Tag Archives: Stand Up Wit

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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Stand Up Wit…Adam Carolla

I’ve never been a big Adam Carolla fan.

I always found Carolla to be a bit smug, although in fairness it’s pretty much the role he was playing on such highbrow fare as Loveline and The Man Show. And frankly, people like Dr. Drew and Dr. Phil (never trust a doctor with only a first name, says Dr. Bristol) are as twisted and codependent as their idiot callers and guests. Carolla just played the bystander who was really pity-mocking the poor saps on the help shows and doing what any overgrown adolescent would love to do on The Man Show…if they had the freedom and the budget.

But Carolla’s book In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks is pretty funny, because he remembers the first rule of comedy – make yourself a target as well. That way no matter how petty or whiny or condescending you get, you’re really saying “I know, right?” rather than defending your lofty perch. There is no shortage of people, institutions and concepts to attack, and Carolla does so with vigor.

The book reads like a collection of related thoughts rather than a narrative flow, which is perfect for bathroom reading (coincidentally the subject of chapter 7), and his rambling observations and caustic asides are peppered with anecdotes involving some of his famous friends, most notably Jimmy Kimmel. Some fo it is a little whiny and pretentious, but a lot of it is pretty damned funny.

Read excerpts here.

But he has a point – look at that cover picture and focus on your first thought. That’s right – biker leather no longer makes you think of tough guys like Marlon Brando or Lee Marvin…you think Village People. When did that happen? The book is loaded with observations that wonder aloud when common sense took a backseat to popularity, and why celebretards – people famous only for being famous – should be worth anyone’s precious time.

I won’t go back and watch The Man Show (and I like Joe Rogan and Doug Stanhope even more than I like Jimmy Kimmel), and I’d take a bullet to the head before watching something like Loveline. But if I ever see Adam Carolla, I’m going to buy him a beer, or ten.

And I guarantee it won’t be light beer

Smug as a bug in a rug

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John Oliver’s NY Stand Up is Back!

Britwit John Oliver has tickled our funnybones in featured guest roles on The Daily Show and Community, and last year he was given the reins of a comedy showcase called New York Stand Up. The format was deceptively simple; straight ahead stand-up comedy without the fluff, featuring some of the brightest minds working the NYC scenes today. Although limited to six episodes, we were treated to hilarious spots from Kristin Schaal, Matt McCarthy, Marc Maron, Janeane Garafolo and Nick Kroll among many others.

And wonder of wonders, it got renewed! The new season, again hosted by Oliver, premieres on Thursday, March 24 at midnight, after The Colbert Report.

The obviously titled John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show features Oliver opening each of the six episodes with original material and then introducing four comedians across the hour. Maria Bamford, Greg Behrendt, David Koechner, Kirk Fox, Al Madrigal, and Pete Holmes close each of their episodes with super-sized stand-up sets. The complete line-up boasts new stand-up from Anthony Jeselnik, Brendon Walsh, Deon Cole, Glenn Wool, Jen Kirkman, Kumail Nanjiani, Kyle Kinane, Marina Franklin, Mike Lawrence, Moshe Kasher, Rory Albanese, Rory Scovel, and Tommy Johnagin.

If you know these names, you will certainly agree that it’s an incredible lineup. And if you don’t know those names…man, are you about to have your mind blown. Oliver kicks off the season with a harrowing story of a flight diversion to Hanover, Germany and a thorough defense of the importance of swearing. Joining him on the premiere are Kyle Kinane, Glenn Wool, Rory Scovel and Pete Holmes. Leading up to the on-air premiere and throughout the new season, Jokes.com will feature preview clips and highlights from the series, as well as a special live version of the show staged at SXSW.

After yesterday’s devastating news, I can sure use some cheering up. It will be bittersweet knowing that there are a couple of people missing from that lineup, but I’m looking forward to great stand up comedy once again displacing some of the celebretard programming dominating my cable guide.

 

Such a cheeky little monkey...

 

 

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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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T.G.I.F. – Ten Comic Clips

The human race has one really effective weapon and that is laughter.”
 (Mark Twain)

Sadly, Mark Twain never won the Mark Twain Award for Comedy, but that doesn’t mean his words weren’t prescient. I need some laughs this weekend, and I’ll wager a bunch of you do, too. So let’s lock and load.

Here are Ten Comic Clips from some of my favorite performers.

(01) Stewart Lee on political correctness.

(02) Joe Rogan on Noah’s Ark

(03) Brendon Burns on feminism

(04) Darren Frost on today’s youth

(05) Eddie Izzard on Stonehenge

(06) Richard Herring on religion

(07) Jim Jefferies on drinking

(08) Ricky Gervais on the obesity problem

(09) Louis CK on gay marriage

(10) Robert Schimmel on Hollywood Squares

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T.G.I.F. – Ten More 2010 Comedy Albums

Yeah, I know it’s the end of January.

I’ve been compiling Top 10 album lists (and beyond) for music for over twenty-five years. It started as a conversation piece among a few friends (and as frightening as that sounds, that group continues to swap lists annually) and eventually worked its way into magazines I write for. I’m proud to have been part of the Village Voice Pazz’n’Jop poll for the last decade, even as my nominees seem to distance themselves from the vox populi a little more every year (tomorrow’s entry will delve a bit deeper into that).

But I have always been a comedy fan and a fan of comedy albums. Many friends wonder how I can listen to a routine more than once and find it funny. I’m not sure I can explain why except to say that (1) not every comedy album is worth multiple listenings and (2) I don’t even want to analyze and define the formula that will make me gasp for air in fits of laughter. I just know that funny is funny.

So this week after much hand-wringing and ear-wrangling, I laid out the Ten Best Comedy Albums of 2010. And trust me, 2010 was a great year for comedy albums – there are many more beyond this. And 2011 is already off to a great start with Brian Regan, Louis CK, Jim Norton and Nick Griffin having new releases on the shelf, with a ton more on the schedule.

So for now, allow me to bring your attention to Ten More 2010 Comedy Albums to should check out. Alphabetically arranged, but jump in anywhere…

01) Will Durst, Raging Moderate (Stand Up! Records) – One of the best political comics of our generation; I wish he had a bigger pulpit to preach from.

02) Chris Fairbanks, Fairbanks! (Rooftop Comedy) – You know that friend who will say anything to make you laugh? The sillier it gets, the further he’ll go?

03) Janeane Garofalo, If You Will (Image Entertainment) – Few people are as adept at stripping themselves bare, warts and all, no apologies.

04) Tommy Johnagin, Stand Up Comedy (Rooftop Comedy) – Just missed my Top Ten, a little short and crashes at the end. But the first 30 minutes is gold.

05) Jackie Kashian, It’s Never Going To Be Bread (Stand Up! Records) – Next time someone says there are no good female comics, slap them and give them this album.

06) Simon King, Unfamous Comedian (Uproar Entertainment) – Almost an hour-long of non-stop tangents, and when you open with “llama fisting”…

07) Shane Mauss, Jokes To Make My Parents Proud (Comedy Central Records) – Imagine Kenneth from 30 Rock…only he’s high, sarcastic and condescending.

08) Tom Simmons, Keep Up (Rooftop Comedy) – Another Top Ten near-miss, mixes puns and one-liners with strong political and social commentary.

09) Dan Telfer, Fossil Record (A Special Thing Records) – I know, when someone said “dinosaur jokes”, I rolled my eyes too. Trust me.

10) Reggie Watts, Why Shit So Crazy? (Comedy Central Records) – By comparison, I’m not a big fan of comedy musicians, but this guy is a genius.

Starting Sunday, the countdown of the Ten Best Comedy DVDs of 2010.

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Stand Up Wit…Joan Rivers

I finally got to see the new Joan Rivers documentary, A Piece Of Work. While not a perfectly objective film – key people involved are her friends and she had suggestive input to the content – it paints what I believe to be a fairly honest picture of a driven artist who won’t take her hand off the throttle. Part of that drive is to maintain control and keep the cash flow coming in. Part of it is the fear that not doing so would make her irrelevant…but then she’s been fighting that battle since the beginning.

Since I’ve always known her as a comic first and foremost, I’m not certain just how many people perceive her more as the QVC hustler, the red carpet maniac or the poster child for plastic surgery. None of those are complimentary, but if  we learn anything from A Piece of Work it is that Joan will do just about anything for a paycheck. Of course, she sees it for what it is – a paycheck – and in fact the film opens with a shockingly vulgar routine about her daughter passing up just such an opportunity.

Through a combination of photos, clips and footage we get a high level overview of her career – the struggle to get started, the star-making opportunity with Johnny Carson (and the backlash when she launched her own show at Fox); her difficulties with and love for her family and how those ties both helped and hurt her chances. This isn’t a life arc, it was filmed as a year in the life, with anecdotes. While it’s done well, I was hoping for more focus on the backstory; certainly there are hundreds of people who could have provided recollections and insight. We do get a few talking heads, from Don Rickles and Kathy Griffin to staff and management people. Why so few?

Video: Official Movie Trailer

You’ll probably learn more about Joan Rivers by reading her books, but that’s her window. The documentarians neither canonize nor attack her, which allow you to see her insecurities as exactly what they are – fuel for the fire. Comedians have to deal with rejection every time they walk on stage. Rivers has dealt with so much throughout her life that it’s amazing she’s still in there punching. But then you see her take the stage, and it’s as if an appliance was suddenly plugged into a socket. She’s fearless and tireless, but most importantly, she’s funny.

Rivers is 77 years old, but her schedule would exhaust a soccer mom half her age. Her recent victory on Donald Trump’s boardroom reality show gave her some extensive network visibility, and a recent announcement has her starting a reality show with her daughter and grandson. This movie was nominated for Best Documentary by the Broadcast Critics and if the Academy follows suit with an Oscar nod, that’s another a couple of months of top rung publicity. There are some painful moments in the film dealing with loneliness and rejection (both personally and professionally); it would be nice to see her get the recognition she deserves and have her name once again be primarily associated with comedy.

Go see the film – but also go see the legend herself.

Official website for the film

Joan Rivers’ official website

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