Tag Archives: Tough Crowd

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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Greg Giraldo Benefit Concert

Anyone who has had loss in their lives knows that the Holiday season is an especially painful time. Greg Giraldo’s wife and young children are spending their first December without him.

Giraldo, who would have been 45 last Friday, never sparked on the radar of the general public the way he did with devoted comedy fans, who revered him as one of the sharpest minds in the game. Fellow comics spoke often of his unselfishness and approachability; you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who had a bad word to say about him. And although he was often the butt of jokes because of his lack of success, those skewering him were likely as bewildered by it as I am.

Videos: The Best of Greg Giraldo

Many of his peers will be performing as part of a benefit concert to raise money for Greg’s family. The star-studded show already lists Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Attell, Tom Papa, Lewis Black, Jim Norton, Judy Gold, Colin Quinn, Ted Alexandro and Jesse Joyce, with more names to come. The concert will take place Wednesday February 9th at The Beacon Theatre in NYC.

Tickets go on sale Saturday December 18th.

 

In the comedy world, Greg was a perfect ten.

 

 

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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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Stand Up Wit…Jim David!

If you were not aware that Jim David was gay, I think the cover of his third comedy album would probably tip you off. And I’m not just talking about the title (Notorious F.A.G.).

I was standing in Manhattan, a man came up and said, “they ought to take all these homos and put them on an island.” I said, “Merry Christmas, Bozo, you’re on it.”

I first encountered Jim on Tough Crowd where he was a frequent guest. If you weren’t quick with a dark sense of humor you would be eaten alive on that panel; Jim regularly held his own, often slipping in barbs that were so subtle even his colleagues would miss a beat. A North Carolina native, Jim lives in New York City and works the club circuit regularly when not touring in clubs and festivals.

Notorious F.A.G. has its moments but is inconsistent; there are sections that are lean and tight but others where the punch line takes a little too much effort. Part of this, like any audio comedy recording, is the absence of the physicality of the comedian, and Jim has great stage presence and an expressive face that adds a further dimension to his sarcastic takes. “Is Not Butter”, for example, obviously got a good response from the crowd in the club, but on the CD it’s a dry spot. But his accents are be spot-on and hilarious (the Ashley Wilkes and Morgan Freeman impressions were particularly priceless) and most characterizations come across well.

Video: A clip of Jim David’s stand-up act filmed at Carolines

I thought the bit about the gay tortoises was great, and several others like the letter from an angry club patron and visiting the Margaret Mitchell House were solid and engaging; ditto the “typical gay day”. And I absolutely loved the clever opening track – a disclaimer from his parents. I’m not sure wading through a five-minute routine about anal seepage was worth the punch line about anal bleaching, but I know I never want to hear the words “baked potato” and “screen door” in the same sentence again.

The album was recorded at shows in Portland, Maine and Atlanta in 2009 in front of two lively crowds. Jim has two other comedy CDs available, Live From Jimville and Eat Here and Get Gas, both worth grabbing. Like Notorious, he mostly avoids topical material that would date the routines (the OctoMom and Palin quips are worth it, though) so what was funny then is funny now.

Homophobes should avoid David’s albums for two reasons; first because the couple of gay sex routines will make them uncomfortable. And more importantly, the fact that David is just a funny guy – regardless of his sexuality – will make them really uncomfortable.

In addition to his stand-up success, his recent one-man show South Pathetic has been getting rave reviews. The play is about the worst community theatre group in the South trying to tackle A Streetcar Named Desire, with Jim performing all the key characters with accents and affectations. Hopefully this will get captured for posterity on a DVD so those of us not able to attend the live show can enjoy the madness.

Clips from Jim’s one man show, South Pathetic

Get tour dates and more info at Jim David’s website and MySpace page.

Today is also the birthday of the 14th Dali Lama. So…y’know…he’s got that going for him…which is nice.

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Last Comic Standing

Last Comic Standing might be worthy after all.

Thankfully, the format of the show seems to have improved. Reportedly there will be no “comic house” or oddball challenges this year, just rounds of stand-up and voting. I never enjoyed the forced drama of the “house”; it’s gimmicks like that which makes me find reality tv revolting. And while the challenges sometimes forced comics to think on their feet, sometimes they were so absurd that they only made everyone – participants and viewers – uncomfortable.

Craig Robinson, as host, does what Jay Mohr and other prior MCs failed to do – let the comics be the stars of the show. If we really are about to see twenty or thirty comics who have bubbled to the surface we don’t need a five-minute routine from the host. Robinson playfully teases the waiting crowd outside the door and has occasional post-audition banter with a comic. Short and sweet.

To say that the judges’ panel has vastly improved is an understatement. Ross Mark and Bob Read, the qualifying judges on previous shows, were occasionally funny, but mostly came off as tired and cranky. But the trio chosen for this season – Greg Giraldo, Andy Kindler and Natasha Leggero – are consistently funny.

Kindler is one of the most underrated comics working today; he’s subversive, whiny and hilarious with the ability to play broad or subtle. Giraldo has been a favorite of mine since Tough Crowd, and although he shines on Comedy Central Roasts, he never seems to get his due – hopefully this will change. And although Leggero could just sit there and look smoking hot, her turns on Chelsea Lately prove that she can run with the big dogs.

If there is a weakness in the three hours broadcast to date, unfortunately it’s the comedians. There have been some laughs, sure, but very few have distinguished themselves so far, and I’m hoping that the longer routines in the semi-finals will let them shine. Some of them are familiar faces who have already scored album releases and/or televised specials. But that’s no guarantee – some have made it to the next stage (Kirk Fox, Laurie Kilmartin, Shane Mauss, David Feldman), others were cut (Jimmy Dore, Cathy Ladman, Jim David – who has a new album out this month).

My favorites from tonight – Jesse Joyce, Mike DeStefano, Tommy Johnagin, Roy Wood Jr., Kurt Metzger. Last week’s nods go to Kirk Fox, Chris Pope, Jonathan Stymius, Rachel Feinstein and David Feldman. Next week – the rest of the New York auditions. Hope they saved some ringers!

Last Comic Standing wiki.

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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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Stand Up Wit…Jim Norton

Jim Norton on - not dropping - a stool.

It only seems fair that as the rest of the world focuses their attention on the Olympic Games, I choose to draw your attention to the re-release of two of Jim Norton’s comedy albums. Although previously available in CD format, today marks the first time these albums are available for digital download and streaming through popular stores such as iTunes, Amazon.com and Rhapsody. In other words, welcome to the Twenty-First Century, Jim

If you don’t know Jim, let’s just say these are not safe for play at the workplace, although I would hope that anyone who can read would figure out that bits called “Liz Taylor’s Hairy Hat” and “Bloody Lump on the Linoleum” might draw their own conclusion in that regard. Both are irreverent, hilarious, filthy, perverse, bizarre and mind-blowing, but what do you expect from a hooker and self-gratification fan whose two favorite words are teabag and tickle? It’s safe to say that when they made Little Jimmy Norton, they smashed the beaker

Used copies of Yellow Discipline and Trinkets I Made With Gorilla Hands have been going for over twenty-five bucks, so to be able to get these digitally for a normal price is a godsend for Norton fans, most of whom would have needed to chloroform Grandma and take her wallet to get the hard copies. 

I’m a big Norton fan; he draws his own line, crosses it and goes further down the road to drag someone back to see what he did. Although many swear by his Opie and Anthony tenure as his best comedic moments, I’m more partial to him walking the tightrope (and usually falling off, spectacularly) on Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, and his acerbic, perverted, leering pot dealer on the late, great Lucky Louie. (When you can make Rick Shapiro look normal, you are dancing on the edge, my friend). 

Norton has also written a pair New York Times best-selling books (Happy Endings: The Tales of a Meaty-Breasted Zilch and I Hate Your Guts)  and has had three HBO specials (Monster Rain, Down and Dirty with Jim Norton and One Night Stand, all now available on DVD) plus numerous stand-up sets on all the top shows. 

Amazingly he was in good standing during a run of Last Comic Standing when a filming conflict forced him to withdraw from the round of twenty finalists. The next step was whittling down to the ten comics who would move into the house (and therefore reap the most benefits from the television exposure). I still can’t imagine how Jim would have been able to survive the censors (although he killed on Letterman) but if the network had any cojones that would have turned reality television on its ear

So please buy Jim Norton’s CDs – hookers aren’t cheap, you know. 

Formal Attire

Tour dates, merch links and more info at Jim’s website (be sure to read the survey at the bottom!) and Jim’s wiki page 

Videos, including Jim on the Bob Saget Roast 

*** 

And they’re no longer here to celebrate, but we can – Happy Birthday to Ward Cleaver, Elvis Presley’s Best Songwriter and Cher’s Husband

More cake for us!

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