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Comedy Awards Tonight!

I’ve sat through countless other awards – why not for comedy?

Tonight at 9pm Eastern on Comedy Central, the first Comedy Awards will be broadcast. I’m not certain whether I can say “first annual” since the promotion for the show lists it as a historic, one-night-only celebration”.

According to the website, nominees were selected by The Comedy Awards Board of Directors, which includes: James Burrows, Stephen Colbert, Billy Crystal, James Dixon, Budd Friedman, Whoopi Goldberg, Brad Grey, Caroline Hirsch, Blair Kohan, Martin Lesak, Steve Levine, Seth MacFarlane, Adam McKay, Jimmy Miller, Conan O’Brien, Peter Principato, Don Rickles, Joan Rivers, Jay Roach, Chris Rock, Ray Romano, Rory Rosegarten, Phil Rosenthal, Michael Rotenberg, George Schlatter, Sharon Sheinwold Jackson, Mitzi Shore, David Steinberg,Jon Stewart, Lily Tomlin, Sandy Wernick and Geof Wills. That’s an odd mix of the deserving and the obscure.

You are also able to log on for the simulcast, which starts at 8:45 and features commentary by Andy Daly and Jen Kirkman along with red carpet interviews by Christian Finnegan. Andy and Jen will also host a series of short intermissions throughout the show with more interviews and coverage of the backstage press conference. Among the interviewees are Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Louis CK, Andy Samberg, Bill Hader, Kristin Schaal, Olivia Munn, Craig Robinson, Questlove & The Roots, Ty Burrell, Chloe Moretz, The Gregory Brothers, Rob Corddry and more.

Here are your categories and nominees for the event. Since the actual event took place on March 26th, you could spoil everything by looking up the winners or even watching the acceptance speeches. But that would only be funny if you could find a stupid person to wager with.

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…and now, The Oscars

Finally, the big daddy of the back-patting events is upon us.

Tonight’s Oscar hosts are James Franco and Anne Hathaway, as the industry makes an obvious ploy to skew younger. That sentiment probably won’t carry over into the actual voting, where veteran actors who might have been bypassed earlier in their careers get rewarded at the expense of a newcomer who has his whole career ahead of him. Really…Al Pacino won for Scent Of A Woman? Paul Newman won for The Color Of Money?

And sometimes this screws over a more deserving veteran actor. Yes, I’m talking to you, Henry Fonda! No way Burt Lancaster shouldn’t have won in 1981 for his amazing performance in Atlantic City!)

But I digress. The Oscar host thing has always been a conundrum. Bob Hope owned the role for years, as did Johnny CarsonBilly Crystal did it well and got to keep the job for a while, seemingly alternating every couple of years with Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg. But lately it’s been as volatile and unpredictable as a Charlie Sheen alibi; the only repeat host in the last ten years was Jon Stewart in 2006 and 2008 (Steve Martin hosted in 2003 but co-hosted in 2010). Stewart was excellent, but has the grind of his Daily Show schedule. But Wolverine Hugh Jackman was incredibly game and entertaining and got raves for his stint, yet wasn’t asked to repeat?

Perhaps tonight will be fine; Franco is a likeable guy, and Hathaway proved she is as fearless as she is talented when she joined Jackman onstage a few years ago. But for the self-proclaimed “Hollywood’s Biggest Night“, one would expect a real game-changer at the helm. And as afraid of him as they obviously are, I think any awards show not hiring Ricky Gervais is settling.

Here is the list of nominees.

I’m pretty much sticking with the picks I made right after the nominations came out, although The King’s Speech has picked up incredible momentum since then, along with Geoffrey Rush. But I have a feeling that the Darren Aronofsky magic touch will again become the Darren Aronofsky curse; Mickey Rourke lost to more established Hollywood veteran Sean Penn, and Annette Bening has never won for Best Actress despite four nominations. (No truth to the rumor that Natalie Portman got pregnant to sway the sympathy vote.) I also wouldn’t bet my life on Supporting Actress, as this is a category where teenagers can and do win, especially when they are playing more of a lead role.

My predictions for tonight’s winners:

Best Picture: The Social Network
Best Director: David Fincher, The Social Network
Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Best Actress: Annette Bening, The Kids Are Alright
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Best Original Screenplay: Christopher Nolan, Inception
Best Cinematography: Wally Pfister, Inception
Best Score: Trent Reznor, The Social Network

While you await tonight’s ceremony here are some treats to pass the time:

Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter act out the Best Picture nominees

Ricky Gervais wrote an opening script for Franco and Hathaway

You can bet on anything – even the In Memorium montage.

Racetrack odds on tonight’s favorites to Win…Place and Show mean nothing!

***

Tomorrow: The winners, the losers, the analysis.

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Comedy Awards; R.I.P. Mick Green

It's OK to drink and vote, it's comedy!

Looks like comedy will get the last laugh after all.

MTV Networks and Comedy Central, along with Don Mischer Productions, will present The Comedy Awards, the “first multi-network event dedicated to the serious art of being funny” The affair will honor the writers, directors, actors and stand-up comics who made us laugh in 2010.

The event will take place on March 26, 2011 at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, while the program will be simulcast on Comedy Central, Spike TV, TV Land, VH1 and Nick at Nite on Sunday, April 10, 2011.

This is actually pretty exciting. I’m seeing a comedy boom unlike any since the 80s, and as sad as it has been to lose so many of my comedy heroes over the past few years, there is a new generation making its mark thanks in large part to their ability to produce and distribute work online. It’s time to leverage the activity, and New York is the right place to do it. I really, really  hope they get this right.

Nominees will be chosen by The Comedy Awards, Board of Directors, a prestigious group of comedy legends including Will Ferrell, Billy Crystal, James Burrows, Whoopi Goldberg, Seth MacFarlane, Brad Grey, Phil Rosenthal, Adam McKay, Jimmy Miller and Jay Roach, among others.”  That’s actually a decent start with decent representation of performers and show runners, with people who are dialed in to the current scene as well as the classics.

Winners will be selected by the Comedy Awards Voting Body, comprised of professionals from the comedy community-including producers, writers, performers, directors and stand-ups. In addition, comedy fans from around the world will nominate and cast their votes in online-only categories…”. It will be interesting to see what the categories are, and whether they follow the path of having people vote only within their appropriate categories. But I like the fact that, at least for the major awards, this is not an online circus dominated by people who have limited awareness of the history of the art.

Obviously there will be a slew of hot performers to spice up the event and broadcast (and DVD sale, and t-shirts, and …). The press release says it’s an “historic one-night-only celebration” but you know this is going to turn into a cash cow and be an annual event. And after the embarrassing list of nominees for “Best Comedy Album” that the Grammys belched out, who could blame them?

Let’s hope for a serious Hall of Fame and a tribute to recent losses like Robert Schimmel, Greg Giraldo and Richard Jeni. Better yet, how about a perpetual exhibit featuring the history of comedy? Take the initially great idea of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and avoid their mistakes.

I will say that the mention of MTV made me throw up in my mouth a little until I realized that they and Comedy Central are owned by the same parent corporation, Viacom.

Read all about it at the official website.

And R.I.P. one of rock’s founding fathers, guitarist Mick Green. His innovative work in bands like Johnny Kidd and The Pirates was a huge influence on countless bands, from The Who and Chris Spedding to Dr. Feelgood to revivalist garage and Mod bands that feature that simultaneous lead/rhythm style of playing.

I’m not sure where we go when we die, but the band just got way better.

Mick Green website

The Pirates

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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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