Comedy Central's inaugural "Comics to Watch" showcase of new talents will be hosted by Christian Finnegan, with the spotlight put on the following stand-up comedians:
with special guest James Smith
The intent of "Comics to Watch" is for Comedy Central to show support for comedians who have not yet appeared prominently on the network, and showcase them to the rest of the industry. Many of them already have been featured in one way or another here on The Comic's Comic.
What do they say about New York City: There are eight million stories, and sometimes it seems as though eight million of the people telling them think they're comedians? No, that's not it. It is a fact, though, that America's biggest city is also its biggest comedy mecca. Hollywood may be Hollywood, but New York City is where comedians are born funny, become funny or arrive to thrust their funny upon us. I think we should meet some of these people. This is a new recurring feature, a mini-profile of newcomers, up-and-comers and overcomers of New York's vibrant comedy scene. It's called Meet Me In New York.
James Smith is one of my favorite people to talk comedy shop with, because he does not hold back his opinions about anybody. Why not get to know a little bit more about him. Before he was a comedian, Smith was a lawyer in Australia. Since moving here, he has appeared on Comedy Central's Live at Gotham, performed at Montreal's Just For Laughs, and even done a gig on the Mayercraft. Tonight, he headlines at Carolines as part of the club's weekly "Breakout Series."
Name: James Smith
Arrival date: March 9, 2005
Arrived from: Sydney, Australia
When and where did you start performing comedy? I started performing at a venue in Sydney called the Comedy Cellar, which no longer exists. It was there for a very short time. And simultaneously, I began performing at the Sydney Comedy Store, which is very much still there, and is probably the premier club in Australia, and that is certainly where I made my bones, came up, as it were, at the Comedy Store.
What was your best credit before moving here? My best credit before moving here would have been Rove Live, which is an Australian Tonight Show format, very successful show. And Tough Crowd (with Colin Quinn), which I managed to acquire before I moved here. So those two.
Why did you pick NYC over LA or anywhere else? I chose New York City over Los Angeles, having always had a desire to live in New York, and, extremely intrigued by the excitement of, and the 24-hour schedule that it runs on, so yes, the excitement of New York. It being the city that never sleeps. That sort of drew me to New York. In terms of comedy, it would definitely be the stage time and the comedy scene. There's just ample stage time here. The comedy scene flourishes here. There's really an abundance of venues, and too, I think the crowds here are some of the best crowds in the world. They're extremely engaged in the shows and they give you a good verdict on whether or not your material is funny. And I think they're really truly prepared to listen to whatever ideas you might be exploring. So they're very much up for it, as we would say in Australia. They're up for it. Or a more sophisticated way to say that it is they're certainly prepared to be engaged by any ideas whatsoever, and you can literally say anything to a New York audience and they will generally at least hear you out. They might not laugh, and they might not support you, but they will at least let you have your say. And they're connoisseurs. They're really good crowds here. They're very good crowds. They're comedy fans. Comedy enthusiasts. So for those reasons: the stage time, the excitement, 24-hour lifestyle and the crowds that you get here, the fully-engaged crowds, they really are a good barometer, they give great feedback. For those reasons I chose New York City over Los Angeles.
On my flight home to New York City, Virgin America carried the Fuse network which rebroadcast John Mayer's live concert from the Beacon Theatre, followed by an interview with the musician, Twitter fan and sometime stand-up comedian. There's shots of him onstage at the Comedy Cellar in his music video for "Who Says" as well as footage of his friend, Australian stand-up James Smith -- who also got an on-camera shout-out from Mayer during the NYC concert. Let's take a quick look at that, shall we?
Anyhow. During the Fuse interview, Mayer talks about going onstage as a comedian and how writing for that is similar/different to songwriting. Thought you'd be curious to see what he has to say about that. Roll the clip!
Just as ABC is refuting a report in today's New York Times that it may move Jimmy Kimmel a half-hour earlier into Nightline's spot, the late-night ABC news program just happened to devote a segment to stand-up comedy. What a delightful coincidence!
Nightline stopped by the Comedy Cellar, talked to Colin Quinn and broadcast economic jokes from Quinn, Jim Norton, James Smith and D.C. Benny, and also ventured over to Carolines to interview Mario Cantone. Suffice it to say, the premise is that when times are tough, people want to laugh. If ABC News would embed videos, you could see it here. Until then, click here to watch the Nightline "Economy of Comedy" report.
Most of the industry just got to Montreal, Just for Laughs still has four nights to go, but that's not stopping them from jump-starting and continuing to schedule a nightly showcase at Comedyworks as "Best of the Fest." How would they know? Was someone judging? These are rhetorical, moot questions, as this showcase isn't all that different from the continuing "Bubbling With Laughter" shows. Both feature professional stand-up comedians. Perhaps the Bubbling lineups have more veterans, perhaps the Best Of shows feature shorter 7-minute sets.
But perhaps James Smith put it best when he took to the stifling hot, sweaty, packed stage last night and looked around the room, exclaiming: "So this is where they hold the Best of the Fest!?" For the remainder of his set in the early show, Smith did what I've seen other comics do already -- namely, not tailor their sets for the Canadians in the audience, but toward the Hollywood and New York agents, managers and show-business types watching from the back of the club. Smith devoted his first set to the Democratic presidential campaign in America.
John Mulaney, likewise, had no problems beginning his routine with the description of an odd subway encounter he had...in Long Island City, Queens...following that up with his take on Law & Order (so ubiquitous on American TV screens, but do Canadians get to watch a gabillion episodes a day?), though it didn't matter since he sold the audience with his impressions of that show's stock supporting characters.
Host Ryan Stout opened the proceedings boldly, even saying at one point that he liked how the audience felt "laughter mixed with shame." It could also have been Stout's attempt to produce an American version of Jimmy Car, inadvertantly or not.
What else? Matt Kirshen had the audience wondering which of his British accents was supposed to be the "funny" one. Hannah Gadsby provoked many laughs through her explicit sexual truths. One audience member laughed often and loudly at just about every facial expression Sebastian Maniscalco made. And Erin Foley proved she could've held her own on this season's Last Comic Standing, even if her bit on a billboard advertising the wrongness of rape reminded me of having watched Ricky Gervais tell almost the same joke (not alleging any nefariousness, just pointing out the parallel thinking). Paul Foot, on the other hand, didn't quite impress with his rehashing about people who have "Baby On Board" signs on their automobiles. Maybe someone will challenge him on this week's LCS? Oh, what's that? Little birdy says yes.
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.
The 2008 season of Comedy Central's Live at Gotham debuts the Friday after Memorial Day. But why wait that long for some deep dish insider exclusive scuttlebutt? Especially when we got plenty of bits of tid to share just from swinging by the tapings on Saturday and Sunday at Gotham Comedy Club.
Let's get to it! First off, don't be surprised if many of the guys have a similar look. It's not a new fashion trend in stand-up comedy for the summer/fall runways -- it's a Comedy Central/Levity edict: No red, no patterns, no logos. Also, we learned that TV's standards and practices (read: the censors!) sometimes can actually make your jokes funnier. Matt McCarthy had to change one of his lines from "choke her to death" to "murder her to death" (see? funnier, right?) so it wouldn't sound as though he were endorsing domestic abuse. Baron Vaughn said he couldn't say "KKK.com" in a joke, but realized he didn't need to spell out the Web site for the joke to work. Vaughn noted that Patton Oswalt got a new six minutes out of one joke he had to change years ago for Comedy Central.
Vince Averill was more than just happy to be there. He only got the gig on Wednesday after another comedian couldn't fulfill his or her duties. From first alternate to TV credit. Congrats, Vince.
Lucas Molandes had a funny cover line when the audience didn't know how to react to his dreamcatcher joke: "Sorry I blew your minds with awesome!"
Joe List uses nervousness in his act, so even if he was nervous about his first TV taping, it wouldn't show, would it? Let's ask him, after he's done.
Sunday's final two show tapings had plenty of odd incidents, starting from the top when early show host D.L. Hughley walked offstage with the mic, leaving Paul Ogata wondering what to do. Fortunately, Ogata had a relevant bit at the ready and raring to go. Myq Kaplan blew plenty of minds with his awesomeness, earning multiple applause breaks and the attention of everyone downstairs in the lounge/green room. Very poised. Kaplan told me he had an even better set last week at a showcase for Eddie Brill -- if so, man, Kaplan is on his game. And he didn't let the cold/flu get in the way of delivering a shining performance that'll certainly get him industry attention. Hughley then got Liz Miele's name wrong even though they had the pronounciation in the teleprompter (they should clean that up later, right?) but she seemed unfazed. Shane Mauss, watching his fellow Bostonian Kaplan tear it up, announced he'd go up and get 12 applause breaks. He just might've done it, too. But what I remembered most about his set was seeing him have an "American Idol moment" when the camera panned across the stage and in close-up, Mauss gazed directly in the camera to deliver the set-up punch to his vegan coffee joke.
The biggest thing about the late show Sunday, other than Daniel Tosh and his strong hosting set, was the light show. As in, the lights failing multiple times, most notably during Matt Braunger's set. He was a trooper, though, even starting from the top a third time which must've been difficult considering he had a weary live TV audience to deal with (they can clean that up with his earlier takes, right?). The first time the lights went out on Braunger, without missing a beat, he broke into song: "When the lights...go down...in the city!" Tosh had to return to the stage. "The lights are overheating," he explained. "Which is really good for comedy." During one such break, he exclaimed: "Let's do jokes that won't air. Do you know who loves to get fisted? Sock puppets."
Mary Mack was very nice and funny and you can join us in her writers club, as soon as I find it.
Raj Desai and Anjelah Johnson were both so fun to talk to during the afterparty that I wished I'd seen their Gotham sets earlier last week. James Smith told me he forgot one joke in his set, but I told him not to worry...he can tell it during his next TV apperance! The afterparty brought out most of the comedians who performed during the weekend, plus their friends and plenty of other New York comics. Good times. On a Sunday, even.
Related: Paul Ogata shares his Gotham experience with the folks at Shecky. The Live at Gotham site.
Let's try this again. This time, we caught up with Australian comedian James Smith, about to take the stage at the Comedy Cellar. Only Smith no longer had the long locks we'd come to know him by. What's up with that? Smith responds.
The lighting is better. Don't know what I was thinking artistically with the camera tilt. Maybe I was just trying to get his whole frame in the shot? Just maybe. That stairwell can get a bit cramped, you know.