Dan Naturman is performing tonight on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, which means it's time to get you caught up on what this sharp-witted stand-up comedian is up to. You could say he has a bit of a throwback quality to his vocal delivery -- I say he takes a grand page out of the old-school traditions of joke-telling and crowd-working. And by old-school, I say Dan Naturman is the closest thing to Groucho Marx we're going to find in the early 21st century. Take a spin through his recent CD, Get Off My Property, which he recorded at the Acme comedy club in Minneapolis. Fun fact: On the CD cover, Naturman's not pictured on his own property (It's the front yard across the street from comedian Joe Matarese!). But back to his jokes! The staccato timing, echoing a set-up ever so quickly to speed right into the hard-hitting punchline. It'll remind you that Naturman really did get jobbed years ago by the producers of NBC's Last Comic Standing, or perhaps it'll make you think that this guy was better and is better than that show. Here's a reel to enjoy the stylings of Dan Naturman in a variety of previous TV appearances:
Dan Naturman's Get Off My PropertyYou can also listen to him talk about current events in his weekly podcast. Check out past "Internet Radio Shows" of Dan Naturman here.
Opie and Anthony have provided a great service to stand-up comedy by having comedians appear as regular guests on their FM and satellite radio programs over the years, but their efforts to translate that partnership into a live comedy tour, aka the Traveling Virus, has failed. Because their "fans" known as "pests" have booed too many of the comedians, and even the radio hosts themselves. The last straw came earlier this month in New Jersey with the only Traveling Virus show of 2008, when the crowd turned on Mike Birbiglia during his very first joke. On the following Monday's program, "Anthony points out that comics who've flown to IRAQ, risking both life and limb to entertain our troops, were afraid to subject themselves to a group of booing O&A psychopaths." Here is video from the Birbiglia boobirds:
O&A fans on the message boards have a 19-page discussion about the incident. But this has been an ongoing problem, from the horrible crowd in Philadelphia two years ago for Bill Burr, to the more recent Animation Festival where Dan Naturman got heckled, and even the non-Virus shows I've seen that featured a heavy O&A (or even Howard Stern, as in Artie Lange) comedy lineup. I have friends who love listening to either O&A and/or Stern and are loyal listeners. But there is a larger audience of these knucklehead radio listeners who have gotten it into their knuckleheads that it's supposed to be fun to yell and heckle and boo the comedians. Perhaps they think, like most hecklers, that they're helping. They're not. Or perhaps they listen to the morning radio and hear these comedians busting on each other, and think that if they can roast one another on the air, then it must be acceptable for an audience member to join in the roasting. Which doesn't make any sense, because that's not how you're supposed to act at a live comedy show. Especially when the radio hosts, who you supposedly love, beg and plead with you not to boo. Which is exactly the position Opie and Anthony found themselves in this month. They can continue to support stand-up by having comedians on the air, but I think it's for the best that they finally decided to put a halt to their pests and not allow them to continue ruining the live comedy experience for actual fans.
Welcome to the first half of the semifinals in Las Vegas, the night when Dan Naturman gets the shaft for a second time on Last Comic Standing -- spoiler alert!!! -- where we see if Bill Bellamy tell jokes, and because he has had a career as an MTV VJ, parts in big crappy movies, and tours the nation as a stand-up, you'd expect him to, so he does tell jokes for at least a tight minute before introducing our judges, who are, wait for it, Richard Belzer and Steve Schirripa, aka the guys in New York City who hated a lot of great comedians. Great. Just great. We know we're in Vegas because of the showgirls who perform at the Paris casino/hotel. OK. Enough already. We're going from 16 semifinalists to five finalists. Same thing next week. So here we go!
Adam Hunter from New York stretches a lot backstage. The producers evidently want us to see that. He says: "I know for a fact I will make everyone laugh." Hunter is rather loud. Is this because he wants to make sure everyone in the theater hears him? Makes a dig at Asians in porn, followed by Mardi Gras in the Middle East. Jokes about living in L.A., where even the homeless are in the biz. As Schrippa notes, even though some jokes don't hit, Hunter gets a lot of jokes out in his short time. But they show him getting a partial standing ovation from the audience and kind words from the judges. So that's all you need to know for now.
Phil Palisoul from Denver. He makes a bidet joke, but not the one you're thinking of. Notes how people would never act the way they do walking as they do when they drive. But. No standing O shown. No words from the judges heard. Uh-oh.
Jeff Dye from Seattle. Actually, Kentwood High School, as his people told me via email earlier this week. Same fluorescent T-shirt? Lucky T-shirt? He jokes about doing ecstasy while working out. Applause break for a joke about women wondering why people are staring at them when they have "juicy" written on their butts. More jokes about the gym and workout machines, and Dye goes straight at the judges. Dye gets interviewed by the Brit lady. This, plus the emails I got telling me to watch Dye in the semis, tell me and you all we need to know.
Erin Foley says it's time for a woman to win this competition. Bellamy bills her as another New York City comedian. She auditioned in Los Angeles. Anyhow. She has a baby shower to go to, but there's a lot of different kind of juices to consider. Her dictionary jokes aren't getting big laughs. A bit about being a sideline reporter for football telecasts. No big faces or energy? What gives? Did someone tell her to hold back?
Dan Naturman. Here we go, people. A nod to his Connecticut roots. He does his bit about Internet dating and photos. Prescription drugs. He ends his routine mid-joke. They laugh. I laugh. It doesn't matter, people.
Another installment of...LAST COMIC DRIVING! This week, Jacob Sirof gets the hot seat. Eh. I have more to say about this in another post.
Ooh. It's the Israeli Carrot Top (Bellamy even says so!) Lioz Shem Tov, or as Bob Biggerstaff likes to call him, Mozel Top! Anyhow. Carrot Top has a standing gig in Vegas, so you'd think Mozel Top would do well, too, right? He shows us Mickey Mouse ears on Viagra, a turtle, Spider-Man cutting himself shaving, a long bit that's PC-based. Oooh. We go back to the judges. "It wasn't typical jokes," Belzer says. "There's no rhyme or reason to what you were doing, but it was funny," Schirripa says. Hard to tell, people. The Brit lady is starting to grow on me. Maybe it's her kindness. Just as likely it's her sexy outfits.
Dale Jones is from Nashville. I sense he'll have some funny voices and faces, just by looking at his face. He starts out with big energy to play to the big room. Gets an applause break for acknowledging that he is "the strange on the road." Well, he didn't pee his britches or nothing.
Erin Jackson from Washington, D.C., just got a second-place cash prize at the festival in Nebraska, so we know she can do a short TV-friendly set. Jokes about how being a comedian actually should make her better marriage material. Black stereotypes, and the Tooth Fairy are also targets. So far, so good.
After another break and some onstage foolishness that we don't quite get to see, the Brooklyn Christian acoustic duo known as God's Pottery takes the stage. Only time for one song, and they pick their ditty about premarital sex, "The Pants Go Off When The Ring Goes On." Both judges say how they believe the guys and think it's not an act anymore. Wink. Wink. I already know they're through, and now so do you.
Ron G. auditioned in L.A., but he's from Atlanta, and he talks about how it's tough to hold onto a job, even a one-day assignment. He has a special voice he uses when he's in trouble...do you?
Drennon Davis, with a South Lake Tahoe residence listed, comes out without the uke or a guitar. So no songs tonight. Will this work? First joke, not so much. Vegas joke, better. Davis does some beat-box rapping, though. Um, yeah.
Winston Spear we saw in the initial previews standing outside in the snow saying he was going to be the last comic standing, and I certainly didn't believe him then. But then again, here he is in Las Vegas in the semis. So it's possible. He has won big comedy awards in Canada. Can he win here? A funny time-machine joke. Schirripa doesn't get his twitching and everything else. Hmmm.
Shazia Mirza, aka the British Muslim lady we've seen on 60 Minutes, jokes about her background. OK when you only have three minutes. Makes me wonder what her longer set sounds like. She tells the Brit lady she wouldn't want to do this again? Well, the producers certainly can make that not happen.
Englishman Paul Foot says he has never been to Vegas before, so hooray for that, and he starts with a bit comparing his skills as a lover with his skills as a driver. Why must cakes always be described as moist? Good question. And with that, I'm hitting my space bar wherever I may choose.
How many commercial breaks will there be, anyhow???
Andi Smith says what you really need to know about being on Last Comic Standing and winning, is that it means clubs will book you as a headliner knowing you'll "put butts in seats." She's from St. Louis, but she has performed in West Virginia for a crowd of eight, and had a funny joke or two or three about that. She clearly is not worried about offending anyone. Even in Vegas. Fearless or crazy?
The Meehan Brothers from San Francisco also could be described as fearless and crazy. Because this bit relies solely on one of the brothers and his physicality. Actually, I'm going to chalk this up more to crazy than fearless.
And your first group of finalists, moving into a house in Hollywood, are...Adam Hunter! God's Pottery! (I love how they kept up their goofy grins throughout the dramatic lighting sequence) Ron G! Wait. Only two tickets left? Oh, right. Paul Foot! Jeff Dye!
Obviously, Naturman should have made it through. Again. No fussing this time around. An interesting decision to move a parody duo into a stand-up competition, but the boys are funny. Including Foot allows you to say you're international. Dye represents youth. Well. There we have it. Next week, the other half gets cut down to size.
OK. They just ended with an "in memory" card to George Carlin, which, sure, Carlin has done so much for comedy, but if you're really going to honor him, you need to start making this show about finding the next great original inspirational stand-up, OK? Alrighty then.
ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT?! Yes, indeedy...
Morning radio guys Opie & Anthony are great comedy fans and do a lot to support stand-up comedy. If only Opie & Anthony's fans liked comedy. Instead, they prefer acting like idiots and booing most anyone who comes onstage, challenging stand-ups to abuse them back. O&A calls their fans pests. Well. Yes. Two years ago, Bill Burr struck back against a horrible Philly crowd. Here, Dan Naturman chose another route, reciting poetry and Shakespeare. "I want this for my podcast, if you don't mind," he said. On YouTube, this video is titled Dan Naturman's Animation Festival Fiasco. Language is NSFW, naturally. Mike DeStefano, who performed later that evening, told me he applauded Naturman and decided to stick it to the O&A fans and expose them for what they are...if anyone has that video, please pass it along. Thanks.
Today, just as with yesterday, the late morning and early afternoon makes for an unusual atmosphere for live stand-up comedy. Most people are at work. Yesterday saw plenty of tourists. Today's crowd is tougher to peg. And many of the comedians remark on this both Wednesday and Thursday. Lots of cracks about crackheads or the homeless. Right now, it's Dan Naturman's turn to ponder his audience. "Are you people being paid to be here?" Naturman asks. "Who comes here at this hour?"
So we begin the sixth season of NBC's Last Comic Standing, and already it's clear they're still playing from the American Idol of Comedy playbook, what with host Bill Bellamy delivering the introduction...wait for it...turn on the lights...to a large audience! Get it? This is big, people. Anyhow. We're going to endure plenty of people plucked from the lines for the sole purpose of mocking them because they're willing to be mocked to get on TV, plus hundreds more who now will be billed in comedy clubs as "as seen on Last Comic Standing," even though you never saw their names and perhaps never heard them deliver a funny joke on the program.
The opening montage, already leaked to the Internets weeks ago, includes Eddie Pepitone, Michelle Buteau, Dwayne Perkins and a bunch of fools. Celebrity judges get billed as NBC talent, even if you'd never link them to NBC. Although Dave Foley delivers a funny line we'll hear again later this season, after Richard Kind says "Dreams, just crushed," retorting: "You know, then we can make dream juice, and that's refreshing in the morning." Yes, we will suffer, too, watching the parade of audition rejects before we can get to the actual professional comedians, and yes, just as with Idol, producers will select several acts merely for casting a TV show than for their talents as a comedian. Also, FYI: Jay Mohr still gets a consultant credit this year. Some British lady (Fearne Cotton) is out on the streets near Gotham Comedy Club talking about all of the people who showed up for the open call (as if they'll ever get picked for this). Cue the montage of people walking into the room. Split-second looks. Hey, that's a guy with an online comedy radio program. Hey, there's our judges for New York City, Richard Belzer and Steve Schirripa. Belzer's comedy career goes back decades, even though he's more known for being Detective Munch on TV for years. Schirripa, meanwhile, has run a comedy room in Vegas for years, even though he's known pretty much only for being Bobby on The Sopranos. So keep this in mind. Also, I was at the NYC callbacks and saw Belzer and Schrripa personally talk up a few of the acts, while plenty of others got kicked out prematurely for little or no good reason. Want to see what I saw behind the scenes? Click here.
Anyhow. First up is someone in a half-chicken suit, Buck B'Gak? Montage of awfulness. Louis Ramey, billed as Forest Hills!, does a black guy in Aspen bit and a Detroit is tough bit, and because producers set this up with special camera time, we know he'll go through. More faces. Baron Vaughn and Ophira Eisenberg get split-second shots, but no talky talk. There's a "what are you gonna do" montage. Adam Sank is a gay Jew who worked at Fox News, so he gets to come back, although Schrripa makes a bad gay joke in doing so. Esther Ku is 24? That is not something I knew before. Cameras follow her around the city as she talks to her mom on the cell phone. Ku took part in last year's NBC Stand-Up For Diversity program, so the network knew about her already. And she makes Belzer laugh out loud. Wins them over, anyhow. A montage of freakiness, paused for a few seconds to allow ventriloquist Carla Rhodes to bring out her Keith Richards dummy. God's Pottery gets some advance billing, performing on the streets and playgrounds of Brooklyn, before cutting to the club audition for their Christian folk duo routine. I saw these guys last year at the Montreal festival and they drew raves. The judges here clearly get it, saying as much. But even now, months afterward, I'm still confused how they're supposed to compete in a stand-up contest -- especially one with challenges and so forth. Speaking of which, after a commercial break, it's Stone and Stone, identical twin brothers who talk over each other. This is going to be annoying, hilarious, or both. You pick. There's another montage of folks in a confessional booth of some sort. Then we get the return of Dan Naturman, only the show hasn't set this up yet, and Naturman's delivery has the judges confused, but in a good way. Susannah Perlman gets to walk around the sidewalk in different costumes, and we're led to believe something will come of this, but instead, she's being set up for a big fall. Comics forgetting their punchlines. There's a bad baby montage -- which we saw coming, but Myq Kaplan didn't know this when he went onstage with a guitar, and got dismissed before playing said guitar. Gently weeping. Al Jackson gets the reality TV role of guy chasing dreams as his wife gives birth, and his Bush joke gets him a callback. Marc Theobald's teeth get a laugh. Dan Curry works in a sex joke around Kevin Bacon. Michelle Buteau gets Facebooked!
At the callback performance show...Sank opens with Project Runway jokes. God's Pottery has a song for Jews. Curry sends a text message to the wrong friend and big laughs. Ku is joking backstage with some comic that's never introduced to us. Her set's not the best, but she's cute and confident. Jackson's wife and newborn get camera time.
During a commercial break, we get...Last Comic Driving? That British lady's the one driving, though, so it's Last Comic Shotgun, as, one a time, presumably, we'll get a comedian trying to tell jokes to hostages in the back seat. That sounds like it's never going to work. But one comic will win $10,000 somehow??? Online voting. That's how. Oh. No. Anyhow. Andrew Norelli is up first. He tells jokes about plastic surgery, former models and people who aren't quite broke. Oh, wait. I get it. The comic who wins this also gets a new car, so he/she will be driving that. Moving on...
Naturman jokes about how no one predicted the Internet, not even Star Trek. Theobald jokes about candles. Ramey plays pranks at tanning salons. Angry Bob is, well, angry. Buteau filled out credit card applications for candy bars? Hello! Stone and Stone are still talking over each other. That's the act.
The called backs are assembled onstage, and we see Aparna and Costaki and Jon Fisch and that still-unidentified woman, even though we've never seen or heard from them on the show yet. Does that even count? Hmmm. Getting red envelopes, at least on camera, are Ramey, the Stone twins, Ku, God's Pottery and Naturman. Did some people get robbed? Yes. Of course they did. Aparna even vanished from the stage (she got a ticket, only something must have happened).
Next stop: Tempe, Ariz.!
A columnist at the Minneapolis Star Tribune weighed in today on the reality behind "reality" TV show Last Comic Standing, which begins its sixth season on May 22. That's right. The sixth season. A little late for a journalist to get around to figuring out what's really going on with the show. Especially since we already knew from the very beginning that NBC casts this as a TV show, and not as a search for the funniest stand-up comedian. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The funniest comedians don't need Last Comic Standing, because they already have enough exposure and certainly don't want to have to compete against each other (though that still would make for a very intriguing show), so this is more aptly thought of as the Search For The Next Comedian We Can Turn Into A Household Name, Or At Least Make Some Money From Them. Producers always have the first and last say on who made the cut each season. And all of those thousands of wannabes who stood in lines for hours each winter would see that the only times their linemates made the TV show were to be made fun of -- for all of the comedians with agents and managers bypassed the open call lines for timed auditions. This is and always has been the case.
We can start at the very beginning, in summer 2003, with host Jay Mohr and that first season's runner-up, Ralphie May. Anyone who had seen Mohr in a comedy club the previous year or on TV had also likely seen May, because the "contestant" toured with Mohr as his opening act and worked with him on his short-lived Mohr Sports on ESPN in 2002. Mohr's other opening act, K.P. Anderson, and his traveling friend, Walter Gause, also served as writers and producers on both Mohr Sports and the initial Mohr-hosted seasons of LCS. Which may put Dat Phan's surprise win into a different context for you. Or not.
Either way, Barry Katz has managed Mohr and several of the LCS contestants over the years, all while running the show. So there's that to keep in mind.
In the second season, when comedians and the industry realized that the show was enough of a hit to actually mean something for their careers, many more turned out to compete. And the small print that tells "astute viewers" of the power of the producers actually made it into the televised footage when celebrity judges Drew Carey and Brett Butler complained when their picks (including Dan Naturman) didn't make it into the LCS finalist house.
The third season, albeit bungled in the end by behind-the-scenes politics at NBC that sidetracked the finale, simultaneously revealed a great perk of prime-time TV, as the comedians began touring clubs across the country during the season in groups of three or more, and producers realized they could package tours for LCS comics. This practice continued in the fall and winter after season four, and then season five saw the final five LCS comedians get a national club and theater tour.
So we all should know the drill by now. Any professional comedian knows to weigh the potential cons (getting yelled at by a celebrity judge or edited to look like a villain) against the much bigger potential benefits (getting promoted from a club feature or showcase comedian to a national headliner, along with the elevated profile and merchandise sales and TV/film opportunities that come to anyone with prolonged exposure on prime-time network television) of trying out for Last Comic Standing. And that's why, each season, if you look closely during each city's callback audition performance shows, you'll be surprised at the veteran headlining talent that appears among the faces waiting for their names to be called from the stage.
But from the beginning to now, it's never simply been about finding the funniest comedian around. It's been about making a TV show that people want to watch and talk about the next morning (and now blog about). And that's just the reality of it.
I may have boycotted the open-call line last Thursday for the New York City auditions for season six of NBC's Last Comic Standing, but that didn't mean I'd miss the boat completely on this opportunity to report from the belly of the beast. Especially when I learned on Friday that several comedians I know were getting called back for TV duty. No lines. Just a few dozen stand-up comedians, sitting around, biding their time for the cameras and special judges Richard Belzer and Steve Schirripa and host Bill Bellamy and everyone else to get ready to roll. Even Barry Katz was in the house, and shook my hand upon hearing me call out his name.
And here's what that scene looked and sounded like. Dan Naturman, whom LCS viewers and comedy fans remember as the guy who got robbed of a spot on the show four years ago when the producers overruled judges Drew Carey and Brett Butler, returned for another go at it. Naturman and Baron Vaughn here talk about joke wording as Michelle Buteau, Eric Andre, Jackie Monahan and others wait for their names to be called.
Moments later, I catch up with host Bill Bellamy, here seen talking with Boston stand-up Myq Kaplan about character-based comedy versus stand-up.
Bellamy and I talked briefly about how his HBO Young Comedians special has been reairing, and he tried to recall his "Tingle Man" bit for us. Then producers called him over to record four takes of teases to intro the NYC auditions. Bellamy really liked pronouncing Schirripa's Sopranos character name. Apparently, five or six comedians (Carla Rhodes and Carolyn Castiglia, among them) already had been waiting inside Gotham Comedy Club's mainstage this whole time (at least a half-hour, maybe much longer) for their two-minute televised audition. Not that everyone, even among these professional comedians with appointments made via their agents and managers, would get the full two minutes. Belzer and Schirripa would prove tough to please. And I could see how it'd be difficult not to take their rejection personally, despite the fact that this is above all else a "reality" TV show. Because you don't normally walk out of an audition, after hearing very critical things said about your performance, to find a camera crew on the other side of the door. As Mike Birbiglia said recently, comedians have to be delusional because an audience that doesn't like your comedy in effect doesn't like you. Some comedians fought back tears. Many muttered profanities about the judges. Eric Andre went into a tirade of riffs so hilarious that the camera crew could barely contain themselves, making me wonder if they might invite him to another audition because of it. That same afternoon, I heard a producer say he thought Belzer and Schirripa were perfect judges for LCS and wished he could have them on every stop. And they did say yes to more than a dozen acts, so they could be swayed. I tried to provide some moral support to Friday's auditioners. Reminding them this is a TV show. Reminding them that it's not about how much funny you have, but about making those two judges laugh in two minutes or less. Reminding them that the judges would already have an impression about you before you opened your mouth. That said, I'm not sure some of the comedians made the best choices to showcase themselves that day. And I definitely don't understand why some of the yahoos who showed up at the end of the afternoon even bothered. The end of the day was when producers had the "wacky" contestants make fools of themselves, all for the chance to be mocked on national TV. Way to go. When Belzer walked back toward his trailer, some of the lucky few were filling out paperwork before that night's showcase. Belzer stopped, pointed at God's Pottery and shouted, "Funny!" He also stopped to praise Stone & Stone once more. No wonder, then, that both duos survived that night's eliminations. But what are duos doing in a stand-up competition? Not sure. At least they'll get some positive press out of it and perhaps some better gigs, if not more.
UPDATED: Oh, I forgot to mention this earlier, but if you thought making a joke about babies was going to get you on TV, you're probably right. They also recorded Bellamy teasing a "dead-baby montage." Congrats?
A new day for The Comic's Comic. We now have our own channel on Dailymotion. First up: A slice of life on the Greenwich Village sidewalk outside the Comedy Cellar, in which we capture Robert Kelly asking Dan Naturman about his bedtime ritual. Almost edited the end of this, but decided to leave the plot twisty freaky ending in for fun times, and to show how much I have to learn about multimedia. Look for much much more in the future.