Just watched a rebroadcast of HBO's 1995 Young Comedians Show (it'll also air at 10 p.m. Pacific tonight), hosted by Garry Shandling from the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, and featuring a cast of, would you believe, Dave Attell, Eric Tunney, Dave Chappelle, Anthony Clark and Louis CK. Quite a lineup, eh? We know it's 1995 because Shandling jokes about the O.J. Simpson trial and Lorena Bobbitt.
First up, Dave Attell, and we see some now-classic Attell jokes, such as his take on porn ("whatever a man, a woman, another woman with a penis and a midget do..."), how women have all the power "because women have all the vaginas," why men cannot breast-feed, and on the difference between friends and best friends in moving. Only Attell reacts to and works the crowd. "Oh, I found the level?!" he says at one point. Attell jokes about starting to go bald. Smart, but dark stuff. Still true today. And that's why so many comedians love him.
Eric Tunney is a Canadian, and perhaps the only one from this crop that you don't remember. Although his joke about Hitler ruining that mustache certainly has garnered more than a few fans over the years, hasn't it?
Dave Chappelle, even in early 1995, showed enormous talent, and in his opening line, paved the way for years of Aspen jokes about the lack of black people. But he played it big with a lengthy pause before asking, "Where are you hiding all of your black people?" Sharp material on race. He mentions how he spent three years in a small town in Ohio (which he liked more than he'd let on, apparently), tackles the poor choices made in fashioning Wonder Woman as a role model, and closes with his own superhero, Trick Whitey Man.
Anthony Clark, introduced as the college entertainer of the year, would get the first big break of anyone in this special, appearing in several episodes that fall on the Ellen sitcom, followed by his own sitcom the following year in Boston Common. When I saw him cracking up at his own jokes on a panel of Emerson College alums in 2006, I wondered if he had completely lost it. But here he was, back in 1995, cracking himself up as he joked at length about Oklahoma (a topic that Bill Hicks explored in his young comedians special in 1987, by the way), and being in a bad gang in Los Angeles ("the Lemon Slushies").
Louis CK closed the show, and at this point in his career, he was writing for Conan O'Brien and hadn't been married or had kids yet, so you get to see what was on his mind before his family life took over...and that was...random things about living in New York City, forgetting to have money while shopping, and not-so random (as it turns out now) thoughts about masturbation and sex. He jokes about wearing a bathing suit because he ran out of clean underwear. Which reminds me, I have to do laundry tonight.
Anthony Clark used to be a regular New Year's Eve fixture at the Comedy Connection in Boston (NOTE: This year's NYE slot is going to none other than ANDREW DICE CLAY!!??!?!?!?). Anyhow. Now that I've gotten that off my chest, time to let Clark get some things off his chest.
Clark wasn't in the best of moods when he called. "One of my friends got rolled in San Diego," he said. "His face looks like hamburger. He's going to be OK, but he shouldn't be going to 15 bars in three hours in a shadow outfit." Shadow outfit? Oh, right. It was the weekend before Halloween. Was Clark going to play dress up? "No. I hate Halloween. It's a nightmare. The traffic here in Hollywood is terrible. You can't go anywhere. People are throwing eggs…I like Thanksgiving. When you eat. Football, alcohol and food. Now that's a holiday."
What about the Boston New Year's Eve Connection gigs? He said he loved the money, but is OK without it, just being back on the road in his return to his stand-up roots. "I've been incredibly fortunate to have a career. I've done 12 movies. I've been on Broadway in a Tony Award-winning play…Grapes of Wrath, with Gary Sinese…sitcoms…also stand-up. It always seems like there's something out there to do. Each one of those are very different."
"I think I love stand-up because the reaction is immediate. There's no director. There's no writer. No producer. There's just you. You just get out there and vent. I don't know why people think I'm funny. But I'm glad they do. I don't want to have a real job. I just want to hang out."
He then started talking about a previous phone interview he'd had, which got him reminiscing about his days at Emerson College. He singled out Crossroads bar on Beacon Street. "I think they should name it after me, because I basically built it. I gave them so much money."
How'd he like reuniting with other Emerson comics at the Boston Comedy Festival in September? "It's amazing the people that school has put out, for such a small, little eclectic city school," he said. "Even behind the scenes. Max Mutchnick put on my first sitcom, Boston Common. Kevin Bright…" I told him Bright is back this semester teaching and working with students on TV projects. "Oh, that's great!" Clark added: "You feel like you owe the school back a little."
About his start in comedy: "I started lke my sophomore, junior year. I was in This Is Pathetic, one of the student groups. One of the guys in the group, David Cross…David was one of my best friends in college. We were in the same comedy group together. I went down to Atlanta to do summerstock between years…David was doing stand-up, and he said you've got to do this…The first time I went up was at the Punchline in Atlanta and the reaction was incredible. I was like, finally I get to be good at something. Because I was not a great athlete. I wanted to be. (fake sobs) I wanted to be so good. But when you finally discover that you're naturally talented at something…"
He talks about how people think doing comedy is crazy, and yet it seems natural and easy to him. I describe how some people tell me they could never be writers. "I think writing is one of the hardest, most insane things to do. I can write a joke. I can tag a 45-minute, hour set together, but to put down a sitcom…I just sit until blood drops down my head. The only thing that's worse is algebra." He gets off on a tangent, wondering why we ever needed to learn algebra. Well…if you're leaving Los Angeles by plane for a show in Dallas, and your opening act is arriving from New York by train, what time should you both leave to arrive at the same time? Right. Never mind. I suggested that Clark dress up for Halloween as an algebra problem. "This year, I'm going to dress as a fly and wear a sign that says 'Will work for s—.' Either that or Harry Potter. I haven't gotten my act together yet."
Back to Emerson for a bit. "It was great coming back. I love the president, seeing Denis (Leary) and Steven (Wright) and Eddie Brill. It's such a small school that it's like coming back to high school. We all root for each other's success. It's like a homecoming."
I guess a Last Comic Standing reunion doesn't feel that way, telling him he looked so unhappy hosting the NBC show this summer. "I'm not doing it again," he said. "I really shouldn't say anything bad about it in the press…It was not fun. I was basically talked into it. But no." Not again. "That's embarrassing for me. I don't want to be grouped into Regis Philbin and Tom whats-his-name, Dancing with the douche?" But they make tons of money and are on hit shows, I counter. "I'd rather retire, not do anything than be perceived as that guy. It's so cheesy. Dancing with the…They should have one called F— The Stars. You can pick which one you want to be with, and that's a win-win situation at that point. Everyone wins."
"Yes, Dear was on for six years. I'm very proud of that. I know it wasn't a critics favorite by any means, but we had 13 million people watching it and we all had a New England base…(he notes how all of his
co-stars grew up around Boston)…It was wonderful working with those guys for six years. You become tight. We were a family and they all have kids, except me and Liza, because we're the tragic hags." The perks of being on CBS, though, were great, he said. "And I got to see five Super Bowls and five Final Fours, so thank you, CBS!"
What's next? "I don't know what I want to do right now," he said. "I'm going to Australia for three weeks to do a miniseries for NBC. As far as I know, I won't be coming back to Last Comic Standing. Unless they sue me, and then I will be going back." He asks me about how I said he looked uncomfortable on the show. I repeat it. Yes, he looked like he didn't want to be there at all. "I was miserable….but I did it. I felt like it had the best ratings it ever had. So I felt good about it."
Does he think it's a good thing for stand-up comedy? "I think it did good! A lot of these guys, they had no reputation before the show. And now guys like Josh (Blue) and Ty Barnett and Roz, they're headliners now!" Does he give them advice? "Will any of them have a huge movie career or sitcoms? I don't know. Not everyone can be me. And that's when they hang up."
Jay Mohr is out and Anthony Clark is in. Ponder that for a moment. Now let's move on to a new season of Last Comic Standing.
The first two hours aired last Tuesday. There's an hourlong recap tonight at 8 p.m., but while you wait, here are some things you likely don't know but probably should.
Past winners John Heffron and Alonzo Bodden get updates, while original LCS weiner Dat Phan...um...where is he now? Buck Star gets invited back, but not Dat Phan. Ouch!
Many comics "auditioned" in the other cities (rather than NYC and LA) for an easier chance.
Bob and Ross act as if they don't know who Gabriel Iglesias is, which is odd, considering they've booked him before on The Tonight Show. Same with Bil Dwyer (I hung out with him at a Cubs-Brewers spring training game in 2003, when he was appearing at the Tempe Improv and hosting TV's Battlebots -- he more recently hosted The 70s House on MTV and Extreme Dodgeball).
Doug Benson, best known from VH1's Best Week Ever but also part of a long-running touring trio gig called The Marijuana-Logues, what is he doing on this show?
Only a brief shot of Kyle Cease onstage...wha? Kyle is huge on the college circuit and just got a Comedy Central half-hour special and CD package, so he's going to be OK. Another face in the L.A. comic crowd...was that Yoshi? I think it was. Matt Iseman, too. How'd you like to be the comedians who made the live face-off but got zero face time? Is that a bad thing? Perhaps not, if they bombed. You don't want THAT to be how America first sees you. Marc Price (Skippy from Family Ties) and Theo Von (from MTV) get extra screen time, credit for past TV experience. And Theo, because his experience is all "reality" challenge-based, gets a pass to Vegas.
But first, the show heads to Tempe. Ah, Tempe. So many memories on that Improv stage. No sign of Dan Mer, but I see other familiar faces here. First up is Josh McDermitt, who I put in a Tempe Improv showcase/contest a couple of summers ago (and who has been working with the Tim & Willy morning radio crew there in Phoenix for several years). Good for him. Ron and Ryan, though, come off as two-bit amateurs. Not good for them. Their shtick never quite worked at the Improv, jumping around after making the most basic jokes, especially when they were supposed to be hosting the big shows there. April Macie, not local -- from L.A., and girlfriend of Gary Gulman. Hmmm. I saw Mark Cordes standing in the background onstage, but no jokes from him. Too bad. Didn't recognize a single face in the audience, though, and no glimpses of the staff. Argh. Of others making it through, it should be noted that Ty Barnett was on Star Search only a couple of years ago.
Austin? Um, whatever. Next. New York City. Angel Salazar? He was in Punchline, for crying out loud! Brody Stevens?! Yeah. Former Mass. comic Jon Fisch got a callback. But he'll be at the Comedy Studio this Thursday instead as part of a sold-out benefit show. Kerri Louise got relegated to background duty. Moody McCarthy -- no relation. Chicago: What was Jimmy Pardo doing there? And Larry Reeb, he was on a Rodney Dangerfield special in 1989 with Tim Allen, Jeff Foxworthy and Sam Kinison. Um, yeah. Gerry Dee has done both Star Search and a CBS golfing "reality" show. John Roy won Star Search, so, um, yeah. Then Miami, where Flip Schultz is a no-brainer selection: Another Star Search competitor (and I saw him in Aspen a few years back).