It's Eric Andre's birthday today! Help him celebrate by watching this Zyrtec commercial he's in. Roll it.
Some stand-up comedy specials try to overwhelm you with flashing spotlights, raucous applause and laughter in cutaway crowd shots, and rapid-fire editing. OR, you could go ahead and showcase some unique comedians and let the material and stage presence speak for itself. In The Awkward Kings of Comedy, director/executive producer Victor Varnado puts the camera directly on his performers -- Baron Vaughn, Eric Andre, Hannibal Buress, host Marina Franklin, and himself -- and gives them the 15-minute showcase sets they deserve to share with the world. Certainly, there are hip-hop beats (provided by King Supernuts the Second), animated sequences for each performer, as well as an opening animation with voiceover narration that suggests two warring African tribes stumbled upon the first "Yo Momma" jokes.
This film isn't about the leaders of the pack, as this intro itself reveals, but rather, about the awkward kid in the glasses standing near the leader, who someday would become "funny...and a little bit weird."
The title also, of course, references back to Spike Lee's 2000 stand-up concert documentary, The Original Kings of Comedy. Varnado's film is an "alternative" nerd response to this, demonstrating that black comedians do not have to do stereotypical black comedy. Whatever that means. During one conversational interlude in the documentary, the comedians discuss the differences between a "predominantly black" crowd and a "predominantly urban" one, and you'll see by watching these performances that they would kill just fine in the former room, but they'd have to work hard for their laughs in the latter. Franklin even acknowledges the difficulties once trying to win over the audience at Showtime's At the Apollo.
Here, though, over the course of two shows taped at 45 Bleecker, the comedians can be themselves and allow an audience to see a "super articulate" man who likes to sing (Vaughn), a multicultural tornado of a comedian (Andre), a laidback guy with punchlines that will floor you (Buress), a black albino with the superpower to make you laugh (Varnado) and a woman who was both the blackest girl in a white neighborhood and the whitest girl in a black neighborhood (Franklin). It's all quite enjoyable, and the kind of special that Comedy Central, HBO and anyone else looking to showcase stand-up comedy should be broadcasting and producing more often.
The Awkward Kings of Comedy has its world premiere screening May 30 at the 92Y Tribeca in NYC, with a post-screening Q&A with Varnado.
You can now enjoy watching the trailer for the documentary film, The Awkward Kings of Comedy, featuring Victor Varnado, Eric Andre, Baron Vaughn, Hannibal Buress and Marina Franklin. "Comedy plus blackness, to the nerd power." You're welcome.
UPDATED: Now with the actual trailer embedded after the jump.
The Original Kings of Comedy tour and Spike Lee documentary film helped spur a new wave of business for stand-up comedy and comedy films, including "Blue Collar," Latin and female versions, as well as the Comedians of Comedy. But what about the black nerd alternative comics? Yeah. What about...wait. What? That's the basis for the upcoming Awkward Kings of Comedy special, conceived by comedian/actor/don't-forget-black-albino Victor Varnado, and including Baron Vaughn, Eric Andre and Hannibal Buress.
As the film's site says: "These are nerds who don't need any revenge, just a mic and an audience who cares about smart comedy from a personal perspective. All together, the Awkward Kings will show the world doofy jokesters are to be laughed at on their own terms." In addition to live performance footage -- to be shot Sept. 23 at the Bleecker Street Theater (45 Bleecker St., New York, NY) -- there will be offstage profiles and interviews with each of the comics, conducted by stand-up Marina Franklin. Tickets to the Sept. 23 show are free, but you have to make a reservation in advance by calling 800-521-4205 or emailing email@example.com, and letting them know how many tickets (limit: 4) and for which show (6 p.m. or 8:30 p.m.) along with a number and email where you can be reached.
Last year, I remember walking into Rififi and seeing a flyer for The Greg Johnson and Larry Murphy Show that had several quotes, but they all referred to the club, and not the actual show. I offered them one: "The most consistently funny and daring show in the city." They went on to win an ECNY Award (is that a thing?) and this past Friday, well, I saw something that really lived up to my quote. After the intermission.
Here is what I saw...all after the intermission...
Guest Host Patrick Borelli had a video presentation about awful book covers (that he plans on incorporating into a one-man show at some point). Alien bears!
Fred Armisen (yes, Fred Armisen of Saturday Night Live fame) played a yet-unnamed character who is a piano-playing lyricist with a wig, a white jacket, and lyrics that make no sense.
Rick Shapiro followed Armisen onstage, and, being Rick Shapiro, kept his emotions unchecked as he rambled on about this, that, and the other thing, and mostly the other thing. "Not everyone's cup of tea," he acknowledged at one point. But always worth watching.
Then Eric Andre took the stage, and proving it's possible, made Shapiro seem tame. That's just how Andre rolls. Also, he showed us his directorial debut, which may be the most retarded thing I've ever seen on video. And by retarded, I mean, Andre might be mentally retarded. Or I am, for watching it.
But the show wasn't over. Still enough time for Larry Murphy to present his Puppets N Such, his ventriloquism act that had everyone in stitches.
That's not a show I think you'll see anywhere else in this city, or any city. All after the intermission.
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.
If you're looking for something to do tonight in New York City, and think it might be a wee bit crowded at Rififi for night two of the Invite Them Up finale, then here are three shows to consider...
1) Sweet. Seth Herzog's weekly comedy showcase at The Slipper Room on the Lower East Side is one of the more unique experiences you can find, even among the myriad of offerings in New York City's comedy scene. Herzog exemplifies the term "host with the most." This guy gives audiences more material to chew on every Tuesday night than other hosts, and you never quite know what's going to come out of his mouth next. He might dress up as Wonder Woman. He might dance up a storm. He might ramble on. You just never know. You do know, however, that you'll get to hear him chat up his mother -- who has her own cadre of comedy fans. Think of David Letterman's TV routines with his mom back in the day, then add a heaping dose of Mama Herzog reality. Seth also grew up as childhood friends with Michael Showalter, so there's that to consider. And he has a mailing list and fan base that seems to include every performer in this city. On recent visits, I've spotted actresses Natalie Portman and Kristen Johnston in the audience. Herzog also has a sidekick/DJ by his side each week, which adds some ad-libbed banter and fun to the proceedings. Herzog's guests tonight include Michael Showalter, Laura Krafft and Kumail Nanjiani. He also has some surprise guests on the agenda. Oh, and if you know of any real-estate deals, please let Seth know. He needs to move out of his infamous spot.
2) Diamonds in the Fluff. Jamie Lee (day job, Comedy Central publicist; night job, stand-up comedian and show producer) launches a new monthly comedy benefit show at Hugs in Williamsburg, with all of the proceeds helping the Brooklyn Animal Rescue Coalition. Lee's guests tonight are Diana Saez, Eric Andre, Baron Vaughn, ventriloquist and musician Carla Rhodes.
3) And in the last, but certainly not least department, Gotham Comedy Club hosts a Bill Hicks tribute tonight. Hicks died 14 years ago today. Jesse Joyce will host, with live performances by Ted Alexandro and Greg Giraldo, recorded footage of Hicks -- including portions of a new documentary in the works by the BBC -- and a live Q-and-A with his only brother, Steve Hicks. It'll cost you $20 and two drinks, but the $20 goes to the Bill Hicks Foundation for Wildlife Rehabilitation.
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?
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.
Or a recap of other shows and stuff from Friday and Saturday at the 2007 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival
Colbert received his Person of the Year award from CNN's Jeff Greenfield, as they sat in front of a giant poster/mock magazine cover of Colbert as the Person of the Year with the subtitle: "Not you. Me." A good dig at Time. Also fitting for the Colbert character. He said this was his third time at the festival, but "this is the first time I've looked out at the front row and not seen everybody asleep!" I barely got in, and barely made it to the post-show press opp (my bad on both counts). Very funny and friendly guy. For those of you playing the home game, the Colbert Report writers come up with most of the “Word”s on Fridays, because it can take a while to write the backstory and explanation for each word. Some insightful comments on Bill O’Reilly and Barney Frank. Video tributes from his friends and colleagues. More to come on this in other forums that pay me. But the show was so packed, Colbert made time to give props to people stuck in the lobby.
Fat City Lounge
The title of this year’s late-night show at Aspen, where anyone and everyone can drop in for a few minutes of stage time. Friday night’s hosts Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter joked about the show’s musical theme and riffed on the Irish (hey!?). Charlyne Yi, who played an NBC page on a recent episode of 30 Rock, stepped up first with her guitar and rocked out to a song called "God knows I finished my whiskey." Hmmm. Sketch group Olde English followed with a sketch about the Fernberger family whose condo the troupers were staying at in Aspen, showing off the family's framed photos, posters, paintings, living room chair, track lighting and drapes. Apparently, the HBO folks weren't so happy about the sketch ending with the troupers simulating sex with said items. Either way, what made me enjoy it was not knowing whether the guys really did take these items from the condo or not. TastiSkank brought the funny with songs about "I heart dirty boys," "Hydrocodone," "Please manscape the area," "Oops, I f--ked you again" and "You're the worst sex I've ever had." Showalter had to take off to his other scheduled show, so Ian Black introduced a special guest, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (as played by UCB's Seth Morris) who read his open letter to Hollywood. Tim Minchin closed the show. In the first 30 seconds, I wasn't sure what to make of this Aussie as he air-drummed, air-guitared and lip-synched. But as soon as he sat down to the piano, everything changed. He can play. He can sing. And he can tell some wickedly perverse jokes. Anyone who can write a peace anthem for the Middle East is good in my book, even if I'm going to keep on eating pigs. So glad I decided to catch this show.
After watching the pilot for this new FOX sitcom that debuted Sunday night (twas funny in an outrageous way, although upon watching it and the second episode Sunday, I've decided that it's entirely due to Rob Corddry and Lenny Clarke), Spike Feresten moderated a panel discussion with creator Ricky Blitt, star Corddry and Seth MacFarlane. "It's sort of a Wonder Years starting at 32," Blitt said. MacFarlane joked about drinking so early in the day: "I drink because I'm comfortable being the only white person in this town." Corddry downplayed all of the roles that are coming his way in movies. "Those nine films, they're all like don't-blink roles," he said.
Best of the Fest Awards ceremony
Hosted by Jamie Kennedy, with presentations also made by Judith Light and William Baldwin. Deciding to sit with Shane Mauss and a guy from SuperDeluxe front row center turned out to be a wise decision, especially when Mauss won an award as the best stand-up of the fest (along with Kirk Fox, who got off one of the funniest ad-libs by saying, "William Baldwin's complaining he didn't win an award? He already won an award. He's not Daniel."). For his part, Baldwin kept cracking jokes, perhaps to let us know that he, like older brother Alec, is ready and willing to do sitcom work! At one point, though, Baldwin stopped to look out into the crowd and saw the fro of Eric Andre. Paraphrasing here, Baldwin shouted to Andre: "You were on fire last night. Do you remember? You crashed the party, holding a sled over your head as you shouted, 'Let's rub boners!'" Um. Yeah. I was there. I remember. But most people in the audience were merely weirded out. Afterward, the guys from Super Deluxe took Mauss, myself and Ben Kronberg out to dinner at La Cantina. Fun, quick Mexican meal, and then Mauss and I raced back to the Belly Up for his final showcase.
Group B: Andy Borowitz hosted this standing-room only stand-up showcase. Erik Charles Nielsen went first, and seemed less intense than the first night I'd seen him, mixing up his material a bit. But the audience wasn't quite ready for him, and his decision to back into an unlit corner of the stage during his closer didn't help, either. Alexandra McHale has some funny nutritional advice, but I had to make a note in my notepad to alert Gary Gulman that someone else is coming for his cookie jokes! Na'im Lynn must really have a problem around the holidays, though he seems nice enough. TJ Miller has so many characters in his act, I feel like I'm watching an audition for SNL. To which Dan Boulger asked, "What's wrong with that?" John Ramsey has so many sharp, solid, clever jokes that he must be introduced to Myq Kaplan to see if they'll either become fast friends or mortal enemies. A poop joke as Russian history? Seriously? Seriously funny. Shane Mauss, fresh off his festival win, got to close the show and was funnier than I'd ever seen him. He threw in some old jokes and some rare jokes. And he had the audience at his bidding.
The parties: The Sierra Mist Lounge in the St. Regis provided a fun and comfortable environment to kick back after the shows each night during the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, although it seemed better on its slower nights (Wednesday and Saturday) than on Thursday and Friday, when it got so packed you could barely move. Met some nice comics (Nick Swardson) and even some nice lawyers (Jeff B. Cohen, aka lawyer to the comics, aka Chunk!). A ping pong table and foosball. Dan Boulger thought he had a brush with Cheryl Hines. Only problem was that the parties ended too early, as the lights came up at about 1:45 each morning. Which invariably led to the afterparties.
The UCB "house" was where it was at each night. Seth Morris and the rest of the guys couldn't have been nicer. The basement hopped. Anyone and everyone would show up (see my earlier post about William Baldwin's party reference during the awards ceremony). And our small band of comedians and merrymakers bonded throughout the week, making for a four-day party. Only problem was that we'd have to shepherd each other back up the icy mountain to the condo.
The so-called "mansion," on the other hand, ugh. Took a lot of effort to get there, by car and by foot. And once there, it really was too large and anonymous to have any fun there. As we remarked to each other afterward, we could've had much more fun at the UCB place. Or even at our place.