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Comedy Awards Tonight!

I’ve sat through countless other awards – why not for comedy?

Tonight at 9pm Eastern on Comedy Central, the first Comedy Awards will be broadcast. I’m not certain whether I can say “first annual” since the promotion for the show lists it as a historic, one-night-only celebration”.

According to the website, nominees were selected by The Comedy Awards Board of Directors, which includes: James Burrows, Stephen Colbert, Billy Crystal, James Dixon, Budd Friedman, Whoopi Goldberg, Brad Grey, Caroline Hirsch, Blair Kohan, Martin Lesak, Steve Levine, Seth MacFarlane, Adam McKay, Jimmy Miller, Conan O’Brien, Peter Principato, Don Rickles, Joan Rivers, Jay Roach, Chris Rock, Ray Romano, Rory Rosegarten, Phil Rosenthal, Michael Rotenberg, George Schlatter, Sharon Sheinwold Jackson, Mitzi Shore, David Steinberg,Jon Stewart, Lily Tomlin, Sandy Wernick and Geof Wills. That’s an odd mix of the deserving and the obscure.

You are also able to log on for the simulcast, which starts at 8:45 and features commentary by Andy Daly and Jen Kirkman along with red carpet interviews by Christian Finnegan. Andy and Jen will also host a series of short intermissions throughout the show with more interviews and coverage of the backstage press conference. Among the interviewees are Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Louis CK, Andy Samberg, Bill Hader, Kristin Schaal, Olivia Munn, Craig Robinson, Questlove & The Roots, Ty Burrell, Chloe Moretz, The Gregory Brothers, Rob Corddry and more.

Here are your categories and nominees for the event. Since the actual event took place on March 26th, you could spoil everything by looking up the winners or even watching the acceptance speeches. But that would only be funny if you could find a stupid person to wager with.

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Comedy Awards; R.I.P. Mick Green

It's OK to drink and vote, it's comedy!

Looks like comedy will get the last laugh after all.

MTV Networks and Comedy Central, along with Don Mischer Productions, will present The Comedy Awards, the “first multi-network event dedicated to the serious art of being funny” The affair will honor the writers, directors, actors and stand-up comics who made us laugh in 2010.

The event will take place on March 26, 2011 at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, while the program will be simulcast on Comedy Central, Spike TV, TV Land, VH1 and Nick at Nite on Sunday, April 10, 2011.

This is actually pretty exciting. I’m seeing a comedy boom unlike any since the 80s, and as sad as it has been to lose so many of my comedy heroes over the past few years, there is a new generation making its mark thanks in large part to their ability to produce and distribute work online. It’s time to leverage the activity, and New York is the right place to do it. I really, really  hope they get this right.

Nominees will be chosen by The Comedy Awards, Board of Directors, a prestigious group of comedy legends including Will Ferrell, Billy Crystal, James Burrows, Whoopi Goldberg, Seth MacFarlane, Brad Grey, Phil Rosenthal, Adam McKay, Jimmy Miller and Jay Roach, among others.”  That’s actually a decent start with decent representation of performers and show runners, with people who are dialed in to the current scene as well as the classics.

Winners will be selected by the Comedy Awards Voting Body, comprised of professionals from the comedy community-including producers, writers, performers, directors and stand-ups. In addition, comedy fans from around the world will nominate and cast their votes in online-only categories…”. It will be interesting to see what the categories are, and whether they follow the path of having people vote only within their appropriate categories. But I like the fact that, at least for the major awards, this is not an online circus dominated by people who have limited awareness of the history of the art.

Obviously there will be a slew of hot performers to spice up the event and broadcast (and DVD sale, and t-shirts, and …). The press release says it’s an “historic one-night-only celebration” but you know this is going to turn into a cash cow and be an annual event. And after the embarrassing list of nominees for “Best Comedy Album” that the Grammys belched out, who could blame them?

Let’s hope for a serious Hall of Fame and a tribute to recent losses like Robert Schimmel, Greg Giraldo and Richard Jeni. Better yet, how about a perpetual exhibit featuring the history of comedy? Take the initially great idea of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and avoid their mistakes.

I will say that the mention of MTV made me throw up in my mouth a little until I realized that they and Comedy Central are owned by the same parent corporation, Viacom.

Read all about it at the official website.

And R.I.P. one of rock’s founding fathers, guitarist Mick Green. His innovative work in bands like Johnny Kidd and The Pirates was a huge influence on countless bands, from The Who and Chris Spedding to Dr. Feelgood to revivalist garage and Mod bands that feature that simultaneous lead/rhythm style of playing.

I’m not sure where we go when we die, but the band just got way better.

Mick Green website

The Pirates

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Blast From The Past: Traffic

Light up or leave them alone

Light up or leave them alone

Having recently been wowed by the latest collaboration between Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, my thoughts naturally travelled back to their catalogue of work over the past forty years. Blind Faith, of course, was among the first bands to earn the moniker supergroup, but they were one and done as far as releases go. Clapton’s work with The Yardbirds is fine, but it’s his work in Cream that shines brightest in hindsight. Around the same time Cream was peaking, the amazing vocals of a sixteen year old Brit knocked me sideways; The Spencer Davis Group’s single Gimme Some Lovin’ is still a jukebox favorite. But when Steve Winwood moved on to form Traffic…ahh, that’s where the magic really happened for me.

Traffic was an apt name for a band that dabbled in so many sonic areas, from folk to blues to psychedelia and jazz, often in the space of the same song, let alone the same album. Before Dave Mason left for the second time, the band juggled his pop sensibilities with the more avant-garde efforts from Winwood and Jim Capaldi; Chris Wood playing the Brian Jones role by dressing up the tracks with inventive instrumentation. Winwood was only eighteen when Traffic was formed (he just turned 61 in May) and the others only a couple of years older. It’s stunning to hear the depth and resonance in their catalogue when you consider their tender ages.

As with most great bands, I recommend you revisit the entire catalogue, as a “best-of” can never really capture the majesty of a long-tenured favorite. Smiling Phases, the out-of-print anthology, contained more cuts (although some argue that even the expanded selection is incomplete) but the audio is inferior to later releases. As single-CD collections go, Feelin’ Alright isn’t a bad one at all.

Here’s the review I wrote for PopMatters several years ago…

Traffic Feelin Alright

The thought of distilling the career of Traffic into a single disc must have been a mind-numbing task. First conceived as a psychedelic English rock group, the band morphed into a soulful blues group, then sailed through a jazz-influenced folk period and dabbled in reggae and American rhythm and blues. Dave Mason was on board for the initial ride, while the latter period drew players like Clapton and the Muscle Shoals studio rhythm section. Each period had its landmark successes, from Dear Mr. Fantasy to John Barleycorn Must Die to Shootout At The Fantasy Factory. In short, how do you boil down a twenty-five year organism to seventy-five minutes?

Well, you can’t, but this collection of “hits” and recognizable album cuts does as good a job as possible. Cutting off after The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys (the full 11:42 track among the inclusions), this disc gathers fifteen songs skewed towards the band’s first two incarnations. The informative liner notes detail how producer Jimmy Miller helped launch the original quartet, inventive and talented players in the right place at the right time. “Paper Sun” and “Heaven Is In Your Mind” find the band in full flowery psych mode, along with Dave Mason’s more single-oriented “Feelin’ Alright” and “You Can All Join In”. Although Mason’s “Hole In My Shoe” is one of the era’s trippiest headphone numbers, leader Steve Winwood sought a denser, more experimental direction for the band, which fellow members Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood also desired. The bluesy “Pearly Queen” and the more daring “Forty Thousand Headmen” found success with audiences as well. Goodbye Dave.

Steve Winwood’s soulful voice is the centerpiece of most of Traffic’s catalogue, and his transitional work with “Shanghai Noodle Factory” set the stage for the trio’s masterpiece, John Barleycorn Must Die. The four tracks included here could be from four separate worlds, yet in context sound seamless (“Glad” remains one of the best rock instrumentals ever recorded). The final two tracks, from Low Spark, feature the first of the expanded lineups the group would use for the remainder of its career. In the studio, each member of the trio played several instruments; with the larger band the complex music they composed could now be recreated on stage.

After Traffic broke up again, Winwood, like Mason (and at a quieter level, Capaldi) enjoyed a successful solo career. Chris Wood died in 1983, but a stripped down incarnation of the band (Winwood, Capaldi and bass player Rosko Gee) reunited in 1994 for Far From Home. While the concept of Traffic now seems to be an open forum for future collaborations, Feelin’ Alright is a solid testament to earlier genius.

(Note: The review was writtem in 2000. With Capaldi’s death in 2005, it’s safe to say that Traffic is now a closed book.)

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