Have you visited Jokes.com today? Comedy Central has revamped the site completely -- had you clicked over there even only yesterday, you would have faced a drab waste of a landscape of lame jokes, submitted anonymously from years ago, from a world in which all jokes are timeless, and yet somehow not able to be searched or indexed in any tangible way whatsoever. All of that is to say how bright and vibrant the new Comedy Central Jokes.com looks today. It'll take a while to sort through it all. For now, though, let me say that I clicked on a couple of sample comedians (Mike Birbiglia because I saw his face looking at me, and Carlos Mencia just to see what jokes Comedy Central would attribute to him!), and wonder if they paid someone to transcribe all stand-up comedy specials, CDs, and DVDs, and if so, how much one gets paid to do that (I'm available!).
Worth mentioning thus far: Why do Comedy Central sites often load a front page with auto-start videos? Not nice, Comedy Central. Particularly for those people who have jobs and are trying to see your funnies on the fly. Today's video features Dane Cook in all of his sweaty black wifebeater 2000 full physical glory. Also enjoyed how the comedians page on the site manages to promote not only Comedy Central's branded comedy tours and performers, but also up-and-comers such as my friends Dan Boulger and Joe List among the famous faces, podcasts, and tours.
Take a spin on the site and tell me your thoughts on the revamp!
The inaugural Great American Comedy Festival got under way last night with an amateur stand-up contest in Norfolk, Neb., hometown to the late Johnny Carson. Eddie Brill, David Letterman's comedy guy, is coordinating the effort, and we all know how Letterman felt about his late-night TV mentor. Robert Klein is set to perform Saturday night along with Brill and the winner of the following...
There's also a competition featuring 24 comics from around the country, with $5,000 going to the winner. Participating: Jesse Joyce, Vince Maranto, Micah Sherman, Matt Braunger, Roy Wood Jr., Erin Jackson, Joe DeRosa, Chuck Bartell, Chris Coccia, Deacon Gray, Robert Mac, Jamie Lissow, David Powell, Paul Varghese, Drake Witham, Myq Kaplan, Joe Klocek, Shane Mauss, Tapan Trivedi, Jim McDonald, Dan Boulger, Marianne Sierk, James Smith and Darryl Lenox. They'll be split into four groups, with two of each six advancing to the finals, all needing to deliver TV-friendly sets. Each night also features a late show hosted by David Reinitz.
If you happen to visit New York City anytime soon, let me put in a word for a stop at the Maritime Hotel in Chelsea. Or is it the Meatpacking District? The site says it's in Chelsea, two blocks north of the Meatpacking District. Anyhow. I've already gotten away from the point. Point is, if you have several hundred dollars per day to blow on lodging here, you're likely to have casual encounters with celebrities. And not just all of the stand-up comedians who stayed at the Maritime last week. In a period of less than 24 hours, I exchanged words with Michael Stipe (whom I now realize was hanging around for Monday's induction of R.E.M. into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!) and saw Tate Donovan hanging around in the lobby. I believe my exchange with Stipe went something like this:
5:50 p.m. Saturday, comedian Dan Boulger and I head down the steps and out of the Maritime. Just then, Stipe is heading inside. We almost collide. "Oh...hi!" I say. "Hello," he replies. Boulger stares oddly. And that was that. Stipe wore some sort of beret and was sporting a grayish brown beard.
And now for the rest of the weekend story.
Boulger invited me to hang out for Saturday night's tapings of Live at Gotham. During the day, all of the stand-up comics get to run-through rehearsal. They'll put anything on the teleprompter, even a word-for-word transcript of a comedian's routine. Odd to think you could get on TV and simply read your stand-up routine. Who does that? It's odd just to see a comic read off their notes during a major set. But I suppose Comedy Central might also offer this service just in case a comic gets a case of the TVs and freezes up. Plus, it turns out the teleprompter also can be used as an alternative to the light, sending messages such as "one minute left!" As for audience members, they're told no food, no bathroom breaks, the better to keep disruptions to a minimum. And the production hired a special audience coordinator to hand out specific seat assignments. Apparently, seating a comedy show can be looked at as a science. Put the best-looking best laughers front and center. Put industry people in the back corner. Audience members also got instructions on what not to wear (no logos, no whites). And then, as talent manager Max Burgos pointed out before the first taping began: "The smoke machine really does it, man." Suppose it adds an old-school comedy club feel, although it'd really be old-school if they let you smoke. The tapings also have an official warm-up comedian. Dan Ahdoot more than honorably worked this non-televised job, working the crowd (and adding another several minutes of material when the second show incurred technical difficulties) and helping establish pre-show shots of crowd applause and laughter.
Each comic got to work out about 10 minutes of material, knowing that Comedy Central might edit out a couple of minutes for the Web and other material for ad time. I'd think they might cut Callen's bit about wanting to change his own name to something along the lines of Meeeeowww Cah! (Um, didn't he see the whole online debate about Louis CK and Dane Cook?) Guess not. Also, Breuer had to come back onstage at the end of the first show for several attempts at pronounciating the Colbert Report. The second show had much more energy. Perhaps that had to do with the lineup. Goldman had so much more going on than when I'd seen her last year at a Laughing Liberally show at Jimmy Tingle's. Boulger, going up after her, looked nervous for the first time that I'd ever seen. Then came Andre, who blew the roof off the joint, took extra time out of his act to encourage the audience to make fart noises, just to see if Comedy Central would use it! Hoogasian, up next, tried to sound like Emo Philips but mostly sounded weird. And it seemed odd at the end when Scolaro went with a bit about cavemen having to determine what was edible (since in the previous show, Ramsey had a similar bit about the first guy to bite into a pineapple!). No matter. At least not for me to worry about. That's why they're on separate shows, right? Right. Anyhow, onto the after parties, first downstairs, and then out onto nearby streets and a place called Dusk which was small but had a good vibe, especially when a bunch of comedians and like-minded people took over the bar. Good times.
Friday in Aspen: The 2007 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival
Stand Up D
Hosted by Hyla Matthews, who had a recurring bit pretending to go through all of the relationship steps with a guy in the front row. And now for your comedians.
Kyle Kinane. I met this guy the first night I got into Aspen and he wore a bizarre beret that he even said was not a beret. That’s the bizarre part. But when he grabbed the mic and said, “What’s happening, snowflakes and fingerprints?!” I knew to expect some comedy gold. And Kinane delivered, with a sharp self-deprecating style. He might have thought his volcano barbecue bit didn’t go so well, but he shouldn’t worry so much. Good job.
Hari Kondabolu came next, and (full disclosure: condo roommate) he impressed me with his social commentary on the diversity of white people, selling people to India, and immigration.
Then Dan Boulger came up. So rewarding to see him just slay an audience of complete strangers (and important industry types). The audience slowly rose to a boil, and as soon as Boulger’s Bush/Hitler joke landed, they were roaring til the end. Nicely played. Boulger told me the audience reacted similarly the previous time, and he wondered if he should move the Hitler bit up. I said no no. You’ve got it timed just right. Let ‘em warm up to you. By the way, I love Boulger, and I hate him, because he made me stay up way too late Thursday night (so if you were lacking for blog posts, now you know). And now for your next comedian.
Michelle Buteau. Heyhey! What? Hello! The Jamaican/Haitian lady says, “You know how I got so light? It’s called colonialism.” Heyyy!
Owen Benjamin. Opened with a joke about how silly it is that people couldn’t distinguish between Superman and Clark Kent. Followed that with a joke about how he’s tall, so people think he plays basketball. Um, yeah. He did rebound (ahem) with material about his gay and gayer parents. And a good diamond joke. And I found some funny videos of him. So that makes up for his opener.
Lavell Crawford delivered some spot-on jokes about Aspen. “Heated sidewalks?” he said. “I’m telling all the homeless people I know about this!” His closing bit about Subway dragged on a bit, though. Just saying.
Some of you are hungry for this sort of information, so let me just tell it to you straight. Shane Mauss (in showcase group B) and Dan Boulger (in showcase group D) both have performed twice in Aspen, and they're already the talk of the town. Mauss got an early lead on the buzz because he had performed twice before Boulger's group had its festival debut. But they're both majorly slaying. Big time. All sorts of industry attention. The appropriate cliche here would be wicked good. Steven Wright's publicist told Mauss that no less than five people already had e-mailed him saying he had to check Mauss out. Boulger is having to tell people, sorry, but I already have representation.
I'll have a lot more to say about them later, but just wanted to let you know they're representing Boston very well so far.
Wednesday in Aspen: The 2007 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival
Twenty-four hours after I boarded a Silver Line bus in Boston for the airport, I’m sitting in a condo on the side of the mountain in Aspen, coasting on my fourth wind into what already is shaping up to be one of the craziest weekends of my life.
Notwithstanding marriage and prison.
And those are two entirely different stories, mind you.
Focus, readers. Focus.
But first, an examination of how we (meaning I) got here.
Listed departure time for my United Airlines flight from Boston’s Logan airport: 7:49 a.m Eastern
Actual departure time: 9 a.m.
Why? After getting out onto the runway, the pilot announced we might have a delay in Denver, so we need to fuel up. Don’t we have enough fuel? Regardless. Or perhaps not without some regard, we taxi back to the gate, put some more petrol into the plane, and finally take off.
Listed arrival time in Denver: 10:30 a.m. Mountain
Actual arrival time: 11:30 a.m. Mountain
Why? See above.
Still plenty of time to catch the 12:43 p.m. flight to Aspen, only the flights are canceled. They’ve all been canceled. Wednesday and Tuesday. What to do, what to do. United Airlines books us on buses, which board and leave Denver from the airport tarmac. Yes, really. Our bus pulled away from gate B73 at 3:15 p.m., arriving at the Aspen airport five hours later, just in time to see the lights of an actual airplane landing there. What? Not that it could’ve helped us. That flight had arrived from Chicago. Apparently, not all planes are created equal, and the new planes from Denver somehow lack the wherewithal to land in Aspen unless the weather conditions are idyllic. Not that this should surprise anyone who has flown into Aspen before. The airport isn’t merely tucked or nestled among the mountains. From the air, you don’t even know Aspen or its airport runway exists until you’re on top of it.
Anyhow, my roommate for the week, comedian Shane Mauss, endured an even more arduous journey on Tuesday. He and other performers, including fellow Bostonian Dan Boulger, had attempted the flight from Denver, only to turn around just before landing in Aspen -- they then had to wait hours for a bus, which took six hours to reach Aspen since the mountain passes, were, um, not quite passable. They missed their official unofficial “warm-up” industry showcase. And they didn’t get their luggage until Wednesday afternoon. So who was I to complain? Exactly.
Anyhow. The luggage arrived with me, and we both made it to base camp, aka the festival and the condo, by 9 p.m., or a half-hour before George Carlin’s scheduled performance.
A brief high-altitude sprint and a well-placed phone call led me to the Wheeler Opera House with minutes to spare. The p.a. announcer noted that Carlin is celebrating 50 years in comedy (as is Don Rickles, subject of a special ceremony and panel later in the week), and film clips displayed Carlin’s transformation from goofball to social critic to what he is now, ultimately a little of both. A critical goofball.
He came right out and announced he planned to deliver 77 minutes of all new material. If the audience didn’t like it, well, please consult any of the seven dirty words.
“The audience doesn’t really figure into my plans,” Carlin declared. “The way I see it, you’re here for me. I’m here for me. And no one is here for you.”
So what about him?
Well, Carlin delivered closer to 80 minutes. He did acknowledge that the altitude might make the gaps seem longer as he caught his breath, and he noted more than once that he would rely on his notes and that this was a workshop. Not a show. But almost a show.
The strongest sections appeared to include a 15-minute riff on the b.s. we accept without questioning it, followed by a 10-minute discussion on people who won’t shut up, and ways to perhaps induce them into silence.
Among the less-successful, completely throwaway lines were a few disgusting street jokes and a joke that literally and figuratively felt ripped from a scene in There’s Something About Mary, as well as an oft-told bit about how all athletes shouldn’t be praising God for their success.
Carlin did share some insight by recasting the nuclear proliferation into religion and class issues, and ended with a different take on human rights.
The workshop should prove useful as Carlin develops his new act.
After a brief break, Carlin re-emerged for a few photographs and a few questions for the press -- the only other media reps there were a woman from the AP and a guy representing Sirius radio. Holding down the anchor slot, Carlin immediately noted my Irish name and Boston reference, asking me what county my family hails from. Carlin also comes from Irish stock. At any rate. Got in a couple of good questions and received some solid answers which will resurface soon enough.
But onto the next show.
Arrived at the night’s last stand-up showcase too late to see Mauss, but saw TJ Miller and Erik Charles Nielsen. Former local Jon Fisch hosted this group. I’d seen Miller and Nielsen before, but only on tape. I want to hold off on saying more until I see that group as a whole in one show.
Boulger spotted me when the lights came up, and we were off to the VH1 party at Bar Aspen. Plenty of comics and industry types milling about, taking advantage of the limited (two-hour) open bar. So Boulger and I didn’t stay long, instead heading back to the St. Regis, where I spotted two civilians talking to Steven Wright in the lobby. Without too much coaxing, I got Boulger to join me in engaging Wright in about a half-hour of comedy talk in the lobby. I won’t tell you exactly what Boulger offered Wright, 1) because I don’t want to spoil the surprise if he accepts, and 2) because I could barely contain myself from laughing at Boulger’s offer.
Everything went quite swimmingly. So much so, in fact, that I implored Wright not to say too much until I could break out the official recorder and notepad for a later date. Even at 1:30 a.m., you have to know when business and pleasure are getting awfully close to one another. Especially in a place like this comedy festival, where everyone feels so comfortable so quickly.
Another area of the St. Regis main floor has become the Sierra Mist Lounge. Ah, the commercialization of comedy. Searching for the appropriate cliché here: Perhaps, the more things change…
The lounge had specialty drinks, foosball and ping pong. Mauss and I teamed up for a friendly pong exhibition against Hari Kondabolu and Chris Fleming. We won. Not that you can win an exhibition. But we won.
Kondabolu also happens to be staying in our condo (or, should I say, I’m staying in his), and he quickly earned good vibes from me when Google notified me that he has New England connections -- having studied at Bowdoin and performed before at the Comedy Studio -- and that he moved from New York to Seattle last year (which, for anyone who knows anything about my own personal comedy history, translates into major bonus points). He and I already have played the name game quite well. More to come on that front, as he gets his first showcase on Thursday.
But the Sierra Mist lounge -- pretzels, mini corndogs and all -- closed all too soon, though, and after more than a bit of banter, we arrived at the UCB house after-party. More comedians, more amusing incidents. Met Seth Morris, artistic director for the UCB’s Los Angeles branch, who informed me that they’re going to launch some sort of “Wicked Pissah Funny” series this spring highlighting all of the Boston comics who’ve migrated to the Left Coast’s La La Land.
But that’s for another day and another post.
It’s now time for the first installment in the Shane Spotlight, in which I ask stand-up Shane Mauss about his day in Aspen -- at the very end of the day. Tonight’s installment occurred at, oh, somewhere past 4 a.m.
First, a news bulletin.
Mauss went up first tonight in his showcase -- biting the bullet, as they say -- only he chewed up the bullet and spit it out, letting everyone know that he would be bringing the funny this week.
So, Shane, how was your Wednesday?
“I woke up in dirty clothes with fuzzy teeth. My teeth were fuzzy,” he said. “I refused to buy a new toothbrush for three dollars because they said my bags were going to be here any minute now. Next thing I know, it’s been two days and I haven’t brushed my teeth or changed my clothes. And then I got all my stuff.”
How about your first show?
“I was the first comedian up after the host, Jon Fisch,” he said.
Had you met him before?
“I’d worked with him in New York a little bit.”
Did that make you more comfortable about starting the show?
“Going up first, I knew that might not mean the right number of people in the audience. I was more worried about people not showing up until after my set. But I almost preferred going up first tonight. I had a good time.”
Did it feel different at this festival compared to other gigs?
“I don’t know if I was nervous or my throat was really dry from the altitude. But I felt different. I felt nerves from time to time. Not that often.”
Whom did you meet today?
Mauss consults the program guide. “I went to Stand-Up A, I liked the bottom three the most,” he said. “But my group won.”
The online record tells you very little about Dan Boulger. We're about to correct that, although not by much. Boulger remains an elusive comedy creature. This much is known. He is 20 (turns 21 in December) and still lives in Norwood. And on Sept. 16, he emerged victorious in the annual Boston Comedy Festival stand-up contest, and many of his colleagues and competitors alike rejoiced. Why? Just look at the kid.
Forget for a minute that my cameraphone usually offers dark, fuzzy snapshots and focus on the fact that for the biggest gig in his young career, Dan Boulger wore a red hooded sweatshirt. He looked just like he does at any open mike around Boston, or even how he did when he was the Comedy Studio's comic-in-residence earlier this year. He was unfazed by it all. He just went out there and told his jokes. That's what made so many other Boston comics happy about his win — that and the fact that he's a young guy, so awarding him against some veteran stand-ups might signal a changing of the comedy guard, if you enjoy reading too much into things. It did signal a victory for locals over experienced out-of-towners. But let's get back to Boulger, shall we?
When I spoke with him that night, he said he wasn't sure what he'd do now that he had $7,000 for winning. "Business cards would be good," he dead-panned. He also said he didn't have any gigs lined up, save for a weekend in October (Oct. 6-7) at the Comedy Connection — in Portland, Maine. A couple of weeks later, I caught up with Boulger again. Earlier this week, Boulger popped up on the completely inside-comedy WMFO radio show "Gods and Goddesses," where he explained why his e-mail address isn't quite his actual name. According to Boulger, it resulted quite simply from bad typing. "S is next to D on the typewriter," he said. "Then I had to put a 1 on there because there was already an sbolger (online)." Right.
Boulger started comedy two years ago at 18. "It was kinda a weird thing," he explained to me. "My brother went to college with Patrick Borelli, one of the first Studio guys…then I always watched comedy during high school, started writing comedy my senior year. Then first week of college, I went down to the Vault." His closing bit during the contest, about rhetorical questions, actually came from his high school experiences. "I wrote that in high school," he said. "That was one of the first jokes I wrote."
It's all about writing jokes, jokes and more jokes. "I'll write hundreds of jokes and then one of them might be good," he said. "I usually get, I write probably like seven pages of jokes a month. I don't know how many that comes out to." Do you carry around a pad and pen? "No. I used to carry around a voice recorder, but that looked ridiculous."
Boulger still has plenty of room for growth, obviously. And so he still plugs away at local open mikes. Have things changed for him in terms of gigs, stage time? "I walked into Nick's and got on. That never happened before. Nor will it ever happen again." What did you talk about? "I talked mostly about animal cruelty." Are you for it or against it? "I'm against it in life, but I'm for it in comedy."
Dan Boulger performs tonight with The Outtakes at the Vault (below Remington's). Other upcoming gigs: Oct. 6-7 in Portland, Maine; Oct. 10 at Zebro, ImprovBoston; Oct. 17, Suffolk U.; Oct. 18, Comedy Studio; Oct. 20, Brown U.; Oct. 21, Stand-Uprov, ImprovBoston; Oct. 27, Comedy Studio.
Local 20-year-old Dan Boulger — let me repeat that — 20-year-old Dan Boulger took home the top prize and an estimated $7,000 as winner of the 2006 Boston Comedy Festival stand-up comedy contest! Boulger told me afterward that the only gig he has lined up so far is a date in October in Portland, Maine, at the Comedy Connection there opening for Jimmy Dunn. That should change. As an even more surreal moment, last night, Jimmy Dunn was standing outside Remington’s on the sidewalk with Tony V. I told Dunn that he’d be working with Boulger soon. Dunn didn’t even know. Yes, my friends. The Boston comedy scene got a little bit of a healthy shake-up. Methinks this will be a good thing.
The final order of finish in last night’s finale:
1) Dan Boulger
2) Darryl Lenox
3) Ryan Hamilton
4) Brad Upton
5) Stewart Huff
6) Floyd J. Phillips
7) Shane Mauss
8) Russell Bell
I have no major complaints or quibbles with the judges’ cumulative scorecard here. I had it between Boulger and Lenox, and in my cynical heart of hearts, didn’t think the judges would side with the kid over the comedy vet, but impressed that they did. Hamilton could’ve had a shot, too, but going up first is a hard sell.
Prelims 7-8 of the Boston Comedy Festival contest had Rich Ceisler hosting and doing plenty of time both up front and between acts. At one point during Prelim 7, Ceisler decided to rip the Herald. “If it happened today, it’s news to us,” he said. Hey, Ceisler. Here’s something happening today: You’re not in the contest. So stop hogging the stage as if the judges will notice, and let the contestants get to their sets. And when you’re offstage, stop talking so loudly that the contestants can hear you. Just a thought. I could write an entire post about some of the varied hosting performances during this contest, but it’ll only keep you from what you’re really after. The recap!
Prelim 7 (in order of appearance):
1) Valarie Storm: With a few drunks sitting front and center, things could get ugly. They do, but not before Storm gets through her time, focusing on the funny relationship issues between men and women. Ho. Hum. But she gets props for timeliness by singing “The Divorce Song” for Whitney and Bobby.
2) Korte Yeo: A good bit on why black-out stories never have happy endings. The drunks up front start hearing things they feel they can relate to and respond to. Not a good thing.
3) Mary Beth Cowan: She has fun with the companywide e-mail, but a lot of her punchlines need a few seconds to get to the crowd’s understanding, which is not her fault (they just don’t get it), but it doesn’t help her cause this night.
4) Evan O’Television: Yes, he really did his “two-man” act in the contest. Yes, the audience had no idea what was going on. Yes, it still ended up being pretty funny. No, the audience and judges probably won’t give him high marks. Very meta.
5) Dan Hirshon: Gets the Tutko laugh early on, gets big applause from everyone at the end. In between, something seemed a bit off. Hirshon did win the Carnival Cruise contest the night before, though, so congrats still in order.
6) Dan Boulger: Notes that exclamation points are for lazy writers. But he’s really funny! Boulger absolutely destroyed! Strongest set of the night!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
7) Brian Joyce: Said he couldn’t bring a newspaper on the plane last month, and wondered if the terrorists were MacGyver. Wait. No newspapers?!
8) Pete Johansson: Comes up to a completely cold stage and immediately ramps up the intensity, working the crowd, working it hard, riffing away. Another comic wonders if he has material. Does it matter? He did well. Turns out he’s also ramped-up offstage.
9) Peter Tudosio: How old is that mug shot on the Festival site? The Romanian keeps saying “you a hip crowd,” “nice crowd” even though they’re not really hip to his act, since it’s not hip. He rips Yakov Smirnoff. What a country.
10) Jason Lawhead: Panders to the crowd with pro-Red Sox jokes, but turns out he’s from Cleveland. What’s up with that hat? Why is it so quiet? Must be the hat.
11) Vargus Mason: Finished second in the San Francisco contest, which means he’s due for fame and fortune (see Robin Williams, Dane Cook). The theatrical training shows.
12) Steve Brewer: Married with kids and not happy about it. Funny bit about turning his nagging kid into a human snooze button. Angry but funny.
And your prelim 7 winners: Dan Boulger and Vargus Mason. No complaints here. Honorable mention from me to Pete Johansson.