When you throw a party for a TV show, much less a Web series, you're never quite sure how it will translate as a live experience for audiences to sit and enjoy. No such worries last night at the 92YTribeca, which hosted "Wainy Days Live," a party that not only marked the start of the fourth season for David Wain's amusing ode to seeking love and finding plenty of sex jokes along the way, but also the relaunch of a newly designed My Damn Channel, which made Wainy Days possible.
Rob Barnett, head of the small, plucky crew at My Damn Channel, told the audience at the start: "My Damn Channel is a brand-new thing today." The redesigned site features a larger player and a cleaner design. Barnett told me that his strategy all along has been to focus on a small group of talented performers and give them free reign to do what they do. That's how My Damn Channel can stand out from the many other players in Web comedy. He told me that Sam Seder's "Pilot Season" had gotten two million views in its first two weeks as a reborn Web series. So far, so good.
David Wain kept the live show moving at a nice pace last night. In between video clips of this week's latest episode (Amanda Peet has a curious fetish in #27, "Jill") and a snippet from #28 that features Lake Bell -- Wain warned before screening it, "If it shows up on YouTube, I will kill you!" -- he treated the crowd to several musical performances from Wainy Days (Wain has skills both on the drums and piano), readings and an anti-chat.
Leo Allen and Callie Thorne re-enacted their performances from Episode #4: Cyrano d'Bluetooth, with Joe Lo Truglio playing Wain's part. Live, the pacing was a bit slower and the reactions a bit more animated. But still quite amusing and over-the-top NSFW. Amy Miles sang selections from an upcoming "two-part epic rock opera" that may not be epic, but certainly provided reason enough to bring Paul Rudd onstage. The crowd also got a sort-of Stella reunion when Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter arrived to perform a sketch the Michaels claim Comedy Central does not want them to produce for their upcoming series, Michael and Michael Have Issues. Though for the life of me, I could not see what could be so wrong about having "extra farts" with dinner. "Can you believe it? They don't want us to do that one," Ian Black said. "But we're going to tell them that the f---ers at 92YTribeca f---ing loved it!" Wain got most of the actors from Wainy Days, plus Thorne and Rudd, to stage a reading of what Wain claimed was his first draft of the series, written when he was 12 (but most likely last week). Let's just say that even as a middle-schooler, he was preoccupied with sex. Best offensively funny line: "That's cool. What's the point of Roe v. Wade if we're not going to use it?" The "Stella" trio also got the audience to indulge them in their own spin on Mad-Libs. And he topped off the evening with an anti-chat segment with Rudd (sample topics: How much fun must it be on a Judd Apatow set? And the cast of Friends really are friends!).
Videos after the jump:
I'll be performing tonight in New York City as part of this event (press release follows):
“THE RETURN OF THE FUNNIEST REPORTERS”
Witty Writers Take the Stage at The Laugh Factory Comedy Club
WHAT: Reporters from The Funniest Reporter on the Planet Contest at The Laugh Factory last January are returning to the comedy club stage.
WHO: Comedian, writer and actress Jenn Palumbo is hosting the event with the following reporters performing:
Catie Lazarus – The Forward – winner of Funniest Reporter on the Planet Contest
Jamie McIntyre – CNN – 3rd place of Funniest Reporter on the Planet Contest
Brian Balthazar – MSNBC
Mike Maiello – Forbes Magazine
Sean McCarthy – Boston Herald
WHEN: Tuesday, March 21st at 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: The Laugh Factory 8th Avenue – between 42nd and 43rd Streets New York, NY
WHY: According to Jamie Masada, owner of The Laugh Factory, “I often think, here are professionals in front of the public everyday, on TV, radio, even with a by-line, they see the craziest things, have the best stories. I said to myself, gee I bet these people can make us laugh, if they only had the chance. I know they can’t tell jokes when they are doing the 6 o’clock news, but I bet they want to.” Tickets to the event are $15.
For background, read the transcript from "On the Media's" Bob Garfield and his account of the adventure back in January. Or listen to his report, still online.
Ah, yes, onto the fun misadventures of Mr. McCarthy in Manhattan. The fun began on Tuesday, wherein I talked to PR guy Jules Feiler of 5WPR. A couple of colleagues had forwarded e-mails from him to me about something called the "funniest reporter on the planet" contest, being held at the Laugh Factory in NYC and LA on Jan. 5. Since it was Jan. 10, I figured I had missed it and was just trying to find out what happened, who won, and whether there'd be another event around the bend. Turned out the date of the "contest" got moved to Jan. 12, so Jules immediately asked me if I wanted in. Well, what do you think? You get offered free stage time at a New York City comedy club, you say yes. Even if you have to figure out how to get down to New York and back during the workweek (thankfully, I hadn't yet used my New Year's Day holiday, so logistically, I could pull it off). Even if you haven't performed in years. Even if you have no idea what to use for material.
Cut to Thursday.
I chose Greyhound. Sure, Amtrak is a bit more comfortable, but with the on-and-off Acela problems, the train only gets you there about a half-hour quicker -- and the Laugh Factory is located across the street from the Port Authority. And while the Fung Wah bus might be cheaper and faster, it might not get you there in one piece. Just saying. By the way, the people who ride the bus from Boston in the afternoon seem nice and friendly. The people who ride the bus from New York at 3:30 a.m. seem nice and friendly and smelly. Just saying.
Met up with the Lusty Lady herself, Rachel Kramer Bussel, before the show. We walked around the Times Square vicinity and jibberjabbed about writing, the various incarnations of Diet Coke and more writing. Then into the club. As more than one person observed, it looks from the front and the lobby a little like a funhouse. And not necessarily in a good way. It might scare some otherwise normal fun-loving comedy fans away. Hope not. Up the stairs and then you have several doorways to choose from. It's quite the labyrinth. Three different rooms offered live comedy Thursday night -- we had the larger room, with seating for upward of 300. Rich Vos (with wife(!) Bonnie), Keith Robinson and Christian Finnegan were working the crowds in the other rooms. Head to the "green room" to find several media-looking types milling about. Are they funny? Does it matter? Holy cow, is this Joe Franklin walking into the room? Now I know I'm in New York City. He is polite and gracious and yes, everything else you might expect out of Joe Franklin. Club owner Jamie Masada is milling about. (Note to self: Do not make Michael Jackson jokes. Do not say Joe Franklin raped me. And do not -- do not -- say Joe Franklin offered me Jesus juice.) One guy is walking around with a radio crew, another guy with a TV crew. I figured as much. Masada throws this benefit show featuring reporters, which allows the press to feature him and his club (which, from what I hear, has had some difficulties getting established in its first year against the myriad of New York City comedy club alternatives already entrenched in the Big Apple). And the reporters do these ego-stroking, self-relfexive stories about what it's like to try stand-up comedy.
That said, stay tuned to NPR's "On the Media" this weekend or perhaps next (looks like next weekend) to hear host Bob Garfield's experience -- and hope for a clip of me!!! Or this weekend, turn on CNN for "On the Story," and watch senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre talk about his experience -- and hope for a clip of me!!! That show will air at 7 p.m. Saturday, then again at 1 p.m. Sunday.
By the way, if you shaved Garfield's beard, would you find McIntyre's face underneath?
And...we're back. The "contest" (I keep using quotes because, for one, there is no prize other than bragging rights, and secondly, because all comedy contests are inherently subjective and political and not so much about finding the funniest person -- and yes, I'd type that exact same sentence whether I won or not) had 18 media hacks taking the stage for five minutes each. I was No. 14 of 18 on the list. That they had an intermission halfway through allowed people to get a quick break, but it also allowed about 50 people to make a break for the exits, never a good thing in a comedy show when you're at the end of the bill. The host was Gersh Kuntzman (you may laugh at his name now, since everyone else seemed to get a kick out of it, especially "judge" Dom Irrera, who got wrangled into the gig because he's headlining the club this weekend and went onstage first to cuss and ramble on for a few minutes -- the other judge was Pat Cooper -- let all of that sink in before you try to figure out who may have won the night). Kuntzman used to write for the New York Post. Now he's in Brooklyn. Kuntzman was a nice enough host, but had the bad habit of wanting to do lots of material between each contestant, which just made the show even longer than it already was. Garfield went up first and proved he is quite funny on paper. Live on stage, not as much, but his material was solid. On the whole, of the 18 participants, it'd be fair to say that six were funny, six were horrid train wrecks, and the other six were merely mediocre, such as you might find in any open mic or amateur night.
Some notes: Catie Lazarus won. That should surprise absolutely no one since Lazarus is funny and, well, she is a full-time comic and only part-time reporter -- she freelances humor pieces for the New York weekly Jewish paper, Forward. The folks from MSNBC were really nice (that'd be senior producer Nikki Egan and freelance reporter Brian Balthazar, and Egan was extra nice enough to have several of her attractive co-workers come to the show!). One guy from New Jersey looked like a dead ringer for Morton Downey Jr., except Morton Downey Jr. is dead and would've been funnier. A few other people got brought onstage with intros saying they were humor columnists, which is only a good idea if you're actually funny. Robert A. George is the funniest Trinidadian New York Post writer I know. And his friends invited me out to dinner with them after the show, and even though it was almost midnight, we were in New York City so it didn't seem strange, although I didn't take them up on the offer. Maybe I should've.
As for me, well, I didn't win, but I feel like I won. And I say that because 1) after my set, several of the other contestants rushed over to me to offer congratulations, and 2) after the show, Jamie Masada came up to me unprovoked to tell me that I should've won and then he invited me to come back down to New York to host any upcoming weekend. Masada also introduced me to his business partners, and they both had nothing but kind words. From my past in stand-up and improv (I performed often back in the day in Seattle from 1997-2001, and rarely in Arizona from 2002-2004), I have a good sense of when people are offering faint praise or insincere compliments. This didn't seem like that. Especially since I don't live or work in New York, so these people and peers had no reason to say nice things to me. I am grateful they did, though.
Some of us retired across the street to the Westin. Dan Allen, a very funny guy who I first met over the holidays at the Comedy Studio, showed up at the Laugh Factory toward the end of our show to pick up his friend (and winner), Catie. I thought about alerting Dan to my presence beforehand, and now I really wish I had so he could've seen my set and offered comments. Nevertheless, we all went to the Westin along with Beth from 5WPR, the McIntyres and the crew from Newsday. I missed the 12:30 a.m. bus, which meant I now couldn't leave town until 3:30 a.m., so I mostly killed the time hanging out with these nice people (who, in the interest of full disclosure, may have broken a little-known law regarding unguarded beverages).
This was the first time I had walked around New York City since July 4, 1993. Times Square may have looked a bit different, but the feeling I had breathing in the big city remained the same. The energy is palpable. I still don't know that I would enjoy living there, but I sure know that I want to go back and visit more often. And now I have some very good reasons to do so.