Tag Archives: stand-up comedy

Bobcat Strikes Again

Just when you think he couldn’t get stranger…

Too many people know Bobcat Goldthwait from his lesser accomplishments – several Police Academy films, that screeching banshee voice (too many people missing the great jokes within) and lighting Jay Leno’s chair on fire (in retrospect, something more people wish they did). But Goldthwait, who occasionally returns to the stand-up stage, has made his mark as a television director, and with three unique films in five six , as a screenwriter and filmmaker as well.

It seems like a billion years ago that Bob made Shakes The Clown, “the Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies“, but it holds up twenty years later as a raucous and psychotic comedy. If you laughed at the gang-fight in Anchorman, you might want to check out the movie they lifted the idea from.

But while his later movies have been funny, they have mined humor from uncomfortable and disturbing situations. Consider the sick relationship in Sleeping Dogs Lie, the creepy father-son bond of World’s Greatest Dad, and finally this year’s God Bless America, which on first pass sounds like a cross between Repo Man and Natural Born Killers. Goldthwait’s newest film reportedly kicked ass at the Toronto International Film Festival. I can’t wait to see it. (Goldthwait told the L.A. Times that he thought the gun-happy film “was his own Springtime For Hitler”.)

Many people bailed on Bob after it seemed that his career would be a series of loser films like Burglar and Jumping Jack Flash. But Goldthwait, 50 next year, has found his true calling as a filmmaker with a unique voice.

As one of the biggest Kinks fans on the planet I am thrilled that he is making Schoolboys In Disgrace with the full cooperation of Ray Davies. Maybe Bob will get The Kinks the recognition they deserve…and get his own in the process.

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Louie

Shameless? More like fearless.

So I’ve been catching up on life after the sabbatical, and given the need to lift the spirits I opted to start with the saved episodes of Louie and Wilfred. There is too much to see and not enough time, and since I had been fairly current with both shows before the departure, they seemed like the logical places to start. Wilfred, of course, did not disappoint – still riotously funny and as black a comedy as we’re likely to get on television this year.

But Louie is playing at another level.

Where last year’s shows had been irreverent and original, the second season of Louie is exponentially greater. Not only has Louis CK become a better actor – partially because his character is so much richer – but the writing has been sharper, darker, and yes, fearless. He’s always been able to write himself as the central figure in uncomfortable situations, but now he is not only scripting extended guest roles into the mix, he’s getting compelling performances from fellow comedians.

Doug Stanhope’s recent turn as a bitter and despondent road comic was outstanding, as he skewered the celebrity of mass appeal comedians while reaching some poignant conclusions about his own life. So too was the performance from Joan Rivers, playing herself, chastising Louie on his lack of work ethic and his inability to overcome insecurity. Although Stanhope’s “Eddie” was a fictional character, he inhabited it with much of his own persona; he was the yang to Rivers’ yin as polar opposites on the comedy hierarchy.

But the jaw-dropping moment had to be Dane Cook, who Louis humbles himself to meet backstage at a gig hoping to score some Lady Gaga tickets for his daughters (the logic is that Gaga and Cook share an agent). In the scene, Cook – who has long been accused of ripping off jokes from Louis CK in real life – is bitter towards TV Louie for not coming out in his defense. Louie explains that although he didn’t think Cook stole the jokes on purpose, he likely knew that they had come from somewhere else and didn’t really stop himself, either. TV Cook is clearly angered by the lingering accusations, and amazed that Louie would still put himself through the humiliation just to get the tickets, but both men get to speak their piece without either really backing down.

About halfway through this exchange, I realized that I was watching two people who didn’t want to have this conversation in public actually have this conversation in public, albeit within the framework of a script. As clever as it was for Louis the writer, it was an equally ballsy move by Cook to participate.

And that’s just one part of one episode. Louie will not likely win the award for best comedy or best drama, but right now it just might be both.

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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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Happy Birthday Drew Carey!

From the first sighting on old cable comedy shows through Human Cartoon, The Drew Carey Show and Whose Line Is It Anyway, Drew Carey has consistently been among my favorite people. Self-deprecating, lightning quick and a bit on the raunchy side, he’s proven that he can make anything funny, even a game show. (Not that I’m watching The Price Is Right, even at gunpoint…)

The Drew Carey Show (and where is the complete series on DVD, people?) featured a first-rate cast and was cool enough to have Joe Walsh as a stoner guitarist (not much of a stretch); thanks to Ian Hunter and Drew Carey, Cleveland regained its coolness. We learned to appreciate Diedrich Bader and Ryan Stiles as comedic actors,  and were introduced to Mr. Wick, who we have come to love even more as Craig Ferguson, subversive late night host.

Adapting the British improv show, Whose Line introduced many of us to Greg Proops and Wayne Brady and especially Colin Mochrie, a first-class nutjob whose hundreds of interactions with Stiles are comedy classics at the level of Tim Conway and Harvey Korman.

It’s Drew in a nutshell – secure and unselfish enough to surround himself with brilliant people and let them shine, because the show comes first. If only more stars would be so egoless.

Happy Birthday, Drew!

Drew Carey - a true star.

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Heeeeeere’s Johnny!

Nineteen years ago today, Johnny Carson said goodbye.

Retiring after thirty years at the age of 66, Carson walked away from a show that became part of the fabric of American pop culture. Much like Ed Sullivan’s variety show, unknown performers could become instant superstars just by nailing a single appearance. Carson didn’t start the Tonight Show (Steve Allen and Jack Paar preceded him), nor would he finish it, but his impact upon it and the late-night talk show design will forever be paramount.

Other talk shows of the day were warm and fuzzy (Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas) or a bit cerebral (Dick Cavett); Carson blended both with a parade of incredible guests and a willingness to be as serious or silly as the situation required. He let people be themselves. During his reign, the show’s title became secondary to the man; artists simply referred to “being on Carson“.

On his final night, Carson went out with grace and class:

And so it has come to this: I, uh… am one of the lucky people in the world; I found something I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it. I want to thank the gentlemen who’ve shared this stage with me for thirty years. Mr. Ed McMahon, Mr. Doc Severinsen, and you people watching. I can only tell you that it has been an honor and a privilege to come into your homes all these years and entertain you. And I hope when I find something that I want to do and I think you would like and come back that you’ll be as gracious in inviting me into your home as you have been. I bid you a very heartfelt good night.”

Video: Excerpts from the final show

Although he never came back into the public eye, his legacy lives on through everyone who speaks into a microphone from behind a desk, and the advent of cable television has allowed many students to co-exist in the form. While initially his replacement Jay Leno and his protegé David Letterman split the bulk of the audience, a flood of worthy children now occupy the night-time hours and will be worthy successors to their aging mentors.

Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher have taken the political end of the spectrum to new heights; Stewart is often singled out as the most trusted source of news on television, despite his consistent disclaimer that his is a comedy show. (Speaks volumes about the networks, doesn’t it?).

After holding slots previously occupied by both Leno and Letterman, Conan O’Brien’s new TBS effort proved that people will follow the man, not the show. The embarrassing NBC debacle was followed by the guerilla Team Coco movement, and Conan remains a strong brand and a unique personality.

After shaky starts, Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson and especially Jimmy Fallon have proven to have solid and consistent programs that attract first-rate guests and feature brilliant writing. Along with smaller network show hosts (Chelsea Handler, George Lopez, Mo’Nique, Graham Norton), the comedy/music/chat formula is in good hands.

But to a person, each will point a finger back at the master, Johnny Carson.

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Stand Up Wit…Pat Cooper

Pat Cooper is an angry guy.

Of course you know that; angry is Pat Cooper’s schtick. I’ve listened to him do variations on the angry Italian guy my whole life, and as an act, it’s pretty funny even if a one-note performance. But who knew he was this angry in real life…about everything?

Sure, Howard Stern listeners have heard him rant on about just about everything, including pot-shots at his own family. But damn, after reading  How Dare You Say How Dare Me, I’m starting to wonder who Pat does like. If there’s a theme to the book, it’s not letting anyone tell you what to do, even if that costs you your family, a shitload of money and some great career opportunities. But Cooper, approaching 82, is still working steadily and has done so for almost sixty years. He’s on to something.

Video: Friar’s Roast of Frank Pastore

I was hoping Cooper’s autobiography would be a treasure trove of anecdotes about show business and comedy; he’s only crossed paths with thousands of famous names over the years. But those which are more than passing references are few and far between – some with praise (Jerry Lewis, Sergio Franchi), and many who got on Pat’s bad side for one reason or another. Some borrowed money and didn’t return it. Some didn’t treat him with the respect he wanted. Some just landed opportunities he thought he deserved.

It’s a pretty bitter story, actually, with Pat constantly reminding people that he’s “a name act”. Usually when you have to do that, it’s not that true. It might have been more interesting to hear how other people felt about him and thought of him, but autobiographies are usually one-sided affairs.

Video: Drew Carey Roast

In fairness to Pat, he is and continues to be a huge draw in the showroom circuit, and he’s carved such a niche for himself that he’ll likely work until he keels over on the stage. Thousand of people will pay top dollar to see him and likely laugh their asses off, and when he gets invited to roast some celebrity I’m sure he’ll go off on them like clockwork. But those people would be advised to skip the book.

Biographies of comedians usually fall into two categories – informative and funny, and the best ones are both. This one, unfortunately, is neither. I didn’t really learn much about Cooper that I didn’t know already, and what I did learn wasn’t complimentary. Pat is a legendary comic; just ask him, he’ll tell you. Pat holds a grudge. Pat doesn’t suffer fools, whether waiters, actors, radio hosts or his own family. If there is an astounding fact in the book, it’s that he was married to one woman for so long.

Pat Cooper on Wikipedia

Pat Cooper website

Pat Cooper swag at Laugh.com

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Stand Up Wit…Patton Oswalt

A failure pile in a sadness bowl…

I know there are many sitcom watchers who know about Patton Oswalt from his supporting role on King Of Queens. I’m not certain why, but I just never got around to watching that show. My introduction to Oswalt was strictly through the world of stand-up, where lines like the above would roll off his tongue and be simultaneously absurd and perfectly fitting. It’s the chalk line in humor that divides fans of the genre from the more conventional set-up punchline rinse repeat that some sadly feel is the only game in town.

Fans know he’s a brilliant writer and might expect his book Zombie Spaceship Wasteland to be comparable to his stage show. In a way, it is – Oswalt’s storytelling is engaging and magnetic; a John Cheever for the alienated sect. He might call this a collection of essays and be technically correct, but he’s also given us a thinly disguised biography, albeit an incomplete one.

Growing up a short drive from Washington DC yet not having the means to get there made Oswalt like a bird in a cage – smelling the freedom yet feeling the frustration of the locked door. His stories of Dungeons and Dragons, working in a subterranean movie theatre and defending against bullies in snow forts are palpable memories and show how a boy forced to rely on his imagination could develop it into a weapon, now used only for good (and our undying respect and amusement). Tales of adulthood include slumming in a Hollywood gifting suite and enduring what has to be among the worst road stories in stand-up comedy.

Most of the essays have their own comic pulse, but the asides and footnotes are priceless. There’s one that tangents off a thought about actions being perceived in so many different ways by onlookers who don’t have the back story for perspective. One involves a childhood friend who could no longer delay a bathroom break on a paper route, so after deciding the coast was clear, he defecated on a stranger’s lawn:

Who was in that house? Hopefully happy, sleeping people. But what if, in the depths of winter, there’d been some desperate soul who’d been awake all night, pondering his sorry lot in life, and had decided, around 3:47AM, “I’m going to throw open the curtains at dawn and decide whether to go on or end this pathetic charade right here and now.” Come five AM he peers out on God’s creation, sees the paperboy shitting on the lawn, and hangs himself with a jump rope in the basement. Worst Beckett play ever.

I was laughing at the imagery of the story, but the Beckett line killed me. If you are this twisted, you will love Patton Oswalt, and this book. If not…enjoy KFC.

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