Do you really need a tornado to be transported to another world? Maybe. It certainly helped add to the theme last night when thunderstorms brought funnel clouds through Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood, uprooting trees just a block or two away from the start of the third annual Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival, which just so happened to be kicking off at The Bell House with a show themed "An Evening of Comedy From 1986."
Mirman says the festival is a joke, but one in which he and his organizers have committed to fully. Each year they provide fun things for audiences to enjoy, both free and available for purchase. A merch table last night offered traditional items such as posters and free guides, but also "Industry Rocks" (rocks engraved with names of real-life comedy industry people, for $15), velvet Eugene paintings ($25) and more. Inside the venue, audience members could feast on free roasted duck, set up on a table beneath a banner that read "Eugene's Pee Your Pants Comedy Villa." At the door, each audience member received 3-D glasses to watch Mirman's 3-D "welcome video."
As for the show itself, Mirman introduced Tony V with the credits he would have had in 1986, and Tony joked about his small role in the 1986 movie, One Crazy Summer. The "best impressionist" Sandy Gorman followed, played by Larry Murphy in a white wig, holding a giant phone and wearing a suit jacket with the sleeves rolled up. Among his impressions: Jack Nicholson, Ronald Reagan, Marlon Brando and Robert DeNiro on a party line. Mirman next brought out Teddy Ruxpin. Yes. The stuffed teddy bear that can talk. Mirman sat the Teddy Ruxpin on a stool in front of the mic and walked off, letting Ruxpin spew forth a filthy NSFW stand-up routine. Ron Lynch opened his set by reading off notes of how a stand-up should act, then noted that the rolled-up sleeves really was a trend in stand-up back in the 1980s.
"How did that happen? Who was the first? How many of you have no idea what I'm talking about?"
In a special treat, Lynch played the cassette tape that Louis CK sent him back around 1986 as an audition to get booked in a club Lynch ran in the Boston area. Afterward Lynch mocked him, which prompted Louis CK himself to appear in a cameo that delighted the crowd. Lynch closed with his classic bit from the future in which a Disney-engineered robot explains what stand-up comedy was all about.
Haven't done the math on this, but when I saw that Chris Rock, Eddie Izzard and Emo Philips all celebrate Feb. 7 as their birthday -- though not the same year (Rock turns 45, Izzard 48 and Philips 54 today) -- I wondered what day has witnessed the birth of more famously funny people.* You know what, though? Right now I don't feel like doing the math on this. Just wishing these guys a happy birthday will do!
*If you feel like running through the calendar and seeing how many funny comedians were born on each of the 365 1/4 days of the year and getting back to me, that'd be cool, too.
AltCom fest organizer Brian Joyce paced backstage at the Somerville Theater minutes before the scheduled 8 p.m. showtime and tried to pump up his performers. "It's a healthy crowd," he told the comedians. "There's not a stretch of empty seats downstairs." Eugene Mirman couldn't help but laugh right away, telling Joyce his pep talk really helped. Actually, there wasn't a need to worry. By the time Myq Kaplan and Micah Sherman took to the stage at 8:25 p.m. to open the festivities with their "Comedians National Anthem," fans had filled most of the seats in the lower orchestra level.
Nevertheless, Mirman felt like addressing the seating situation upfront, inviting folks from upstairs to come downstairs. "Why spread people out, unless you're different races?!" he announced with his usual absurdist flair. "This is Boston!" Mirman had plenty of fun throughout his 20-minute set, especially by poking fun at himself and his tendency to color his routine with local jokes and town names. "Now to stick it to the old Fleet Bank machine!" he said at one point. Later, he enjoyed ad-libbing a thought about a local audience member attacking a bear and yelling at it, "You're queah!" that he completely skipped over his usual punchline and tags on his bit about bears. He tailored another portion of the set for the Boston-area audience with a clever video spoof of ads for Boston.com, the Boston Globe's online portal. Mirman also included a recent observation from his 236.com-sponsored trip to Philadelphia for last month's Democratic debate, talking about anti-abortion protesters, and ad-libbing a retort to his own description of the presidential race as "Obama and the lady."
Also worth noting about Eugene Mirman: Michael Showalter followed him around offstage with a video camera (for a documentary? for a spoof? just because? we'll investigate this further), and Mirman told the other comics beforehand that he and his fellow Stand-Uppity Tour performers (Andy Kindler and Marc Maron) are looking forward to hitting the road together next week. Actually, that tour starts Sunday in Kentucky! Moving on...
Emo Philips joked with Todd Barry beforehand about Barry being limited to a 20-minute set. "If you're having fun," Philips told Barry backstage, "you'll want to fight that impulse...to stay onstage!" Barry also joked with me about the New York Times review earlier in the week of his performance opening for Flight of the Conchords, noting how reviewers often resort to lame jokes in critiquing a comedian. The Times, for the record, said this of Barry on Thursday: "A comedian whose deadpan delivery was drier than an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting." I won't attempt anything of that sort here. Leave that to the couple of audience members (fans of Barry's, it'd turn out afterward) who felt compelled to shout out oddities during his set. And that's even after Barry told his joke about an audience member "who wanted to challenge him...comedically." Argh. Barry also had to bear witness to a couple near the front who stood up and apparently walked out. Not his fault. "How awkward would that be if I cleared the room?" he joked. Not as awkward as what happened next, when he asked a guy in the front row if he was the most famous person to ever talk to him. "No," the young man replied, and then, after a pause, offered: "Wesley Willis." I hadn't heard of the late, overweight, schizophrenic, homeless musician, but Barry had. He joked about that, then went on with his act, and I thought he'd close on his Facebook jokes, but just then, Mirman's laptop computer -- still onstage -- beeped loudly. "Eugene got a new Gmail?!" Barry said. Another pause to regroup. A couple more jokes. And by then, Barry had gone 28 minutes. Again. Not his fault. Just one of those odd sets that gets derailed by the audience and other factors out of his control, forcing him to take extra time to get the show back on track.
Kaplan and Sherman also attempted at this point to remind the audience not to get in the way of everyone's good time. They did not, however, fully prepare everyone for doktor cocacolamcdonalds. How could they?
This one-man band from the UK has wowed crowds in Edinburgh and plays the big Leeds and Reading festivals later this summer. He'll also be swinging down to NYC on Monday for a show at the PIT. You have to see and hear this guy, and even then, you might not believe it. He bounded onstage wearing only face makeup, a scarf tie, colorful briefs and sneakers, and alternated between a keytar and other odd instruments for a few musical numbers. First up: "When you generalize, the general...lies." Another song he wants to be more R&B, so a GameBoy supplies the beats. His truncated set (this only showcased him for about 18 minutes) also included an appearance by his performance poet, Ray: Man of Words, who closed with a "cover" -- in this instance, his rendition of the theme rap song to TV's Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. You could hear doktor cocacolamcdonalds on the radio, disc or iPod and chuckle a bit. But his humorous success proves it's really all in the presentation.
He also proved to be a good transition between the stand-up of Mirman and Barry to the headlining performance of Emo Philips.
I spent so much time trying to jot down notes between giggles the last time I saw Philips that this time, I wanted to sit back and absorb his set as a fan. What really hit home with me now was what also connected deeply with me when I first devoured Emo's E=MO2 over and over again as a teen. Sure, his jokes and one-liners are amazingly funny. But what makes him amazing is how devious and mischievous he is. It goes beyond clever. The guy opens with remarks about appreciating us appreciating live stand-up comedy, and somewhere in there is a joke about incest. He knew enough about Boston to work in baseball jokes, and also, perhaps unbeknownest to some in the crowd, a dating joke with a wickedly funny and subtle nod to the Kennedys! Philips also manages to jab at religion, politics, the homeless and so many other topics with his trademark wit and mannerisms that you're usually too busy laughing to get how wonderfully subversive it all is. For example, here he is on capital punishment: "We shouldn't execute the mentally retarded. No. Right? But what if they do something wrong?" Or this little ditty: "I like the South, but, of course, I'm prejudiced." By the end of his 55-minute set, the crowd couldn't help but give him a standing ovation.
AltCom continues Saturday night with Patton Oswalt, Morgan Murphy, Jim Jeffries and the Walsh Brothers.
Only a few days before the debut of the newest comedy festival to hit the circuit, AltCom: the Alternative Comedy Festival in Somerville, Mass. (May 9-10). I thought I'd get an expert comedian's opinion on AltCom, and Emo Philips provided The Comic's Comic with his insight on AltCom, festivals vs. clubs, and why he's taking part in the inaugural AltCom festival...
I am extremely flattered to be part of AltCom: The Alternative Comedy Festival. Truth be told, I'm not exactly sure what alternative comedy is, so I've taken the precaution of replacing every third of my punchlines with a couplet from the Victorian poet Robert Browning; ideally, that will give the alternative comedy hipsters in the audience something to groove on.
I get invited to, on average, one comedy festival a year. Now don't get me wrong, I love playing comedy clubs -- but performing at a comedy festival is a very special treat for me, because then I get to watch the acts of, and hang out with, comedians who are more or less at my own professional level. It's like going to "headliner camp."
Headliner Camp! I like the sound of that. Philips goes to camp Friday headlining a lineup with Eugene Mirman, Todd Barry and doktor cocacolamcdonalds. Saturday's lineup boasts Patton Oswalt, Morgan Murphy, Jim Jeffries and the Walsh Brothers. Both shows start at 8 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. Tickets are still available! I've seen two different promotional discount codes. You can click here and type in TMDEAL and get $7 off. Or, click here for Friday's show and type in OSWALT for $8 off. Click here if you're looking for $8 discounts for Saturday and type in OSWALT.
In my 36 years on the planet Earth, not to mention my many years inhabiting other celestial bodies and spirits, I've seen plenty of great comedy shows, hundreds more live comedy shows that provided more than a few laughs, and some clunkers. Never have I laughed so hard, so often, and wanted to see a performer again, then I have last night watching and listening to Emo Philips at Comix in New York City.
Of course, Emo and I go way back (not that he knew this) more than two decades, to the moment when a cassette tape of "E=MO2" fell into my possession. I don't know when it happened. The cassette's liner notes say that he recorded that set live at Carolines in NYC and released it to the world at large in 1985. At some point, in a series of coincidences and events reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings, this one comedy cassette to rule them all arrived in my hands, and then when I acquired a driver's license and a car in 1987, into my car's cassette deck with auto-reverse, wherein it made me laugh on a continuous basis for the better part of a year. One of those formative teenage experience deals that finds a spot in your long-term memory banks, so 20 years later, when your life path finally crosses Emo's, you say there is nowhere else you're going to be on Friday night at 10:45 p.m. but sitting inside Comix, barely paying attention to the two opening acts of stand-up because the expectation is building up inside you, much as it did in October 2004 when you saw the Boston Red Sox do something your grandfather and father had never seen them do and you're thinking, is this really possible? It is. It was.
And yet. Emo Philips, older, grayer, wiser, did not disappoint in the slightest. The same lilting voice, the same bouncy mannerisms, and strikingly, it all seemed to become more magical on this aged Emo. It just fit. With Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones, you're amazed at how they maintain the same energy and precision after all these years, but at the same time, when they play a new song, you're like, eh, that's nice and all but bring us another nostalgic hit, Mick and Keith. With Emo, it's all new. Sure, he says, "you guys are really cheering me up" (which when I used to perform stand-up, I'd find myself saying at some point in my set as my own Emo tribute) and closed his hourlong set with a request, but he has jokes about the 2008 presidential candidates, about everything, really. It's not just his precision as a writer of jokes, but also his mastery of timing and delivery that has you howling in approval.
I tried in vain to write down some of them for you, but often found my pen hand so jittery from the rest of my body laughing to get it down right. Here are but a few I managed to scribble...please keep in mind, that reading them doesn't do them the same justice as hearing and seeing Emo deliver them...
A conversation with a Mormon friend about drinking coffee. Emo: "Drinking a cup of coffee a day gives you many benefits. He said, 'Name one, mwuah mwuah mwuah.' Well, for one thing, it keeps you from being Mormon."
On coming back to NYC, where he once lived: "I miss New York so much sometimes I fill my humidifier with urine."
On President Bush: "He outlawed human cloning. Now we'll never find out how many of him it takes to screw in a light bulb."
On living in Los Angeles: "We have a lot more homeless people there, because the weather doesn't kill them off."
On his aging: "I feel sorry, because I let my hair go gray...for a movie...I wanted to get into cheaper."
On alcoholics drinking nonalcoholic beer: "I don't get it. If you're a pedophile, they don't give you a midget in a Cub Scout's uniform."
And this one: "Cell phones are like a dog's genitals. You don't have to shout into them."
In a word: Riveting! You must see Emo Philips perform live. He's at Comix again tonight, the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif., on Feb. 2, the Punchline in San Francisco from Feb. 6-9. More tour dates located on Emo's site.
Eugene Mirman and Leo Allen went to Emo's early show last night and got to hang with him backstage for a while between shows. Jealous! I spotted comedian Shane Webb in the audience at the late show. The Onion's Marianne Ways had seen the first show and was glowing even more when I offered her my extra ticket, and still glowing after a repeat viewing. I stood awestruck with a face in a permasmile, like a 4-year-old who just saw Santa for the first time. Ventriloquist Carla Rhodes said she had a huge crush on Emo. I shot a video of Marianne and Carla meeting and posing with Emo, which is funny just because. Waiting my turn, I still found myself awestruck. Direct evidence: Holding that E=MO2 cassette in my left hand, I never managed to utter the appropriate words before Emo offered, "Do you want me to sign that for you?" My only reply: "Uh huh." It was like the scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie finally gets his chance at Santa to ask for the Red Ryder BB Gun, only to freeze when the moment arrived. Emo and I sat down and I mumbled something about how I used to perform stand-up and now write about it as a journalist and something something how it's all because of this cassette making me laugh so hard 20 years ago, and Emo was so nice and sincere. Even if he declined Carla's offer to come out with his for banana cream pie (and I think she actually meant pie, not a euphemism) because he was losing his voice. He didn't need worry keeping up the Emo voice. About an hour later, I realized I got his autograph but not an actual photo of me with him. Ack. Next time. Next time.
A short video. "We're going to make an Emo sandwich." "OK, snap it!"