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.
Myq Kaplan and Micah Sherman opened both shows at last weekend's inaugural AltCom fest in Somerville, Mass., with their harmonious rendition of the Comedians National Anthem. Here's how it looked and sounded from the wings Saturday night. Enjoy. Oh, it's also NSFW. Unless you're NBC's NYC news anchor Sue Simmons. Of course.
The second and final night of AltCom saw a packed crowd of enthusiastic comedy fans at the Somerville Theatre on Saturday night. Certainly more of a buzz in the air. Then again, in comedy clubs across the country, 8 p.m. Saturday is considered the sweet spot for audiences, because those customers tend to have circled the date on their calendars, get all dolled up and are more than ready to laugh. So it was this night, too. More than a few in the crowd appeared to have arrived specifically to see headliner Patton Oswalt.
Boston-based comedians Myq Kaplan and Micah Sherman again opened with their warmly received rendition of the "Comedians National Anthem." But Saturday's show certainly had an unusual flow to it in terms of energy and material.
The Walsh Brothers, raised in nearby Charlestown but recently relocated to Los Angeles, got things going with an early gag on a seating upgrade for the fan with the worst seat in the house (Q-16?), inviting a young lady named Denise to come downstairs -- not to the front row, but to a chair Dave and Chris Walsh put onstage next to them. (Spoiler alert: Denise actually was local comedian and friend of the Walshes, Renata Tutko) The brothers then began by talking about their new neighborhood in Los Angeles, remarking on all the men who happened to be really good at dressing up as ladies. "Fool me once, shame on me," David said. "Fool me twice? (pause) You're good!" But what they really wanted to talk about -- and these brothers are known stylistically for their storytelling banter -- was something closer to home: The Fung Wah bus company. Ah, the Fung Wah. I've heard them talk about the Fung Wah more than once, and in fact, once called up David one noontime to tell him to turn on the local TV news when a bus had careened into a Mass Pike toll booth. This time, their story included a flourish I hadn't heard, though, about the idea to turn the Fung Wah into an amusement ride with special harnesses, having the bus hurtle down the Pike at 150 mph and then have the walls and the floor disappear. That'd be a way to get to NYC, I tells ya. The Walshes also got to close with their elaborate ad pitch for the Fung Wah, complete with a rockin' theme song backed by local band (and Walsh Brothers friendlies) The Grown-Up Noise. Playing it down the road in the basement at Jimmy Tingle's former theater is one thing, but on the big stage in front of 900 fans turns it into quite the production.
Which made the transition to Morgan Murphy more than slightly jarring. After a few minutes, though, Murphy got the audience adjusted to her pace and energy, and they were completely onboard with her proposal to do away with all of the pre-existing holidays and replace them with 12 Halloweens. Hard to believe, but Murphy flew all the way from Los Angeles on Saturday just for this show, then departed for her return Sunday morning. She deserves a prize for that. I don't know if they also give out prizes for ending your set with the word "cuntface," but it works for her!
Jim Jeffries followed and quickly ramped the energy in the room back up past 11. The "unhealthy Australian" who seems healthier by living in England proceeded to school the audience as to why kids should be exposed to pornography at an early age, why nondrinkers are boring people who should not be listened to, and why he'll end up being a TV spokesman for penis cancer. That last story, by the way, as colorfully told as it was, ended with a lengthy applause break from the audience. Perhaps sitting on the floor to tell part of the story helped soften the blow of some of his material. He's a charming bloke, that's for sure, so even if he's talking filth, it mostly goes over easy. So Jeffries wanted to reward these fans by closing his set with, as he put it, "my signature filth." Good luck following that!
Of course, Patton Oswalt would not need any luck headlining the showcase. He had fans in the crowd there to see him and clap loudly at any mention of a word that sounded like a previous bit. He opened topically with a tale reportedly from the night before in New York City, when he had a waiter tell him, "Have fun with that salad!" That led Oswalt into a routine about his current physical condition. Then, perhaps in an act of defiance against the nature of "alternative comedy" itself, he spent the next several minutes talking about flying on airplanes, and specifically, about JetBlue. It was funny enough. But still. Hmmm. I didn't get a chance to ask him about this afterward. In the meantime, Oswalt moved on to funny observations about the James Bond music and the inappropriate nature of his own real-life Bond experience involving a restaurant bathroom. I told you it was inappropriate. He then went current again by talking about the recent death of his grandmother, and how, leaving only one of his grandparents alive, whether it makes his grandmother Oswalt the "Highlander" of the family. Oswalt offered a look ahead at the 2008 presidential election, condensed into a four-second shouting match between his Egyptian cab driver and a black pedestrian. A long discourse about being an atheist but loving religion for all that it's given us over the centuries was followed, oddly, by an observation about self-checkout grocery stations. It was a set that went all over the place, but delivered to an audience that was willing to go anywhere Oswalt wanted to lead them. He acknowledged that getting interviewed by kids for last year's hit movie Ratatouille unnerved him deeply. He offered a delightully macabre vision of the birds and the bees as told by the oldest couple to reproduce, and then, by request, did his best Daniel Plainview impersonation from There Will Be Blood, putting the character played by Daniel Day-Lewis into all sorts of other occupations (and telling the audience that he'd love to have had his former job back writing for MADtv just so he could pitch this sketch). Oswalt closed his almost hourlong set by calling back and updating his now famous routine on the KFC Famous Bowl (related: he wrote about actually eating one earlier this year) with thoughts on how the bowl now includes a biscuit and the dangers of the newest test product, the MegaLeg.
Known friend of comedy Aimee Mann congratulated the comedians backstage (she happened to be in the neighborhood following her in-store performance at First Act Guitars in Boston), and Friday's performers such as Emo Philips and doktor cocacolamcdonalds also hung out, at least for the show. Afterward, Philips, Oswalt and Murphy all looked for a cab back to their hotels, while the rest of the crew took over the downstairs lounge at Redbones to celebrate the end of the inaugural festival. AltCom founder Brian Joyce beamed and talked of plans for next year. Jeffries said he'd just finished a long tour and was ready to get back home. Which reminds me, it's time for me to get back to the city, 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.
What happens when you look over your handwritten notes a year later? Let's find out as we jog our memories on the 2007 Del Close Marathon, held over the last weekend in July...
Satellites: Oh, this was a fun way to start my Del Close Marathon in 2007, as Ed Helms, Rob Riggle and Jason Sudeikis got themselves all excited about going to another Dave Matthews Band concert. They got nostalgic (Riggle claimed this would be his 217th DMB concert experience), interacted with fans (as in, audience members) and Sudeikis proved his chops playing multiple parts in this half-hour improvised set, including a drug dealer in Detroit and a driver to a show in Miami.
Bro'in Out: With Leo Allen and Seth Morris co-hosting, and guests played by Matt Walsh, Ed Helms, and Matt Besser, among others, with Besser playing the role of MySpace's founder, Tom. "A lot of people don't want to be friends based on first impressions of their voice," said Besser as Tom, who continued to hold the MySpace Tom pose throughout the show. "I have a deformed spine that doesn't allow me to face forward."
Chuckle Sandwich: This Chicago-based quartet opened with a song, and showed why T.J. Miller would soon go on to bigger things. Micah Sherman also showed a bunch of energy at this midnight show.
The Smartest Panel of Experts in the Universe Ever: My notes on this are messy, and as I recall, this show was messy, too, and Horatio Sanz was in it. I wrote immediately after this that the UCB theater really cleared out afterward, which made things tough on the show that followed, the low-energy Bastards Inc. Directors Commentary LIVE came next and took on "Dirty Dancing," with players taking on roles as cast and crew from this 1980s movie, and the show completely lost control about halfway through as the players went to greater lengths to one-up each other in their risque comments.
I returned on Saturday afternoon in time to see I Eat Pandas earn a standing ovation at 5:30 p.m. My $20 wristband got me into most shows, but it'd take another $10 to get me a guaranteed seat over at the FIT for the Daily Show/Colbert Report Improv Jam (only about 20 people from the stand-by line got in) as Riggle, John Oliver, Ed Helms and several Colbert writers, including Laura Krafft, took audience suggestions. The first one? Iraq?! "I should probably jump into this one," Riggle said. "Because you're a Marine," another player said. "Everything about Iraq is hilarious," offered Helms. "That guy (pointing to the audience member) should be forced to do 10 minutes on Iraq right now." But they ran with the suggestion and got many laughs. They also played off of a military group that attended a Chicago improv show, and imagined a group of St. Olaf and Carleton College students facing off at the town's only bar.
Arrived back at the UCB to see the end of Ian Roberts' Lazy Man show, followed by the iO Chicago team of Washington Generals, who seemed to be led, at least on this night, by a guy I'd seen earlier in Chuckle Sandwich. According to Jim came next, and no, not about the ABC-TV sitcom with Jim Belushi, but rather Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland, and Matt Walsh played Gary Sheffield, and I had to write how one woman in the audience remarked, "It's so ridiculous." Yes, and in improv, ridiculous is usually a good thing. They stopped the show seven minutes early for a Q&A with the audience which just got weirder. Pass the Mic was billed as improvised stand-up, and it seemed more like improvised monologues. As Leo Allen noted at one point, "For anyone onstage, your constant writing is horrible." The show turned out to be a bit of a misnomer, as each player told true and funny stories from his or her childhood, building off of the previous player's story. No one even used the actual audience suggestion of hurdles, by the way. BirdDog, from Chicago, seemed more style than substance, although they also seemed to adhere more to the style of Del Close in doing so, which made it apt. And they did make good use of the mic for a talent show. C,C,+C Improv Factory drew consistently big laughs with quick quips. Cracked Out (Jon Daly and Brett Gelman) got the place more than standing room only and laughing. "There's no booing in improv hip-hop!" Derrick smartly recognized the funny nature of quick flashbacks. Match Game 76 had so many "celebs" onstage, including Paul Scheer as the late Gene Rayburn, Jack McBrayer, Ed Helms (as Mark Spitz), and so many others, that it was hard for anyone to follow -- just sit back and watch the madness unfold. If you're going to follow Match Game, getting the audience's attention with Mexican wrestling masks and attitude might just have done the trick for Senor Bueno. Pajama Jammy Jam spun off from Houseparty with one of the guys from Derrick playing Play from Kid and Play. Oh, Hello, led by John Mulaney, played up the shtick of Upper West Siders trying improv. Drunken Sonic Assault, hosted by Walsh and Besser, hit two out of three targets in their name. A weird Thanksgiving dinner played out next onstage, with Jackie Clarke, Riggle, Rob Huebel, Viking brothers, ghosts and a guy with his balls out named Balls Larry. The program tells me this show was called 2 Gays and a Lez with a Baseball Cap. My Left Fuck You was four guys with laptops using voice software. At 4:15 a.m. on a Sunday. Scheer re-emerged as Darth Vader for Star Wars Bounty Hunter Prov. Things got too weird for words in the next two early morning shows, Nicolas Cage Match and Dane Cookin It Up, with several comedians impersonating the two actors. It's no wonder my notes ended here.
The Globe misses the story about the new D'Angelo's TV ads with David Ortiz. That's not "a talking sandwich." That steak and cheese is comedian Micah Sherman. No wonder Big Papi kept cracking up on camera. Funny stuff, Micah. Funny stuff.
UPDATED: Thanks to Adam, Mr. Universal Hub, for reminding me to include the video!