m thinking about the time I saw him play a small club and gradually win over an audience who had no idea what they were in for when he first took the stage. I’m thankful that I have so much of his work available to pull out and watch and listen to whenever I want. And I’ll always remember that look in his eye after that last show.

So many gone. George Carlin. Bill Hicks. Sam Kinison. Richard Pryor. Rodney Dangerfield. Richard Jeni. Mitch Hedberg. Now Robert Schimmel.

I’m sad. I’m pissed. But I feel blessed that I was here to see him first-hand and enjoy his masterful work. R.I.P.,  Bob.

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Manic Mondays

Yeah, I know it’s Sunday. I don’t want you to be late!

Love Bill Burr; one of my favorite comics. He’s mastered the art of balancing naked self-deprecation and outward anger issues.  That way you don’t get on him for being too cranky because he’s beating himself up about as badly as anyone else in his cross-hairs. And while I’ve always liked his work – his CDs are consistently funny – I think he’s really found his voice the past couple of years, and I’ll bet ranting into a recorder every Monday has had a lot to do with it.

I don’t do iTunes, so if I want to keep track of podcasts I like I have to remember to log onto the website and listen or download. Amish of me, I know, but it’s a good way to check how senile I’m getting if I don’t remember where to go or who I like to hear. I’ve toasted Marc Maron’s WTF before, and even had a TGIF on podcasts where he and  Burr were included. But I think it’s time for a reminder because Bill is taking his to a new level.

After my Sam Kinison piece yesterday I dropped a note on a forum talking about how lucky we were to have had Kinson, Richard Pryor, Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Hicks and George Carlin all out there swinging at the same time. It wasn’t that long ago, and now they’re all gone. I followed by mentioning that it made me appreciate having Doug Stanhope and Bill Burr and Marc Maron around; three guys who are fearless and funny.

A kind fellow forum member hipped me that Maron had just done a guest spot on Burr’s podcast on Monday, and the exchange included some Kinison stories. This stunned me because Burr (to my knowledge) had never had a guest on before. Having an wildcard like Maron as a guest would be entertaining, but if he was telling road stories, this could be great. And it was.

The two are friends, and the conversation is all over the map, from road behavior to alcoholism to organized religion to puritanical audience members with checklists of taboo subjects. But the highlight is Maron recalling a few incidents from his days at the Comedy Store, especially when Sam would blow into town. Even though he has told the stories before, you can tell Maron is enjoying Burr hearing them for the first time.

Listen to the April 5 poscast here.

So if you aren’t already on board with Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast, I’m doling out this invite today so you can sign up and be ready for new madness tomorrow. Maybe it won’t take away the pain of a dull week, but at least Monday will be better. The early episodes (where Burr used to launch a stream of consciousness rant) are hilarious enough, but here he demonstrates a great affinity for hosting a one-to-one interview; I hope this is the first of many.

You can sign up on iTunes through the above link. Or (if you’re a Luddite like me) you can simply select any of the past episodes and stream them. Either way, don’t miss it.

Bill was a guest on Maron’s WTF podcast in January: Episode 37.

Bill Burr website

Mark Maron website

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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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T.G.I.F. – Ten Wishes for 2010 Comebacks

 

Happy New Year! Many of us look upon January 1st as a fresh start, a chance to wipe the slate clean and start a new plan. For others, it’s an opportunity and a challenge to make a mark in life, to have a sense of purpose and accomplish a goal. And for pop culture freaks, it’s a chance to wonder what the year ahead has in store, as every year brings us some wonderful surprises, whether a great album or a new TV show. Who will occupy our thoughts in 2010? Certainly there will be some new breakout artists, but as always, some blasts from the past will knock us for a loop as well. 

All too often we take our cultural heroes for granted, expecting them to continually churn out yet another book or album or screenplay at the same pinnacle of quality. If they hibernate or quit, we pine that they walked away too early. Yet if they start to slip, we pounce upon them for overstaying their welcome and selling out. But our culture seems preoccupied with success and redemption, so we seem to be especially cognizant of those who recapture some past glory, especially if the road since then was paved with difficulty. 

I used to be among the camp that wanted to leave well enough alone – don’t tarnish a reputation with a comeback, but walk off on top and disappear into legend. With very few exceptions, no one does that voluntarily; it’s usually an untimely death that cements a legend. James Dean might have made as many horrible film choices as Robert DeNiro had he lived into his sixties. Had Elvis died while in the service, he’d still be larger than life, only not literally. But instead we usually witness a fall from grace – Willie Mays playing center for the Mets, Dick Clark still counting down New Year’s Eve. 

But after seeing Mott The Hoople reform in 2009, after watching Jim McCarty and Johnny Badanjek rocking like they were teenagers again, after having Dana Gould and Steven Wright release hilarious new albums years after I thought they were done with it all, I’ve jumped ship. Life is short – give me all I can handle. Not everyone will succeed, but I can swallow the moments of ineptitude for a calculated risk that there will be moments of pure magic that otherwise never would have happened. 

So with that caveat in mind, here are ten reunions, revivals and/or comebacks I’d like to see this year…a few of which might actually happen! 

Risk and Reward

The Faces – A test run happened late this year where Ian McLagan, Ronnie Wood and Kenney Jones finally gave up on Rod Stewart‘s false promises and played a gig without him. If only they would have done this while Ronnie Lane was still alive, but throw in Glen Matlock on bass and someone like Sulo of The Diamond Dogs on vocals and this could be magic. 

Arrested Development – Maybe line-for-line the funniest television comedy ever, and it’s a crime that something that great couldn’t find a strong audience let alone a network exec with a spine who would have kept it on the air for the sake of art. (Yeah, right) Rumors about a movie continue to swirl – please get it done before it’s too late! 

RockpileBilly Bremner is playing music in Europe, Nick Lowe is still great but sedate, and…well, where the hell is Dave Edmunds, anyway? Technically they only made one album although all those Lowe and Edmunds records were really Rockpile albums in disguise. Seconds of Pleasure turns thirty this year – how about a sequel? 

Eric RobertsMickey Rourke was right – if someone would just give Eric Roberts a chance, I think he’d knock the ball out of the park. After all these years tolerating his sister’s horrible movies, I think Hollywood owes me a film where Roberts has a great role to sink his teeth into. Tarantino, you listening? 

The Kinks – Come on, guys, even The Zombies have managed to get back together. Dave is recovering but back out on the stage, and Ray’s work over the past couple of years has been among his best. There’s an entire generation who hasn’t seen the band live on stage. Please guys…one for the road

Mel Brooks – I know he’s having great success reviving old hits on Broadway, and I know he’s in his eighties. But he’s still one of the quickest, sharpest wits around and perhaps five years after losing the great Anne Bancroft he will dig deep for one more devastating comedy film. 

The J. Geils Band – Peter Wolf still has the chops, and lord knows we need a band that doesn’t take itself so seriously. A kickass band with a guy who knew what being a front man was all about, their party atmosphere the antithesis to indie shoegazing. 

David Simon – The man gave us two of the finest television shows in history – Homicide and The Wire. Both scripted dramas were far more real than any of that reality TV crap that we drown in today. Save us, David. 

Tonio K. – I think I wish this every year. Not sure if he’s flying well under my radar or just involved in other projects (like assembling a blues compilation) but it’s been over a decade since Gadfly Records released his reissues and almost twenty since an album of new material. America needs all the cynics it can get.

Robert KleinGeorge Carlin might have been the one to make the most of the opportunity, but it was Robert Klein who helped put HBO on the map with his comedy specials. Whip-smart and multi-talented, I can’t believe that the events of the past several years haven’t inspired him to create a new hour of material. We need you, sir. 

"You start something this time, we all get a half-life, go figure it out on your own..."

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