Tag Archives: Jeff Dunham

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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Comic Pressure

Still reeling from the loss of Greg Giraldo.

Most people know that comics often admit they are insecure, prone to depression, constantly wondering whether they are funny enough or how long they will be able to keep the pace. I’ve read countless interviews where the comedian states that the stage time is the easy part, it’s the other 23 hours that are a challenge.

The lifestyle is difficult – separation from family and friends, countless hotels and airports, the competition, the back-stabbing, the inability for most other people to understand what really makes you tick. The constant exposure to temporary people who you might not be able to trust. The encounters with those who want to make you dance…the constant stream of jealous people who can’t wait for you to screw up so they can take you down.

The booze. The drugs. The boredom. The need to be validated. The fear of failure. The constant pressure to keep moving, keep improving, keep creating. It can be crushing. Some are able to channel it into their comedy, finding solace in the exposure. Others let it build and gnaw and fester until they are incapable of succeeding…or living.

Those who only know the megastars could never imagine this; how could millionaires like Jerry Seinfeld or Jeff Dunham or Larry The Cable Guy feel pressure? But those who delve into the art and know every club comic and struggling performer often see a different story, as those genuine career breaking opportunities are few and far between; the daily reality is a much harsher grind.

I came across the Comedy Hall of Fame website featuring a wealth of short clips from interviews with comedians. So far I’ve watched a few – Jim Norton, Colin Quinn, Dave Attell– but I’ve seen enough to highly recommend it.

I also came across this naked and telling interview with Giraldo.

In my perfect world, these creative people would get far more exposure and fame, but our society seems fixated on celebretards. Comedians, more than ever, have a responsibility to hold society up and make us look at it, and we are blessed that so many do it so well. We are also cursed that so many leave us so soon.

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A Boy and His Log

So the Pope says, "Do you have an eraser? I wrote..."

So the Pope says, "Do you have an eraser? I wrote..."

If I had a bucket list, there would be one less item on it, because last night I finally got to see Otto & George live on stage in a comedy club. And although one of them is made of wood, trust me when I tell you that two minutes into the show no one believed they weren’t watching a foul-mouthed midget go postal on everyone, including the shy guy on stage trying to calm him down.

Brooklyn-born Otto Petersen started out working a normal ventriloquist act, playing clubs and parties and busking in the park. Changing the material to an X-rated routine was both a survival tactic to get work and a stroke of genius. And I don’t care how prepared you think you might be for a ribald puppet, but the twisted, filthy smut that spews out of George’s mouth is as shocking as it is hilarious, maybe the most politically incorrect show on the planet. Nothing is sacred, not celebrities, politicians, alternate lifesyles, nationalities, religions and most especially anyone sitting within shouting distance from the stage.

Otto and George had just played the night before with John Valby, the ribald piano player who is especially popular in upstate New York. I did not see that show, but apparently a few people seated nearby had and returned for a full evening of puppet magic. I don’t know whether some of the other attendees were expecting Jeff Dunham, but between the act’s reputation and the disclaimers, there was no way you could walk into this gig expecting to see anything other than a demented ventriloquist with a foul-mouthed puppet. And while I saw many people laughing uncontrollably at even the most offensive material, there were also a couple who were obviously in way over their heads sitting slack-jawed, mouths agape, like they were being mentally raped.

Sorry, I have no sympathy for those people. If you pay to see an act like this you know what you’re getting. Filthy, sexually oriented jokes that are that much more hilarious because they’re coming from the mouth of a puppet. Otto baits the audience, and you can see his lips moving, but people don’t even make eye contact with him because they’re fixated on George. Hell, I know that’s Otto doing the voice and I’m still staring at the puppet the entire time. (I’ve seen clips where people argue with George!)

What makes these guys great – and yes, I refer to them as two people – is that Otto rarely speaks directly to the audience. He lets George do all the dirty work. George looks as demented as he sounds, and relentlessly attacks Otto as well as the audience. So while Otto is trampling on the sacred cows of every gender, race, creed and lifestyle, he looks like he’s the victim, not the perpetrator. It’s a brilliant idea perfectly executed.

And for those who might snark that his ventriloquist skill is lacking because his lips do move, well…you’re missing the point. It’s one thing to see a guy drink a glass of water while throwing his voice, but you know all the time that it’s a parlor trick. Watching Otto & George, you’re convinced that a demented midget is onstage holding the room hostage. And that’s just what he did through two hour-long sets that I couldn’t reprint a word of even if I wanted to. One of the funniest shows I have ever seen; do not miss them if they perform near you.

Johnny O

Host and opening act Johnny O was flat out hilarious. I don’t expect much more from the M.C. than to make the time pass quickly, make me laugh once or twice and get me to the headliner. I’ll admit that when this middle-aged guy from Parsippany hit the stage I had no expectations, but my ribs ached by the time he was done. Irreverant social humor that was unilaterally funny, whether breaking balls about Italians and their lawn ornaments or the social caste differences between Yankee and Met fans. A bag full of great one-liners, sight gags and dead-on impressions of Sean ConneryIce-T, Nipsey Russell (a killer closer) and Bernie Mac. And an impression of Jesse Ventura coaching his son about birth control? Folks, this was fucking gold. This guy needs to headline and I need to find out where so I can see him again.

The worst thing you can probably tell a comic is “I’m staying for the second show“, but Johnny O juggled his routine a bit and reworked some lines; Otto probably altered his by a third. Frankly, they were both so funny I probably could have watched them deliver the same material word for word.

The smaller opening crowd was actually more attentive and responsive. The later crowd, a bit younger, contained the requisite wiseass who thinks he’s funnier than the comic, the talkative drunk at the front table, the group of twelve sometimes focusing on each other instead of being part of the overall crowd. This is nothing new for a working comic, and both handled it well. And I don’t blame the comics – they were nailing the material and rifling the self-deprecating callbacks when things didn’t go as well as expected. They had the follow-up ready for any punch line that fizzled. They just didn’t get back what they put out there in the second show. Sure, maybe a Joe Pignatano reference plays better in New York City than elsewhere, but if a Bernie Mac imitation is too deep for you, maybe you need to get out more…just somewhere else. But with enough of us in the audience who were gasping for air, they did what professionals do – play to those of us who were actually getting the subtleties.

The Comedy Club in Webster is a great space – perfect sightlines, great sound and lighting, not a bad seat in the house. The food is good, the drinks reasonably priced and the servers attentive and friendly without being cloying. In short, it’s a great comedy room that deserves a great comedy audience. I know a lot of us walked away tonight with sore ribs and big smiles; hopefully Otto and Johnny got enough of a response from the core of both crowds to make up for the sprinkling of cluelsss ones.

Of course, George couldn’t be placated. “Go to Home Depot”, he told me, “and get a rope in aisle 2 and a stepladder in aisle 7 and do it right in the store! Kill yourself!!”

Otto and George2

Otto & George on Letterman

Otto & George website

Otto & George on MySpace

Johnny O. on MySpace

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