OK, comedy fans. We're back with the first (of how many? of how many???) episodes from the New York City auditions, and after some more glimpses of Tommy Johnagin and a naked Andy Ofiesh, here's Craig Robinson strolling down the sidewalk of West 23rd Street on his keytar with judges Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo, plus wannabes in tow. Who here wanna be?
Alycia Cooper from Maryland is our first billed auditioner. She made Giraldo laugh with her jokes about D.C.'s horrible sports teams, but she is adding tags that he and the other judges do not condone. She moves on to the night showcase nevertheless. Our first featured contestant of the evening, however, is Mike DeStefano who shows us his fellas in the Bronx to bust his chops and deliver some classic stereotypical Bronx gruff and stuff. "Hey Mikey, if you win, what's in it for us?" I've told you about DeStefano before. I will be telling you more about him in the future. His jokes about dealing with a potential agent show off his style and personality and the crew loves him as much, perhaps more, than the judges did.
Kevin Bozeman of Chicago said he is pro-life except for two times. Jamie Lissow jokes about not getting the NY Times crossword. New Yorker Claudia Cogan jokes about wanting to be a nasty stripper, while I wonder when she'll reply to my email from months ago. They are all part of a montage of yes votes for the showcases, and there is Elon James White brunching hard but not getting his name on camera. Andy Ofiesh, on the other hand, got almost all of himself on camera since he went onstage without any clothes on. Of course, readers here (or people who have been to a Naked Comedy Showcase show in Boston, NYC or Edinburgh in the past few years) knows Ofiesh is an avowed nudist and comedian. All we see and hear, however, is the judges not being happy seeing all of Ofiesh and he kicks off the night's first montage of horribleness.
Kurt Metzger says he has done comedy for 11 years and wonders about performing for three people, especially when at least one of them works with him regularly at the Comedy Cellar. No need to wonder, since Metzger is moving to the showcase.
And we're back. Robinson walks out to inspect the line of crazies. I also inspected this line outside Gotham Comedy Club the night beforehand. Want to see that?
Tommy Johnagin invites the cameras into his hotel room(?) to watch him write his jokes on toilet paper. Johnagin jokes about how women suck for asking him about keeping track of the one time he had sex. Kindler jokes that he feels threatened by Johnagin's humor.
Todd Catalano brought his mullet across the bridges and tunnels from New Jersey, and guess what, he is Italian. Guess what, Giraldo isn't sure if he was laughing with Catalano's insults about women, and this kicks off a montage of stereotypical Italian New Yorker shtickery.
Jamie Lee from Dallas says she quit her corporate job to pursue stand-up (and it was a job with Comedy Central where she had to deal with people like me!) and if you saw the ads of the past week, you already saw her running with joy after whatever the judges said. Giraldo said she felt "still pretty new" to him, which is absolutely correct, and all three of the judges would like to see her perform in front of an actual audience.
When we return from commercial...
We're told from conventional wisdom that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But if you're a comedian, the most important meal of the day doesn't always happen this early in the morning. In fact, the most important meal of the day may be even better when combined with a later hour and hybrid menu. Yes. I'm talking about brunch.
Don't take it from me, though. Just ask comedian Elon James White. Why? Because he brunches hard, you brunch hard, and together, We Brunch Hard. As he explained to me yesterday, "It was a gag that grew out of Twitter. I jokingly threw out a hashtag a while ago of #WeBrunchHard, and it became an ongoing joke." Of course, it also became something he and his 4,000-plus Twitter followers joked about over many brunches. And now he has made a music video to celebrate it. Want to see it? Here it is! Note: His rap represents Brooklyn, and may contain a word or two that is NSFW:
"I consider it silly, but at the same time it plays on stereotypes, yet again, which is what I seem to do," he told me. He wrote an introduction to the video yesterday on Salon.com, and as I know, White likes to take on black stereotypes. He also has posted regular vlogs called This Week In Blackness, and previously talked to me about exploring different types of "black comedy" in his Black Comedy Experiment. Apparently, White feels the world needs to know now that everyone loves to brunch. It's not just a white thing. It's also a White thing.
As he wrote on Salon.com: "Salmon carpaccio, a medium rare cheeseburger, and a mimosa at 2 in the afternoon is what I like to call 'perfect.'" He's not the only one warming up to brunch. I've read a couple of trend pieces in the New York Times in the past year about how brunch isn't for old fuddyduddies anymore. Here's one from March 2009 about Saturday brunch parties; another from December 2009 about brunching in bars. White told me he's busy posting his own brunching commandments to follow. "1st Rule. Make your own rules," he said. And if you're in Brooklyn, White recommends The Spot.
Comedy Central's Chocolate News, hosted by David Alan Grier and covering current events from the black perspective, will debut on Oct. 15.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn stand-up Elon James White has launched his own video news/podcast/commentary segment called This Week in Blackness. His first two episodes went online overnight. Here, in episode two, White talks about what's going in Houston, where he might suspect more than a few black men are saying some variation of "Don't tase me, bro." (Language NSFW)
Word has it that BET is working on a documentary special for this summer on black comedy. A crew interviewed the members of the Brooklyn Comedy Company (Baron Vaughn, Elon James White, Jordan Carlos and Michelle Buteau) last month and will be recording footage Saturday night at a special edition of their "Shades of Black" show, which also features a set from Chicago's Hannibal Buress (not pictured!). Tickets are free. But space at The Tank theater in Tribeca is not exactly large. Further info in my upcoming NYC shows calendar. White said he and his comedian cohorts talked about the concept of "black alt" comedy. BET reportedly interviewed Bill Cosby earlier, as well as Cedric the Entertainer and Dick Gregory. "I'm happy they approached us about it," White told me. Go to the taping Saturday night and learn more!
Imagine, if you will, a sex blogger, also a comedian, who becomes a political reporter for MTV, reporting on the fall of a governor, due to a sex scandal, and getting comedians to offer perspective on the rise of New York's first African-American governor. I believe everything has come full oval.
Sara Benincasa reports for MTV:
The Black Comedy Experiment worked (!). Who knew? Crowds packed The Tank for the final night of shows on Saturday. If there's any one show that defines the "experiment," it'd have to be Shades of Black, because that stand-up showcase exists to prove that there's no singular definition for a black comedian. Michelle Buteau hosted and had the crowd rolling with her issues -- "Who said it? Yeah, I said it!" -- while Baron Vaughn killed with bits about his girlfriend's voice mails and the silliness of the KKK Website. Donald Glover deftly told the crowd to lower its expectations before telling funny stories and delivering impersonations of Barack Obama, Tracy Morgan on a PTA visit (whom he writes for on 30 Rock) and Chris Rock in a reinterpreted bit called "Black People vs. Vampires." BCE creator/producer Elon James White followed and challenged the audience by saying he was afraid of "retard babies" and didn't think his girlfriend was hot like a Pussycat Doll (White told me later that he'd killed with 15-20 minutes earlier that night at Laughing Liberally, so he wanted to switch things up). Victor Varnado closed the show with solid energy, and noted his albino status right up front, asking Shades of Black: "How far are they going to take it?" Varnado has a great new(?) bit about playing a practical joke on his white girlfriend.
Earlier: My interview with Elon James White.
If there's such a thing as alt-comedy, then can there also be such a thing as alt-black comedy? Elon James White thinks so. White and fellow New York comedian Baron Vaughn have been trying to educate audiences on the notion that there are many different types of black stand-up comedy, through their Shades of Black shows, their online site, The Black Comedy Project, and this weekend, their first full-on comedy fest, The Black Comedy Experiment. The "Experiment" debuts tonight and runs through Saturday night, with all shows at the two venues in The Tank.
Tonight's mainstage shows are Souled Out (featuring Walli Collins, Rick Younger, Leighann Lord, Dean Edwards, Mike Yard and Marc Theobold) and Desiree Burch's 52-Man Pickup. Other one-person shows include "The Oreo Kid" by Jordan Carlos (who auditioned last week for Saturday Night Live as a potential Barack Obama), "30 Years in Africa" by Michelle Buteau, Robin Cloud's "Bag O' Bitches," "Mystery Up at Negro Creek," by Baron Vaughn, and "2-Faced" by Erica Watson. There'll be special editions of Chicks and Giggles, Laughing Liberally and Shades of Black. And that's not all.
That SNL just got a lot of buzz over their search for a cast member to play Barack Obama only brought more attention to the plight of black comedians in getting the industry to notice them. "We couldn't ask for better timing, literally," White told me last night. That SNL didn't cast a black comedian for Obama didn't surprise White. That Jordan Carlos and Donald Glover got face time with Lorne Michaels pleased him, though. "I was happy that two of the three Obamas were on our festival. There's our buzz!"
In White's view, the fact remains that most audiences and Hollywood industry types think of only one type of comedian when they think of booking a black stand-up. They think of Def Jam, he said. "Everybody feels I'm harping on it," he said. It's not that Def Jam is evil or bad, he said, but rather that the great success of Def Jam created a model that everyone else has tried to duplicate without thinking or considering other forms or styles of comedy. That's been the pattern, White says, going back to Bill Cosby. When Richard Pryor emerged, "he kicked the door down," but then other comics tried to be Pryor, then tried to be Eddie Murphy, then tried to be the Wayans Brothers, and more recently, Def Jam. "It was just bravado. In your face," White said. "But it pigeonholed us for years." The opportunities simply aren't there, from SNL to HBO. "Dwayne Perkins might get to do Conan. But where's his HBO special?" White's online essay in October, "Did Def Jam Ruin Black Comedy?" sparked a furious back-and-forth debate with comedian Todd Lynn. "Todd Lynn says there ain't no thing as an 'Intelligent N----r' show. The fact is, though, he thinks there's one way of doing it, but in my opinion, there are many ways of climbing the ladder," White said.
He acknowledges that "the chitlin' circuit is strong in Harlem and the Bronx," and that New York City has lots of black comedians and black rooms, but wonders where the mainstream breakthroughs are for them. And White also knows that even though he's a Bed-Stuy Brooklyn native, he sounds like he's British and doesn't always fit in either an urban Def Jam scene or a white scene. "There are jokes I have that I can't tell in front of a white audience. It's because they just don't get it, nine times out of 10. They don't have the same life experience I have." So there has to be another way. "It was the same when the alt-comedy scene started. That's why I believe in alt-black," he said. "Some people argue I'm just putting another label on them and I understand that."
Like the comedians who formed an alternative to the club scene so they could work and build their own fan bases, White hopes to do the same for the many "shades of black" comedy. He's not against "urban or Def Jam" comedians who are good, saying Patrice Oneal is great and killed on that show. He's against black comedians who are hack about their blackness, such as the woman who threw her weave into the audience to get a standing ovation.
White still doesn't know if he and Vaughn and the experiment will succeed. "If we make enough ruckus, at least we'll be a footnote," White said.