Tag Archives: MAD TV

Stand Up Wit…Matt Braunger

Owls well that ends well

I guess I should learn to pay closer attention when I see funny skits on MAD TV and SNL and jot down the names of the new cast members and bit players. For once again I find myself laughing out loud while listening to a comedy CD and then realizing later why the name sounded a wee bit familiar (in this case, the “Officer Laughs” sketch). So if the name Matt Braunger doesn’t immediately ring a bell for you either, do not let that stop you from grabbing a copy of Soak Up The Night as soon as possible.

Braunger studied improv in Chicago under Del Close and is a regular at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles; this is his first CD. Deep-voiced and six-foot four, what could be an imposing physical presence is offset by his approachable guy next door persona. Ironically, the weakest part of the set opens the CD, as a routine about convincing his family that he’s a professional comedian morphs into a character study of an unhinged uncle. But he rebounds quickly with bits about classic bathroom graffiti, gangstas who dig The Smiths, religious zealots, and why you need to be literate when interviewed. Lots of well structured stories with great throw-away lines that flow really well despite few overt segues.

The killer bits, as they should, appear later in the routine – why there should never be eye contact in porn, why Jim Morrison was mistakenly anointed as a poet and especially the routine about pet owls – hilarious on the CD but even better with his physical gestures (see clip below). And that’s what I really like about Braunger; his animated delivery enhances the material but his writing is so strong that the jokes stand up well without the visuals.

It’s always great to discover a CD from a comedian who has gimmick-free, self-deprecating humor, and I hope that Comedy Central Records signed him up for more down the line. Highly recommended.

Matt nails his TV debut on David Letterman.

Matt’s website and MySpace site

Listen to some clips on Amazon.

Video: “Driving Mr. Morrison

Video: “Drink and Drive-Thru

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Too Fat To Fish

Boats everywhere breathe a sigh of relief.

Boats everywhere breathe a sigh of relief.

Summer reading – uncomplicated, light fare, books you can doze off in the middle of and pick up again on the wrong page and nobody cares. Perfect time for most books about musicians and actors and comics, because with few exceptions you can blow through them in a sitting. Depends on how interesting the subject is. Also depends on how talented the ghostwriter or co-writer is. Artie Lange seemed to fit the bill, especially since the #1 bestseller from last Fall was now available in paperback. Too Fat To Fish is a decent read, breezy enough to enjoy and written conversationally so even his most challenged zealot can grasp the gist of it.

I’m not a regular Howard Stern listener, but I’m familiar with a lot of Artie’s  other work and he can be a funny guy. He’s got the John Belushi schlub thing down pat when he wants to, and anyone who can make a film like Beer League is okay by me. The proof is out there – MAD TV, Dirty Work, It’s The Whisky Talkin’, even bit parts on shows like Rescue Me. Artie Lange has charisma, although often it’s train wreck charisma – but either way he’s not slipping off your radar once he’s on.

Artie’s book skips through events in his life, starting in his childhood and his determination to make it as a ballplayer or a comic. A tragic accident paralyzed his Dad, whom Artie worshipped, and he ties a lot of his recklessness and problems to the aftermath of his father’s death, although ultimately the same event made him rededicate himself to making a mark in the entertainment world. He succeeded quickly as one of the charter cast members of MAD TV but was in over his head from the start, although castmates Orlando Jones and David Herman (later the hilarious Michael Bolton in Office Space) bailed him out repeatedly, first saving his job and later his life.

Those looking for stories of excess and debauchery will fins plenty here, from the “pig story” and rampant dug and alcohol binges to the networks throwing development money around like Johnny Appleseed with little or no hope of valuable return. Lange is pretty honest about how many times his screw ups affected dozens of people, and the frequency of public apologies to those he is no longer in touch with are both heartfelt and sad. As each chapter unfolds you’re certain that this, finally, is the redemption coming along, but all it does is blow up yet another bridge. Few have gone through Lange’s orbit unscathed, and Artie doesn’t deflect the blame.

Mostly Artie comes off like a guy who got too much too soon, blew it, miraculously got it back. He was emotional recalling the honor of performing for the troops. His family is still on a pedastel, including his late father whom he still reveres. He sounds truly grateful to those still willing to give him yet another chance, and I imagine there are days when he gets up in the morning and wants to pull a Dave Chappelle for his own sanity. Maybe catch a ballgame and share a private thought with his Dad. Maybe hang out with some of the legends he truly reveres – Don Rickles, Shelley Berman – and just soak it up a little. Maybe grow up a little.

But then he hits the studio where magic happens, where the most dynamic voice in the last quarter century of radio (no, idiot, it’s not you) welcomes him like family. Where the phones light up with armies of zealots. Zealots who will fill theatres and arenas and generate more money than ninety percent of his comedian peers will generate. Where he is surrounded by legions of fans who worship the very behavior that ran him into the tree the last time around. (Just be outrageous, Artie – drink, eat, curse, belch…be that derelict we love so much! Dance, monkey…dance!)

Fishing? Fuck fishing. Who needs fishing?

Hang in there, Artie. I hope those you ask for forgiveness do so. I hope those who you ask to come back to your life do so. And I hope the second time around you pay attention to the Norm MacDonalds and Howard Sterns and Dave Attells and learn how to walk that line between caricature and character. You’re still a pup, Artie – I hope we haven’t seen your best yet. I hope you don’t take the easy road down and out.

P.S. – Artie…park that car, ok? You can afford a driver by now.

Artie Lange’s world.

Artie wiki.

Artie’s MySpace site

MAD TV, R.I.P.

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For Whom the Del Tolled

Whose yer daddy? (Apparently, he was...)

Whose yer daddy? (Apparently, he was...)

Good weekend for reading.  I just finished Kim Johnsons‘s excellent book The Funniest One In The Room about the life of Del Close, a legend of the improv theatre world. Pretty much any American comic working the edges today can be traced back to his influence, along with that of Paul Sills and Viola Spolin (Sills’ mother), and the long form model known as The Harold.  In tandem with the early Brirtish movement, his work also impacted landmark television shows like SNL, SCTV, MAD TV, Mr. Show, Whose Line Is It Anyway and others. Close died ten years ago; his influence will probably be eternal.

Johnson, who was a student of Close, was somehow able to stitch together a story about an unconventional man’s life, weaving a narrative out of the fact, fiction and legends like a person would pan for gold. I didn’t know the man personally, but when you read the testimonials from comedians who praise the book, you’ll go on faith like I did. It’s well-written, peppered with wonderful anecdotes, and a great peek behind the comedy curtain.

Here are just some of the groups that Close impacted as either an actor, writer, director or influence – the list of famous names who have interned through them is staggering:

I’ve read a few good books on the history of comedy over the last few years. I’ll save that overview for another day, but rest assured this title will be on the list – highly recommended for any fan of the genre.

The man willed his skull to the Goodman Theatre for their next presentation of Hamlet. Need I say more?

 skull

Truth In Comedy – a book Close co-authored with Johnson and Charna Halpern.

Del Close Wikipedia page.

Serendipity! Looks like the two comedy albums Del made are set for re-release in July.

I Am The Skull of Del Close

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