Tag Archives: Rich Vos

T.G.I.F. – Ten For Tough Crowd

My little corner of the universe is finally starting to draw some first-rate comedians on a regular basis. Tomorrow night I’m headed out to see the great Nick DiPaolo, and in two weeks Patrice O’Neal lumbers into town. Perhaps because both have recent specials they’re hitting some of the stops they might not ordinarily target, but whatever the reason, I’m thrilled.

I first became a fan of both on the late, great Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn. Sure, it wasn’t the biggest hit in the history of cable, but anyone I’ve ever talked to who watched more than a couple of episodes became a total loyalist. I’m still flummoxed that a network like Comedy Central hasn’t figured out that an anthology of those shows – hell, even a three-DVD “best of” package – would be gobbled up immediately by the core fans.

Maybe this year, Santa?

So in honor of Nick and Patrice, as well as Colin Quinn, Jim Norton, Greg Giraldo and the rest of the comics who made those shows magical, here are Ten For Tough Crowd. Enjoy the weekend!

(01) – Nick DiPaolo

(02) – Colin Quinn

(03) – Patrice O’Neal

(04) – Jim Norton

(05) – Greg Giraldo

(06) – Judy Gold

(07) – Dave Attell

(08) – Keith Robinson

(09) – Rich Vos

(10) – Jim David

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Stand Up Wit…The Jim Florentine Roast

Earlier this month, a group of comedians assembled in NYC to roast comic Jim Florentine, an occasion that became a bittersweet experience. The event was originally supposed to feature Greg Giraldo, perhaps the most devastating roaster of our era, whose shocking death numbed the comedy community. The event was then changed to a benefit to raise money for a fund for his three children. When I saw Rich Vos in October he mentioned that he had been tapped to host and I’m sure the loss of his close friend resonated through his nervous preparation for the event.

But comedy is  a tool of release, and it became quickly apparent that nothing was sacred that night. And I’m sure Giraldo and the late Robert Schimmel wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

The array of comics delivered in spades, no balls were left unbroken and a large sum was raised to donate to the Giraldo Children’s Fund (readers who wish to make a donation can do so via Paypal). Comics included Vos, Jim Norton, Otto and George, Reverend Bob Levy, Bonnie McFarlane, Jesse Joyce, Joe Matarese and Don Jamieson, one of Jim’s co-hosts on vH-1’s The Metal Show.

Kudos to Patrick Milligan and Cringe Humor for hosting such a great event and then being generous enough to share the event with the rest of us. Although there are no plans to release the show on DVD at this point, you can still savor a lot of what went down that night. Needless to say, it’s NSFW – even the text could burn a hole in your corporate firewall.

Click here to read a detailed recap of the roast.

Click here to watch selected videos on YouTube.

 Cringe Humor website.



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T.G.I.F. – Ten Smiles of the Week

Barry Levinson’s great film Diner remains one of my favorite movies, ever. Wonderful cast – Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Ellen Barkin, Paul Reiser, Kevin Bacon and many more – and although the coming of age story predates my own, I can identify with the feeling of juggling hope and hopelessness one encounters when transitioning into a more responsible life. Music geeks will identify with Shrieve; his obsessive knowledge of the tiniest fragment of information on a record, his frustration when his wife can’t follow his complicated system and misfiles his albums after playing them.

Bacon plays an irreverent, drunken guy who just doesn’t take anything seriously; he’s in it for the laughs. When something great happens, he often declares that it’s the “smile of the week“.

I’ll take a slight liberty with his phrase for my TGIF theme this week and list ten things that brought a smile to my face during a week when I really needed it. So enjoy these Ten Smiles Of The Week

(01) Australian comic genius Jim Jefferies

(02) Gov’t Mule playing Neil Young‘s Rockin’ In The Free World

(03) What Tina Fey really said during the Mark Twain Award ceremony.

(04) Rich Vos killing at the Jim Florentine Roast

(05) The Futon Critic‘s list of remaining TV episodes.

Great album!

(06) Brendan Benson and The Posies playing “September Gurls

(07) Newly revised NFL logos (don’t miss page 2 as well)

(08) How to make millions…by farming!

(09) Titus Welliver, who makes any show better just by being in it.

(10) Daniel Stern and Ellen Barkin in that scene from Diner.

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Stand Up Wit…Rich Vos

File Rich Vos under the “how can Jeff Dunham be so famous but not this guy” category; a veteran club and theatre comic who combines a curmudgeon’s list of grievances with a sharp ability to work the room into the material. Those who have seen Vos rip someone a new one on Tough Crowd, the Cringe Humor shows or Opie and Anthony are well aware of his skill, any doubters will have their concerns laid to rest after hearing  Live In Philly.

Vos is a good enough storyteller that he can float out a couple of topics as frames and chum the water with a couple of prepared jokes, but his true skill is engaging the audience as participants and targets. Sure, some of the bullets are pre-loaded; a good comic will always be ready for a mismatched couple or the drunk who keeps talking long after you tossed them the spotlight. But it’s obvious that Vos lives for that first nibble on the fishing line, and once that bait is taken, he’s ruthless.

Material-wise, there’s no unique ground broken here. Customer service sucks, hotels and airlines suck, certain cities suck and no matter what your religion, race or gender, you probably suck, too. If you want a thumbnail sketch of Live In Philly, look no further than the title of track number six, “People Bother Me“; Vos expounds on being too old and too tired to put up with people’s bullshit anymore. In the process he’s not tiptoeing around gender, race or religion, and by the reaction of the audience, he’s tapping the right vein.

Video Clip: “Live At Gotham

The recording itself is a little thin, although once you jack the volume up it’s consistently listenable. The packaging is simple and direct and thankfully there are no bells and whistles – no funny songs, no extras, no gimmicks. You get the feeling that he just flipped on the recorder one night and let it roll, warts and all, which is very uncommon these days. Maybe that’s not great marketing, but that’s an honest performance you’re getting to hear.  Live In Philly is Rich Vos, stripped down, unfiltered – and it captures his appeal perfectly.

And if you have to ask where the CD was recorded…what hotel do you work at?

Rich Vos website

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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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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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