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.
In which the author attempts, despite repeated crashes of his laptop computer, to briefly describe the shows he saw Thursday at the 2007 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.
Summer of Tears
Southern California sketch troupe mixed it up with videos. One took political TV ads and made the candidates potential boyfriends. Another looked at a botched submission for “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” And a third crudely wondered what really happened during Johnny Cash’s final recording sessions. Lots of sexual material. The troupe made use of one member’s uncanny Matthew McConaughey to good effect, but as my friend suggested, they might’ve wanted to put that sketch last. Later sketches only reminded us how much the guy sounds like him. Odd. Still funny.
Pete & Brian’s One Man Show
Pete is Peter Karinen. Brian is Brian Sacca. Together, they’re funny in a comfortably awkward way. Wait. Let me rephrase that. They’re comfortable in their awkwardness. Which makes their “one-man show” work. Their opening and closing sequences are simple yet creative. Much like their use of T-shirts to identify the various characters in their show.
“The General” with The Alloy Orchestra
A classic silent film by one of the great physical comedians, Buster Keaton, set to live music by Cambridge’s own Alloy Orchestra. Yes, the guy delivering the intro may have said that the orchestra has been in residence at the Telluride Film Festival for 15 years, but Roger, Terry and Ken are based in Cambridge, Mass. If you haven’t yet seen this movie, you must. It’s brilliant. Keaton is full of wonderful ideas and is a master of execution in delivering the funny without saying a word. And if you see this movie, I suggest you see it with the Alloy Orchestra. Their score is on the money. Hearing it live makes you forget you’re watching a “silent” movie. I only wish more people filled the seats at the Wheeler Opera House for it.
Michael Showalter, Mary Lynn Rajskub, John Oliver
Showalter’s 15-minute set includes much I’d seen before, including his musical selections of songs he’s no longer guilty of loving. It goes over much better in the clubs than in Aspen, mostly because the crowd here is, well, not quite as hip. They do seem to know the show “24,” though, as Rajskub poked fun at her alternate reality as Chloe. Oliver deserved to go last. His set showed he could tap into the local oddities that make up both Aspen and the festival, and he swiftly put a heckler in her place. “I’m guessing you’re not in comedy,” he said. “You smack of privileged local.”
Wright showed a more animated and feisty side last night than I’d seen in a while. He tried to deny it later, but bits such as his “Indian midget” joke or his routine about having a son certainly don’t sound or feel like the Steven Wright most people remember. Regardless, the audience lapped up Wright’s hourlong set. For good reason. He began with material familiar to those who’ve seen “When the Leaves Blow Away,” his 2006 Comedy Central special. But midway through, Wright started opening up. No, really. He’d bounce around the stage. He’d laugh. He’d throw his hands in the air. He’d look to the wings. As my friend and fellow Boston comic Shane Mauss noted during the set, “He looks like he’s having more fun.” Good for him and us both.
Host Eddie Pence brought an oddly low-key vibe to this midnight show. The audience brought an even odder vibe. A woman off to the side routinely shouted out, not quite heckling in a traditional sense, but still bothersome. Lisa deLarios went up first, and fared well despite her slot in the order. Taking what might be a typical relationship joke and shifting it to her dog was funny. Her bit about shopping at thrift stores -- “A onesie for grownups?” -- was very funny. Next up, Dan Mintz. Mintz seemingly stared into space while telling jokes he certainly didn’t tell during his appearance on “Premium Blend.” Young Chris Fleming (we go with a title of young when the performer isn’t old enough to drink in Aspen) had a slightly difficult time connecting with this audience, and it showed. Better luck next time. Michael Kosta: Air high fives. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. But it works for him. Ian Bagg had no trouble at all connecting with the audience, and finally brought some energy to this show. “My career’s going nowhere after this,” Bagg said. Let’s hope that’s not the case.