If you're watching AMC's Breaking Bad, or just catching up to this Emmy-winning drama, then you're well-aware of Bob Odenkirk's rascally role as attorney Saul Goodman. In season four (which premiered last night), Saul has hired himself a bodyguard, Huell, who is played by none other than stand-up comedian Lavell Crawford.
Here's a clip of their first scenes together in Breaking Bad. Not spoilery!
Crawford has been a touring stand-up for years, and finished runner-up to Jon Reep in the 2007 season of NBC's Last Comic Standing. He has a new comedy CD out this month called Can A Brother Get Some Love?, which also will debut on Comedy Central on Aug. 12, 2011.
It's always interesting to see popular comedians cast in TV dramas. Enough stand-ups have done the trick on Law & Order that you could host a full night's show and then some with them.
But how many comedians have made the successful transition from stand-up stage to small screen drama, particularly when it's a critical and commercial TV hit?
Let's take a look back...
I know you've seen Bill Cosby on Letterman this week, but what if I were to say you could hear Cos talk for an hour about Temple sports and John Chaney, breaking though on I Spy, the original Bill Cosby Show (and the writers he hired for it), working on the Jell-O commercials (and the writers he fought with on it), and more? You'd like that, wouldn't you?
Cosby did just that earlier this week on a podcast. No. Not the podcast you're thinking of. Not that one, either. Nope. Guess again. Wait. Stop guessing. Cosby guested Sunday morning with "Big Band Files" in Florida, hosted by Doug Miles of The Bradenton Times.
You know what's great about Bill Cosby? Just about everything. Still. After all of these years.
The Cos can go on David Letterman's show without having anything but another stand-up date to promote, and go out, as he did Monday night, sit in his chair, and regale us with comedy. In this bit, he jokes about what it's like to be an old man today.
And then he does panel, and Cosby tells Letterman about the early days of doing comedy, working across the street from Richard Pryor back in the old days of Greenwich Village, and how he had dropped out of Temple, but how his dad hoped that a New York Giant could convince The Cos to go back to school and pursue an NFL career instead of stand-up comedy. Looks like Bill Cosby knew best, didn't he? If you have the chance to see Bill Cosby perform stand-up, by all means do it!
Last night I felt so exhausted that I fell into a sleep coma. But at least I wasn't dead, or almost as bad, having people spread a hoax that I were dead, which is exactly what happened to Bill Cosby. Again. So The Cos even went so far on Monday night as to call up CNN and report that the reports of his demise were premature. Or something like that.
In related news, Bill Cosby has a free iPhone app. I downloaded it myself, and it continously feeds you short audio clips of The Cos, with links to other recordings, his current tour schedule and more. Cosby also is on Twitter, but you knew that much already, didn't you?
Did you know that Eddie Murphy was a guest last night on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno? I know, I know. Perhaps you don't think that's an exciting thing worth tuning in to see in 2010. But the chat segment last night yielded some interesting fruit for comedy fans.
For one thing, Murphy, now 49, told Leno that he has been writing new jokes and is itching to return to stand-up -- something he hasn't really done in more than two decades. Murphy is one of those stand-up superstars who, when he became a big box-office movie star, focused more on that and other interests and dropped the stand-up entirely. He has put out more music albums than comedy product since his 1987 stand-up concert film, Eddie Murphy: Raw. In recent years, his older brother Charlie Murphy has launched his own stand-up career and been the more visible fixture in that regard. So there's that. Though being subdued for most of his panel session with Leno last night, Eddie Murphy did show the audience that he still remembers how to impersonate Bill Cosby.
And that prompted another interesting nugget, as Leno talked about a rare, possibly out-of-print album that Cosby had recorded called "After Hours" that contained more adult subject matter than the standard Cosby stories. Cos apparently recorded that at the old Village Gate in NYC, a site now known as Le Poisson Rouge. If any of you have a copy of it (it's not on iTunes or Amazon), please let me know.
Here's the clip. The second half gets into plugging the new 3-D Shrek film, and Murphy jokingly suggests that when he dies, there'll be a picture of him as Donkey on the obit. If that's not enough detachment, he also jokes about trying to date, and how he only just now got his first cell phone because he's a complete technophobe. Wow. Roll it!
Based on the book "Black Comedians on Black Comedy" by Darryl Littleton, Robert Townsend's documentary Why We Laugh debuted at Sundance in 2009 and just came out on DVD this week. Before you get to the documentary, however, you see six separate trailers for stand-up comedy specials, each one touting it was the event of the year. Sure, Codeblack Entertainment is responsible for them as well as this documentary, but the sales pitch leads to a misdirect when the main feature plays, and you hear the voiceover narration from Angela Bassett, footage of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and commentary from former NAACP head Kweisi Mfume and former Congressman Walter E. Fauntroy -- you know this isn't going to be a joyride.
Instead, the documentary uses cultural critics and comedians alike to tell the story of black Americans, and how they have used humor throughout the past century as a way to rise above their pain and oppression. Here's the extended trailer:
The path is traced from minstrels and blackface, to early stars such as Bert Williams and Lincoln Perry (better known as Stepin Fetchit), who made far different career choices with implications for generations to follow. You see how Nipsey Russell was a star at the Apollo long before he held a regular seat on Match Game in the 1970s, and how Amos 'n' Andy both helped and hurt the cause of black comedians. The careers of Moms Mably, Redd Foxx and Dick Gregory are examined, then the sitcoms of the 1970s (Good Times, The Jeffersons), Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor, through Eddie Murphy, Whoopi Goldberg, a too-short segment on the start of a separate black club circuit and Robin Harris, In Living Color, Def Comedy Jam, the Kings of Comedy and Dave Chappelle.
Most everyone interviewed continues to express awe and admiration for what Pryor accomplished. Princeton professor/author Dr. Cornel West called Pryor "the freest black man America's ever had. He is not just a genius, he exercises parrhesia. He exercises the most plain, frank, honest, unintimidated speech we had in the 60s, even more than Martin and Malcolm!" That's followed up by Townsend himself, who adds: "He gave to the world a gift, you know, like none other, that opened the playing field. And the only thing that I hate now is that, a lot of comedians, the only thing they took from Richard was the cursing. They didn't take his social commentary."
Plenty of comedians love Twitter; some hate it. But even legendary stand-up comic Bill Cosby is online, grabbing hold of various social networks, including Facebook, Mashable, MySpace, UStream, 12seconds, Cinch, Vimeo and BlogTalkRadio. Here is his brief explanation about why he "Himself" is using his own Twitter account @BillCosby. He has more than 710,000 followers currently. What are you waiting for? Join the Cos online. Roll it!
Last night might have been tough for Philadelphians, what with the Phillies falling to the New York Yankees and ceding the World Series to the "evil empire." But all was not lost for the City of Brotherly Love, for native son Bill Cosby was the toast of TV -- receiving the 12th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in a broadcast on PBS that included praise from Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Dick Gregory, Carl Reiner, Steven Wright, Sinbad and more. Cosby also appeared again last night on Late Show with David Letterman, and managed to work in a bit about the World Series and a quirk of live performances that many can relate to. How do you perform to a live audience when something big such as the World Series (or other big sporting event, or an election perhaps) has some audience members distracted. Roll the relevant clip with the Cos and Letterman!
As for last night's PBS broadcast, it was a fittingly jazzy tribute, opening with music and including multiple musical numbers between toasts from comedians.
Among the highlights: Seinfeld and Rock opening by talking about going to see Cosby at the Apollo and walking out with "sad faces" because of how much funnier he is than they are; Sinbad saying comedians can only hope to get close enough by riding his coattails; Wright saying his Noah and the Ark routine "is still funny today"; Reiner talking about how his son, Rob, as a teen recited that bit and got him to bring Cos in to meet the Dick Van Dyke show gang and eventually cast him in I Spy; Gregory talking about how Cosby erased race from the media's equation in describing Gregory and others as "negro comics"; the Cosby Show's "Claire" and "Theo" talking about lessons learned from him; and Cosby himself at the end telling a story about his childhood and vowing to patrons who see him touring today, "You're going to get everything I have." The only thing I wish I hadn't seen or heard was one bit in which Seinfeld talked about how people often misused the word "hysterical," while he said listening to one of Cosby's old albums did just that. That had to have been coincidental, right? Not that Louis CK doesn't know what it's like to hear someone else say one of his jokes to a nationally-televised audience. Anyhow. This post isn't supposed to be about that.
We have come here to this Internet to praise the great legacy of stand-up comedy that Bill Cosby continues to build upon, show after show. And if you'd like to watch the 12th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor honors for Bill Cosby, well, you can check your local PBS listings. Or you can click on this link that will show you the entire program, honoring Bill Cosby with the Mark Twain Prize at the Kennedy Center.
As a one-man comedy journalism band, sometimes I don't get to things as timely as I should, and other times things stack up on my desk and around my apartment, waiting for me to give them the proper attention they deserve here on The Comic's Comic. So when I do get to take a closer look, I'll do so with a new feature I'm calling Upon Further Review. Today: Bill Cosby.
The Cos was on The Jay Leno Show last night. He took Kevin Eubanks to musical comedy school for not knowing his cues, and took Leno to interview school by talking about how his wife has him on Twitter. This is a true thing. You can follow Bill Cosby's Twitter @billcosby. You can watch the Cosby/Leno interaction for a limited time on Hulu. Here's a clip:
But Cosby's appearance last night also is a good time to bring up some current/recent things he has been up to, all of which are worth your attention. For one, the Cos is going to be performing Saturday night in NYC for two shows, then sticking around the city for a livestream event on Monday night.
Yes. Details? On Oct. 19, Cosby and the Cosnarati Band will kick off his "State of Emergency" CD event with a virtual town hall meeting via Ustream, beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern on urban radio station web sites across the country as well as billcosby.com and facebook.com/billcosby, featuring songs from the CD as well as a live Q&A -- you can participate through http://www.tinyurl.com/ASKCOSBY and http://twitter.com/BillCosby.
Secondly. All of these people snarking about Cosby putting educational lyrics into a hip-hop album haven't been reading their Picture Pages, because Cosby has been all about helping kids know their rights from their wrongs since you and I were kids. He long has known that children say and do the darnedest things, and it has been part of his life mission to make sure they do the right thing -- he had a two-hour special last month with MSNBC called About Our Children.
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.
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.
Now that I'm showcasing funny videos and pictures and such over at The Laugh Track, you'd think I'd go ahead and find some way to tell you about them over here. Without further hesitation...
All of the buzz Monday night had comedy fans watching and talking about Conan O'Brien, but over on the CBS television network, David Letterman had Bill Cosby on as a guest, and Cosby -- though he gets sidetracked a lot easier now in his advanced age -- recounted a story of a friendly competition he had with the late George Carlin. But first, a little story about a routine Cosby and Carlin both used onstage about pro athletes hawking products in TV ads. It'll all make sense somehow.
If you've ever watched ESPN's interminably extensive coverage of the NFL Draft, then you need to get outside more and enjoy the world. You can find out which football teams drafted which players later. You really don't need to watch this time-suck. Except for this. Erin Andrews sitting on a couch between Bill Cosby and Texas wide receiver Quan Cosby. They're not related. And Bill, in a Temple jersey and helmet, couldn't be happier to be done with this silliness. How about you?
(Spoiler alert: Quan Cosby didn't even get drafted over the weekend, though he did reportedly sign today with the Cincinnati Bengals)
The folks in Montreal have begun rolling out some news and information about its 2009 Just For Laughs comedy festival, and this is what we know already: Bill Cosby will headline, as will Irishman Tommy Tiernan; Canadian native Russell Peters will celebrate his 20th year in stand-up comedy with a special show; John Cleese and Lewis Black will host Galas (filmed-for-TV showcases); Bobby Slayton will host The Nasty Show, and there will be a second annual ladies version of it. You can now go back to whatever you were doing.
Robert Townsend's documentary, Why We Laugh, based on Darryl Littleton's book, Black Comedians on Black Comedy, makes its debut at this year's Sundance Film Festival. As we celebrate Martin Luther King Day and tomorrow's inauguration of President Barack Obama, it's timely for us to examine how black comedy has evolved and adapted over the years. Here Townsend talks about his project with the Sundance Channel:
After the jump, three short clips from the film. Enjoy!
The Sundance Film Festival has announced its slate of films for the 2009 celebration of cinema in Park City, Utah, and more than a few feature and/or star stand-up comedians during the Jan. 15-25 run in the ski hills.
There's one bonafide film about comedy screening next month: Why We Laugh: Black Comedians on Black Comedy / USA (Director: Robert Townsend)—Using rare archival clips along with provocative interviews with many of today's leading comedians and social critics, Why We Laugh celebrates the incredible cultural influence and social impact black comedy has wielded over the past 400 years. Cast: Chris Rock, Bill Cosby, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Steve Harvey, Dick Gregory. World Premiere
And I'm pleased as punch to pass along the news that NYC comedy troupe Derrick got their film into the festival: Mystery Team / USA (Director: Dan Eckman; Screenwriters: Dominic Dierkes, Donald Glover, and DC Pierson)—A group of kid detectives called The Mystery Team struggle to solve a double murder to prove they can be real detectives before they graduate from high school. Cast: Dominic Dierkes, D.C. Pierson, Donald Glover, Aubrey Plaza, Glenn Kalison. World Premiere
Among the 16 films selected for the Documentary Competition:
Good Hair (Director: Jeff Stilson) - Comedian Jeff Stilson directs Chris Rock while he sets out to examine the culture of African-American hair and hairstyles. World Premiere
Among the 16 films selected for the Drama Competition:
Big Fan (Director and Screenwriter: Robert Siegel) - The world of a parking garage attendant who happens to be the New York Giants' biggest fan is turned upside down after an altercation with his favorite player. Cast: Patton Oswalt, Michael Rapaport, Kevin Corrigan, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Matt Servitto. World Premiere
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (Director and Screenwriter: John Krasinski) - This effort from The Office star is described thusly: When her boyfriend leaves with little explanation, a doctoral candidate in anthropology tries to remedy her heartache by interviewing men about their behavior. Cast: Julianne Nicholson, John Krasinski, Timothy Hutton, Dominic Cooper, Christopher Meloni, Bobby Cannavale. World Premiere
Paper Heart (Director: Nicholas Jasenovec; Screenwriters: Nicholas Jasenovec and Charlyne Yi) - This is the is it a documentary, is it fiction movie you've heard buzz about in the past week: Even though performer Charlyne Yi doesn't believe in love, she bravely embarks on a quest to discover its true nature - a journey that takes on surprising urgency when she meets unlikely fellow traveler, actor Michael Cera. Cast: Charlyne Yi, Michael Cera, Jake Johnson. World Premiere
Push (Director and Screenwriter: Lee Daniels) - Based on the acclaimed, best-selling novel by Sapphire, Push is the redemptive story of Precious Jones, a young girl in Harlem struggling to overcome tremendous obstacles and discover her own voice. Cast: Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe, Paula Patton, Mo’Nique Imes, Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey. World Premiere
And in films debuting at Sundance 2009 outside of competition...
Attempting to get you caught up on what everyone else is saying about comedy (you can catch up with them via the More On Comedy links on my page).
The Bastion interviews Kumail Nanjiani, who recently left Chicago for New York City.
The Coming is back in blogging business, apparently, and talks to Paul Rust about his comedy background and burgeoning movie career.
Punchline Magazine interviews the most recent winner of Last Comic Standing, Jon Reep.
The Apiary finds more examples of NYC-based comedians getting "commercial" success.
Shecky Magazine continues to get spies reporting in with results from the Last Comic Standing auditions, and by the way, the Male Half is auditioning for Montreal's Just For Laughs tonight at Helium in Philadelphia. Good luck, Brian!
Comic Vs. Audience caught Bill Cosby in action in New Jersey and filed this report.
SFstandup interviewed Al Madrigal, who appears in the new CBS midseason sitcom, Welcome to the Captain.
If there's such a thing as alt-comedy, then can there also be such a thing as alt-black comedy? Elon James White thinks so. White and fellow New York comedian Baron Vaughn have been trying to educate audiences on the notion that there are many different types of black stand-up comedy, through their Shades of Black shows, their online site, The Black Comedy Project, and this weekend, their first full-on comedy fest, The Black Comedy Experiment. The "Experiment" debuts tonight and runs through Saturday night, with all shows at the two venues in The Tank.
Tonight's mainstage shows are Souled Out (featuring Walli Collins, Rick Younger, Leighann Lord, Dean Edwards, Mike Yard and Marc Theobold) and Desiree Burch's 52-Man Pickup. Other one-person shows include "The Oreo Kid" by Jordan Carlos (who auditioned last week for Saturday Night Live as a potential Barack Obama), "30 Years in Africa" by Michelle Buteau, Robin Cloud's "Bag O' Bitches," "Mystery Up at Negro Creek," by Baron Vaughn, and "2-Faced" by Erica Watson. There'll be special editions of Chicks and Giggles, Laughing Liberally and Shades of Black. And that's not all.
That SNL just got a lot of buzz over their search for a cast member to play Barack Obama only brought more attention to the plight of black comedians in getting the industry to notice them. "We couldn't ask for better timing, literally," White told me last night. That SNL didn't cast a black comedian for Obama didn't surprise White. That Jordan Carlos and Donald Glover got face time with Lorne Michaels pleased him, though. "I was happy that two of the three Obamas were on our festival. There's our buzz!"
In White's view, the fact remains that most audiences and Hollywood industry types think of only one type of comedian when they think of booking a black stand-up. They think of Def Jam, he said. "Everybody feels I'm harping on it," he said. It's not that Def Jam is evil or bad, he said, but rather that the great success of Def Jam created a model that everyone else has tried to duplicate without thinking or considering other forms or styles of comedy. That's been the pattern, White says, going back to Bill Cosby. When Richard Pryor emerged, "he kicked the door down," but then other comics tried to be Pryor, then tried to be Eddie Murphy, then tried to be the Wayans Brothers, and more recently, Def Jam. "It was just bravado. In your face," White said. "But it pigeonholed us for years." The opportunities simply aren't there, from SNL to HBO. "Dwayne Perkins might get to do Conan. But where's his HBO special?" White's online essay in October, "Did Def Jam Ruin Black Comedy?" sparked a furious back-and-forth debate with comedian Todd Lynn. "Todd Lynn says there ain't no thing as an 'Intelligent N----r' show. The fact is, though, he thinks there's one way of doing it, but in my opinion, there are many ways of climbing the ladder," White said.
He acknowledges that "the chitlin' circuit is strong in Harlem and the Bronx," and that New York City has lots of black comedians and black rooms, but wonders where the mainstream breakthroughs are for them. And White also knows that even though he's a Bed-Stuy Brooklyn native, he sounds like he's British and doesn't always fit in either an urban Def Jam scene or a white scene. "There are jokes I have that I can't tell in front of a white audience. It's because they just don't get it, nine times out of 10. They don't have the same life experience I have." So there has to be another way. "It was the same when the alt-comedy scene started. That's why I believe in alt-black," he said. "Some people argue I'm just putting another label on them and I understand that."
Like the comedians who formed an alternative to the club scene so they could work and build their own fan bases, White hopes to do the same for the many "shades of black" comedy. He's not against "urban or Def Jam" comedians who are good, saying Patrice Oneal is great and killed on that show. He's against black comedians who are hack about their blackness, such as the woman who threw her weave into the audience to get a standing ovation.
White still doesn't know if he and Vaughn and the experiment will succeed. "If we make enough ruckus, at least we'll be a footnote," White said.