Tag Archives: Mike DeStefano

R.I.P. Mike DeStefano

God damn it, it never ends.

Mike DeStefano, a NYC area comic whose career had finally started to explode, passed away last night after suffering a heart attack. His history of substance abuse was a central part of his act, and it was no secret that he was diagnosed with AIDS years ago. Yet despite those health obstacles and the enormous crapshoot of forging a career, Mike finally put it all together last year.

Video: Mike DeStefano on his resume. “I am a stand up comic. Before that, I was a drug counselor. Before that, I was a drug addict. Before that, I was 12…”

In 2010, he lit up the stage at the auditions for Last Comic Standing and blazed his way through the competition, making the finals. Although he didn’t win (he placed fourth), the visibility expanded his following, and his take-no-prisoners style of cringe humor made him a clear audience favorite. He parlayed that into a Comedy Central special and a show called Drugs, Disease and Death: A Comedy in which he discussed his heroin addiction, being HIV positive and the death of his wife. A new version of that show titled A Cherry Tree In The Bronx was set to open this Wednesday night.

Mike released an album last year, OK Karma, which will now be a testament to his truly original comic voice. I listed it in my top ten in what was a very prolific year for comedy releases.

In recovery for eleven years and counting, Mike took the accomplishment seriously. Now using comedy as a tool, he made working with and helping other recovering addicts a priority with the same diligence that he had when he was a drug counselor (check out Recovery Comedy ).

Many friends and fans are leaving comments at his Facebook page, at Stand Up! Records, and Punchline Magazine  (who conducted this funny and telling interview with him last year); I’m sure someone will open up his website for that as well. Patrick Milligan of Cringe Humor posted an amazing testimonial to his friend.

Mike with Mark Maron from a December interview on Maron’s WTF podcast.

Wrong Side Of The Bed – Mike’s webfilm series on Atom.com.

My condolences to his family and friends, and like “hundreds of people who think (he) is great“, I will miss him terribly.

R.I.P., Mike. Say hello to Greg for us.

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Best Comedy Albums of 2010: #10-9-8

Year End List caveat: I’m splitting comedy albums apart  from comedy DVD projects, so if someone had a DVD that was basically the same as the album, I’m rating it as an album. If someone winds up in the DVD category that doesn’t mean their album wasn’t top ten material…just trying to find some way of being fair. That said, there’s not an item on either of these lists that I don’t think is worth your immediate attention…click to hear clips and judge for yourself!

***

#10: Mike DeStefano, OK KARMA:

What a breakout year for Mike, who lit it up on Last Comic Standing and brought cringe humor to the forefront. Hysterically funny, he also has a personal back story so cathartic and outrageous that it will stop you dead in your tracks. Many comedians have a persona, but I believe this is the melting pot of the real guy bursting through. Irreverent and fearless, I love that he’ll swing for the fences, miss, and then dig in and swing harder because he knows he will get you eventually. (Stand Up! Records)

***

#09: Matt McCarthy, COME CLEAN

Total nutjob, and that’s fine by me. Prone to explosive rants of ridiculous logic as frequently as deceptively subtle comic gold, McCarthy’s debut album still has me laughing months later, especially the closing piece where he answers an Internet survey in reverse. Probably the most unusual opening and closing bits on any comedy album, ever, but both kill …as does most of what’s in between them. (Live at Comix)

***

#08: Sean Kent,  WAITING FOR THE RAPTURE

Kent’s “take no prisoners” attitude is relentless but funny, even bringing a unique take to common targets like Wal-Mart, Glenn Beck, Facebook and religious fanatics. Sure, there are dick jokes and local references and social outrage and little girlie voices, but Kent is willing to go all the way out there to take the mundane and the topical and wring something fresh out of both.  (Uproar Entertainment)

***

The countdown continues Wednesday with #7, #6, #5 and #4.

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Last Comic Standing: Last Thoughts

Felipe Esparza, Last Comic Standing (but not here)

They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. 

Oh, well. Not like my tastes and the consensus of the multiple-voting American public line up much. Top Ten singles? Top movies? Best selling books? Nope, not in a long while. Shouldn’t be a disappointment when it happens again, but this time they had the right guy in the final two. And then…pffffttt

So before we tuck this one in for the season, a few final thoughts: 

Nobody unlikable in the final five and congrats to Felipe Esparza, who seems like a nice guy and hopefully will improve over time. 

With a vote-for-one-of-the-final-five format, did Myq Kaplan and Tommy Johnagin split votes they would have likely easily gotten in a head-to-head “final two” contest? 

How the hell did Myq Kaplan finish fifth after the prior week’s sets? 

Apologies to Natasha Leggero, who I was pretty rough on all season for not doing much besides laughing and looking smoking hot. She came out last night and did a great set, better than the other two judges who I normally like a lot better. 

Initially I cringed when Greg Giraldo broke out the vintage “underwear outside the pants” routine; I wondered (1) did I black out for a minute and go back in time?  and (2)Now whose resume “ain’t all up to date”? But another viewer pointed out that he probably never did that routine on primetime TV before, and he even tossed in a self-deprecating comment (which I missed) beforehand. 

Andy Kindler was hilarious, but I understand that some people think he’s too quirky to be funny. I do not envy those people

Seeing Kurt Metzger’s great Micheal Jackson joke again was worth sitting through the two hours for. Okay, not really – that was a long two hours with lots of unnecessary padding and lame guest appearances. But Metzger should have been in the top ten at the very least, and that might have been one of the funniest jokes all season. At least he got a rubber chicken, which is more than comics two through five went home with. 

Liked the final comments from the comics who lost – Roy Wood Jr. paid props to the road comics, Kaplan was classy, and Mike DeStefano’s parting words were classic, as expected. 

Did that $50K development deal (and the show’s past reputation for subterfuge) mean that the judges (read: behind the scenes network producers) wanted someone they could build a sitcom around? I think they wanted a person who people like, talent aside, safe as milk. A sitcom candidate who will play well between the coasts. If that’s true, they hit their target. 

Do I believe the results were controlled? Of course, but then again I don’t think any of these “contest” shows are left to chance. 

But despite a summer of head shrugs and suspicion, if they’re back next year I’m sure I will be, too. When all was said and done, I got to see a few people I like that I had never seen before, and many good comics got national airtime. Win/Win. 

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Who Will Be The Last Comic Standing?

And then there were five.

(Advance Spoiler Warning:  I will update this column tonight after the winner is announced and list the results in a tag at the bottom of the article).

For someone who despises reality television, I have really enjoyed Mondays this summer thanks to Last Comic Standing. I guess in my defense I’m really a fan of stand-up, period, and that’s what this season has centered upon. I was thrilled that they decided to excise the “house” and the fabricated/edited drama that goes on behind the scenes. That’s the part of these shows that is so false; so scripted and staged and edited that it’s anything but real.

There were exceptions, of course – anytime a camera is on Todd Glass pretty much anything can happen, and he did liven up his season of the show by a mile. But how many times can you see a comic sitting with a pad and pencil trying to come up with material, especially since the cameras and lights following him around is about as conducive to creative thought as a rabbit punch?

Last week the five finalists ran the gauntlet for supposedly the last time. If that’s indeed true, I’m not certain how they are going to build the drama over two hours tonight, although I am excited that the judges (Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero, Greg Giraldo) will perform. Kindler and Giraldo are among my favorites, and I’m excited to see Leggero rock the microphone since I’m only familiar with her from sketch comedy. I’ve been a bit harsh about her contributions – in fairness, the judging in general has been pretty lame – so I’m happy to laud her comedic skills if she decides to flex them. Also guest-performing are Tom Papa (a great stand-up unfortunately slumming on the abysmal Marriage Ref) and Kathy Griffin (no doubt whittling her routine to get past the censors). 

Last season’s winner, Iliza Shlesinger, is also slated to perform, and I’ll try to have an open mind for her as well. I thought her Comedy Central special was weak, and she plows the same shallow ground that Rachel Feinstein did this season. Hopefully she will rise to the occasion and bring some strong material to a nationwide audience.

Last week Ron White was a guest performer, and although I had heard just about all of the material before, his timing is so impeccable that I enjoy the jokes even when I know the punchline. Again, I’m not certain why they include guest segments, but more stand-up comedy on television can only be a good thing.

Jonathan Thymius was finally voted off the show, a feat I was starting to think was impossible. I think his loopy, disoriented style started to wear thin and possibly his material did as well. But the fact that a guy who resembles the bastard son of George Goebel (in appearance and cadence) made it to the top six shows me that anything can happen.

I’ve been hard on Felipe Esparza but I thought last week was his best set; he took a bit about coming out of the closet at a family dinner and milked it about as well as you can. I still have him in the lower region though, just ahead of Roy Wood, Jr. who probably had his weakest performance. Second place in my mind is a virtual tie betweek Mike and Myq. Mike DeStefano doesn’t hit on every joke but when he connects it’s a home run; Myq Kaplan’s clever wordplay and well constructed set is consistently funny and sharp.

But the man to beat, in my opinion, is Tommy Johnagin. He’s poised, he’s hilarious, and he’s as strong a writer as he is a performer. I like that he can do a quick 1-2 set up and punch line as adeptly as he can weave a few great lines into a longer bit. His sets have gotten stronger from week to week, and even when he launched a line that divided the audience he was able to dig his way out of it. A couple of the comics got lengthy ovations when they took the stage and his might have been the most spirited.

As in past years, I think a couple of the best comics never made the cut; I’m convinced that Kirk Fox and especially Kurt Metzger would have been great in the final five. But if Kaplan, DeStefano or Johnagin wind up winning – and that’s a 60% possibility – they would instantly become the best comedian the show has ever honored. And with two hundred thousand dollars in cash and a fifty-thousand dollar development deal, also the richest.

I’ll update this essay tonight after the announcements.

It’s over. If you want to know the results, click here.

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Last Comic Standing: Really?

 

I may have seriously misjudged you, America. 

Lo and behold, when the whittling came down to the final two last night – one of whom would be going home – I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. Were they the two comics I would have axed? Absolutely. But I would have bet a serious sum of money that the two of them would have been in the final three vying for the title. America – and you long distance global people with too much spare time – take a bow. 

The format was a little different this time; instead of handing out the walking papers immediately, they kept saving comics one by one until the final death knell at the fifty minute mark. Of course, in reality (pun fully intended) the announcements probably happened one after another at the top of the show. Ah, the magic of editing! Although they never said so, I wonder if the announcement order was from most votes to the least votes.? 

The other new twist was the insertion of a filmed vignette after the announcement and before each comic’s performance. These were pretty funny; in some cases better than the material that followed. My favorites were Jonathan Thymius running his sideline business “Comedy O’Gram“, Felipe Esparza’s barrio workout and Myq Kaplan’s clever song. You can find these at the Last Comic Standing website and/or Hulu

After last night I am befuddled as to who gets axed next. I thought Thymius was pretty weak the prior show and he might have topped the vote totals.

Some thoughts: 

Rachel Feinstein being eliminated means no more women left in the competition. Really, LCS? 

Thymius wobbled but had one great line about not wanting to be a cowboy because he didn’t want to get milked every morning. Cow. Boy. You didn’t get that joke, Natasha Leggero? Really

Roy Wood Jr., your M.O. every week is going to continue to be describing an idiot you run into and then dressing the imaginary dude down? Really

Mike DeStefano, you spent the first half of your set pretty mush telling a true story about being a recovering addict just to get the “heroin is like swimming in a pile of puppies” line in there? Really

Felipe Esparza, you continue to milk the racial humor, although I guess that’s a fact of life for an East L.A. guy. But going Mencia on us with the lazy Mexican jokes? Really

Tommy Johnagin, you risk comedy death each week with a cockier-than-thou line that offends people before saving yourself. Penis-popping? Really

Myq Kaplan…you slayed last night. I have nothing to add. (Really?) 

At least the judges started to show some spine last night, wondering aloud if Thymius was running dry or if Johnagin did his best set – although I thought DeStefanos’s set was his weakest to date and Greg Giraldo called it his tightest. Leggero continues to find ways to tell Thymius that he creeps her out, and I’m wondering if her backhanded compliment to Kaplan (saying he’d win if it was Last Comic Writing) means he’s toast in her mind. 

But for all my complaining, I’m getting to see Andy Kindler on television every week, and that’s a great thing. And Craig Robinson continues to redefine the host role with great quips, delivery and energy. 

If it were up to me I’d have Kaplan and Johnagin in a dead heat at the top and Esparza would take the next bus home.  But my prediction for next comic corpse is DeStefano. He repeated the Blackberry joke from the audition, and then when a long set piece wasn’t killing, repeated another (the “Tibet” joke). Did America notice? Will they punish him? I hope not, but I fear it’s true. Really

Surprise me, America. 

Bring it hard or America will take you down.

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Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad

 

Prediction-wise, that is. But not happy about it. 

I had a bad feeling that America was going to reject Laurie Kilmartin and James Adomian after last week’s set, and unfortunately those were the first two severed. When Jonathan Thymius and Maronzio Vance came out (what is it with finishing the eliminations with a duo?) I felt sure I was three-for-three even though if I were voting I would have sent Vance packing along with Rachel Feinstein and Felipe Esparza

But somehow, despite a strange and awkward set, Thymius survived. Did America really want to punish Vance for blowing his punch line last week? Because I don’t get how they can dig deep enough to enjoy Thymius’ surreal act yet not see the charm in Adomian’s equally obtuse direction. And god knows what will happen next week, because Thymius had an even stranger set with a really weak close…although he did slip a teabagging reference past the censors. 

Teabagging the toilet water?

I do not understand the fascination with Rachel Feinstein as a stand-up comic. She’s very attractive and leggy and is comfortable on stage and does great voices…but there are no jokes! I agree with some bloggers who suggest a career in voice-over work; she could be a versatile player in the animated world as long as someone else is writing the material. All she did last night was another extended ethnic rant

Myq Kaplan continued to riff strong material (although familiar to anyone who has his album) and once again he tagged a prior comic’s set to good results. And Tommy Johnagin continues to kill, peppering punch lines and adding that little bit extra, like pointing out his sweat stain and mocking the judges. I thought Mike DeStefano was more miss than hit this time around, although the “does it clean shame” line was solid. 

Roy Wood Jr. continues to be consistently good – never great – but always enough to get a few laughs. And while I’m not a Felipe Esparza fan, this was probably his best set; the crowd loves him. I’m starting to believe that it’s going to come down to the ethnic comic and the comic who can’t avoid ethnic schtick. That would be sad, but we are talking about a show that crowned Dat Phan as the funniest comedian. 

The best parts of the show continue to be Craig Robinson’s one-liners coming in or out of commercials. The judges are back, but why? They don’t criticize anyone – everyone is great and their sets are solid? It’s insulting to watch. I enjoy Greg Giraldo’s quips and Andy Kindler is reason enough to watch the show. And I’ve seen Natasha Leggero be funny, but it’s yet to happen on this program. But the bigger issue is that America is voting and they aren’t judging anything anymore – so why the pretense? 

Not certain how many go home next week but I predict the next two voted home are Thymius and Kaplan. Sadly, America will get what it deserves

— 

"Sitting in the back of a car..."

R.I.P. bass player Andy Hummel, leaving only drummer Jody Stephens with us from the late great Big Star (no, I don’t count Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow). I don’t really have to make any special effort to pull a Big Star album out of the racks as they’ve been in rotation for…oh, almost forty years

Hummel had been battling cancer for the last two years. My friend (and Not Lame honcho) Bruce Brodeen posted that he had seen Andy at SXSW in March, where despite his illness he flew in from halfway across the world to participate in the tribute. Bruce said his playing was “a blessing“, and I guess if you’re going to strap in for a last gig that would not be a bad one to go out on. 

Blurt and EW announcements.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Comics Standing

So last week we got the dog and pony show.

Taking a cue from American Idol, the ten finalists were trotted out onstage to do a couple of minutes, after which they got to hang around for some uncomfortable close-ups while their voting number was displayed onscreen. Of course, you couldn’t vote until after the show, so whatever.

Unlike the other crapfest, the LCS judges were absent this round – wonder if that was to stop people like me from throwing shoes at the television because of their omissions in the top ten selection process? But then I remembered that it’s all about the off-camera producers and network execs pulling the strings. Shoes and television, saved.

The voting will eliminate three of the ten by next Monday’s episode and the judges will reportedly return. Not quite sure what the format is from that point forward, but it will be interesting to see what happens. Personally I didn’t cast a single vote – any voting process that allows and encourages multiple votes per person is absurd, from baseball’s All Star Game to reality TV competitions and web polls.

But I will tell you that based on pure funny, I would eliminate Feinstein, Vance and Esparza.

And I will also tell you that if the American public is voting, they will eliminate Adomian, Kilmartin and Thymius.

Tune in Tuesday to see how I did. For now, here are Ten Comics Standing and how I think they did…

01 Laurie Kilmartin – Awesome writer, solid performer, but I haven’t seen her at her best yet. And I think that oddball crowd reaction last week might have hurt her badly. What the heck was wrong with those people?

02 Felipe Esparza – Likeable guy, gets a couple of laughs, but pretty pedestrian stuff and the act wears thin pretty quickly. But the crowd loves him and I predict he’s a top 5 finisher.

03 Roy Wood Jr. – Starts every set with a short, killer line and ropes the crowd in immediately. Good balance of tone and volume and good material, although nothing spectacular. Like the golfer who lays up; always in the mix while the others eliminate themselves.

04 Maronzio Vance – Another likeable guy with some interesting material but not enough variety in the set and he tripped over his own jokes a bit. I could take or leave him for the final seven.

05 Rachel Feinstein – At the risk of sounding misogynistic, I think she’s getting by on her looks and stage presence. Her set last week was horribly hacky – doing mom and grandma voices in the rap culture? Please. But Dat Phan won this thing so I predict at least a top 3 finish.

06 Tommy Johnagin – Probably my favorite so far – strong pacing, solid delivery, great punch lines. Material is made for this quick hit format, and he dug himself out of an offensive turn by ending with the funniest line of the night.

07 Jonathan Thymius – The dazed, stunned, disoriented schtick took a new turn when he burned up his first thirty seconds pretending to get acclimated to the mic. But I think he went so oddball last week that he has people believing he’s the idiot he pretends to be and that will probably hurt him.

08 James Adomian – Took a huge chance by splitting his set between a long (but great) Aesop’s Fables routine and an extended imitation of Paul Giamatti, blending John Adams with Sideways. In other words, too hip for the room. The judges love him because they are smart enough to see what he’s doing…America won’t unless he gets very lucky.

09 Mike DeStefano – Big and caustic, Mike probably has the biggest hit-and-miss quota of the ten. Sometimes his rants fall flat, but when he nails one he gets bigger laughs than just about anyone. I think he’s Top 3 but he might be scaring the crap out of the voters.

10 Myq Kaplan – The smartest player in the competition, he combines intellectual wordplay, perfect timing and delivery and the ability to play in the moment by riffing off the other performers and events of the evening. I think the crowd likes him almost as much as I do.

Here are the voting rules at the official site

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