Tag Archives: Lenny Bruce

Stewart Lee Rides Again

The new season of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle is upon us.

Not everyone gets Lee. Then again, not everyone got Bill Hicks, or Lenny Bruce, or Mort Sahl for that matter. There are those today who don’t “get” Doug Stanhope or Louis CK or Marc Maron, either. Y’know…because they don’t tell “jokes”

“There’s that word again: jokes. Does it matter if Lee doesn’t have jokes, in the usual sense? Is his humour, mainly derived from a tortuous style and pregnant pauses, hilarious on its own merits? The gag of Lee’s performance is that he’s not prepared to give general audiences what they expect from stand-up comedy — with a pace that makes Steven Wright look like Lee Evans. Lee would rather breakdown the minutiae of his own material, during the gig itself, and preempt audience criticism in the moment.”

Read the rest of Dan Owen’s piece here.

Load up on Stewart Lee here and here.

R.I.P. Jackie Cooper.

Famous to many for The Champ, also for his career rebirth in the Superman movies. But when I was a kid, I knew him best as the towhead who had a big crush on Miss Crabtree. I didn’t blame him.

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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 Lenny Bruce

Forty-four years after his death his influence still towers.

You may or may not like Lenny Bruce; if you discovered him towards the tail end of his career sometimes his appearances were little more than anti-establishment rants about the persecution he was being subjected to. He was losing his career, his freedom, and towards the end, his sanity. Who wouldn’t?

But his belief in personal freedom, the right for anyone to speak their mind, the drive to question authority – you know, fundamental human rights – made him a trailblazer in the world of comedy. His jazzy, free-flowing style blurred the line between storytelling and joke-telling; his subject matter risqué for the times; his intelligence and subtlety a reward for those who were really paying attention.

Jazz musicians in the pocket are capable of taking a solo at any moment; so too Bruce was able to run off on a tangent and weave his way back in almost invisibly. When they make lists of the greatest and most influential comedians ever to walk the planet, Bruce is always in the very top cluster, if not the apex.

When the movie Lenny first came out I was sure I wouldn’t like Dustin Hoffman in the lead, but I liked the film and thought he did great work. The film we really need to see is the documentary Swear To Tell The Truth, narrated by Robert DeNiro.

Read more about Swear To Tell The Truth.

But while it’s nice to read about him and hear about him, your first move should be to listen to him. I highly recommend that you get your hands on Let The Buyer Beware, the boxed set collection of his albums. Also Lenny Bruce Without Tears (a DVD with some of his TV performances) and The Lenny Bruce Performance Film, most copies of which include Thank You Masked Man.

Rest in Peace,  Lenny. Finally, peace.

Lenny Bruce official website.

Lenny on Wikipedia.

Nice collection of links to Lenny related material.

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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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Doug Stanhope Takes No Prisoners

 

I dunno…No Refunds isn’t brand new by any stretch of the imagination, but every so often I need to remind You, The People Of Earth that Doug Stanhope walks among you and you should appreciate him while you can.

stanhope

On the surface, one might see Stanhope’s act and peg him as self-depricating, disheveled, dark, fairly buzzed and either spontaneously vulgar or a possible Tourette’s sufferer. Most of that is probably true.

But within (and beyond) that persona is an absolute master of pacing, timing, inflection, volume and gesture. Add caustic wit into the mix, also fearless social critic, and oh yeah – brilliant and imaginative writer. And on his most recent effort, No Refunds, he once again hits the (often uncomfortable) bulls-eye. If your idea of hilarity is Carrot Top or Larry The Cable Guy, odds are you won’t like this. (Matter of fact, the odds are even greater that you are the topic of some of the jokes.)

Stanhope is absolutely not for everyone – but then neither was Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison, Lenny Bruce or any of the great ones. Savor the ability to watch a comedy genius in his prime, even if you might be the only one on your block who’s clued in.

And if your only exposure to Stanhope is from (cough…paycheck!) Girls Gone Wild or The Man Show, hose out your head and start fresh. His comedy recordings and shows are completely different; you get the real guy with no training wheels or seat belt. Seek out No Refunds and his other DVDs as well as all of his CDs, especially Something To Take The Edge Off and Die Laughing.  Come on…the guy even baits pedophiles online. Gotta love that.

Doug Stanhope takes no prisoners. Likewise, you don’t have to settle for pablum comics.

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