Tag Archives: Sarah Silverman

T.G.I.F. – Ten Literary Laughs

“Looks like we got us a reader…”

Ever since a relative spoke that horrific (and ironic, considering the skull it was emanating from) comment about one of my young daughters, it stuck in my head like glue. I don’t know if it’s in the DNA or it’s just a nice skill to develop, but yeah, I raised a couple of “reeedurzwho will hopefully continue and enjoy the science of mental absorption until they take their final dirt nap.

Arguably, as an adult with a busy schedule, it is hard to find the time to plow through books; even my pop magazine consumption has fallen off the cliff. When I do get in the swing of it I tend to grab a few things with a common theme, be they historical recollections, humorous fiction or pop culture biographies. For example, a recent viewing of Public Enemies whetted my appetite for the golden age of FBI vs. bank robbers, so I grabbed a few books about crime during the Depression Era. Similar spontaneous tangents have seen me devour a few books at a time on political corruption, alien invasions and the birth of the television industry.

I am a Renaissance Man ready for my day on Jeopardy.

So I noticed that a gaggle of books by or about comedians was hitting the shelves and thought I’d pass along a few tips. I haven’t read most of them, but I’ve got a few in hand and some of the others seem to be no-brainers considering the source. I’m not sure why such a plethora of comic pulp has descended upon us in such fashion; maybe a certain relative wandered into a publishing house and dropped a famous observation in the lobby?

Of course, like the environment I created for my children, I had a loving mentor making sure I was exposed to the wonders of the written word from the moment I could pay attention. My Mom wasn’t a career woman, the word they had back in the day was housewife. Of course, we know now that a housewife not only cooked and cleaned and shopped and managed the household but also had the ultimate responsibility of talking these little lumps of flesh called kids and molding them into people. In my house, Mom was the moral compass who taught by example first and words second; how to be kind and unselfish, how to be confident without being boorish, how to develop an independent personality and find your voice in a world that was increasingly pushing vanilla.

And yes, how to read. By the time I entered first grade I could read at a middle school level, understood basic math and had a fairly voracious vocabulary. And although that description screams nerd, I wasn’t. That jump-start on my education provided an incalculable advantage for me throughout my life, even if I didn’t always seize the opportunities that came my way. She also had a great sense of humor, something that she encouraged me to nurture, and although our tastes in comedy would eventually veer off from the basics, she was the one who celebrated my attraction to the comics I would see on Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson (and hear during the first great wave of recorded comedy).

I drift off onto this tangent because today marks twenty-five years since my Mom died from cancer, far too young and far too suddenly. There’s so much that she never got to see, and it pains me that I never got to share so many events and accomplishments with her. But I am comforted that I carry her spirit in my heart every day, and I see her best qualities in my daughters , the ones she never got to meet. So as skeptical and confused as I am about life and religion and human condition, I know that whether you call it DNA or a soul, there’s a bit of her sweetness and greatness that is preserved beyond her time.

Twenty-five years? That sometimes seems like an eternity and other times like yesterday. Thanks for everything, Mom.

I doubt Mom would have read these books to me as a child. But here are Ten Literary Laughs – books by comedians for those of us who need a little diversion in a difficult world. The brain exercise is just a side benefit.

And yes, Mom, they’re in alphabetical order by author

(01) – Mike Birbiglia: Sleepwalk With Me

(02) – Jim Breuer: I’m Not High

(03) – Adam Carolla: In Fifty Years We’ll All be Chicks

(04) – David Cross: I Drink For A Reason

(05) – Tina Fey: Bossypants

(06) – Greg Fitzsimmons: Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons

(07) – Gilbert Gottfried: Rubber Balls and Liquor

(08) – Paul Mooney: Black Is The New White

(09) – Patton Oswalt: Zombie Speceship Wasteland

(10) – Sarah Silverman: Bedwetter

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Comically Bad Advice

Thanks to an event that occurred last night, I sought out some words of wisdom and comfort this morning. Along with the obvious and the occasionally inspirational, I decided to go for the absurdly comedic angle as well.

There’s no Chicken Soup for the Funny Bone, but there is this:

You’re A Horrible Person But I Like You

The pretense is a twisted version of the advice column, where someone (often fabricated) writes in with a question so the columnist can dispense some words of wisdom. Over the years these responders have been straightforward helpful types, wiseass sarcastic vipers or pompous amateur psychologists. and almost without exception, the columns were popular, the printed version of a train wreck that can’t be avoided.

In this book, a group of comedians take a whack at the same Q&A task, asking and answering a few apiece. While the results are uneven, each comic usually has at least one good one, with several (Patton Oswalt, Jim Gaffigan, Todd Barry and Paul F Tompkins) especially strong.

How’s this for a list of advice givers? Aziz Ansari, Judd Apatow, Fred Armisen, Maria Bamford, Todd Barry, Samantha Bee, Michael Ian Black, Andy Borowitz, Michael Cera, Vernon Chatman, Rob Corddry, David Cross, Larry Doyle, Paul Feig, Jim Gaffigan, Zach Galifianakis, Janeane Garofalo, Daniel Handler, Todd Hanson, Tim Heidecker, Ed Helms, Buck Henry, Mindy Kaling, John Lee, Thomas Lennon, Al Madrigal, Aasif Mandvi, Marc Maron, Adam McKay, Eugene Mirman, Morgan Murphy, Bob Odenkirk, John Oliver, Patton Oswalt, Martha Plimpton, Harold Ramis, Amy Sedaris, Michael Showalter, Sarah Silverman, Paul F. Tompkins, Sarah Vowell, David Wain, Eric Wareheim, Rainn Wilson and Lizz Winstead.

It’s a perfect book for a quick scan; each chapter (organized by comic) is but a few pages long and can be read in a few minutes. And although the chapters themselves can be read out of order, some of the writers have some clever call-backs that would be easily missed if their chapters weren’t read in their entirety.

It’s not gut-busting funny, but it did put a much-needed smile on my face today. As always, your mileage may vary.

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WTF Turns 100

Congratulations to Marc Maron – tomorrow will mark the one hundredth episode of his brilliant WTF podcast. Since September 2009, like clockwork, these hours of self-analysis, penetrating interviews and social observation keep popping out twice a week like gold.

The WTF Podcast page

The very first episode featured the Roastmaster General himself, Jeff Ross, and the array of guests he’s welcomed is staggering. Patton Oswalt, David Feldman, Maria Bamford, Jim Norton, Robin Williams, Dave Attell, Sarah Silverman, Doug Stanhope, Andy Kindler…he’s quietly assembled a library of audio documents that any serious comedy lover should savor.

And Maron, beyond being incredibly funny in his own right, has proven to be an incisive interviewer who is unafraid to broach sensitive topics (and yes, sometimes with a personal edge). Some of my favorites included a frank discussion of race with Chicago comic Dwayne Kennedy and some gutsy exchanges with two popular but controversial comedians accused of joke thievery (Dane Cook and Carlos Mencia).

Although many are recorded in his garage studio, Maron has taken WTF on the road and has even filmed a pilot for that will hopefully be picked up as a series. Not only will it bring in some welcome funding, but the show and its brilliant guests will get much-needed exposure to the vast majority of people who don’t even know the show exists, let alone where to find it. Surely there has to be room in the vast cable landscape for intelligent discourse?

For now, I’m just thankful that Maron, Bill Burr, Kevin Pollack and so many others have adopted the format and put this out there for free. With literally hundreds of hours of these shows available, there will never be another boring car ride. Ever.

Congratulations, Mark! Please try to enjoy the moment.

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TV *and* Not TV!

A crapshoot usually results in…crap.

We’re at the cusp of some major decision-making at the major television networks. Although a few things have leaked out already, the upfronts which are scheduled for the next couple of days will find ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS and others setting the stage for their Fall 2010 programming. Sometimes it’s not so much what they say as what they don’t say.

For example, you’re unlikely to see a formal announcement confirming Better off Ted is cancelled. But when you look at the ABC schedule, it won’t be there. Sayonara, genius comedy show.

This season sees a few iconic shows come to an end. Law and Order, tied for the longest-running night-time drama program ever, just got its walking papers…yet the network picked up Law and Order Los Angeles (or as Ray Davies and I like to call it, LOLA!). Soon the entire network will be L&O, CSI and NCIS. If you don’t like acronym drama, TFB – you’re SOL.

Lost is ramping up to its final weekend with an episode this Tuesday, some recaps on the weekend and then a two and a half hour finale on Sunday May 23rd. The next night, 24 will sign off its final season with a two-hour show before Jack Bauer and company undoubtedly head for the big screen.

Heroes has bitten the dust, although there will be a 2-4 hour special to hopefully wrap up all the plotlines. No such luck for FlashForward (which I still think would have made a nice lead in to V, which did get renewed), and Happy Town is apparently already slated to burn off and die in the summer. So much for novel ideas. Bring on the cop shows and medical dramas; America can’t get enough of people in uniforms. Even those who snog their co-workers.

Even the smaller cable networks are dicing and splicing. The once highly promoted Sarah Silverman Program has gotten the axe from Comedy Central, and Justified might be on life support at FX.

Thankfully, some quality dramas (Fringe, Castle) and comedies (Parks & Recreation, Community) survived their initial spotty ratings long enough to build a following and gain renewal. Others likely to get renewed defy all logic.

It will be an interesting week – each network has a long-standing favorite leaving the air, and NBC’s Jay Leno Show disaster leaves them with a gaping hole to fill (Parenthood is weak and The Marriage Ref is horrid, but any port in a storm, yes?). Be sure to follow the upfronts here at TV By The Numbers.

Or Entertainment Weekly’s Bubble Show Scorecard.

***

Some people get so frustrated, they want to blow up their television.

Now you’re talking!

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Stand Up Wit…Whitney Cummings

Careful...she'll cut a bitch.

Against all conventional logic, the glass ceiling in the comedy world remains intact. One would think that if Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller could achieve great success almost half a century ago, we’d be flush with popular and successful female comics in 2009. Instead, the woman with the biggest draw is Lisa Lampanelli, who has extrapolated “I’m fat and I bang black guys” into a large venue following. Meanwhile, the brilliant Maria Bamfordeasily one of the ten best comics working today regardless of gender – is better known for her recent commercials for Target than for her consistent excellence as a writer and performer. Don’t blame her for that.

Over the years we’ve seen Roseanne Barr and Ellen Degeneres and Whoopi Goldberg find tremendous success, and during the 80’s comedy boom there were several that were household names. So what’s wrong in 2009? There’s no shortage of strong current female comedians worthy of adulation, but fewer are breaking through at the level that many of the male comedians attain. Try asking a friend to name five current female comedians. You’ll likely get LampanelliSarah Silvermanand a blank stare

Maybe they’ll come up with Wanda Sykes or Margaret Cho or Kathy Griffin, all of whom have had wider exposure thanks to multiple television shows. I doubt many would come up with Whitney Cummings, but after laughing my ass off listening to her first album (Emotional Ninja) I predict that will change very soon.

Cummings doesn’t have a schtick or a character, and her material is pretty much old school observational comedy about sex and relationships. But while she can be crude and vulgar, she’s also ferociously funny. She’s strong with a quick one liner but also has well-structured longer pieces that pile one laugh on top of another. She’s able to play both ends of the men vs. women card in such a way that you laugh at all of it regardless of your gender…probably because you realize most of what she’s talking about is absolutely true.

Cummings doesn’t talk down to the audience, she places herself within it, so we’re on her side even when we’re the butt of the joke. She’ll humble herself with a self-deprecating stinger, but she’s no victim. She might launch some vitriol towards the losers and bad dates, but she’ll also admit to being a sneaky manipulator. Basically she’s showing that we’re all playing games…so let’s get those cards on the table and laugh at how shallow and absurd it all is.

The bits that aren’t about relationships are topical but universally funny, like the banality of social networks, the true definition of yoga and wondering why we reward our friends’ biggest mistakes with gifts. I won’t spoil the punch lines, but my favorite bits – her breast exam, sleeping her way to nowhere, how women snoop on and argue with men – had me rolling. She excels at stringing together a wealth of material with exceptional timing and delivery, adept at a pregnant pause before a punch line or punctuating a sarcastic retort.

I’m not exactly going out on a limb here by praising her work. In the past couple of years her profile has soared; she’s been tagged as a rising star by Entertainment Weekly, Variety and Alternative Press. Her panel time on Chelsea Lately is usually brilliant, and her breakout performance on the Comedy Central roast of Joan Rivers was a logical next step (she had been writing for them for a couple of years). Cummings is only in her mid-twenties, yet she’s already proven to be a prolific writer and a strong performer. She’s attractive, she’s very smart, and she is fearless.

There are thirty-three tracks on Emotional Ninja, most under two minutes, and there might not be a clunker in the bunch. This is truly one of the funniest comedy CDs of the year – go get it.

Buy Emotional Ninja online

Whitney on Showtime’s Live Nude Comedy

Her killer set on Comedy Central’s Roast of Joan Rivers

Compilation of panel bits from Chelsea Lately.

Whitney Cummings website.

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World Hunger: Then and Now

As times change, so do solutions.

 

hungry sally

How to end World Hunger, 1970s

 

hungry sam

How to end World Hunger, 1980s

 

hungry sarah

How to end World Hunger, 2009

***

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Emmy (See if I got this straight…)

Doogie nailed it.

Doogie nailed it.

Here’s the list of nominees and winners. I was a miserable 6 of 18 on my predictions, but there were a few upsets. So, attention DVR People – my comments below include spoilers! Now I’ll wait a minute while those people leave the room and seat-fillers take their place…  

Gone? Okay…cue my theme music!

Let’s hear it for the boy! Doogie was great – killing it with an opening number that was acerbic and funny (and props to him for immediately crediting the writers – Scott Wittman and Mark Shaiman from Hairspray) and keeping things moving pretty briskly. Made some great quips and dished out some kudos where and when appropriate without being fawning. Great running gag (with Jon Cryer, among others) after not winning for Supporting Actor, which several critics apparently took seriously. The retort to Academy President John Schaffner in the audience after the latter gave him an Emmy pin (“Yeah, that helps.”) was hilarious. Only the extended “best seat in the house” gag got tired. But really, how can you possibly dislike the guy? He must have a Q rating off the charts. (And if you thought that bit where he breathlessly rattled off the list of networks was great, watch this !)

And speaking of the Harlem Globetrotters – the only time that tired gag was really funny – it was good to see the Washington Generals of the Apple ads get his night. While Justin Long had to sit complacently next to Drew Barrymore, his partner in those hilarious commercials, John Hodgman,  got to zing one-liners from the booth. Between serious voice-overs (“This is her first win and her second nomination“) he peppered the audio with absurdly funny comments (“The Daily Show With Jon Stewart is celebrating its 76th year on the air. It began on Comedy Central Radio as Stewart-Brand Chicken-Fat All-Star Baked Beans Half Hour. This is their 900th Emmy, and frankly, that’s too much“). Likewise, Harris often introduced nominees by “obscure” credits from their resumes.

The tables have turned.

The tables have turned.

Splitting the show into segments. Very good idea, albeit risky. Of course, they always have to start out strong to keep the audience from flipping, so Comedy was the appropriate leadoff hitter. Exhausting that category so soon risked weakening the overall show but they pulled it off. Better yet, getting to fast-forward through the Reality segment kept the projectiles off my screen and the vomit off my floor. After last year’s program, where TV almost killed its own Golden Goose by kissing the ass of the most unreal programming on television, can you blame me for avoiding that train wreck of a category? (And please explain how American Idol was included within the “Reality” part of the program, but then the director won in the “Variety” category?)

Three cheers also for the set. The theatre is amazing, and the versatile set was configured to expose the composition of the evening like peeling the skin off the skeleton. The band out of the pit, the production booth in view upstage, the host actually able to host from a designated location. Aside from one obvious technical glitch – which Ricky Gervais turned into gold, of course – the show ran very smoothly.

The mood of the show was also interesting. Fairly egoless – our host was a big part of that. Almost everyone got through their lines and cues without issue, and for the most part the presenters and recipients avoided the usual politicking (Washington and Hollywood) that the Oscars seem to bring in droves. There weren’t enough performance clips for my taste – sometimes none at all – and the gimmick about asking some of the non-performer nominees mostly fell flat because some took it seriously while others didn’t (the clip of the night was from Conan O’Brien’s show, where he predicts “YouTube, Twitter and Facebook will merge to form one super time-wasting Web site called YouTwitFace.”)

And thanks to the network for not picking up that ridiculous gimmick that Fox dropped on us recently where the lower third of the screen is filled with scrolling tweets. Die in Hell for that one, television. Isn’t it enough that you pander to wannabe celebretards by cramming as many of these unreal crapfests onto the air in place of creative and scripted programs? Now you have to let couch potatoes try to tweet their way onto the screen so they can – I dunno – tweet their friends that their tweet was broadcast? (That’s like a snake eating its tail, right?) Then you’ll complain that no one could follow the plot of your show.

Neil Patrick Harris Dr Horrible

Best surprise – an appearance by Dr. Horrible, which was perhaps not as funny for people who have not seen the hilarious webisodes starring Harris, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day.  Of course, the irony that the program was created on the Internet during the writer’s strike and aired without any network or commercial involvement was probably also too subtle as well. But why fret about those who can’t appreciate it, knowing the zeitgeist of 2009 somehow justifies Leighton Meester and Brooke Lively walking on the same stage as Glenn Close and Bob Newhart? (And folks,  Nathan Fillion rules.)

I always get a little verklempt during the In Memoriam segment anyway, but really – bringing Sarah McLachlan out to drive a nail through my heart? Was that necessary? If you’ve been to a memorial service in the past decade you know that song is as requisite as Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” at a wedding reception…and I experienced both within twenty-four hours this weekend. (She did nail the performance, though).  Maybe a good career move for her, since the last few times I’ve seen her on television she’s been asking me to save abused pets. But between those ads and that song, she’s unquestionably the reigning Debbie Downer.

Eat, already!

Eat, already!

Kristin Chenoweth squeaked and squirted so much during her crying jag that the high-pitched whine probably killed one of Mickey Rourke’s dogs. I was surprised by her win, but she is talented (Wicked on Broadway? Girl, please!) and now can hopefully afford to buy a sandwich. She was the first person that said “this is really heavy” when holding the Emmy Award that I believed. Really – the girl makes Olive Oyl look fat. Great bit pimping for jobs on Mad Men and 24 now that her show is cancelled.

Ricky Gervais. Pure freakin’ gold. I don’t know if he could keep up that pace for the entire program, but I’d sure like to watch him try. As solid as Neil Patrick Harris was – and he was very good – Gervais has the fastest mind I’ve seen since Robin Williams in his prime. Combine that with a self-deprecating attitude and a bold disregard for convention (I’m willing to go there, and don’t care what you think about it) and you get both humor and unpredictability. He is, as the Brits say, brilliant.

"We fixed the glitch"

"Fixing the glitch"

Comedy WTF Award: Toni Collette. Really? Really?? I’ll bet more people lost betting on Tina Fey than the ones betting on these guys or them or (sniff!) them. I remember hearing about The United States of Tara being scheduled but that’s the last time I heard it mentioned. Tina Fey might be getting so many accolades that there’s a backlash, but she was funnier than ever this year. But she nailed the guest appearance as Sarah Palin and won that Emmy as expected, plus having 30 Rock win was probably more satisfying, since it works because it’s an ensemble piece. (Well, more satisfying to me, anyway.)

Loved Brian’s Emmy vote. “Suit up!”

Perhaps it was because they front loaded the comedy, but after all those overt verbose kudos to Lorne Michaels,I figured he either was quietly diagnosed with inoperable cancer or owns a scrapbook with incriminating photos of everyone he’s ever worked with. (Probably it’s just that he’s a nice guy).

There were some repeat winners I can’t argue with – Jon Stewart, Alec Baldwin – they deserve the accolades. Happy to see Michael J. Fox snag a Guest Actor win for Rescue Me; it reminded me of some shows and people who got overlooked entirely.

Really Mad Men

Really Mad Men

Drama kudos: Bryan Cranston. I figured that Jon Hamm would walk off with it as Mad Men gets a lot of Emmy love, but Cranston is unbelievable in his role and well deserving. Can’t knock the win by Michael Emerson, either – here’s a guy who was so good that a guest spot on Lost was transformed into the central character on the show. But I wish the voters showed the love to Aaron Paul, Cranston’s co-lead on Breaking Bad, who had a (ahem) breakout year.

And speaking of breakouts…WTF was up with that “breakout moment of the year” polling? Those were the three most transcendent moments on television this year? Really? Did they limit the voting to people under the age of twelve? Not only was the gimmick itself distracting and juvenile, but the impact was…well, what’s the opposite of buzzworthy?

Some good presenter moments, too. Jimmy Fallon’s dance injury bit was great. Justin Timberlake after Sarah Silverman’s moustache shot (“That’s what hormones will do“). Ken Howard (The White Shadow!!) hoping his speech “doesn’t get interrupted by a Congressman or a rapper”, then cracking an opportune SAG joke. Amy Poehler and Julia Louis-Dreyfus smilingly confirming the end of broadcast television as a vital medium. Jessica Lange -a cougar even at 60-  saying parts (ahem)  “don’t come around that often for me anymore“. The always randy Dana Delaney  topping that with “I like a man who delivers week after week!” Bryan Cranston saying he’s thankful that Glenn Close is actually a woman. Tina Fey taking a well-deserved shot at NBC by thanking them for keeping 30 Rock on the air “even though its much more expensive than a talk show“.

Who would have thought that after their Super Bowl duet, Justin Timberlake would be so much more popular than Janet Jackson’s breast? I’m still not a fan of his music, but the guy is funny as hell and despite incredible fame seems to be pretty humble about it. If only more famous people took themselves less seriously.

Oh, wait. Then we wouldn’t have Award Shows. Never mind.

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