Tag Archives: Jay Mohr

Stand Up Wit…Jeffrey Ross

Although I love Jeffrey Ross’s stinging barbs on the Comedy Central Roasts, I was not a fan of his first CD/DVD release, No Offense. Matter of fact, I gave it a kick in the nuts at the time, and I stand by that review; he’s capable of much, much better.

But I need to give credit where credit is due, and over the past few weeks I wound up viewing his film Patriot Act and finally reading his book I Only Roast The Ones I Love. Big thumbs up to both.

The book is a combination of three things – light biography, showbiz back room stories and a how-to-be-a-Roastmaster primer. Credit the author or credit the editors, but it juggled the three topics adeptly and for the most part is a breezy and enjoyable read. The how-to part is obviously written tongue-in-cheek, since being funny is a gift, not a trade. But he offers some valuable tips for the weekend/wedding roaster which should elevate a clumsy act with potential into at least a clumsy act that’s organized.

The bio and backstage bits are well-balanced; lots of caustic one-liners from the roasts, some inside and backstage bits about famous comics and several heartfelt exchanges with or about legends (i.e. Milton Berle) who Ross obviously reveres. While obviously charting his own success he deftly describes this rise with a minimal amount of ego-stroking.

Fans of his generation will no doubt appreciate the anecdotes involving contemporaries like Jimmy Kimmel, but anyone who appreciates the art of comedy will see the respect that he has for the history of the art form. By extension, they’ll learn to respect Ross a little more in the process. I know I do.

But that Bea Arthur story is going to give me nightmares.

I’m as much an avid fan for films about stand-up comedy as I am films of stand-up comedy. Ross promotes this as little more than a “home movie”, but it’s simultaneously as strong a documentary about comedy as it is an endorsement of our brave troops stationed around the world. I don’t mind when those of us with different political agendas get caught up in deep discussions about our political beliefs, but it’s a weak mind that thinks a person opposed to a war is “against the troops”.

Maybe it’s the word troops; these are people like you and me, or our sons, daughters, siblings and parents, who have volunteered to serve our country and by that definition, serve the rest of us. When I hear some politico accusing another of being “against the troops” I know they’re out of mental ammo and gasping. It’s bullshit cheap shot rhetoric that only idiots and talk radio sheep buy into.

I wish all those poison hearted people who toss words around with such callous disregard could watch how a group of comics interact with our military personnel and juggle full frontal comedy with complete deference and respect. But even if you miss the more important point, you’ll come away having enjoyed some great jokes courtesy of Ross, Blake Clark, Drew Carey, Rocky LaPorte and Kathy Kinney. (And as a longtime fan of Drew Carey, I was glad to see his tireless efforts for the troops get some overdue recognition.)

Coincidentally I just re-read Jay Mohr’s book Gasping For Airtime this week. He and Ross both revered Buddy Hackett, and while I grew up watching Hackett on television and in the movies (It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World is a stone cold classic), I came away with a new respect for him as a both a comic and a mentor. And seeing a new generation of comics paying genuine respect to those who laid the foundation is heartwarming; both Mohr and Ross knew Hackett well (and Mohr does a killer impression of the man). Maybe someday the DVD wizards will finally release this gem.

Jeffrey Ross on Wikipedia.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Film/TV, Reviews

Last Comic Standing

Last Comic Standing might be worthy after all.

Thankfully, the format of the show seems to have improved. Reportedly there will be no “comic house” or oddball challenges this year, just rounds of stand-up and voting. I never enjoyed the forced drama of the “house”; it’s gimmicks like that which makes me find reality tv revolting. And while the challenges sometimes forced comics to think on their feet, sometimes they were so absurd that they only made everyone – participants and viewers – uncomfortable.

Craig Robinson, as host, does what Jay Mohr and other prior MCs failed to do – let the comics be the stars of the show. If we really are about to see twenty or thirty comics who have bubbled to the surface we don’t need a five-minute routine from the host. Robinson playfully teases the waiting crowd outside the door and has occasional post-audition banter with a comic. Short and sweet.

To say that the judges’ panel has vastly improved is an understatement. Ross Mark and Bob Read, the qualifying judges on previous shows, were occasionally funny, but mostly came off as tired and cranky. But the trio chosen for this season – Greg Giraldo, Andy Kindler and Natasha Leggero – are consistently funny.

Kindler is one of the most underrated comics working today; he’s subversive, whiny and hilarious with the ability to play broad or subtle. Giraldo has been a favorite of mine since Tough Crowd, and although he shines on Comedy Central Roasts, he never seems to get his due – hopefully this will change. And although Leggero could just sit there and look smoking hot, her turns on Chelsea Lately prove that she can run with the big dogs.

If there is a weakness in the three hours broadcast to date, unfortunately it’s the comedians. There have been some laughs, sure, but very few have distinguished themselves so far, and I’m hoping that the longer routines in the semi-finals will let them shine. Some of them are familiar faces who have already scored album releases and/or televised specials. But that’s no guarantee – some have made it to the next stage (Kirk Fox, Laurie Kilmartin, Shane Mauss, David Feldman), others were cut (Jimmy Dore, Cathy Ladman, Jim David – who has a new album out this month).

My favorites from tonight – Jesse Joyce, Mike DeStefano, Tommy Johnagin, Roy Wood Jr., Kurt Metzger. Last week’s nods go to Kirk Fox, Chris Pope, Jonathan Stymius, Rachel Feinstein and David Feldman. Next week – the rest of the New York auditions. Hope they saved some ringers!

Last Comic Standing wiki.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Film/TV, Reviews

Last Comic (Still) Standing – Part 2

Summer 2010?

So according to reports, if the show does return, it will have a new host, some new rules and hopefully some new contestants as opposed to another best-of reunion. While the current climate is far from the comedy boon of the 80’s, the market does seem to be in revival mode. Perhaps if they do it right they can make this a practical – and credible – method of getting some deserving comics serious air time. 

But back to our story… 

One of the elements I did pick up on was how many good comics did not make the cut. Mary Beth Cowan, from Boston, for one – her clips were funny, she was poised and (for the shallow television execs) she is attractive. Nope – cutting room floor. Jim Wiggins – more on him later – was cut, invited back when Jim Norton had to drop out and then was cut again. And the funniest guy on the show got screwed bigtime. 

Of course there were the odd conflicts of interest that were permitted to occur. Bonnie McFarlane is married to Rich Vos, yet he was allowed to be a celebrity judge for one of the selection rounds in which she was a participant. On the same episode, Jim Norton was onstage while Colin Quinn was a judge, despite the fact that Norton was a regular panelist on Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn. Granted, in the comedy community, and especially in major cities, people are going to know each other. Nothing against either comic, but this clearly was one area where disclosure could have neutered a problem before it bit them in the ass. 

Then there was the producer’s admission/excuse that despite the show being promoted as a vehicle to finding the funniest comic in America, the selection process for the ten finalists had more to do with the personalities of the comics…what they thought would be an interesting mix of people. Huh? Since when does that translate? So I guess if Steven Wright walked onstage, he’d be hilarious enough to laugh at but too deadpan for the crap they film in the house between stage appearances? 

Being a reality show, the overtly dramatic pauses before each announcement were painful, of course. Ditto the in-house voting where each comic’s vote was replayed for the guests; Jay Mohr would recap the count between every single vote. Come on, people  –  if viewers (and/or the comics) are too dim to keep track of ten votes, get a white board and a marker

And then there was the posturing, setting some people up as sympathetic or as villains. Bonnie McFarlane was occasionally obnoxious, sure, but Tammy Pescatelli was as or more manipulative than anyone else on the show, including the designated weasel, Ant.  (At least what was portrayed in the broadcast, carefully edited to push your buttons as well). By the time McFarlane really melted down, she had pretty much been backed into a corner, and after a humiliating defeat in a showdown with John Heffron, the event reduced more than one of the participants to some form of tears. Kathleen Madigan – one of those who chose to maintain her dignity throughout the process – wondered aloud what happened to the comedy. 

So why am I talking about this again today? 

Looking back, I realize that despite its flaws, this is a viable vehicle for comedians to gain exposure and make some money. Unlike American Idol, participants are not told how to create their art to conform to the judges’ ideas of funny. The judges are not mocking out the contestants on the broadcast episodes – although the audition process seems to have a constant stream of quick “I’ve seen enough” dismissals. And reportedly adding the words Last Comic Standing to their resume has enabled comics to jack their earning potential up dramatically. Hopefully they pass some of that goodwill along by bringing lesser known comics on the road with them, the divisiveness of the coalitions and strategic bullshit of LCS long behind them. Right?

But now we’re into the credo of the comedy community, and since I’m not a working comic, I’m not privy to that. I do know that most of those I’ve met acknowledge those who paved the path before them, speak fondly of those who lent a hand when they were starting out, and profess to paying it forward with the ones coming along behind them. In any competitive industry there are throat-cutters and back-stabbers, and comedy is no exception. But it’s a small world, and payback is a bitch. And if I can believe that comedians can create believable stage personas, I can also believe that they can create a different persona for this televised show that is – at the end of the day – just a game

And besides the bonding with my daughter, which will cause many comedy CDs and DVDs to come off the shelf in the coming weeks, by watching all the episodes I also found a new comedy hero. His name is Jim Wiggins

Jim Wiggins 

Here’s a self-professed saloon comic in his 60s, thirty-plus years as a comic, tossed into the mix with all the ringers and up and comers. Looking and sounding like Mickey Rourke’s doppelgänger, Wiggins was consistently hilarious, disarmingly charming and showed incredible humility and spirit. Why he didn’t make the cut is…well, we know now why that didn’t happen. I looked him up last night and sadly discovered that in the ensuing years he was diagnosed with cancer, but apparently is now close to being back on the road. 

And as for Dan Naturman, who elicited a standing ovation from the crowd and the judges but still didn’t make the cut? Cream rises. Tune in tomorrow for a review of his CD, Get Off My Property

So if they do get LCS back on the air, I guess I’ll make an exception to my reality show credo and give it a chance. Despite the disasters they had in the subsequent seasons (including not televising the conclusion to Season 3!) there were a gaggle of good comics I discovered as a result of the breaks they got from being contestants. Sure, they might fuck it up and Dat Phan me again, but if I get a Jim Wiggins out of it, it will be worthwhile. 

Here’s a little history about LCS.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Editorials, Features and Interviews, Film/TV

Last Comic (Still) Standing – Part 1

So it looks like Last Comic Standing (LCS to you acronitwits) is coming back after all. Perhaps this will be Jay Leno‘s new job since his 10pm show is tanking bigtime. Perhaps enough reality television has succeeded (read: cheap cost, big enough ratings) for NBC to revive the corpse. (I have mixed feelings about it, but anything that gets comics more air time is worth trying. As promising as John Oliver‘s new show on Comedy Central looks, it’s still basic cable. Major networks are not what they once where, but for now they still carry a bigger stick.)

If you know one thing about me, you know I despise reality television. Abhor it. Beyond the obvious knock that it takes time away from scripted television programming, it’s often embarrassingly puerile and stupid. Basically the networks theorized that people will do anything to get famous, and they cashed in big. Now we have people wandering the planet who are famous for nothing else than being famous. No accomplishments, no skills, just a willingness to allow their train wreck of a life to be broadcast for money. And to add insult to injury, these delusional mouth-breathers believe that this somehow translates into artistic merit worthy of our adulation and respect.

Wrong. It just makes you a celebretard.

But it’s our own fault. Culture will always pander to the lowest common denominator, and boy, did we drop the limbo bar low over the past couple of decades. There’s nothing real about the Real World or the Real Housewives; prostitution is illegal but we pimp girls out to Bret Michaels and Flavor Flav on broadcast cable, and don’t even get me started on celebrity interventions or the vapid bimbos and L.A. party whores who somehow have multiple shows dedicated to following their every waking moment. Even when a show does try to involve some real people who want to follow a dream – American Idol – they blow it by getting celebretard judges.

So when Last Comic Standing first hit the airwaves, I was nauseated. Not only did some of the selections seem odd (anyone smell ringers?), but some of the weeding-out activities were a bit absurd. Trying to be funny in a laundromat or at a day care center is an interesting test of whether you can appeal to a specific audience, but it’s not anything close to the type of audiences a comedian will be working with professionally. Somehow I can’t see Bill Hicks making children laugh. Weep or burst into tears, perhaps, but not laugh. Does that diminish him as a comic? So I dialed in occasionally to see actual stand-up performances on real stages, but otherwise avoided it like the plague.

So what prompted this little diatribe today? The Fox Reality Channel ran a marathon of Season Two episodes this afternoon, and when I came home my daughter was engrossed in the second hour. She had not ever seen the program, and was only familiar with a couple of the comedians. When I sat down to share some time with her, they were at the stage of moving from the auditions to the group of forty, and I realized that I was familiar with the majority of them – hell, I probably owned albums from at least half. It dawned on me that at the time of the show (2004)  I probably only knew a couple of them, but over the next five years many of them had reached a larger level of success – despite the fact that only one walked away with the title.

I was also pleased to see that although there was a certain level of the bullshit that I hate – preening for the camera, overly dramatic behavior to “stand out” from the rest of the crew – for the most part there was stage time of some sort. Sure, they made some people out to be pains in the ass, and others behaved like they were on an episode of Survivor, but it was light years beyond sticking eight people in a million dollar loft in New York and getting them all cushy jobs and then calling it The Real World. When the ten comics hit the house they laughed at the absurdity of their surroundings and tried to focus on making the next cut so they would be able to have their fate determined by their performance on stage.

Of course, in this season, the credibility of the show took a kick in the nuts when the final ten were announced. Judges Drew Carey and Brett Butler went from slack-jawed to irate when they realized that three of the four judges hadn’t cast votes for some of the finalists, while others they had at the top of their list didn’t make the cut. Turns out that producers and executives behind the scenes were also casting votes, so despite what the four judges onscreen did, it was the unseen movers and shakers behind the scenes who determined the final selections – the ten who would get weekly television exposure as the show went forward. And some of the finalists were clients of these executives and producers.

Hard to believe that controversy didn’t sink the show immediately. But it didn’t.

The marathon continues tomorrow, and so will my story.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Editorials, Film/TV, Reviews