Comedy Central has gone through so many phases for how it goes about showcasing young comedic talent, that every so often, an idea becomes reality and years later, you wonder how, exactly.
Such was Comic Cabana, the 1997 summer series on Comedy Central that may have been the first real TV credit for the Upright Citizens Brigade quartet of Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh, Matt Besser and Ian Roberts. It came a year before they'd get their own Comedy Central series and two before they could open up their own theater in New York City.
About halfway through it, she begins to detail some very specific advice she learned from her improv comedy classes in Chicago (and later Saturday Night Live). But her overall theme is this: "You can't do it alone."
How true that is. Even if you're pursuing a career as a stand-up comedian. You can't do it alone. You need the support of friends, family and loved ones to get through this crazy, mixed-up world. But why hear me tell you this, when Harvard uploaded Poehler's speech.
Roll the clip.
A comedy fan named Danielle who goes by schwaggology on Tumblr was up late the other night watching the first season of the Upright Citizens Brigade's Comedy Central series from way back in 1998 when something caught her eye.
Sitting alongside UCB members Amy Poehler and Matt Besser were mostly college-aged fresh-faced kids (just as you'd see in many UCB show audiences today in NYC or Hollywood). But in the third episode of season one, "Saigon Suicide Squad," check out a few faces in particular. As Danielle points out with arrows, you can see what Paul Scheer, Rob Corddry, Nick Kroll and Rob Riggle looked like many years before they were TV famous themselves.
I wanted to find out more about how this episode could attract so much future talent, so I asked Paul Scheer how he got this very early TV credit. Scheer told The Comic's Comic:
"As far as Saigon -- I was in every episode of UCB season 1 sometimes twice an episode (as an extra -- I think I eventually got one line). They used all their students as extras, none of us got paid but they had great snacks. Saigon was a taping of their amazing stage show, so that was an easy one but that was a super fun night up in Harlem.
I think Nick was a freshman in Georgetown. I was still in NYU. But if you watch the 1st season everyone is there. It's fun looking back."
This photo also works as a great advertisement for taking classes at the UCB's Theatres: From students to stars!
After being off the air for the fall and first part of winter, Parks and Recreation returns to the NBC lineup this Thursday. Apparently, nobody told Rob Lowe until Funny or Die could get camera crews in place for this NSFW video. Kidding. We're all kidding.
But seriously. Just keep an eye on Aziz Ansari during this video.
Thirty-six seasons, and despite any number of people who say "Saturday Night Live hasn't been funny since _____ ______ left the show," the show goes on and on and continues to be an iconic television program that not only generates talk in offices and schools the following Monday, but also continues to contribute to the national discussion on political and social issues.
I'm not sure anyone knew quite what to expect for the start of SNL's 36th season, considering its four new hires constituted the biggest addition to the cast since 2001, as well as what effect the departures (planned or unplanned) of veteran wild card Will Forte and newcomer Jenny Slate might have on the show's pre-existing recurring sketches. Perhaps knowing all of this -- as well as the lackluster starts offered in seasons 34 and 35 by world-famous but not necessarily funny hosts Michael Phelps and Megan Fox, respectively -- Lorne Michaels turned to a trusted former star of SNL in Amy Poehler to host the premiere. Of course, as we quickly learned, Michaels looked to ensure the premiere was even more of a sure thing by inviting back several of SNL's other recent bright stars for cameos both brief and extended. So. Let's get to recapping!
The cold open is a dish best served not political, at least on my comedy plate, because in the past few years, the sketch has not been able to surpass the surreal reality of the current political situation. Such was the case with this look inside the Republican National Committee headquarters for a sit-down meeting with Delaware GOP U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell. We have so much recorded quotes of O'Donnell already to speak to her craziness (and visuals to show how she even at times has modeled herself directly as a Sarah Palin lookalike (!)), so much so that even casting Kristen Wiig as O'Donnell cannot heighten this. In fact, Wiig's mugging detracts from the satire here. But. Fun fact: We get our first glimpse of newbie Vanessa Bayer, who utters a line to introduce O'Donnell. Jason Sudeikis and Bill Hader play the hapless GOP party-line guys.
Now for the monologue. Amy Poehler introduces all four of the new kids to the SNL block, then has a dream sequence in which Nasim Pedrad takes over one of her characters, Justin Timberlake kisses her, Rachel Dratch comes back only to get carried away -- "Avenge me! Avenge me!" -- and Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon take back Weekend Update, and Kenan Thompson plays Lorne Michaels with a nod to Inception. It's all for show, and for anyone who thinks it's too much of a gimmick, just remember that the season premiere is a big to-do each year, so why not go big!
Before we can get to the new kids, however, we're treated to more old-school SNL -- viewers of the Betty White and the all-star SNL women episode this spring will remember that putting on "greatest-hits" sketches generally leads to a well-liked evening -- so Maya Rudolph rejoined Poehler for another round of Bronx Beat. Of course, this time around, the focus is on musical guest Katy Perry and her "controversy" because she showed her cleavage in a Sesame Street video with Elmo. When is Katy Perry not showing cleavage? Wait, wait, don't tell me. I don't want to know. Poehler gets a good line guessing that Perry's bra size is 3D. Notice how Perry bounces up and down in her seat. Oh, wait. You probably already noticed that.
Time for our first fake ad of the season...
From Amy Poehler's monologue last night on the 36th season premiere of Saturday Night Live:
"This is such an exciting night. We have four new cast members on the show, and I am so honored to share their first episode. Can we cut to the new guys? And...can we cut back? OK! (audience laughter) Can't let them get too cocky. But, seriously guys, welcome. It's great to have four people here tonight who are as nervous than I am."
Pictured from left to right: Taran Killam, Paul Brittain, Jay Pharoah, Vanessa Bayer.
NBC's Parks and Recreation went from being a so-so spinoff of The Office in its shortened first spring season in 2009, to one of the best sitcoms in all of TV in 2010. For that, NBC is making us wait until 2011 to bring the show back for a third season. How dare they. I'll be there for you when you come back, Parks and Rec. How about everyone else?
Maybe this fan mashup of P&R clips to the theme song for Friends will do the trick, yes? Yes.
The nominations for the 37th Annual Daytime Emmys came out today, with eight nominations each for The Ellen DeGeneres Show and comedian-laden The Electric Company, plus three nods for the soon-to-be-cancelled Bonnie Hunt Show. Awards will be handed out June 27 in Las Vegas, televised on CBS. You can view the full list of nominees here.
Also of note for the comedy community...
We open cold with the Lawrence Welk (Fred Armisen) take on Mother's Day, so many tiny bubbles and a tease to the Jugglettes: Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey and Molly Shannon. Not a reference to the Juggalos so far as I know. OK, audience, cool it. Stop applauding just because you see Betty White alive. Here she's mother to the sister act of Janice (Amy Poehler), Peggy (Maya Rudolph), Clara (Ana Gasteyer) and tiny-handed big-foreheaded Judice (Kristen Wiig), who sing with Will Forte. Look. They got all of the old ladies in the open with one of Wiig's crazy characters and gave White as little as possible to do. Don't get me wrong. It's cute and all. But this is a comedy entertainment show. Let's try to keep some perspective on it? Just showing up does not automatically warrant complete fawning. A little bit of fawning is expected, though. See? Perspective.
White makes it to center stage in a quicker time than either of my grandmothers did when they were 88 (especially since one never made it to that age). "It's great to be here for a number of reasons," White said. She reminds us that in the 1950s, they didn't want to go live, either, but they didn't know how to do it otherwise. She thanks Facebook, before mocking it. And let there be old people jokes. White does a nice aside while joking about poking. "Guess what? Jay-Z is here! If I had a dime for everytime I've said that, I'd have a dime!" Nicely played. Nicely executed.
MacGruber! Ready for the movie? Ready or not, MacGruber is working with his Nana (White) now, who keeps embarrassing him in front of Vicki (Wiig). As in past weeks, SNL has put the night's trilogy of MacGruber bits into one clip, which will roll at your convenience:
An NPR scene brings back "Delicious Dish," a recurring scene hosted by Gasteyer and Shannon -- and best known for their "Schweddy Balls" bit with then-host Alec Baldwin. Tonight they're celebrating dietary fiber. Their guest is Florence Dusty (White), and she is known for her muffin. "I can't wait to taste your muffin." And so on, and so forth. Dusty admits that bakers of her day may have dry, crusty or even yeasty muffins. Just ask her how long it has been since her muffin had a cherry. We dare you. So yes, you'll probably want to see this:
The first ad of the night is the Snickers Super Bowl ad with Betty White, and don't forget Abe Vigoda! The second ad is for the MacGruber movie. The third ad is for beer. The fourth ad is for Sex and the City 2, which you need to drink a lot of beer before deciding that's a good idea. The fifth ad is for an iPhone. The seventh ad is for Betty White's new TV Land sitcom.
With so many former cast members of Saturday Night Live returning to help out guest host Betty White, we knew we were in for a lot of reunions with old characters. And we were, but a few didn't make the final cut after last night's SNL dress rehearsal, including Rachel Dratch's "Debbie Downer," a new "Bronx Beat" with Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph, a "Joyologist" session with Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon, and a slightly misguided "press conference" for the failed Times Square car bomber Faisal Shahzad.
NBC has put these online, but should any of them made it onto the live show? Let's review.
Kristen Wiig's character tried to host a lingerie party with Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Molly Shannon, and Amy Poehler, Ana Gasteyer, and a latecomer to the party, Dratch's Debbie Downer.
Nobody lost it in the scene, but this did feature a flashback to when Debbie wasn't such a downer, but her grandma (Betty White) taught her everything she'd know. Oh, there was a dig at BP for the current Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
In Bronx Beat with Betty (Poehler) and Jodi (Rudolph), they talk about Betty's second pregnancy, pool noodles, and Mother's Day wishes. And White plays Betty's mother, retired to Florida. White plays the straight woman in this sketch. Andy Samberg also appears as White's yoga instructor and her boyfriend. Cougar alert! So if you hoped to hear White talk more about having sex, well, here is that chance.
OK. In "Joyologist," Ana Gasteyer brought back her character Gayle Gleason, host of a TV show called "Pretty Living" that now only appears in the backs of taxi cabs. And she welcomed back Helen Madden, Molly Shannon's renowned "joyologist." Two old characters in one new sketch. "I love it, I love it, I love it," Shannon's Madden said. What do you think? Do you like her new friend?
If they had put these sketches on the air, do you know that most of the current SNL cast could have taken the week off?!? Really.
And this sketch in which Faisal Shahzad (Fred Armisen) holds a press conference to express his displeasure with how the media has mocked his failed attempt to blow up an SUV in Times Square the previous Saturday, with translation from Maya Rudolph's character. It. Well. Hmmm. Doesn't Shahzad speak at least some English, anyhow? Roll it.
NBC devotes two hours of its prime-time programming tonight (9-11 p.m. Eastern/Pacific, 8-10 p.m. Central/Mountain) to a look back at Saturday Night Live in the 2000s, and if you think it's all about 2008, well, you're only partially right. There's plenty to mine here, and even from the preview clips NBC has made available, you can see how SNL slowly but surely found its way back into the zeitgeist in the latter half of the past decade.
For instance, here are Jason Sudeikis, Amy Poehler and Bobby Moynihan talking about the "Palin Rap" that happened live on Weekend Update in front of a bouncy then-VP candidate Sarah Palin. Weird but true. We learn how much Palin loved Sudeikis pretending to be her husband, Todd, and also realize that was Moynihan in the moose costume.
SNL really got our attention in recent years thanks to rap, and "Lazy Sunday" kicked it off the SNL connection with the online generation. Here are writers Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer talking about what went down behind the scenes with Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell.
Speaking of Parnell, here's a segment devoted solely to his raps.
Jimmy Fallon and his NBC crew teased that this would be worth watching, and it totally was, for a variety of reasons in addition to the one you're thinking of. For one thing, this is a nine-minute filmed musical production on a late-night talk show, that flew in almost all of the cast of NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation (only missing Aziz Ansari and Paul Schneider?), with additional appearances by SNL's Abby Elliott and Fred Armisen on an active SNL week, plus The Roots, and several writers and staffers of Fallon's, including head writer A.D. Miles. That was more than one thing. Quite an all-star mash-up. Million miles better than the We Are The World remake-that-wasn't.
This certainly explains why Nick Offerman was performing stand-up at various city shows this week. Offerman's Ron Swanson is in it, plus Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, Jim O'Heir and Retta. Just another reason why Late Night with Jimmy Fallon is finding its own place in the late-night TV landscape quite nicely in year two. OK. Enough from me. Roll the clip!
Back before they were famous for being the Upright Citizens Brigade, the UCB players produced their first feature-length film that spoofed both Spring Break and Girls Gone Wild. Naturally, it's called Wild Girls Gone, and it's only now available for your digital download pleasure via iTunes.
That seemed so random, but then again, this isn't the only random comedy news for today.
Tonight on NBC, Saturday Night Live went primetime with "A Very Gilly Christmas," with Kristen Wiig's Gilly character introducing clip packages and performing in small sketches with Will Forte as her principal foil. Some funny highlights from the vault. But here are two blasts from the past that really take the Christmas cake, courtesy of recurring guest host Alec Baldwin. First, they showed the Christmas spoof of "Glengarry Glen-Ross," with Baldwin showing up to give the elves in Santa's Workshop the business. This is from Season 31, Episode 8 (SNL #31.8), with Fred Armisen, Rachel Dratch, Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers as the elves, and watch for Baldwin to make a flub so great it's almost not a flub at all. Roll the clip!
Then, toward the very end of the two-hour special, Baldwin himself introduced this clip from Season 24, Episode 9 (SNL #24.9), in which Baldwin played Pete Schweddy, owner of a store called Season's Eatings, and guest on an NPR talk show with Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon. Yes. We're going to be hearing a lot about Pete's Schweddy balls. Roll the clip!
One of my first stops on my Hollywood misadventure was to The Paley Center for Media's Beverly Hills branch for a behind-the-scenes discussion with the cast and crew of NBC's Parks and Recreation -- a sitcom that I feel has found a funnier level in its second season following its unusual debut launch in the spring. But we can let the people involved with the show explain that.
Seemed as though many of the audience members in attendance worked for nearby local governments and wanted to let the cast and crew know how "spot-on" they were in nailing life inside Town Hall. Here is a guy who looks like Nick Offerman posing with the actor. I could have told them this as well, having covered various local governments in Idaho and Washington state as a newspaper reporter -- and sakes alive, bubba jive, you have not lived until you've discovered the soap opera mini-dramas of a water and sewer district. Let me tell you. Or not. Let's focus, people! Pawnee, Indiana, you're on the air, fictional city.
Greg Daniels said they had to pick a fictional town. His other NBC sitcom, The Office, may be set in a real place (Scranton, Penn.), but the town is not the driving force of the plot; it's the people in the office. In Parks and Rec, however, the town is the focus. And if they make fun of the mayor being caught up in a scandal, that would be a real person they'd be joking about. So when you go to pawneeindiana.com, you'll be living a second life in another world. But you know that in Internets speak, governments are .gov.
What else did we learn? Well, we saw that this week's episode, "Hunting Trip," takes a dramatic turn when SPOILER ALERTS.
Whenever someone young hosts Saturday Night Live, I wonder if the show's sense of humor is going to get shaken up to appeal to the host's demographic. Of course, every host has an influence on what sketches make it to air. And 19-year-old Taylor Swift is a hard person to dislike -- has been ever since she serenaded Tim McGraw at an awards show with the song she named for him. Swift is talented and endearing. What would she do with her turn as both SNL's host and musical guest? Let's get to recapping!
Our COLD OPEN goes to FOX News Channel's Election Night coverage, with Kristen Wiig anchoring the anchor desk as the Botoxed Greta slurring words out of the corner of her mouth, Bill Hader as Shep Smith, Will Forte as Brit Hume, Kenan Thompson as Juan Williams, and Bobby Moynihan as Karl Rove. With Fred Armisen as the overlooked Democrat, Joe Trippi. Hader gave Shep some sass. But Jason Sudeikis as Glenn Beck is sublime and ridiculous. And Wiig may not be a ventriloquist, but did you see how her lips moved? Nice. Ended the sketch just in time.
TAYLOR SWIFT'S MONOLOGUE: Swift jokes about being just a kid, and how when she gets emotional, she writes a song. Would you like to hear it? La. La. La. Hahaha, Joe Jonas. "We have a great show. Kanye West is not here." Did you see what I meant about Swift being talented and endearing?
FAKE AD: Carter 'N Sons just wanted to get people excited about their pulled pork BBQ, so why not tell your customers they're going to come down with a severe case of "Swine Fever!" Oh, right. Did I mention that the introduction to our fake ad, and ensuing credits, note that this ad was produced in 2002 before the swine flu outbreak. So no worries when Moynihan's BBQ pitmaster sells Armisen on it, same with Nasim Pedrad, and Andy Samberg, and even Sudeikis in an Elvis impersonator get-up. Why 2002, you ask? Probably because Moynihan also was pushing the Sausage and Ribs Sampler. SARS!
Did you catch last night's episode of Parks and Recreation on NBC? Twas their Halloween-themed show, although, really, it seemed to be just as much about "Cabbage Night" (at least that's what we called the night before Halloween in our sleepy little town in Connecticut), in which kids go out and prank their neighbors with toilet paper and eggs and such. Another nicely understated job by Louis CK as the Pawnee, Ind., policeman who's dating Amy Poehler's parks department character. But what you didn't see on TV was this very special PSA, featuring Poehler, Aziz Ansari and Aubrey Plaza, telling kids to watch out for metaphorical bad apples when they're trick-or-treating! In our town, we had a guy who actually did hand out apples, and not only did he not decorate his house, but he also did, in fact, answer the door in a bathrobe. No. I did not eat the apple. I'm not that crazy! Roll the clip!
We're not sure on the hows, whys are wheres of this, but the original members of The Upright Citizens Brigade will be reuniting for "The Greatest Improv Show Ever" this weekend. Well, that's the title of it, anyhow. High noon Saturday in Solvang, Calif. Solvang? Sure, why not Solvang. UCB co-founder/player Matt Walsh asked overnight via Twitter: "Why isn't all of America talking about this?" Maybe it's because your "Ultimate Comedy Bash" is in Solvang?! Just maybe.
The bash kicks off on Friday with a "Fresh Faces" show hosted by Paul F. Tompkins and also features "The Greatest Comedy Show Ever" on Saturday afternoon. I'd tell you more, but you can see it's all printed up nice and colorful already! Click on the image to enlarge it. TWSS.