Tag Archives: Jim Norton

WTF Turns 100

Congratulations to Marc Maron – tomorrow will mark the one hundredth episode of his brilliant WTF podcast. Since September 2009, like clockwork, these hours of self-analysis, penetrating interviews and social observation keep popping out twice a week like gold.

The WTF Podcast page

The very first episode featured the Roastmaster General himself, Jeff Ross, and the array of guests he’s welcomed is staggering. Patton Oswalt, David Feldman, Maria Bamford, Jim Norton, Robin Williams, Dave Attell, Sarah Silverman, Doug Stanhope, Andy Kindler…he’s quietly assembled a library of audio documents that any serious comedy lover should savor.

And Maron, beyond being incredibly funny in his own right, has proven to be an incisive interviewer who is unafraid to broach sensitive topics (and yes, sometimes with a personal edge). Some of my favorites included a frank discussion of race with Chicago comic Dwayne Kennedy and some gutsy exchanges with two popular but controversial comedians accused of joke thievery (Dane Cook and Carlos Mencia).

Although many are recorded in his garage studio, Maron has taken WTF on the road and has even filmed a pilot for that will hopefully be picked up as a series. Not only will it bring in some welcome funding, but the show and its brilliant guests will get much-needed exposure to the vast majority of people who don’t even know the show exists, let alone where to find it. Surely there has to be room in the vast cable landscape for intelligent discourse?

For now, I’m just thankful that Maron, Bill Burr, Kevin Pollack and so many others have adopted the format and put this out there for free. With literally hundreds of hours of these shows available, there will never be another boring car ride. Ever.

Congratulations, Mark! Please try to enjoy the moment.

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(F)X Marks the Spot

Louis C.K. is back on television and thank God for that!

Lucky Louie, his prior cable show that infused his comedy writing into a lewd and hysterical sitcom, proved to be too much for people. Their loss! The cast (Pamela Adlon, Rick Shapiro and several great fellow comics) was perfect, and his knack for putting himself into extremely awkward situations was both bold and hilarious.

Louie, the new show, merges clips of his stand-up performance with related filmed set-ups, which is not a new idea (think Seinfeld if the clips were used within the show instead of just bumpers). But Louis is an extremely watchable actor who convincingly sells uncomfortable and cringe-worthy. The material is based on his own life;  I sure hope he’s embellishing the bad parts.

Great to see fellow comics like Jim Norton, Nick DiPaolo and Eddie Brill onboard as well (I could watch a “poker scene” every week just to let these guys riff) and Chelsea Peretti was great as the date from hell. But the better part of the show is simply Louis on stage, showing why he might just be the best stand-up comic we have right now. Not to mention prolific – this year should also see the release of yet another CD and DVD of fresh material.

Personally I enjoy the blend of stand-up and filmed segments – Louis C.K. writes, directs, edits and produces the entire thing, so it’s a pretty consistently funny experience. But if you’re the type who enjoys the stand-up routines but hates the vignettes that set them up, Videogum is the site for you – they’ve parsed the stage material.

Bonus: hearing “Brother Louie” as the theme song every week!

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Rescue Me is also back for its final season, although the decision was made to split the episodes between 2010 and 2011, with the closing of the show set to coincide with the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

 The first episode picks up after the pseudo-cliffhanger from last year (did anyone really think they were going to kill Tommy Gavin?) and uses the hour to re-introduce most of the central and recurring characters, most of whom have finally had their fill of Tommy. Haunted by his personal failures – and still haunted by his dead cousin – Gavin is somehow still on the precipice of a further fall even when seemingly at rock bottom. His wife might be finding solace with one of his crew, his daughter might be following in his footsteps, and his workplace might be closing, the victim of budget cuts and politics.

When the show first aired, there was a solid dose of homage to the fallen heroes from 9/11 and an emphasis on what is was all about to be a firefighter. As seasons progressed it became more about the humor and pathos of the firefighters’ personal lives (much like The Job spent less and less time at the police station), but anyone who knows good television cans ee an arc of redemption on the way. Will Tommy Gavin have to sink lower before rising to the occasion? Do bears shit in the woods?

Leary has always been loyal to his friends and associates, so thankfully that results in a lot of face time for Adam Ferrara and especially the great Lenny Clarke, whose Uncle Teddy character has shown he’s not shy about firing a sidearm. Also great to welcome back the luminous Andrea Roth, note-perfect as his exasperated (and smoking-hot) wife Janet.

I like Denis Leary the stand-up, but I really like Denis Leary the actor/producer/writer a lot more. He’s two-for-two already and I hope he and partner Peter Tolan have more concepts up their sleeves for 2012 and beyond.

Just two more home runs for FX, arguably the best channel on TV the past couple of years. And only a couple of more months before It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Sons of Anarchy return.

Louie

Rescue Me

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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…Jim Norton

Jim Norton on - not dropping - a stool.

It only seems fair that as the rest of the world focuses their attention on the Olympic Games, I choose to draw your attention to the re-release of two of Jim Norton’s comedy albums. Although previously available in CD format, today marks the first time these albums are available for digital download and streaming through popular stores such as iTunes, Amazon.com and Rhapsody. In other words, welcome to the Twenty-First Century, Jim

If you don’t know Jim, let’s just say these are not safe for play at the workplace, although I would hope that anyone who can read would figure out that bits called “Liz Taylor’s Hairy Hat” and “Bloody Lump on the Linoleum” might draw their own conclusion in that regard. Both are irreverent, hilarious, filthy, perverse, bizarre and mind-blowing, but what do you expect from a hooker and self-gratification fan whose two favorite words are teabag and tickle? It’s safe to say that when they made Little Jimmy Norton, they smashed the beaker

Used copies of Yellow Discipline and Trinkets I Made With Gorilla Hands have been going for over twenty-five bucks, so to be able to get these digitally for a normal price is a godsend for Norton fans, most of whom would have needed to chloroform Grandma and take her wallet to get the hard copies. 

I’m a big Norton fan; he draws his own line, crosses it and goes further down the road to drag someone back to see what he did. Although many swear by his Opie and Anthony tenure as his best comedic moments, I’m more partial to him walking the tightrope (and usually falling off, spectacularly) on Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, and his acerbic, perverted, leering pot dealer on the late, great Lucky Louie. (When you can make Rick Shapiro look normal, you are dancing on the edge, my friend). 

Norton has also written a pair New York Times best-selling books (Happy Endings: The Tales of a Meaty-Breasted Zilch and I Hate Your Guts)  and has had three HBO specials (Monster Rain, Down and Dirty with Jim Norton and One Night Stand, all now available on DVD) plus numerous stand-up sets on all the top shows. 

Amazingly he was in good standing during a run of Last Comic Standing when a filming conflict forced him to withdraw from the round of twenty finalists. The next step was whittling down to the ten comics who would move into the house (and therefore reap the most benefits from the television exposure). I still can’t imagine how Jim would have been able to survive the censors (although he killed on Letterman) but if the network had any cojones that would have turned reality television on its ear

So please buy Jim Norton’s CDs – hookers aren’t cheap, you know. 

Formal Attire

Tour dates, merch links and more info at Jim’s website (be sure to read the survey at the bottom!) and Jim’s wiki page 

Videos, including Jim on the Bob Saget Roast 

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And they’re no longer here to celebrate, but we can – Happy Birthday to Ward Cleaver, Elvis Presley’s Best Songwriter and Cher’s Husband

More cake for us!

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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.

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A Tip of the Comedy Cap

comedy-mask

It’s difficult to write about comedy, whether live or recorded, because funny is obviously a personal subjective reaction. I also don’t like to give too many details about the specific routines; why would I want to spoil a beautiful set-up and punch line by having you read it like a cue card? That would be like humming “Whole Lotta Love” instead of playing it really loud.

Add to that the fact that I’m not in NYC or LA, let alone Boston or Chicago, so it’s difficult to immerse myself in the scene 24/7, let alone get to see some of the brightest lights and/or up-and-comers without a great deal of planning. My city is fortunate enough to have a thriving comedy club, but it’s a single aisle of comics coming through rather than the massive superhighway of Manhattan’s available stages. (Then again our worst traffic jam is five minutes of driving at 35 instead of 60…so you see, life balances out.)

As a result, like many of you, I scour the web and the late night talk shows and ramble around YouTube or Funny Or Die and wherever else I can to discover (as in new-to-me, I’m no anthropologist) some great laughs. I’ve come across a few sites that any comedy fan should check out – you’ll probably become as big a fan of them as I am. Here are four of my favorites:

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Sean L. McCarthy’s The Comic’s Comic is a wonderland of clips, interviews and information, and worthy of a daily swing-by. An experienced stand-up comedian himself, he’s written about comedy for Entertainment Weekly, the NY Daily News and the Boston Globe (among others) and he’s prolific with updates to the site. Between his absolute love of the genre and his personal access to a lot of the comedians, readers get a great pulse-check on who is about to break as well as some insight that you won’t read in most other places. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a jealous bastard every time I click onto his site.

Effinfunny. Do I even need to add anything else to that name? Sandeep Parikh’s site is the all-you-can-eat buffet for the hungry comedy fan. Do not click on this site unless you are prepared to kill the rest of your day aimlessly following one tangent after another. My most recent discovery of the four and I’m sure I’ll be looking there for links to include in the comedy reviews and profiles I’ll be running.

Brian McKim and Traci Skene run SHECKYMagazine, a by-comics for-comics site that probably focuses more on the inside workings of the industry than simple lists of links and clips. As active working performers, it’s great to get a peek behind their curtain, so you will be just as likely to read a complaint about a shitty clubowner or kudos about a well-organized festival as you will a news blip about a comic’s new special or a critique of someone’s recent TV appearance. Possibly the world’s longest webpage (the scroll bar is so wafer-thin I’m afraid it might disappear!) they’ve been online for ten years and there’s a ton of great reading for those (like me) who can’t get enough.

Cringe Humor is not only a collection of links, clips and features, but produces an annual comedy awards show and hosts streaming radio stations and podcasts…a touch-point for those of you who think Opie and Anthony might be too middle-of-the-road. If you’re a fan of Tough Crowd, Jim Norton, Robert Kelly and other comics on the edge, Patrick Milligan’s site is your clubhouse. Looks like it’s in the process of being revamped, but the material is still available for stream and download. They bill themselves as “comedy that will challenge your morality”, so let that be the caveat – you probably don’t want to be accessing most of this site at the workplace.

Here are some clips and tips – a gift for those who read this far…

How to make a comedian disappear

How to make a comedian disappear

Jamie Kilstein is consistently hilarious. Here’s an older bit where he riffs on alcohol versus drugs, drops a great line about a threesome and somehow makes the standard “Mapquest sucks” routine fresh and funny. Here’s a more recent bit from the Comedy Store in London and a John McCain joke, too.  I hear a lot of Bill Hicks in his attitude and Dave Attell in his cadence/delivery (especially in the London clip) and he’s obviously fearless and relentless. Love his thoughts after the death of George Carlin.  He’s tours the globe, writes columns for The Huffington Post, hosts a radio show and kills on stage…yet he might still be flying under your radar. Jamie did have a limited release CD called Please Buy My Jokes but look for the upcoming Zombie Jesus soon on Stand-Up Records.

Eddie Gossling has an older CD (Fresh Brewed Eddie) available through his site and a newer release Live at the DC Improv (only available through iTunes), but you have probably come across him on Comedy Central or Premium Blend if not at your favorite club. Here’s his fantastic piece about quitting a crap job (you’ll know what the routine is really called after you watch this). Hardly looks like the same guy here, but this other piece you’ll learn why magicians are full of shit and wizards are for real.

And high on my list of comics who don’t have an album out but absolutely need to, check out Dwayne Kennedy. Here’s a clip from Premium Blend along with his first and second appearances on Letterman. His half hour on Comedy Central is priceless; watch some clips from that here.  Dwayne, we need to hear more from you.

Life is short. Laugh every day.

 

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Stand Up Wit… Greg Giraldo

giraldo-roast

I’m not a big fan of Larry the Cable Guy– I don’t dislike him, I just don’t find his shtick hilariously funny – but if Comedy Central is going to roast someone, I’m watching. The Comedy Central roasts are modeled after the classic Friar’s Club events as well as the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts – as ribald (or more) as the former and as accessible as the latter. And although the honorees are fairly easy targets (Pamela Anderson, William Shatner, Flavor Flav, etc.) there are always a decent array of comedians taking their shots and a few performances that have you falling out of your chair. The roaster’s basic job is to take the podium, insult everyone else on the dais and finish by skewering the honoree. Few are better at this than Greg Giraldo

Giraldo is a law school graduate, which shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with his acerbic and cerebral wit. I never saw his short-lived television series Common Law, but I’ve seen enough projects centered around edgy comics  to know that network television in 1996 could never have handled what Giraldo was probably hoping to dish out. Outside of a couple of sound bytes (probably from his Howard Stern appearances) my first immersion into Giraldoworld was probably Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, the late, great comic round table that aired on Comedy Central for two seasons. Quinn’s format was loose, a hot topic free-for-all where the bad jokes aired right alongside the good ones. Giraldo was among the most frequent guest panelists along with Jim Norton, Nick DiPaolo and Patrice O’Neal.

Tough Crowd was crude, rude and loud, and the comics often talked over and ganged up on one another; definitely not a show for everyone. But it was clear that Giraldo was fearless and funny, and had the show not been abruptly cancelled, it might have become his springboard to fame. After initially promoting the program, Comedy Central turned its back on it; one wonders what would have happened had the network spent even a fraction of the dollars it threw at Dave Chappelle, and later, Carlos Mencia. Giraldo was eventually offered his own show which didn’t make it to air, and later hosted Friday Night Stand-Up (later Stand-Up Nation) which allowed him to get a few short bits in-between recorded broadcasts of comedy specials on Comedy Central. These days you’ll find him guesting on the aforementioned roasts, appearing as (irony alert) a lawyer on Root of All Evil, or a popular guest on the late night talk show circuit. His two half-hour comedy specials are must-sees and air frequently on cable.

Giraldo continues to be one of the most underrated comics in the business; despite his success on television and as a live performer, he doesn’t get the respect or the high profile he deserves. I don’t understand why – he’s hysterically funny, smart as a whip and lightning fast on his feet.  Late in 2006 he finally released his first comedy CD titled Good Day To Cross A River. The hilarious live show features many of his best classic bits along with a slew of (then) newer material. It’s a perfect testament to his performance style; sharp social observance (Bruce, Carlin) tempered more by incredulous exasperation than anger (Lewis Black without the foaming mouth). I highly recommend that you buy a copy of this…you’ll be quoting lines from this album for a long time.

And Greg, it’s time for a new one!

"You ain't from around here, are ya boy?"

"You ain't from around here, are ya boy?"

Giraldo roasting Cheech and Chong (along with TCM‘s Robert Osbourne and Tommy Chong’s wife). “Cheech met Chong in Canada where Cheech went to avoid the draft. Wow…you’re the first Mexican ever to leave the country illegally….”

Giraldo dissects Larry the Cable Guy. “You’ve been inside more farm animals than Purina!”

The classic LazyBoy collaboration, “Underwear Goes Inside The Pants“.

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