Most comedy clubs take pride in having a stand-up decide to record his or her latest CD/DVD special at their establishments. Besides being listed in the liner notes, the club also can use this as a bragging point to attract both audiences and comedy acts alike.
But what if a comedy club decided to get into the business of recording and producing stand-up albums? That's exactly what Comix in New York City began doing earlier this year with its Live on Tape series. Usually recorded in pairs, the club will play host to recordings tonight for up-and-coming comics Myq Kaplan and Giulia Rozzi.
They already have recorded live sessions with Ophira Eisenberg, Vanessa Hollingshead, Craig Baldo, Sean Patton, Darryl Lenox and Matt McCarthy. Though none of the previous six sets are out yet, they will be soon, and will be released on Apple's iTunes and other applicable digital marketplaces.
I saw the Lenox and McCarthy tapings last month. The audience seemed divided equally among those who came specifically for one or the other comedian, and despite the two bringing completely different vibes and comedic approaches to the stage, they both killed it.
Brian Baldinger, Comix's current booker and director of talent development, said the club takes advantage of its own high-quality equipment to record the 45-to-60-minute sets, and then sends out the recordings to BSeen Media down in Suwanee, Georgia, where they then edit and master the production, and divides it into individual tracks that can be monetized, as it were. "We collaborate with the artists on artwork," Baldinger said. And when the comedian approves the final tracks, "BSeen markets the work on iTunes and all of the similar sites that are out there, and then there is profit-sharing for all three parties."
BSeen already has a track record, so to speak, of working with comedians such as Tom Papa, Tom Shillue, Mitch Fatel and Phil Mazo on recording, producing and marketing their own stand-up CDs. "They have a history of selling tracks for people who are known and unknown," Baldinger said, "so we're giving it a whirl. We're still in the post process on the first pair of albums that we did in the series, so we don't know what the results are yet."
It's no cost at all for the comedian, outside of getting an audience to show up for the live taping -- unless he or she wishes to make physical copies of the CDs and/or DVDs to sell on the road.
How do you decide who gets to tape with Comix? "It's comics whose material I love, who I think deserve a shot, and who have the time, have the 45 minutes and who fit with our brand," Baldinger said. "We haven't figured out all of the branding stuff yet. But I want to be proud of them for being on our, for lack of a better word, label. Even if they don't have a national name, they have enough that we can get that night going."
Are you getting bombarded with taping requests from comedians yet? "I think we're still flying a little under the radar right now. I think we'll have to get the finished product, where people are buying it in the marketplace, before people figure out what's going on." Baldinger is fine with being under the radar for now. "Less politics in it that way."
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.
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.
OK, comedy fans. Whether or not you have a financial stake in the outcome of the Boston Comedy Festival contest, you still want to know what really went down last night in the third and fourth preliminaries. So here’s another opinion. But first, another opinion: Why didn’t host Kevin Knox explain the rules? Did Sunday night’s host skip that portion of the program, too? Because methinks most people in the audience, at least, might want to know, how come the guy or gal I thought was really funny didn’t win? The judges have these complicated scoring sheets — and even though I didn’t see them, they must be complicated because it takes 15 minutes to deduce the winners — so there must be several factors in determining the funny. In similar contests, those factors would include originality, stage presence, audience engagement and audience approval, in addition to the judge’s own subjective funny ranking. Also, there are several cameras taping the sets, but no mention of what that’s all about. The stage, changed from the usual Comedy Connection backdrop to the old cliched fake brick wall, also has a MySpace banner. Is that it? (Sources say no, that the tapes are for sponsor Sierra Mist, but shouldn’t someone let everyone else in on that?)
Right. Enough questions. You want answers. Or at least a recap.
Prelim 3 (in order of appearance)
1) Jake Sharon: Long-haired guy (not what’s pictured on the festival program/site), eats the mic, also ate it onstage, as his blue humor didn’t set the proper tone, especially with all of the white-hairs in the audience.
2) Mark DeCosta: Opens with losing five pounds today on the Taco Bell Diet. “Now I know why they say think outside the buns.” Hello! Rim shot, please! Not helping. But his set improves with dry humor about his childhood and how he teaches children life lessons.
3) Tymon Shipp: Billed on the program as “clean yet hilarious,” as if the two things cannot coexist. But the program also says he’s been on Leno nine times. Nine times? Really? Maybe as a bit player, but not as a stand-up. His set is functional enough, but, eh.
4) Erin Judge: Clever, but not connecting with the Connection crowd. Only her most direct jokes worked on this audience.
5) Darryl Lenox: Comes out with a definite POV, as they say. Politics is like Amway. “Do you think the guy who owns Wal-Mart has a house full of Wal-Mart furniture in it?” On being afraid of chemical attacks five years after 9/11, noting we’ve been eating McDonald’s for 50 years. “You think Shaq got that big drinking milk?” Solid. Very solid.
6) Tim the Dairy Farmer: Larry the Cable Guy’s big dumb brother. Only without a catchphrase. Let’s move on.
7) Josh Gondelman: The soft-spoken Josh Gondelman. Yeah. Earnestness is a virtue. But it won’t win a comedy contest.
8) Tom Van Horn: Polished stuff on Kmart, fish as pets on life support and the improbability of being angry whilst wearing flip-flops.
9) Floyd J. Phillips: Suggested cell phone companies shouldn’t disconnect your service, but interrupt your calls, if they want you to pay up. Tells his new neighbors he’s a registered sex offenders to keep the kids off his lawn. Funny. Speaking of abortion…funny…pro-lifers should kill bartenders. Don’t shoot me. That’s what he said. How about this line: “Domestic violence is the second reason why I don’t date men.”
10) Ira Proctor: Listen all y’all it’s a sabotage! What Ira was thinking: Hey, I’ll have fun by playing off of the last guy and start with some racial humor. What the audience was thinking: Why is this white guy making jokes about blacks? What Ira was thinking: Why isn’t this audience laughing at this, this is funny stuff? What the audience was thinking: We’re scared. Ira, move on to plan D. Dunkin Donuts. He ranted and rallied. But the damage was done.
11) Kendra Cunningham: Hates her job, wonders about the excuses drunks have that avoid the reason they’re drunks, and uses one of the most overused phrases in stand-up comedy, “So I’m single, surprisingly enough.”
12) Marshall Chiles: From Atlanta. Not Hotlanta. I don’t think the kids call it that anymore. His opener about airport security trying to turn us into fundamentalist Muslims (no razors, no shoes, no shampoo) is intriguing, but also silences the crowd right off the bat. As does his next joke, about troops fighting for the right reason: Tuition. “Damn right, I started with that s—!” he said. Later compares sports refs to wives. It’s all good material, but he came off too rough to be liked.
The timekiller: Eric Schwartz. Man, that white boy rapping schtick never stops being funny, doesn’t it? His official site is www.suburbanhomeboy.com and no I did not make that up. Nor did I make up the fact that he made the contest finals last year. Did he? Wasn’t I a judge last year?
Lenox and Phillips advanced. Van Horn deserved an honorable mention.
The Boston Comedy Festival kicked off with its ever-random charm last night, a stand-out stand-up show off the comedy club grid, a well-attended gay-themed show (last year’s had to be canceled) and two equally unpredictable preliminaries in the comedy contest.
I’ve told people this before. As both a former participant (Seattle, 1998) and judge (Seattle, 2000; Boston, 2005) in stand-up comedy contests, you really need to take it all in with the proverbial grain of salt, throw caution to the wind, je ne sais quoi, devil-may-care attitude. Because — brace yourselves — comedy contests, more often than not, never determine who the funnies person in the room really is. There’s politics involved. Lots of BS. Your look might sway people as much as your 5-7 minute set. What’s the crowd like? Who are the judges? Have the judges seen your act before? What’s the scoring system? Where are you in the lineup? Who’s in your preliminary? And Boston adds another layer of madness, since it tries to fit the entire contest into one week. At least San Francisco and Seattle have full weeks of prelims and semifinal competitions — several nights in several different cities and venues — to weed out the flukes and let the premier comics rise to the top. Boston’s contest offers no such luck. Or rather, it’s often about luck. The funniest person in the entire contest might not even survive a prelim.
With that, here are last night’s results.
Prelim 1 winners: Logan Jacobson and Matt Malley
Prelim 2 winners: Frank G, Chris Tabb and Russell Bell
Which, of course, means some of last year’s finalists and semifinalists (Rob O’Reilly, J-L Cauvin) didn’t make the first cut. EJ Murphy, who was in the first prelim, told me he thought everyone in his group “crushed,” so it was hard to tell who’d advance. Chris Tabb, meanwhile, said he was unsure how he’d fare, since he often relies on crowd work and longer stories. “I don’t do five minutes!” he said. Last night, he must’ve figured out something. Also talked last night with Darryl Lenox (that’s the official spelling, despite all of the variations you may have seen elsewhere), who I had the privilege to open for back in the day (and no, that day was not a Wednesday, but a weekend back in 1999, or was it 2000, in Seattle and Bellingham) and can verify his funniness. Of course, Lenox also has won the Seattle contest, finished runner-up in San Francisco and Boston, and appeared this summer on Comedy Central’s Live At Gotham. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll win — last year he got bounced out of the prelims. This year, he says he’s focused on putting that behind him. But he’s in a prelim tonight with fellow Seattle contest winner Floyd J. Phillips and fellow Boston finalist Ira Proctor, among others. Something’s gotta give.
But first, a report from the Abbey Lounge, where Doug Stanhope found fans aplenty to pack the hot room last night for the “Cruel and Unusual” show. Stanhope took the mic at 9:18 p.m. when no one else would, and with his voice hoarse, brought up Brian Joyce, a guy originally from Somerville who had spent a year in Ireland. Naturally that led into material about alcoholism and not letting the terrorists win by backing off of that, somehow transitioning into prison rape (which reminds me of another pet peeve of mine, which I won’t get into here) and gay marriage. Joyce brought up Esther Ku, who dazzled the crowd into revered silence. They were afraid to laugh at Ku’s racially realistic observations, but showed their approval by giving her rousing applause at the end of her 7-minute set. Tom Dustin followed by ripping on both Ku and the Abbey. Dustin also delivered a killer bit about HPV, which I won’t repeat here. Next up, Spike Tobin. Tobin provided the old-school Boston comic set mentality, and even received interference from Annette Pollack, which should tell you something. But Tobin turned Pollack’s heckle around right quick, making her scarf out to be her panties. A final unadvertised set from Norman Wilkerson and then, finally, Stanhope.
Over the course of 57 minutes, Stanhope, despite the hoarse voice (and the weirdness of performing with family and friends nearby, since he was born in Worcester and had a gig there the night before) covered familiar territory and offered new insights on life. Yes, his first request was for liquor: “Do you have any clear tequila?” But the shot was for his girlfriend, suffering with flu-like symptoms. I hadn’t seen Stanhope in close to four years, back when I lived in Arizona and he was coming off an Aspen appearance and about to get married and famous. Now he lives in Arizona and is unmarried, still flirting with fame. Anyhow. Back to his set.
Stanhope reflected briefly on his month in Scotland, where he got lumped into a media report on anti-Semitic comedians, which led him off on a wild tangent about Jew-hating material. “I hate Jews?” he pondered. “You hate cats, but you don’t want them all put on trains and gassed!” Eventually, he came back to a oft-repeated premise of his, that religion causes too much nonsense and too many wars. No wonder some critics try to compare Stanhope to the late Bill Hicks. Stanhope isn’t a comedian in the traditional, stereotypical, set-up punch, jokey joke vein. Rather, he’s more of a truth-seeker, soapbox kind of comic. Is that like Hicks? A bit. But it’s also court jester, too. The kind of guy who can say the most outrageous things and get away with it, because, well, there’s quite a bit of truth to what he’s saying, and because, well, look at how foolish he looks. It’s not as if we have to worry about this guy, do we? That’s what makes the whole Stanhope for President in 2008 idea — on the Libertarian ticket — so intriguing. Is he serious? Outside, after the show, Stanhope told a fan that he doesn’t really want to the rule the country. “I don’t want anyone to rule the country,” he insisted, which is a Libertarian way to go.
Some other highlights of Stanhope’s performance last night: Noting that guilt has nothing to do with being Jewish, using man’s evolutionary relationship with apes as an obscene example. Noting that nationalism only teaches people to hate other countries and to take pride in things they’ve never accomplished (Example: Bailing out the French?). A funny aside about Boston: “There’s an awful lot of history in this town, but not a lot of future.” Some candid reflections about turning 39 and not being able to keep up his wild lifestyle. Wondering why the only new drugs are prescription medications designed not to expand our consciousness, but close up our thinking so we forget our depressing and dull our lives truly are. Noting how the world revolves around women, and particularly, sex with them, which is why the government and religion tries so desperately to make sex seem shameful. At one point, Stanhope engaged the audience in a discussion on monogamy, wondering if it’s instinctual or learned, and what that might say about love. He said he loves MySpace for its marketing efficiency, and joked about comedians who make fun of MySpace, wondering where the comics are who first made fun of cell phones and e-mail in the early 90s are now. But Stanhope hates the idea that the media makes MySpace out to be full of pedophiles — which led to a prolonged routine on pedophilia. Don’t worry, parents, he said. For one thing, online pedophiles are far less dangerous than the old-fashioned real-life pervs. And for another thing, “odds are, no one wants to f— your child!” This riled up him to a killer closing routine about child pornography, describing how it cannot be rampant as people think it is, how it’s the only crime you can be nabbed for simply by looking at it, and then wildly figured out a way to use child porn as a way to attack an anti-abortion campaigner. Never have you heard the phrase “pre-term necrophiliac child molesters,” or so I’m guessing. I’m also guessing many of the people in the crowd hadn’t seen Stanhope perform before. Who knows what they were expecting? They didn’t get an out-of-control, ranting lunatic alcoholic (if that’s what they were expecting). All in all, they heard thought-provoking and funny stuff.