Speaking of The Comedy Awards, which air Sunday, April 10, 2011, on Comedy Central, Vh1, Spike, TV Land, Logo and Nick at Nite...
The telecast will start early online with the Webcast Pre-Show with Andy Daly, Jen Kirkman and Christian Finnegan starting at 8:45/9:45c.
They'll have Red Carpet interviews and funny intermissions throughout the evening.
Finnegan scored the final spot on the red carpet with a customized podium, monitors, backdrop and crew, so he managed to talk to just about everybody who showed up.
See him here looking very professional while chatting up The Daily Show's correspondent Olivia Munn (who looked even more amazing than my iPhone 3G can capture). Finnegan's black-tie charm, on the other hand, gets an extra boost through the use of my handheld video camera. Bloggie!
In between his interviews, I interviewed him.
Roll the clip!
Congratulations to comedians Christian Finnegan and Sherrod Small today, as they're guaranteed steady work for a while as TBS made it official and ordered the 90-episode pick-up on their TBS series, Are We There Yet?
The series debuted this summer with a 10-episode trial run, averaging 2.8 million viewers, 1.5 million in adults aged 18-49. TBS noted it also was the top-ranked show on all of TV in the second-quarter with African-American adults in the 18-34 and 18-49 demos.
You may know the show as starring Terry Crews, or co-starring the movie's star Ice Cube as a recurring guest, but Christian Finnegan is a regular cast member playing the best friend of Crews' character, and Sherrod Small is a writer who also plays a guest character. So perhaps this is their Best Week Ever? Groan if you must, but congrats to them both.
From the press release today: “Are We There Yet? has proven itself to be an extremely strong addition to TBS’s comedy lineup,” said Michael Wright, executive vice president and head of programming for TBS, TNT and Turner Classic Movies. “Are We There Yet? attracts a young, diverse audience, making it an especially good fit for our Wednesday night slate of original sitcoms.”
Christian Finnegan just got back from his second trip to Australia this spring, and to make him feel more at home, he's headlining this weekend at Comix in NYC. You can also see him on your TV set tonight and other Wednesday nights on TBS as Martin in the new sitcom adaptation of the movie Are We There Yet?.
I caught up with Finnegan over the Internet to find out where he is, so to speak.
Didn't you just go to Australia a couple of months ago? So please straighten this out for me. You went down there for a comedy festival, and then what was this second time? Did you have that planned out already, or did you get the second round of gigs because of how the fest went for you? And did your second Aussie experience of 2010 turn out differently (and how, if so) because of what you had learned from the first trip?
You've got the basic gist of it. In March, I spent two weeks at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. It's a beast of a festival--second only to Edinburgh, in terms of size. Just about every room in the Melbourne Town Hall is converted into a performance space, and then there are also shows in 2,000-seat theaters, small bars and everything in between. There haven't been too many Americans there in the past--other than guys like Arj Barker, who is a superstar over there. But they're trying to bring more Americans into the mix. So I was part of a Yank-centric rotisserie show called "Headliners", along with folks like Todd Barry, Greg Behrendt, Tig Notaro and Nick Thune. There was a short adjustment period for me--despite their rowdy reputation, Australians are a wee bit British in their audience sensibilities (probably because BBC comedy dominated Aussie television for so long). But I had a great time and around the time I was set to head back to the States, the producers asked if I might be interested in coming back for the "Roadshow". This is where they send out two separate touring groups around the country, playing towns big and small. I didn't think it would work out for logistical reasons, but lo and behold...
So I just got back Monday evening from the majestically remote western coast of Oz (and with a few days in Darwin, which is the Northern Territory). Melbourne was awesome, but on this trip I got to see that mythical Australia--the one you see in movies. Weird rock formations, vast expanses of red dirt, crocodile infested waters, kangaroos lounging out by the side of the road, etc. It was grueling to be sure, but so very worth it. And the crowds were just spectacular. We ended our run with a week at His Majesty's Theatre in Perth, a gorgeous 1,300-seat opera house that was packed for nearly every show. My only disappointment was that I had to pull out of the Rooftop Comedy Fest, which I'd been really looking forward to. But it was a life experience I just couldn't pass up.
I also must get your perspective on being TV's unofficial official token white guy! Did your resume credit of being on Chappelle's Show have any influence on the decision to cast you on the new TBS sitcom, Are We There Yet? (that you know of, obvs)?
I think I'm going to start billing myself as "America's White Guy". There's just something about me that makes people say "I bet it would be funny to watch this guy interact with black people." But I don't totally agree with the word "token" in this context. 'Tokenism' was/is a genuinely demeaning way of casting one "ethnic" character on a predominantly white show as a way of lazily inoculating itself against charges of racism--it was cynical way of 'throwing black people a bone'. I don't think anyone could, with a straight face, claim that white people are lacking opportunities in television. So the term 'token' when applied to a white character on a predominantly black sitcom seems a bit...off. It's like a benign version of that whiny "Why can't WE say the N word??" argument. And one of things I really like about the show is that Ali (LeRoi, the writer/creator) is not afraid to address racial stuff, but in a way that feels refreshingly casual. It's like, "Yeah, we're different. We like different stuff and we sometimes react differently to situations. So...are we gonna eat, or what??" I don't think young people are nearly as hung up on this junk as we are (or our parents were). The show captures that new reality really well, I think.
Strangely, I'm not sure the Chappelle credit had too much to do with my being cast. Ali told me he was just going through the comedian pages on the Comedy Central website and he came across a few of my clips. Now I'm sure it probably helped convince the other producers, network heads, etcetera--I imagine the phrase "You know, that dude from the Mad Real World sketch..." was uttered more than once. But there was no formal connection between the two.
Do Terry Crews and Ice Cube treat you as the token white guy or were you welcomed into the TBS family immediately?
Everyone involved in the show has been incredibly gracious and welcoming. That thing I was saying about race not being as big of a hang-up these days? That's triply true of television people. From actors and writers to grips and makeup people, a TV shoot is about as "post-racial" an environment as you're likely to find. I mean, I enjoyed getting a laugh on the set every now and then by playing up differences--suggesting to Ice Cube that we have Radiohead record the Are We There Yet? theme song, for example. But it's just silliness.
Terry Crews is perhaps Earth's nicest human being. He's the only actor I've ever heard refer to himself as "blessed" in a way that convinced me he actually feels that way, rather than just saying it because it sounds good. He spent six years as a self-described "journeyman" in the NFL and I think that experience really informed his worldview. He treats everyone like an old friend and appreciates each and every opportunity he's been given. To be honest, he makes me feel like a jaded prick. F that guy.
For the record, I never actually suggested Radiohead to Ice Cube. But I would have, if I'd thought of it.
Also, your character -- described by TBS as a "lovable rogue" seems a lot like the Neil Patrick Harris "Barney" character on How I Met Your Mother, and my inside sources tell me you were up for that role, too? Do tell!
Comedian Christian Finnegan shared this snapshot from a publicity moment for his upcoming TBS sitcom adaptation of the movie, Are We There Yet? His caption: "Here's a shot from my recent family reunion."
Haha. Funny. We get it, in a one of these things is not like the others kind of way.
But does TBS get it? I checked the TBS site for Are We There Yet?, debuting in June, to find out more about the show. Turns out it stars Terry Crews and Essence Atkins, with recurring roles from Telma Hopkins, Keesha Sharp, Ice Cube, and comedian Christian Fenigan. So we're not quite there just yet. So close, though. So. Close. At least they didn't call him Chad (Finnegan's character when he was the white guy in a Chappelle's Show sketch).
The only thing people love making more than year-end list are decade-end lists, and some of them seem as much about generating page-views as they are about subjectively ranking things that should not be ranked. That's rank! So where are my lists? I've got something else up my sleeves for this December, but in the meantime, I thought I'd share with you the iTunes list of their choices of the 20 best comedy discs from 2009, along with my thoughts on said list.
For one thing, it's really across the board. Any list that puts Brent Weinbach side-by-side with Katt Williams is looking to appeal to all sorts. I'm not exactly sure I agree with everything on here, but then again, I haven't quite listened to all of them just yet -- there are stacks of CDs and DVDs in my apartment, and I hope to get through them all by year's end and share my own thoughts on them with you. I have listened to and reviewed eight of the iTunes 20; most of the rest are waiting in my queue, and a few I don't even have my hands on just yet? My loss or yours? Also, iTunes missed some great ones from the past year. No John Mulaney? I haven't heard Paul F. Tompkins new disc yet, but would presume it's worthy. And no ladies on the list? Not even Maria Bamford? Harumph. Here, then, are the iTunes choices from the year in comedy -- I'm not sure if they have a ranking order from iTunes, so I'll list them alphabetically:
It's Sunday. Were you looking for some funny diversions, or merely trying to track down a video somebody told you about that just showed up on the Internets? Well, then, you're probably in luck, because odds are I might have posted what you're looking for over on Comedy.com's comedians channel, The Laugh Track. Let's review:
Christian Finnegan's latest stand-up comedy special, Au Contraire, is available now on iTunes, though you won't be able to see it on TV until May 8 (Comedy Central) or hold it in your hands as a CD/DVD until May 12 (Warner Bros.).
Finnegan put together a fun set of videos to promote the special, Jokespirations, in which alter-ego Rolly Chedwick interviews people and dogs who can relate directly to the stand-up material. There are four episodes in all. Enjoy:
Watch the rest, including an interview with his wife's dog, after the jump!
Paul F. Tompkins had alerted all of his Los Angeles area fans that he'd be leaving the West Coast for a year due to the show business. We learned he'd be hosting a new version of VH1's Best Week Ever. But what would that mean, exactly? The weekly recap mockery of pop culture didn't have a host before, but rather a seemingly endlessly rotating cast of comedians offering their best quips of the moment. So now we know.
This week, PFT began hosting a 3.5-minute nightly edition at 11 p.m. Monday-Thursday of Best Day Ever. And in a press release, VH1 offers these details of Best Week Ever with Paul F. Tompkins, which debuts at 11 p.m. Oct. 24. The cast: Doug Benson, Mike Britt, comic duo Frangela (Angela V Shelton and Frances Callier) Christian Finnegan, Greg Fitzsimmons, Nick Kroll, Chuck Nice, Melissa Rauch and Jessica St. Clair. And some of the cast will tour colleges together this fall. From the press release: "For almost five years, Best Week Ever has been a destination for anyone who loves pop culture and comedy. By adding a guide like Paul, a comic with a truly unique voice, we'll be better able to expand our coverage and make the show even stronger," said Jim Ackerman, Senior Vice President of Development, VH1.
In today's NYT on BWE with PFT, our new host notes this will now make the show seem more like E! show The Soup. We also learn the show will keep "The Sizzler" segment (really?), but overall, it will adapt to the personality of its new host. I'm just happy that Tompkins will get more and more airtime. If you recall, he got a weekly segment years ago on the debut season of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, but they never really allowed Tompkins to show his strengths as a comedian and as a quick-witted commentator. Here's hoping VH1 doesn't get in the way of a good thing.
Is it too early in the morning to ponder hot dogs? How about mini hot dogs, the ever-popular pigs in blankets? Well, it's not too early in the month, because July means we're only days away from the Fourth of July and the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest. Will it be Joey Chestnut again? Or will Kobayashi reclaim his legend status? More pressing, as commentators Sean Crespo and Christian Finnegan note in this newly unearthed video, can Adira Amram or H. Alan Scott dethrone Andres du Bouchet in the first-ever mini-dog "contest" at Comix? You'll have to watch to find out:
The folks at ChuckleDumper don't merely assemble daily links to funny stuff, but sometimes also contribute original material of their own, such as this interview with Christian Finnegan they've posted today. Here is Finnegan addressing the nature of writing new material and jokes he finds funny...
But, everybody has their own definition of what 'hack' means. Mine has always been when you're relying on what works, as opposed to what really makes you laugh. And you see it in all the worlds. You see people get up and do stuff at Rififi that if they were to hear it themselves, wouldn't laugh at but they know it will get over. And even more so you see it at the clubs. That's where you see it the most. When you're at the Dayton Funny Bone, (where I'll be in late June, by the way), or some club on the road and you see some guy killing, just sort of doing a 'greatest hits.' He knows what will work. That's very depressing. And so when you ask, the initial question, how has my comedy changed, I've become a bit of a fascist in the past year or two in terms of my writing. I really try to only talk about the things I find funny. And sure I'm not saying I still find the jokes funny because we say them 1,000 times, but they have to pass the smell test. To me, the smell test is if I heard this joke coming out of someone else's mouth, would I find it funny? As long as the answer is yes, then we're good to go. So I would say the way it's changed over the years, that's become an increasing importance to me. Sort of staying true to not just trying to rely on what will go over. Instead, what am I actually thinking about is how can I make that funny? As opposed to what do these idiots think is funny?
Eddie Brill just handed the reins of the show back to host William Stephenson for the final "regularly scheduled" two-hour show to get us to 50 hours, and Stephenson's voice is breaking up a bit as he gets this final audience ready and rarin' to laugh. "We've already done something that has never been done," he says. First up to finish it out...Christian Finnegan.
Quotable from the 2 p.m. hour: "This doesn't feel like a comedy show. It feels like something cataclysmic happened in the world...and this is the only place where we're free from the zombies." -- Christian Finnegan
The Academy Awards happened last night and much comedy ensued. Or not exactly. But Kambri Crews was nice enough to throw a viewing party at Comix for the night, with her hubby Christian Finnegan hosting. Finnegan noted that the Academy Awards writing staff reached out to several comedians, asking them to submit potential jokes for host Jon Stewart to use in his monologue or later during the ceremony. Here, he reads from a few of his suggestions:
Leo Allen made an appearance just before the Oscars got rolling, but Allen didn't stay long after Jon Stewart's monologue, long enough to see none of his jokes got selected but not long enough to see the cameras cut to Allen's comedy partner, Eric Slovin, who had a choice seat behind Best Actress winner Marion Cotillard. How'd he get that seat? As the New York Times might report, anonymous aides thought Slovin's relationship with Best Supporting Actress nominee Amy Ryan might be appropriate. Todd Barry stuck around for the entire ceremony, thought Stewart did a good hosting job, and thoughtfully offered to let me finish his order of Chicken Tender is the Night. That's right. Kambri Crews and the Comix crew had a special menu with new movie names. Among the nods to 2008 nominees: I Eat Your Flank Steak, Banana Cake Blanchett, Juno & Tonic, There Will Be Bloody Marys, No Cosmo For Old Men.
Stewart did well enough, I suppose. A few lame jokes (Harrison Ford, a car dealership?). A few really solid ones -- really enjoyed the line about the Vanity Fair post-Oscar bash. "If you really wanted to show respect for the writers, you could try inviting a few of them to the Vanity Fair Oscar party," or something to that effect. I could look it up for the verbatim (and may well do that). Stewart's nicest touch of the night: Bringing the co-winner for Best Original Song from Once back onstage after a commercial break to let her give her acceptance speech, and then delivering a speech that was worth it.
By the way, here's a fun fact, at least for me and the Oscars: My tenure at the New York Daily News may have been brief, but it did allow me the opportunity to cover the "red carpet" (actually, indoors and hardwood floors) for the New York Film Festival screening of No Country For Old Men, since all of the gossips were out of town or off the clock that night. Which meant I got a few minutes with Javier Bardem, the Coen brothers, Josh Brolin and Kelly MacDonald. All very nice. The Coens really didn't want to talk (surprise!), even when I asked them about the film they were currently shooting in my neighborhood with George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
Before I get to recapping the year in comedy, circa 2007, let's look back at some of my more illuminating, insightful and interesting comedy interviews from the year.
My sit-down with Ricky Gervais has to take the top spot in my mind, because his strongly held opinions on sticking to your creative guns and not sacrificing your beliefs in your own sense of humor (and humour) are words that any creative artists -- whether they're comedians, musicians, writers or actors -- can live by.
A close second, then, has to have been my September face-to-face with Dane Cook. Arguably the biggest headliner in the country this year and last, in terms of tickets and CDs sold, Cook met me in a Manhattan hotel lounge as part of his promotional tour for Good Luck Chuck. But we barely talked about the movie, instead tackling every question you've probably wanted to hear Cook answer, and then some. He even brought up Louis CK!
Speaking of whom, Louis CK was just one of the many other bright lights of comedy I got to talk to at length in 2007 -- the others included Nick Swardson, Christian Finnegan, Jim Gaffigan, Michael Ian Black, Eddie Brill, Bob Saget, Artie Lange, Doug Benson, Damon Wayans, Charlie Murphy, Frank Caliendo and Tim Minchin. Of course, there were hundreds of other comedians I got to witness and talk to this past year, and hopefully, I'll get to tell you more about all of them in 2008.
Christian Finnegan is excited to headline Gotham Comedy Club this weekend. I know because I've read the emails and MySpace bulletins in which he says so. But Finnegan (best known from VH1's Best Week Ever) already tours the country's comedy clubs and college campuses as a headliner, supported by Comedy Central. What makes this weekend different?
Finnegan explained himself to me over the phone this afternoon.
"I don't get the opportunity to do longer sets around town," he said. "I headline around the country but in the city it's five minutes here, seven minutes there. Plus, some of my friends will get to see me for the first time in a long while."
"When you start doing comedy in New York and you're doing weird open mics where someone is reading a poem and then someone gets an enema, and then comedy, you have these dreams in the back of your head about making it big as a comedian and not having to do this anymore. Granted, if you had told me it would've taken 10 years, I would've quit."
Even now that he's a NYC comedy club headliner, he still has to make sure he gets the word out amid everything else that's going on in the city. "It's not like when you're playing the Dayton Funny Bone and there's only two or three options for having fun," he said. "So all I can do is send up as many signal flares as I can."
And that's not something he does every week. "I don't do as many spots around town anymore. Or they're not announced...I try not to just overwhelm people with 'Here’s where I'm going to be this weekend!' It's difficult because it's your home and you need to work out new bits and you need stage time."
Best Week Ever must've really helped you become known enough to be a headliner, though, right?
"It's been great. It's helped ease that transition," he said. "A lot of times I'll play a club for the first time, they may bring me in not beng 100 percent convinced that I'm really a comedian. And of course there's a bunch of people on Best Week Ever who it says comedian underneath them, they say comedian but who knows what that means. I like going in and proving to people I'm legit. I'm not just some glorifed open miker."
"But it's defintely opened the doors for me to play clubs...and I will get fans to come in to see me because I'm on Best Week Ever," he said. "But then again, maybe they'll come thinking they're going to hear me saying 45 minutes on Tara Reid." Tara Reid?! "I can't keep up with whatever Britney's doing this week. I have to write it to do on the show. But I don't really enjoy late-night monologue material in a comedy club atmosphere. One of the things I love about comedy is you can talk about anything. And I don't give a s--- about that stuff, honestly. It's fun to talk about on the show, but I don't sit at home wringng my hands about what's going to happen on Desperate Housewives."
As he says this, he mentions that he's about 10 minutes away from starting his portion of the new season of BWE, which airs tomorrow night. Anything new? He doesn't even know yet. He said ideas tend to come in and out of style on the show, such as planned, written sketches. "I always find those more fun to do," he said. "It's not just, here's a topic, here's people talking, here's a topic, here's people talking."
After his big weekend here, he'll soon be on the road again, with stops in Grand Rapids, Mich., Chicago, Atlanta and Orlando. He said he had mixed feelings about Orlando. "But you know what? They have Jai-Alai there. Oh, I'm really hoping they still have Jai-Alai. It's like OTB, but you're betting on people."
Christian Finnegan, of all of the people VH1 has brought onto Best Week Ever, is perhaps the best Best Week Ever commenter. Concise. Right on point. I've had the chance to talk to him twice this year, once in January when he appeared at the Comedy Studio (we hung out for a bit afterward and he was as nice in person as he was on the phone) and then again this week, in advance of his headlining gigs tonight and tomorrow at the Comedy Connection.
On Wednesday night, he offered some insight into this week's episode of BWE: – Rachael Ray's new TV talk-show: "Rachael Ray's show is great if you like to watch other people eating." – The new Tickle Me Extreme Elmo: "The first toy in the world that can fellate itself, unless you count Bathhouse Teddy Ruxbin." – On Jackie Chan's disclosure that he appeared in a 1970s porn film: "And to answer the question that's on your mind, yes, he does his own stunts."
Finnegan is a newlywed, and I asked him how he felt about getting media attention for his wedding to Kambri Crews. "By media attention, you mean The Apiary?" he asked. "It's really uncomfortable, to be honest." He said Crews simply wanted to share photos with relatives of hers, not thinking they'd end up getting blogged about, and blogged about some more. So let's move on.
I managed to hold onto some of my notes from my conversation with Finnegan last winter, when I asked him about his upbringing in the Boston burbs. "Natick is a scenic, science town, and by that I mean, not scenic at all," he said. "When I was a kid, Shopper's World was still all outdoor." He also recalls Fun and Games and Route 9. "I saw a friend of mine get punched in the face for a roll of quarters. I suppose it was Framingham but it was all still (expletive)." Natick? Isn't that Flutieville? "There are literally nine roads with Flutie in it. Flutie Road. Flutie Pass — ha, ha, Flutie Pass, get it?"
Back then, Finnegan was running the college circuit, and those gigs can run hot or cold. "There's definitely some stuff you can't do. You have to remember that these kids are 18, 19, 20 years old, so these kids are in a different place in their life than you are. What do you mean I'm not going to be fulfilled in my career? What do you mean I'm not going to want to strangle the person I live with?" "Best Week Ever and Chappelle (Chappelle's Show), I can't overstate how much they've helped me and what they've done for me careerwise. The difference between doing a college a few years ago and today is night and day. I can't tell you how happy I am for that little bit of faux-notoriety."
Christian Finnegan called me later than expected because the folks at VH1 wanted him to tape an extra sketch or two for Best Week Ever. Did the bit involve him dressing up in Scarlett Johansson's red dress from the Golden Globes? "Oh, if only it were!" Finnegan said. "No, I'm in a white jacket. Nobody will be squeezing my man-breasts or anything like that. Sorry to disappoint the three freaks that would be entertained by that."
Finnegan grew up in the Boston suburbs of Acton and Natick, but he's a New Yorker now. So does he sympathize with NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who reportedly lost his Boston accent? "I think that's probably a good policy," Finnegan said. "My dad was vigilant. He has six brothers and sisters, most of them have Boston accents to some degree. But my dad was vigilant, to the extent that whenever we used the word 'spatula,' he yelled and told us it was 'spatchuler.'"
At the time, though, Finnegan worried more about making Comedy Central's top 25 comics of 2005 through an online vote. He was barely making the cut when we spoke. "This is bigger than the Golden Globes, bigger than the 24 premiere. Sometimes people tell me that they've never voted. That they don't believe in the system. I tell them they have no reason to complain then. Actually, I just hope to stay there, just so I don't have to have the conversation with my dad to explain it," he said.
Finnegan said college tours require him to drop some of his club material. "You have to remember that these kids are 18, 19, 20 years old, so these kids are in a different place in their life than you are," he said. "What do you mean I'm not going to be fulfilled in my career? What do you mean I'm not going to want to strangle the person I live with?"
At least he could already say his TV career had lasted longer than Heather Graham's -- her much ballyhooed new sitcom got canceled after only one week by ABC. "There's nothing worse when you see a comedy and you see someone trying to be funny," he said. "Comedy isn't sort of mugging. WHA-WHA-WHAAA! Every facial expression she had, it was literally like watching a Tom & Jerry cartoon," he said. Sounds like something you might see soon enough on VH1. Finnegan sighed. "This is what my life has become. I used to read. At Walnut Hill (High School), I had my Morrissey pompadour, my black turtleneck, and I had these small circular glasses that were fake, but I wore them to make me look smart...and now I read Tara Reid all day."