Tag Archives: Upright Citizen’s Brigade

T.G.I.F. – Ten SCTV Skits

SCTV is on the air!

I was discussing a certain popular television show with a friend when I realized I described a character’s demise as having “blowed up real good“. And just like that, we were off on a tangent, talking about all the great SCTV characters and skits we had enjoyed over the years, and what a great and eclectic cast SCTV had. Guy Caballero, Count Floyd, Edith Prickley, Ed Grimley, Sammy Maudlin, Bob and Doug McKenzie, Bobby Bittman, Jackie Rogers Jr., The Shmenge Brothers…an endless parade of weird and wonderful Melonville mania. 

Video: Celebrity Blow Up on The Farm Report 

There’s a whole lot more to Second City than the television show, of course; it has a storied history as one of the greatest comic workshops of all time. Many, many famous people have walked those stages, and the genesis of Saturday Night Live was a direct result of that factory. 

Here’s a great book that you can get used for as low as fifteen cents plus shipping! And of course I’ve touted Jeffrey Sweet’s book  Something Wonderful Right Away in these pages before. 

I’m thrilled that so many comedy troupes and improv companies started getting the respect they deserve, from The Kids In The Hall to Upright Citizen’s Brigade, but I am also a firm believe that we should always remember those who helped blaze the trail. 

So here are ten SCTV skits that show the wide bandwidth of appeal the show had – what a wonderful combination of parody, impressions and out-of-their-mind sketches, all tied back to the central theme of the television station. It would take far too long to go back and re-think what my top ten favorites are, so just take these as a quick sampler rather than a rated list. The SCTV  DVDs are available at very reasonable prices and they will give you years of smiles. 

 

01The Queen Haters on Mel’s Rockpile 

02Half Wits. A classic game show parody. 

03The Happy Wanderers, Yosh and Stan Shmenge 

04Orson Welles films a commercial with Liberace

05The Great White North – mouse in a beer bottle. 

 

06Perry Como, Still Alive 

07Jerry Lewis sings Bob Dylan

08Ricardo Montalban School of Fine Acting 

09 Count Floyd and his Scary Stories 

10Battle of the PBS Stars 

 

More great history at the SCTV Guide pages 

SCTV.org also has some info you’ll enjoy 

Another book: SCTV Episode Guide 

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Stand Up Wit…Aziz Ansari

He's the shorter one.

Aziz Ansari is on a roll. This week sees the release of his first stand-up CD  entitled Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening; the special of the same name premieres tonight at 10:00pm EST on Comedy Central.  

Ansari has been getting a lot of buzz recently thanks to a breakout year. His performance as club comic Raaaaaaaandy in the Adam Sandler / Judd Apatow film Funny People stole the show, and his name has peppered countless “comics to watch” lists. His success is no surprise to those familiar with his stand-up or his prior show Human Giant; audiences are attracted to his ability to be sharp-tongued and sympathetic at the same time.

And while his character on Parks and Recreation is on the surface a self-serving, skirt-chasing weasel, this season the writers have given him an opportunity to show that there is a heart underneath the bravado of Tom Haverford…and he nailed it. 

So I’m thrilled that Aziz is getting a highly promoted special and CD/DVD release, because Intimate Moments is really strong. His presentation is energetic and it’s clear the audience is having as much fun as he is and are fully on board even though most of the routines are the antithesis of one-liners or observational comedy. His stories center around personal experiences that sprout from his celebrity status but completely avoid ethnic pandering and self-worship. It’s Aziz lifting the curtain and saying to us “can you believe this shit?” as he riffs on Kanye West and R. Kelly, pranking his cousin Harris, redneck cruises, skanky reality shows,  and why Craigslist is even sicker than you thought. The upcoming DVD will have some bonus footage of Aziz as Raaaaaaaandy as well as a thirty minute show filmed at the UCB (Upright Citizen’s Brigade) Theatre from last November. 

Looks like the new year and new decade of comedy is off to a flying start; I have no qualms about tagging this one a Best of 2010 contender only two weeks into the year. 

Aziz Ansari website

Funny or Die Raaaaaaaandy mockumentary parts one, two and three

Where are those punk ass book jockeys?

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Stand Up Wit…Matt Braunger

Owls well that ends well

I guess I should learn to pay closer attention when I see funny skits on MAD TV and SNL and jot down the names of the new cast members and bit players. For once again I find myself laughing out loud while listening to a comedy CD and then realizing later why the name sounded a wee bit familiar (in this case, the “Officer Laughs” sketch). So if the name Matt Braunger doesn’t immediately ring a bell for you either, do not let that stop you from grabbing a copy of Soak Up The Night as soon as possible.

Braunger studied improv in Chicago under Del Close and is a regular at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles; this is his first CD. Deep-voiced and six-foot four, what could be an imposing physical presence is offset by his approachable guy next door persona. Ironically, the weakest part of the set opens the CD, as a routine about convincing his family that he’s a professional comedian morphs into a character study of an unhinged uncle. But he rebounds quickly with bits about classic bathroom graffiti, gangstas who dig The Smiths, religious zealots, and why you need to be literate when interviewed. Lots of well structured stories with great throw-away lines that flow really well despite few overt segues.

The killer bits, as they should, appear later in the routine – why there should never be eye contact in porn, why Jim Morrison was mistakenly anointed as a poet and especially the routine about pet owls – hilarious on the CD but even better with his physical gestures (see clip below). And that’s what I really like about Braunger; his animated delivery enhances the material but his writing is so strong that the jokes stand up well without the visuals.

It’s always great to discover a CD from a comedian who has gimmick-free, self-deprecating humor, and I hope that Comedy Central Records signed him up for more down the line. Highly recommended.

Matt nails his TV debut on David Letterman.

Matt’s website and MySpace site

Listen to some clips on Amazon.

Video: “Driving Mr. Morrison

Video: “Drink and Drive-Thru

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Premium Podcasts

iLaugh

iLaugh

Hard to believe that in my short lifetime I’ve experienced the glory of classic AM pop radio, the summit of FM rock radio, the death of terrestrial radio (thanks, right-wing nutjobs and lip-synching pop artists) and the launch of Satellite radio. Somehow, after all that, radio still sucks.

Thank goodness for podcasts.

Of course, the downside to radio at your own terms is that you are able to listen at your own terms. No longer are you tethered to a live broadcast or a physical medium, so you can stack these puppies up like 45s on a spindle and fire one off after another. Productivity? Kiss it goodbye. Family obligations? Whoops!

Hey, in modern society people don’t communicate directly, anyway. This is just another excuse to isolate your sorry ass. So as long as you are going to walk around like a zombie with earbuds, at least let me point you towards some great podcasts so you can laugh out loud while you do so and keep the curious people even further away from you so you can wallow in your self-centered haze…

crowded city street

Alone again, unnaturally

Bill Burr: Monday Morning Podcast. It’s one thing to think quick on your feet, but what do you call it when you’re sitting in a chair? Burr just gets better and better.

Will Durst: A Burst of Durst. Vastly underrated comedian with razor sharp political savvy, a less angry Lewis Black. Grab his CDs – they’re excellent.

Marc Maron: WTF. For my money, one of the three greatest standups working today, along with Doug Stanhope and Louis CK. Twice a week I get to eavesdrop on a conversation I’d kill to be part of.

Jimmy Pardo: Never Not Funny. Three way fun with co-host Matt Balknap and a comedian guest, seemingly plotless but that’s the fun.

Comedy Nerd: The Stand Up Chronicles. Comedians fascinate me, so if I like their routines, I like interviews and features about them as well. Adam has a great ecletic list of comics here.

Ricky Gervais: The Ricky Gervais Podcasts. Don’t let the bland name fool you – he’s never done anything unfunny in his life. Might be on hiatus for now but enough of a backlog to savor.

Doug Benson: I Love Movies. Filmed live in front of an audience at the UCB Theatre and featuring great guests, it’s movie chat and buzzed comedy.

Dylan Gadino: A Tight 5ive. Five minute conversations between the Editor of Punchline Magazine and comics playing at Comix in NYC.

Jon Fisch: In The Tank. A comic who should be better known and a host of visitors chew the fat. Informal and relaxed to the point that they might forget they’re taping.

John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman: The Bugle. I see your RomComs and raise you two BritTwits.

Not secret or hidden Bonus Track: Comedy Death Ray

IOTBS pod

theyPod

There are tons more, of course. Some of my favorite comedians do them very well. Some others who I think would absolutely kill at it (I’m talking to you, Norm MacDonald) just aren’t interested or don’t have the time (or they’re Luddites). Many routines and programs are available for audio and/or video download, of course, but that’s just a convenient way to access already established content. I’m more interested in ones like the above; original material created just for the podcast.

Not saying these are the best shows or even The Best Showyour mileage may vary. Hell, I hope it does!  Enjoy…

Did somebody say Firesign Theatre?

 

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Stand Up Wit…Maria Bamford

The only time you will ever think "dog" when Maria Bamford's name is mentioned.

This is the only time you will ever think of the word "dog" when Maria Bamford's name is mentioned.

If they ever remake the movie Sybil, casting directors need look no further than Maria Bamford. She’s already got the multiple personality thing down so well, I’m starting to wonder if her actual speaking voice (think a more intellectual Georgette from The Mary Tyler Moore Show) is really one of her characters and she’s hiding elsewhere. Because as hilarious as it is to hear the caustic observations Bamford shoots out like so much confetti, it’s even funnier hearing it coming out of the mouth of the innocent sounding attractive lady who is holding the microphone. It’s as if her face is just the conduit for a couple of dozen people in her head fighting for stage time…in a controlled, orderly compulsive fashion, of course.

This is Bamford’s third album, and like How To Win and The Burning Bridges Tour, is flat-out hilarious. She’s savaged family members before, but never as funny as scripting her parents lines so she can practice being heckled, or torching her more-successful sister. (Oh, to be a fly on the wall at Thanksgiving at the Bamford home). Of course, ehe also targets her own inadequacies as well as some deserving targets (my favorite being the tyrannical pet advisor). And anyone who starts a routine by imitating the baby Jesus (a/k/a/ “B.J.”) leaving voicemails is telling you there aren’t many lines she won’t cross…or in Bamford’s case, vault over.

Even though I’m familiar with her work, I’m still stunned when she lets out with a few well chosen obsceneties because she’s that good keeping me locked in on her stage persona. A wonderful mimic, she doesn’t just do characters, she inhabits them, and if there’s one drawback to her audio CD it’s that you don’t get to see her posture, gestures and facial impressions. But that’s a small price to pay when the material is as consistently funny as it is here.

The tag “alternative” comic really boils down to the antithesis of a Vegas joke routine or the standard hackneyed observational comedy targets, with more journeys into storytelling or character assimilation. Bamford is extremely comfortable – and fearless – playing in this arena; her tightrope walk across a chasm of insanity is dazzling to the point where one wonders whether she’s crafted a majestic persona or has merely stripped her psyche bare for all to see…and in an entertaining way.

Crazy? Or crazy like a fox? No one ever really figured out Andy Kaufman, and I imagine only those close to Bamford know the truth here either. If you are one who can get on board with her journey you will be richly rewarded. Look no further than the last track where she channels a hack “chick comic”; it’s such a complete and overt transition it’s as if someone suddenly switched channels on your TV from Adult Swim to The View. (And I imagine there are a few lady comics who will delete Maria from their Christmas card list…)

The CD alone would be highly recommended, but the fact that it includes the entire web series The Maria Bamford Show, it’s a no-brainer. The webisodes are hilarious and now can be enjoyed in a better format and setting.

Buy the CD/DVD directly from Maria (autographed!)

Maria Bamford’s MySpace page and website.

Check out some clips on Rooftop Comedy.

maria bamford 2

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For Whom the Del Tolled

Whose yer daddy? (Apparently, he was...)

Whose yer daddy? (Apparently, he was...)

Good weekend for reading.  I just finished Kim Johnsons‘s excellent book The Funniest One In The Room about the life of Del Close, a legend of the improv theatre world. Pretty much any American comic working the edges today can be traced back to his influence, along with that of Paul Sills and Viola Spolin (Sills’ mother), and the long form model known as The Harold.  In tandem with the early Brirtish movement, his work also impacted landmark television shows like SNL, SCTV, MAD TV, Mr. Show, Whose Line Is It Anyway and others. Close died ten years ago; his influence will probably be eternal.

Johnson, who was a student of Close, was somehow able to stitch together a story about an unconventional man’s life, weaving a narrative out of the fact, fiction and legends like a person would pan for gold. I didn’t know the man personally, but when you read the testimonials from comedians who praise the book, you’ll go on faith like I did. It’s well-written, peppered with wonderful anecdotes, and a great peek behind the comedy curtain.

Here are just some of the groups that Close impacted as either an actor, writer, director or influence – the list of famous names who have interned through them is staggering:

I’ve read a few good books on the history of comedy over the last few years. I’ll save that overview for another day, but rest assured this title will be on the list – highly recommended for any fan of the genre.

The man willed his skull to the Goodman Theatre for their next presentation of Hamlet. Need I say more?

 skull

Truth In Comedy – a book Close co-authored with Johnson and Charna Halpern.

Del Close Wikipedia page.

Serendipity! Looks like the two comedy albums Del made are set for re-release in July.

I Am The Skull of Del Close

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