In the mid-1990s, Sam Seder starred, directed and co-wrote the mocumentary Who's The Caboose?, which had a group of New York film students follow comedian/actors Max (Seder) and Susan (Sarah Silverman) out to Los Angeles, where they both get caught up in the madness that is Hollywood's TV pilot season.
The cast is full of comedians you may know a bit better in 2011 than you did in 1997: Andy Dick plays Silverman's manager, while H. Jon Benjamin is an entertainment lawyer who becomes fond of Seder. Kathy Griffin looks like a completely different person, because she was back then. David Cross, Andy Kindler, Laura Kightlinger, Laura Silverman, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Marc Maron, Todd Barry, Slovin and Allen, Mark Cohen, the late Lauren Dombrowski all had roles in the film, which is only out on DVD today.
Here's a brand-new trailer for it, with new footage of Seder spliced with clips from the movie. Roll it.
It's funny. It's satirical. It's cutting. And yes, it's dated. You can tell it's the mid-1990s, because people smoked in restaurants, and nobody was ever looking at a cell phone, nevermind talking on one -- well, Benjamin's character does use a car phone in one scene. Oh, memories.
The film spawned a TV mini-series sequel in 2004 called Pilot Season, which reunited the cast, and added Isla Fisher. You can watch the episodes of Pilot Season online via My Damn Channel.
Seder, who himself acted in 10 different network TV sitcom pilots, told The Comic's Comic that he's not that involved in the sitcom game in 2011. His focus, if you follow The Sam Seder Show or The Majority Report, is squarely on politics these days -- although you can hear his voice in a few episodes of the new FOX animated series, Bob's Burgers.
I asked Seder how he feels Who's The Caboose? holds up when compared to the current TV climate, as Hollywood's studios are just now finishing up casting for the 2011 pilots. Seder's reply:
I haven’t watched the film in a while and haven’t engaged in Pilot Season in quite a while. With that said... I think the mechanics of the business, development season, pilot season have changed quite a bit -- the rise of cable which develops on a different schedule and the rise of reality shows has contributed to making pilot season more diffuse. The essence of the business and the people who populate it I imagine is the same. There’s the same delusion, the same fictions, the same mental problems which drive people to seek fame... I used to describe the exchanges in the film and the ones I experienced in L.A. as ones where two people’s lies and false projections meet somewhere in between them -- they tell each other lies which satisfy each other’s delusions and then they go on their way. I suspect that dynamic is the same. I’m also quite sure the notion of “who’s hot” in the industry remains the same. I actually think that the numbers game which agents and managers play as we depict in the movie has gotten worse for actors/comedians... I’d wager that if an agent repped 25 actors 15 years ago they rep 50 today -- same with managers.
Would you like to relive Who's The Caboose? on DVD? Buy it via Amazon.com or iTunes:
It's never too early to start planning your schedules for Montreal's Just For Laughs festival, and this year, you'll have to adjust your schedule to the end of July. Because that's where all of the action is.
The festival announced that Louis CK would be honored as this year's Comedy Person of the Year at its conference on July 29. It'll be followed by a special panel with this year's "Variety 10 Comics to Watch" (normally they only appear to pick up their awards, but this year they'll speak, too!), and then the annual "State of the Industry" address by Andy Kindler.
JFL liked Marc Maron's intro of Kindler from a couple of years ago so much that they've asked him back to provide the keynote address on July 28.
And on July 30, activities will include a special pitch session that'll reward one lucky comedian/group with a development deal from My Damn Channel.
The Just For Laughs Comedy Conference runs this year from July 28-30, 2011, at the Hyatt Regency in Montreal. The full comedy festival itself starts July 14 and goes through July 31.
Andy Kindler is a correspondent for Late Show with David Letterman, but on Friday night, all of his correspondence came in the form of stand-up comedy.
In this set, Kindler explores his own dilemma about the recent movie, The Dilemma, and alleges to be the first comedian to use what's now a very common phrase. "Am I right, ladies?" He is right, ladies. He is right. Roll the clip!
Here were are, ladies and germs. The finals of the seventh season of Last Comic Standing. All five finalists are lowered on uncomfortable swings, and all five men -- Mike DeStefano, Felipe Esparza, Myq Kaplan, Roy Wood Jr. and Tommy Johnagin -- are wearing black suits. Host Craig Robinson is going with a tux for the occasion, while our judges -- Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo -- are in business casual, semi-formal and casual Friday, respectively.
Anyone care to guess who won without watching the finale but having read between the lines of my blog this season? If you have, then you win a special bonus prize.
Our first elimination?
And now, finally The Final 5 cylons, er, comedians in this seventh season of Last Comic Standing will be revealed and perform for your votes and $250,000 in cash and prizes from NBC. Oh, and almost just as importantly, as host Craig Robinson says up front, there's also the "Last Comic" theater tour.
Oh, we're going to find out right away. Jonathan Thymius is your and our sixth-place finisher.
Which means our Final 5 are Mike DeStefano, Myq Kaplan, Felipe Esparza, Tommy Johnigan and Roy Wood, Jr.
They get to be on tour together "for the next 297 days," Robinson says. Wow. Just wow. Congrats, fellas! And by the way, for anyone who asked me before the season started (including at least one of the finalists),I pretty much nailed it on the head. Enough about me. It's about these five guys. Now time to go for the big prize...
First up is Roy Wood Jr., who gets a full refresher video for us to see glimpses of his journey from the first audition to the finals. Fun fact: He was arrested at 19, and discovered comedy as a coping mechanism. That was 1998. This is tonight. And tonight, Wood also opens up about how excited his drunk uncle is, even though he keeps plugging the wrong NBC show. He says Mississippi residents think everyone hates black people, which, well, Obama? Hey, look, Ryan Hamilton is in the audience smiling and clapping. Not because he likes or dislikes black people, but because he likes this black person, or because the director told the feed to switch to that camera operator. Most likely that last one. Meanwhile, Wood jokes about how he is not going to remember his married friend's dumb lie about hanging out in Puaberto Rico two years ago. And he closes with a bit about women trying to catch their men in the act. Judges? Andy Kindler says Wood keeps getting better and better, and tags his punchline about wristbands. Natasha Leggero tells him to stay single so he can wind up with a hot chick when he wins. Greg Giraldo also congratulates Wood. Looking good for Mr. Wood. But there are still four more comics to compete for your attention and affection.
Tommy Johnagin tells us he knew he wanted to be a comedian since he was a kid, and that his father has been supportive of him along the way. He's going back to the deep blue shirt with tie combo, we see, and lets us know he had a redneck uncle who stole a porta-potty. The dumbest thing he did, however, was visit a gynecologist for a sports physical, and he tells us all about that, which went on much longer than you would think something like that might happen in real life. There's also the time he hit a deer, and the woman sitting in his car yelled "Deer!" Solid stuff. Ixnay on the sweaty pits. Leggero says nice things about him finding jokes inside the jokes, and there goes your theory about her hating him. Giraldo calls him "a great comedian." Kindler says he cannot vote because he has a thermal fax machine, so instead, he'll make T-shirts for Johnagin to sell as merch?
Oh, hello adorable woman in the Lowe's commercial who looks even more adorable in the UCB Theatre basement all this past weekend during the Del Close Marathon. Wait. What?
And suddenly, our nationally televised stand-up comedy competition has become a comedy pageant, because right off the top, our seven remaining comedians step up to the mic and tell us their names and "hometowns." But it's going to be too late for one of these seven to win our hearts and our votes, because those votes already have been cast and sealed away.
It has been brought to my attention that perhaps the one mistake Last Comic Standing has made this year that didn't seem like a mistake until now, is that they should not have gotten rid of the house. Some of the challenges of seasons past didn't really do justice to the art and life of a comedian, but the very fact that we got plenty of time to see the finalists offstage meant that we also got to find out whether we liked them, and that might have helped some of this year's contestants much more than an edited or scaled-down set of only two to three minutes. If anything, this season has given the most stage time to its three judges, which is great news for Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo -- and especially for Kindler, who has (if anyone wants to crunch the numbers and challenge me on this, you'll be wrong) generated the most quips, zingers and audible laughs out of anyone appearing on the show this season. So it's kind of weird that only now, with tonight's episode, that we're getting a little more of a look at our finalists. Note: Some semi-finalists and finalists did get introduced to us from the start with behind-the-scenes human-interest pieces, but of those, only a few remain in the running.
Host Craig Robinson calls our judges "incredibly powerful people," which is, well, obvs, since in Robinson's world, he's "the black Justin Bieber." He asks all seven comedians to step forward, and gives Jonathan Thymius the first proclamation of safety -- which, on this show, means buckle up and get ready to do a set. In our backstory for Thymius, we learn that his other business is something called Comedy O' Gram, and with his stand-up so far, we never know when he's setting us up for a fake-out. I mean, look at the sheet of paper as he scribbles out "aniversari" (sic) and replaces it with "anivercrye"! But, well, it appears to be a real thing he's plugging on his site to render Comedy O'Gram services. And here is a short he did that appeared on Funny or Die back in April:
So there's that. What about his actual set for the NBC audience, though? He opens by asking if it's Groundhog Day. Thymius is a weird one, that's for sure. It's almost as if he's not trying to win. I mean, I know from reading his Facebook and seeing his friends help get out the vote that he wants to win and others want him to, too. But still. His slow, absurd style, on a show like this, feels more like anti-comedy. Kindler loves his "lack of energy" and the idea that he would write down "birds" as a joke. Leggero says she thought his cowboy joke was dirty, and says nobody else could get away with doing his material. Giraldo loves that he stays in character all through the set, but feels like he is running out of his A-material. What do you think, America? It's too late to call, but never too late to think.
After the break, Robinson lets us know who is next to perform, and therefore safe for another week. It's Roy Wood Jr. There's something about seeing the looks on their faces, in which they go through a variety of emotions -- from shock that they made it, to relief that they made it, to shock that they have to deliver their set in about a minute or so. It's a complete reverse from American Idol results shows. There, the people who are safe can just sit and smile, while it's the person who is eliminated who is expected to shut down all human emotion and perform in that moment. So it's not the greatest psychological situation for a stand-up, but it certainly tests their mettle and fortitude. Meanwhile, in Wood's profile video, we see his mom saying the family had wished he would have gotten "a real job," followed by him saying it took him a couple of years but now his mom is his biggest fan. Just not enough of a fan to fake an injury to win him sympathy votes. As for his material onstage, he is immediately into the act, at a "certain fast-food restaurant" where another man tries to pull him into his drama for only getting four out of his five chicken nuggets. I'm going to put my vote on Wendy's for this one. Am I right, Roy? What do I win? Giraldo is seen smiling as Wood says he's not going to join the "Nugget Coalition." The crowd is on his side, as well. Wood also feels like he needs to have a bunch of kids at once, because then strangers will give him free stuff, because that is the hustle out there. As we see the audience clap and laugh, we also get a glimpse of a countdown clock. Is that better or worse than getting the light? I'd think some comics would see it and perhaps talk too quickly and/or skip a punchline or tag. Wood is OK, though, and the judges think he is more than OK.
After another break -- looks like we're getting one comedian per segment now -- Robinson asks for applause for "the biggest letters in primetime," as the giant C-O-M-I-C backdrop remains in place from weeks past. Myq Kaplan breathes a big ol' sigh of relief as his name is called, and in his video, he gives us a music video. It's wordy, it's quirky, it's Myq. Onstage, he does what he does in tagging Wood's bit on chicken nuggets, and he sets up his own bit on TV, and then other bits in which the audience laughs and applauds, quick hitters, until he gets to his closing bit about Final Destination. The judges all love him, and Leggero says he would definitely win Last Comedy Writer Standing. That's not what this show is, but you knew that, because you can read the title of this post.
I've received more than a few emails from people with their own spoofs of the leaked Mel Gibson phone calls, but only one of them comes with an ad for Last Comic Standing at the end of the video. So who wants to bet we see this on the show Monday night?
In it, comedian and LCS judge Andy Kindler goes off on a comedic rant against a would-be comedian with an accent suggesting she is Mel's baby mama Oksana, but instead of attracting a wild pack of racist slurs that would get him fired by his agents, Kindler suggests she wants a wild pack of hecklers on her ass instead. Roll the full clip. Don't worry. It's safe for work.
Previously, we watched this seventh season of NBC's Last Comic Standing through the magic (and sometimes witchcraft) of several-weeks tape delay. The comedians themselves could have forgotten how their performances had gone, only to see them slightly changed in the editing room. But not now. Now the final 10 have flown and/or driven to Glendale, Calif., for same-day competition, with morning tapings set for broadcast that same evening. They would know, and we would know, how it all shakes down today.
Oh, and our judges -- Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo -- all have returned to the arena of comedy battles, all of them also fresh off of their own performances at Montreal's Just For Laughs festival. Host Craig Robinson opened with a LeBron James joke before re-introducing us to the LCS 7 Top 10. Would the results of last week's voting be drawn out for the full hour, a la American Idol? Nope. Not too long at all for four comedians, as Roy Wood Jr., Mike DeStefano, James Adomian and Myq Kaplan are asked to step forward (all others, Robinson says, should shuffle offstage). Robinson gives the OK to DeStefano, then Wood. It's down to Kaplan and Adomian, who exchange creepy smiles at each other awaiting their fate, as only one of them will continue onward. It's Kaplan! Who in his close-up, breathes a very realistic sigh of relief. Adomian, meanwhile, is still smiling and also now clapping. I talked to Adomian in Montreal, and based on what he told me, I don't think he was surprised at all. The producers play an "In Memorium" for him, which also includes his pre-taped farewell, in which he declares: "America, next time, don't look a gift horse in the mouth." He holds his head high and off he goes.
First performer of the evening is Mike DeStefano. He says thanks for keeping him on, and tells us he bought some soap that cost $75. "Does it clean shame?" he asks. He also doesn't know how to express his feelings to a woman on a dinner date, because all he feels is hungry. "Deep down inside, I'm really hungry." He gets an applause break when he's asked why he is at couples therapy (presumably asked by the therapist), and says it's because the woman is broken and needs to be fixed. Blaming people for his problems? "That's my mother's fault. Sorry, mom." He continues with the idea that he's not good with therapy. Nor is he good with a woman on a first date who thinks they've been together for much longer than that. Last week, no judges around to influence the audience. But they're back. Kindler calls DeStefano "frightening and lovable" and makes up his own scoring: 5 HAs! Leggero has kind words for him, even if he doesn't have kind words to say about women. Giraldo wasn't listening to Leggero (tag!) but also liked him.
Robinson teases the first commercial break by saying we'd get to hear from "Internet sensation Mel Gibson."
After the break, he gets in a dig on "The Bachelorette" airing in competition with them on ABC, saying that show is even sadder than knowing three comics will have to go home. "There's a reason why she's single," Robinson said.
Roy Wood Jr. opens by saying: "Good to see you guys. I just did a show in South Dakota. Because I like performing where there's no people." Looks like we're getting more of his "sports bar" chunk, and notes that America is still exciting even if we did not win the World's Cup. And he thinks the world is better for that, because some countries hate us for political reasons, and he compares it to having the Lakers lose to Al Qaeda. "That would suck," he said. I'm not sure about this, because it would mean we'd know where they were and could trap them all, so let's hope those terrorists get off of the jungle gyms and start learning how to shoot hoops! But back to Wood. He realizes that at age 31, he will not be paying off his student loans. Note to Wood: If you win the $250,000, the college loan people probably will notice. Look at me, shooting all sorts of truth holes into his fictional premises. Moving to L.A. from Alabama, he has noticed there are more Latinos in this country than black people, to which audience members hoot and holler. "You're winning, shut up," he retorts quickly. Wood doesn't understand why black people are mad about Mexicans and other people wanting civil rights, since, he notes, wasn't that the point? More of a statement than a joke, that last one, but he comes off well in his set. Leggero gives him advice on his college loans, but calls him likeable. Giraldo jokes that he didn't like Wood's "pro-Mexican" material, and Kindler agrees, but says he cannot get away with saying "blacks and Mexicans." On a more substantial note, he also said that he loved Wood's voice and would listen to anything he had to say.
Some people worried that Andy Kindler's involvement with NBC's Last Comic Standing would mean that he'd pull his punches this summer in delivering his annual State of the Industry address at Montreal's Just For Laughs festival. Those people were worrying about the wrong thing. They should have worried that Kindler's involvement in the show may have distracted him and given him too much work, such that he somehow seemed to come to the address underprepared. More than a few of his barbs were in relation to things he acknowledged onstage that he hadn't even bothered to see.
There was a different feeling in the room this year, which was only half as full as it was in 2008, when comedians and industry folk packed the conference ballroom to standing-room-only capacity. Maybe half of the people felt they'd already heard enough real talk about the comedy industry the day before from Lewis Black? While Black prepared a thoughtful and blistering critique of the industry on the sixth floor of the Hyatt, two floors down in the big room, Kindler seemed even less focused than in recent years, going through his many pages of notes looking for his jokes. CORRECTION! I stand, or sit, corrected, as Kindler himself has reminded me that in 2008, the room filled up to capacity thanks to large round tables that were not present, which means the attendance may have been closer to the same (last year, he gave the speech on the sixth floor to a capacity crowd), and he has shuffled through his notes pretty much every year. Flawed questioning on my part! It still felt different this year.
But what about the jokes, you people who weren't in attendance may be wondering?
After an introduction from Harland Williams, Kindler started looking around the room, and noted that he thought he had Todd Barry open for him before "back in 1993, when he was even more low-key. A lot of people's careers have skyrocketed after introducing me." It looked as though this might start out more as a personalized roast -- a la Jeffrey Ross Roasts Montreal, which was an actual show this year -- than a speech on the state of the industry itself. "Do you have enough clients in your chair to accomodate your hip pocket?" he said to Dave Rath of Generate, seemingly talking to every single member in the audience in his opening.
He said he was fairly he will not be working with any of the people he will be slamming "so each year it's more dangerous what I'm doing...because I'm narrowing down the bridge that I am burning." So, in fact, he added: "This year most of the things I am making fun of I have not seen nor am I familar of."
"Most of the new comics are funny, and I do not like that. What am I going to do with that?" he asked. "I'm going to be on the Ones to Watch, the Seniors Tour."
He did take on The Office, thanks to Mindy Kaling's quote about polished jokes in the Variety article on Twitter. And Parks and Rec. "Can we all agree that Parks and Recreation is horrible?...Why wasn't it considered for an Emmy this year in the drama category?" He suggested that perhaps the show should not be improvised, and, taking on improv and yes and: "You know what you want in your comedy and your drama? You want agreement. You don't want conflict." "You know what I like to see, Mindy Kaling and BJ Novak, these comics who have really paid their dues in the trenches, these grizzled veterans..." but then he mocked TJ Miller in the second row for making out -- before returning to Kaling's quotes in the Variety piece, in which she says Twitter should be like overheard conversations in a coffee shop, so he wrote that up..."How do you like your waffle? Is this where they shot Swingers?"
"Welcome to Last Comic Standing, the best stand-up comedy contest on NBC." So sayeth host Craig Robinson, so sayeth we all.
Wait. Who's running the show, a bunch of monkeys? A lone chimpanzee? What's going on here?
I'll be sure to tell you all as soon as I can watch the rest of this two-hour episode -- and update with videos as soon as they're up. This is the episode in which Tommy Johnagin zings judge Natasha Leggero for calling him competitive in a nationally-televised competition.
Alabama native Roy Wood, Jr., meanwhile, says before taking the stage that he has been at stand-up for 12 years, and well, why not him? "It's my turn to eat. Let me get some of this money." Why not? He opens with a joke about a date so bad, the woman makes you drop her off at another man's house. Damn. That's a bad date. But a good joke. He also has a funny story about trying to write out his will. Good start! The judges agree, from Andy Kindler to Leggero and also Greg Giraldo. Looking good for Mr. Wood. Even if he could not find a coat that fits to impress Giraldo.
After the first commercial break, Robinson has more self-deprecating quips up his sleeve. He's enjoying the gig, and I am enjoying him in this gig. Great work, team comedy! Now about this Fortune Feimster. She lets us know she is a lesbian (shhh, don't tell anyone), which is odd when she tells us about this guy who hit on her. This story, alas, does not have a happy ending. Kindler gets in a dig on Ellen DeGeneres for her dancing, and digs on Feimster. The other judges likewise smile fortune upon Ms. Fortune. Jerry Rocha says he does not want to be depressed for months if he does not win. Onstage Rocha wonders why any billboard about carpooling would be in Spanish, and whether it's a good idea to call to get his credit checked. There is some quibbling in judgment about his use of voices and races, but they seem to be more positive than negative.
Another break, and we're back with Guy Torry, who has been in the movies and on the TV, but according to Torry, they don't know about his stand-up comedy career. He wants to let the people know he is funny. Scratch that. "I'm trying to be the greatest, the greatest stand-up to ever touch the stage." Whoa, whoa. Settle down. It's good to set the bar high and all, but when you say something like that out loud, to a TV camera, usually you're setting yourself up for failure. He is taking a while to get to the laughs when he does not have a headlining amount of stage time tonight, and not only that, but when Torry says "negro," camera cuts to Giraldo squirming. Torry is talking a lot about Barack Obama and has a bit about why the KKK supporting Obama. Oh, and I almost forgot. Torry also used a Monica Lewinsky joke. In 2010. Afterward, he seems to think he crushed and also is not concerned about whatever Leggero has to say. And about that bet Torry wanted to make with Giraldo, in which he said Google the KKK supporting Obama? Torry won't want to click on the first link that comes up. Jacob Sirof wants us to know he has a wife and a kid and not much money from the comedy -- that's the opposite of what Torry was boasting -- and opens with a bit about how L.A. people are into the motorcycles these days, even if it means buying gay clothing. Not that he's got a problem with that, considering his stance on bros hugging bros. Nice tag, btw, on the "Google it" from Torry afterward. Then we see him, Torry and Maronzio Vance chatting backstage, and Torry says he had more fun bantering with the judges. Somehow I don't think he'll be having as much fun later that evening.
Nikki Glaser says she will cry whether she makes it to the finals or not. Foreshadowing? Glaser says she is single and recently performed for the troops, just for the applause breaks. She became single over Skype, on her terms. She also makes an unusual choice by promoting teen pregnancy and joking about getting an abortion. I'm not sure the primetime network suits will be on board with that, no matter what the judges may say. Taylor Williamson says he is charming and adorable, and well, wouldn't you know the audience is laughing at him as soon as he speaks, and then throughout his set, because they cannot believe his premise that he has a girlfriend, and then even laugh again when he admits he doesn't. Williamson also jokes about sex, but between animals (black poodles and white labs, camels). Everyone enjoyed it.
Hey, look everybody. It's Tom Shillue in an ad for PearleVision! Did you know he was in this semifinal round, too? No? What do you mean no?
Someone decided it was hot enough in here to buy some ice cream treats, stay home, and get giggly with it tonight. OK. Fine. It was so hot in NYC today that my brain obviously isn't working, so maybe the mush of the TV will make everything right in the world again. Either that, or Craig Robinson and a kitty cat will tell me it's time for the first part of the semifinals of season seven of NBC's Last Comic Standing. Finally we're getting somewhere. UPDATED: Now with video clips!
Are you ready for your first semifinalist, Myq Kaplan? I put the comma in the wrong place there, because he is more than ready, he is already done because this was a taped performance. Don't call in with your votes just yet. Kaplan is feeling bookish this evening, telling us about books, movies, and movies about books. Kaplan also is the first, at least if we're presuming they haven't edited the placement here, to have to deal with the hyped-up live audience at the Alex Theater in Glendale, Calif. Judges Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Andy Kindler all have nice things to say about Myq Kaplan. Kindler says Kaplan "absolutely killed" which means he lost the pool? "I can't think of a funnier line in comedy than Brad Pitt is in this book." And we're getting judges notes, as if it really is going to be the American Idol version of LCS. Then again, we did hear judges give notes to comedians during the semis in previous seasons, so maybe it's just time for a commercial break. Any predictions? I have one!
Jamie Lee is up next, and she admits backstage that she is terrified about being seen by millions on the TV. Too late! You're on TV! Lee gets whoops from audience members when she says she's originally from Texas, but wants to joke about her model roommate in NYC. Lee also mentions dating a comedian, and knowing it's bad when even their inside jokes were bombing. (Note: Lee already has told me that her jokes about her comedian ex are not really about her comedian ex, for those of you who were thinking about someone specific just then). Leggero says Lee has "huge potential," while Giraldo says it wasn't her best set. Based on these notes, you could swap them out with Idol, couldn't you? You could. You could.
Mike DeStefano wants to be so good, the audience sets the place on fire. I'm not sure that would actually be a good thing, but it makes for a soundbite. DeStefano jokes about how everyone in his neighborhood was Italian, including the old Chinese guy and the young black kid. Did you know that Italians shrink and get mean when they get old? This audience is so hot, they're hooting and handing out applause breaks for everything. DeStefano keeps saying "thank you, thank you" like a politician trying to get back to his stump speech. Because he wants you to know how he deals with pretty ladies. Kindler finds him "hilarious" and could not criticize any portion of his set. "And you have screamers," Leggero added. She asks about his Jesus tattoo, and DeStefano corrects her: "It's Jim Caviezel."
In real life, maybe you audition a few months ago for a comedy competition that's going to be televised everywhere in America and beyond. Maybe your audition goes well. Maybe it goes well enough that you get asked to perform again at a live audience showcase, and then that goes well enough that you receive a red-ticket envelope to perform again in Hollywood. So maybe, just maybe, you're excited to see yourself on television and so are your friends, family and loved ones. So what happens when you and they turn on the TV and, an hour later, are wondering, did we and they blink and miss you? Hold that thought.
Because we're living by TV producers' rules. And in Last Comic Standing's seventh season, even when they say it's not business as usual, it's still show business. Last week, they edited the New York City auditions together to allow some comedians to get better treatment than they should have, while putting others in the background to tease you. What's doing for round two in NYC?
Well, first, host Craig Robinson tells us what happened previously on LCS, which was that nine comedians received tickets to the semifinals. Wait a minute! Nine??? That cannot be right, no matter how you edit it, because they let 12 people through on the night I watched live and in person, and apparently another 12 in the other showcase, so already, you and I know that there are going to be some comedians who were happy a few months ago, but who are going to be much less happy tonight.
Cue the actual and the artificial tension!
Brian McKim -- for people born before the Y2K bug wiped out the first version of the Internet, you may know him as "The Male Half" of Shecky Magazine -- gets the first uncredited one-liner of the evening, followed by a montage of comedians we should expect to be seeing later in the hour. By the way, if anyone has been watching all of the pre-season promos, Robinson is sneaking in his proposed catchphrase mantra for the season: "Be about it!"
We officially start the night off with Jerry Rocha, from Dallas, who says he has been a professional stand-up for eight years, and vows to hug anyone and everyone if he doesn't advance. He jokes with the judges about his racist uncle who doesn't quite get racial jokes. Our judges are given the superimposed title of "Comedy Jurist" this evening, which sounds much more foreboding than before, when they were judges. Now they're judges and jury? Me no get it. But me still likey Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo, so me no stop recapping. Calise Hawkins apparently is from Illinois (I know her as a Jersey girl, where she lives now, while you simply know her as a single mother with a big Afro!), and she takes us into her home with her daughter, and how adorable are they? Kindler isn't a big fan of her material about a homeless guy on the subway, but he and Giraldo both think she's a good performer, and Leggero enjoyed it, so Hawkins gets another chance to perform. Mike Vecchione jokes about his New York City cop look, and I know and you know and we know that he is funny, and even Leggero, who happened to see Vecchione the other night at the Comedy Cellar agrees. Who wants a pretzel?
Zed is the future of stand-up comedy? Somebody better tell Ron Lynch about this competing comedy robot. "Is this a character you're doing?" Giraldo asks. A woman has a whip on the sidewalk. For some reason. Kindler talks about clowns and jugglers, and jokes about all comedians starting out as novelty acts. You remember Lenny Bruce the sword swallower, right? Kindler prefers seeing a comedian sweat. Take that, deodorant ad!
Kyle Grooms doesn't have to worry about that. He did an Obama impersonation in the early TV ads for this season, and he does it for the judges, too. Giraldo says he is not a fan of impersonations but knows that that's not a big part of Grooms' act, so no worries. He's through.
OK, comedy fans. We're back with the first (of how many? of how many???) episodes from the New York City auditions, and after some more glimpses of Tommy Johnagin and a naked Andy Ofiesh, here's Craig Robinson strolling down the sidewalk of West 23rd Street on his keytar with judges Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo, plus wannabes in tow. Who here wanna be?
Alycia Cooper from Maryland is our first billed auditioner. She made Giraldo laugh with her jokes about D.C.'s horrible sports teams, but she is adding tags that he and the other judges do not condone. She moves on to the night showcase nevertheless. Our first featured contestant of the evening, however, is Mike DeStefano who shows us his fellas in the Bronx to bust his chops and deliver some classic stereotypical Bronx gruff and stuff. "Hey Mikey, if you win, what's in it for us?" I've told you about DeStefano before. I will be telling you more about him in the future. His jokes about dealing with a potential agent show off his style and personality and the crew loves him as much, perhaps more, than the judges did.
Kevin Bozeman of Chicago said he is pro-life except for two times. Jamie Lissow jokes about not getting the NY Times crossword. New Yorker Claudia Cogan jokes about wanting to be a nasty stripper, while I wonder when she'll reply to my email from months ago. They are all part of a montage of yes votes for the showcases, and there is Elon James White brunching hard but not getting his name on camera. Andy Ofiesh, on the other hand, got almost all of himself on camera since he went onstage without any clothes on. Of course, readers here (or people who have been to a Naked Comedy Showcase show in Boston, NYC or Edinburgh in the past few years) knows Ofiesh is an avowed nudist and comedian. All we see and hear, however, is the judges not being happy seeing all of Ofiesh and he kicks off the night's first montage of horribleness.
Kurt Metzger says he has done comedy for 11 years and wonders about performing for three people, especially when at least one of them works with him regularly at the Comedy Cellar. No need to wonder, since Metzger is moving to the showcase.
And we're back. Robinson walks out to inspect the line of crazies. I also inspected this line outside Gotham Comedy Club the night beforehand. Want to see that?
Tommy Johnagin invites the cameras into his hotel room(?) to watch him write his jokes on toilet paper. Johnagin jokes about how women suck for asking him about keeping track of the one time he had sex. Kindler jokes that he feels threatened by Johnagin's humor.
Todd Catalano brought his mullet across the bridges and tunnels from New Jersey, and guess what, he is Italian. Guess what, Giraldo isn't sure if he was laughing with Catalano's insults about women, and this kicks off a montage of stereotypical Italian New Yorker shtickery.
Jamie Lee from Dallas says she quit her corporate job to pursue stand-up (and it was a job with Comedy Central where she had to deal with people like me!) and if you saw the ads of the past week, you already saw her running with joy after whatever the judges said. Giraldo said she felt "still pretty new" to him, which is absolutely correct, and all three of the judges would like to see her perform in front of an actual audience.
When we return from commercial...
And so it begins again. Two years since we last left NBC's Last Comic Standing with an abrupt five-person finale, the show has returned to us, reborn with a new host (Craig Robinson), new judges (Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo) and a new promise to focus firmly and seriously on the business of comedy. Do they mean it this time?
For one thing, it's more than entirely possible that we already have seen this year's winner on TV before. By we, I mean the collective we and not just the you and me we, although that's also true -- Oui! Oui! -- because by taking comedy seriously, the producers already have made it clear that even though all of our contestants could be called up-and-coming and even aspiring, they are by no means rookies. When LCS first hit network TV in 2002 as comedy's version of American Idol meets Survivor, the bounty of a televised stand-up comedy special and development deal meant so much more for the field of participants. In 2010, so many more half-hour specials, late-night slots and cable showcases have given stand-ups a chance to grab a TV credit or two or more. So much so that as we, in real-time, already have our 10 finalists, we know that many of them are in this game for a lot more than a half-hour TV special. They're here for primetime network TV exposure on a regular weekly basis, the national theater tour that's sure to follow for the final five, and fame, fortune.
But first. We open Craig Robinson playing the keyboard and singing about the show's return, to reveal the Hollywood Improv and contestants behind him, as we saw in one of last week's teaser videos. Then we get the first montage of our judges as well as many quick looks at comedians, including a sneak peek at a naked Andy Ofiesh. Andy Ofiesh! Each of the judges gets an introduction, which is nice and also weird since they are peers or idols of the contestants. Giraldo gets a clip from his 2009 DVD special, while Leggero gets meta with a clip mocking reality TV competitions from Leno, and Kindler is even more meta as Robinson specifically credits Kindler for "The Hack's Handbook."
Our first contestant featured at the Hollywood Improv is Maronzio Vance. He says he auditioned way back in season two, and his first joke is about the woes of living in a studio apartment. Kindler gives him props for playing to the production crew, and they go at it. "We will see you tonight!" Kindler says. We will see him again, yes indeed. Our second featured contestant is Felipe Esparza, who shows us his apartment and friends in Los Angeles before we see him telling jokes. "What do you guys think? More? Less?" Giraldo says he knows how funny Esparza is, but thinks his audition set didn't showcase him fully, and he makes it to the night showcase despite getting a no from Leggero. "These guys pushed you through," she says. How far will they push him through, you may be asking?
And then there's a guy with a guitar and a red devil outfit. He wants to call himself my professional clown name, so even before the judges say no, I say NO! A KISS something or other. Other nuts. A guy who opened by saying, "No joke." Interviews with the longshots standing on the sidewalk for hours, with Robinson telling them eternal truths such as NBC giving the prize to Jay Leno.
And we're back to actual comedians, with Kirk Fox. We saw him in a teaser video, too, although here we see him surrendering during his routine. No surrender, though! He makes it through to the night showcase.
Our next featured contestant is Laurie Kilmartin, whom I think of as a NYC comedian but is listed here as a Walnut Creek, Calif., resident, showing us her new home with her son, talking about being a single mom and stand-up comedian. Now here she is onstage joking. And the judges like what they see. Hmmm. We are less than 20 minutes into the show, and already this much good news? They are trying to win us over early, it appears.
In the first running non-sequitur bit of the series, Giraldo sets up Kindler by giving him more time to come up with wardrobe suggestions for Kilmartin (whom, fun fact, seemed to wear the same outfit in her backstage and onstage appearances; and even funner factor, has been someone I knew about from when I first started in comedy in Seattle in the 1990s because her headshot stood out from the others along the wall of the Comedy Underground), and then we see him testing the confidences of several other comedians, starting with Renee Gauthier (in an unbilled cameo) and going through several others. "I want you to wear your hair up AND down," he tells one woman.
We're one week away from the reboot of NBC's Last Comic Standing for season seven, with new host Craig Robinson, new judges Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo, and new contestants. So how about a few new online-only preview clips? Sounds great!
Stuckey and Murray kick off this first clip, which also features appearances and/or performances from the host and judges talking about how it's legit now, plus Tommy Johnagin and Felipe Esparza. Roll it!
Here's a clip of Craig Robinson hosting in what could be the intro to next week's premiere...followed by performances by Maronzio Vance, Kirk Fox, Tiffany Haddish, among others. Roll that clip.
And here is Andy Kindler talking up the season, with a clip of Jonathan Thymius. Taking it to the next level! Roll the clippy clip!
Producers for Last Comic Standing's return promised that this seventh season would be different. Comedians who showed up for the Hollywood auditions over the weekend had two minutes to impress an empty room, save for the TV crew and three judges: Andy Kindler, Greg Giraldo and Natasha Leggero. How's that for different?
There's one more showcase showdown tonight at the Hollywood Improv.
New York City auditions happen March 21 at Gotham Comedy Club, with callback showcases March 21-22.
Related: More of that information.
As I sit here, living off of the boissons gratis of the 24-hour Subway restaurant and paying for temporary WiFi access in Montreal's Trudeau airport terminal, I realize that my initial plan to bring you a full slate of reviews from Montreal's Just For Laughs festival today might not come to fruition. Something about spending most of the afternoon trying to get a flight to New York City, then boarding a flight that takes off, and almost makes it there only to circle back and land in Canada, forcing you and your fellow passengers to pass through Customs even though you just left (the Customs agent had a quizzical view of the situation, as well), then spending the rest of the evening and into the morning hoping that the skies have cleared and airports reopened -- it all leaves me tres fatigue, as the French write. At least for a few hours, though, I was sitting in a chair in the sky!
With that nod to Louis CK, who put on two of the best shows (and hottest tickets) during the fest, I do want to share some initial thoughts about Montreal's annual celebration of comedy, and how it fared this summer. More in-depth reviews of the shows I saw will get published once I'm back home in New York City, to be sure. But first, a few thoughts, opinions and ideas to get you thinking about -- and hopefully talking about -- comedy.
Show business loves patting itself on the back all of the time, and not just during awards season, but for the comedy industry, the past 14 or so years have included one day in which they all sit down in a room and agree to be roasted by one comedian: Andy Kindler. So it was again this afternoon in a conference room at the Hyatt Regency in Montreal. Today's "State of the Industry" address felt a little tamer, more subdued than the past couple of years. Was it the audience? Was it Andy? Was it the recession? Was it the microphone issues, blocking his face and getting great sound out of his shoulders? Probably the latter. Let's not launch an investigation into the matter.
But if you want to relive my interview with Andy Kindler immediately after 2008's State of the Industry, you can watch that here.
Marc Maron introduced Kindler. "I, like Andy, have absolutely nothing left to lose," Maron said. He reminded the comedians, agents, managers and executives in the room that they ask for this year after year, "and minutes after leaving this room, convince yourself that this has nothing to do with you." He noted how being on the road with Kindler "is like traveling with the history of the Jewish people," and gave us all his "popcorn analogy for the comedy industry." In short, Maron observed that every time you make popcorn, you wind up with kernels at the bottom of the bowl/bag. "You know why they don't pop? Because they have integrity!"
Well played, sir.
As for Kindler, he spent the first few minutes worrying about the microphones -- his manager, Bruce Smith, interrupted him to note "the microphone is blocking your face" -- and the podium's inability to serve the primary functions of a podium. "Am I getting Punk'd, or is that too old a reference? Am I getting Punk'd 2.0?"
In an almost last-minute decision, strings were pulled, favors were called in, nouns were verbed, and I found my passport, which means it's time to head across the border for the 2009 Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal. Sure, talk to any member of the show business industry who has been around since Just For Laughs first took over this French-speaking Canadian city more than a quarter-century ago, and they'll be quick to tell you that the festival isn't what it once was. It's bigger, and yet not so big that comedians can return to the States with their dreams and pockets filled with six-figure development deals from the TV networks. No, times are different. We have the Internets now!
As I get ready to make the journey north once more, here are a few of the things I'm looking forward to seeing, following and preparing for over the next four days and nights.
1. Learning what the heck Zoofest is, once and for all. It's not part of Just For Laughs, but then again, it is. It's just the edgier shows? The shows with animals? I really don't know.
2. Seeing the industry hype machine in full effect, in both its most artificial and organic ways. Last year, I saw firsthand as NYC-based stand-up Sean Patton emerged from the "New Faces" showcase specifically because to the industry, he was a new face that they hadn't seen or heard from before, and they liked what they saw and heard. I've also read some silly things in the trades about certain comedians each year who got "buzz" and, having seen those comics, firmly believe that the trades sometimes get hoodwinked by the "buzz" comedians and their managers and agents who manufacture said buzz.
3. Speaking of which, that "buzz" machine also serves as a sad reminder of Michael Roof, aka "Chicken," the comedian who became infamous for scoring the last big TV development deal out of Montreal (the WB built a sketch show around him), only to find his career and life unravel. He took his own life last month.
4. What is Broken Lizard up to now? The sketch group made a big splash with their first independent film at Sundance, and followed up Super Troopers with a few more films, including Club Dread and Beerfest. They'll be performing new live sketches, taking questions and showing off their new movie, The Slammin' Salmon.