I was more than tempted to write something whiny and petulant about the ECNY Awards, but then I saw Marc Maron in a Twitter "fight" today with one of his followers about the principle of paying for art (you should definitely pay for art, whether it's a podcast, a creative performance, or this very Website), and then I saw that Funny or Die had filmed a public service video with Heidi Montag (so they obviously are hard up for cash, because why, why, why), and then I saw even more people were following and media outlets were interviewing a 19-year-old that Conan O'Brien followed for no particular reason whatsoever on Twitter, so really, maybe this is just a lost cause. Anyhow. When I saw Gabe Delahaye a couple of weeks ago, I told him that his Videogum and its mighty minions would beat me handily for "Best Website," so I called it. Still. No matter how silly you think any awards are, when they announce them live and decide to nominate you, there's a moment right before the announcement when you get nervous, and moments afterward where they've announced someone else's name when you have to remind yourself that it's just a silly award. I'd much rather have a job that pays my rent and offers me health insurance, vacation and sick days. So if you have one of those, please consider hiring me? Thanks!
In the meantime, here are your 6th annual ECNY Awards winners...
Best Improv Group: I Eat Pandas
Best One Person Show: Supernormal – Tom Shillue
Best Website: Videogum.com
Best Host: Gabe Liedman, Jenny Slate and Max Silvestri
Best Book: Rejected: Tales of the Failed, Dumped and Canceled – Jon Friedman
Best Sketch Comedy Group: Murderfist
Best Technician: Carol Hartsell
Best Variety Show: Risk! True Tales Boldly Told
Outstanding Achievement in Postcard or Flyer Design: Fag Life: A Conversation with Fred Phelps – Mindy Tucker
Best Short Comedic Film: Everyone Poops Trailer – Landline TV
Emerging Comic Award: Myq Kaplan
Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Tweeting: @Lizzwinstead
Best Musical Comedy Act (Group or Solo): Snakes
Best Female Standup Comedian: Morgan Murphy
Best Male Standup Comedian: Hannibal Buress
I have plenty of other thoughts about the ECNY Awards, and comedy awards in general, but I'll save those for another time and place.
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.
Everyone has a different reason for coming to New York City to pursue a career in comedy. Just like regular people, some comedians arrive here with a gig already in hand. Morgan Murphy made the trek (back) last year to take a job as a writer for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. She's also up for an ECNY Award for best female stand-up comedian. I think she's very deserving of such honors and praise. Certainly you'd like to know more about her!
Name: Morgan Murphy
Arrival date: February something. 2009.
Arrived from: Los Angeles
When and where did you start performing comedy? Technically my first set was in the front room at the Gershwin Hotel in NYC (I was in the city doing an internship), during the summer of 2000. I think there were 3 people there. After the summer I went back to LA to start my sophomore year in college. That's when I started doing shows regularly.
What was your best credit before moving here? I spent a couple years writing on Jimmy Kimmel Live, but The Guys Choice Awards on Spike is pretty high up on the list.
Why did you pick NYC over LA or anywhere else? I had spent two years traveling, doing stand-up for pennies, and going to therapy. Basically, I lived off savings and don't regret it, but just when I figured I'd start working again, the guild went on strike, and then the country plummeted into economic ruin. When the fine folks at Late Night with Jimmy Fallon offered me a job writing jokes in exchange for money, I couldn't refuse. The job happened to be in New York, and that's why I'm here. Not to say I wouldn't have come here otherwise. I always wanted to try it out, mostly for the "abundance of stage time" I've read so much about in the brochures.
How long did it take to get your first paid gig in NYC after moving here? I settled into my job for a couple months, then went to clubs and introduced myself. It was intimidating. I spent about 9 years in LA doing stand-up and moving up the ladder or whatever you want to call it, so starting over seemed a little daunting. When I moved, I had friends here at some of the "alt" rooms, but I wanted to do clubs too. I basically introduced myself to bookers, and asked if I could showcase sometime...some said yes, some said "send me an e-mail" and then never got back to me. Stand-Up NY gave me a short showcase pretty quickly, "passed" me, and was the first club to give me a paid spot.
The Bentzen Ball opened its inaugural comedy festival in our nation's capital last night, and The Comic's Comic was there for what seemed like a flash (because I was only there for about as many hours as I actually spent on the bus back and forth between NYC and DC from yesterday afternoon to this morning). But there I was in the shadows alongside Kyle Kinane, enjoying Rory Scovel's "country bumpkin" act during the Patton Oswalt and Friends show that served as the ball's opening gala at DC's Lincoln Theatre. Did I say country bumpkin? Yes, I did.
I'm fairly sure few people in the audience knew what kind of a show they were getting from Scovel, who joked about needing to smoke pot to enjoy this summer's rash of 3D animated movies, about fulfilling the WWJD motto, and at one point, telling the audience: "This is like Christmas, but I'm eating it!" Oswalt may have been the big draw for opening night -- and certainly did his part closing with a 50-minute set that touched upon routines from his latest CD/DVD, as well as a few memories about his start in stand-up in D.C. clubs, plus a rant about the Christmas song, "Christmas Shoes." He also encouraged the crowd to check out many of the not-so "famous" comedians performing at this weekend's fest. Not that they had to go very far, for they got treated to sets from Kinane (he received prolonged spontaneous applause after his performance, which closed with an adventure in a Chicago public bathroom -- so no need for him to be consoled by one of the festival's organizers, Andy Wood, afterward (as pictured!)), Ian Edwards (who provoked them into rethinking their attitudes on race and sex, and even made them gasp during his closer), and sets by the more famous acts of Todd Barry and Mary Lynn Rasjkub, and host/curator Tig Notaro. For a full set of photos from last night, check out Dakota Fine's full collection courtesy of fest organizer Brightest Young Things.
I also checked out the late show at the Bohemian Caverns, which has a basement set up to look like a cave. Nice touch? Maybe, but the stage lighting was a bit off, and the upstairs had turned into a dance club, factors that made it tough for many of the performers Thursday night -- although Seth Herzog and Morgan Murphy both seemed to get the crowd's attention in a good way. The local comedians, meanwhile, were showcasing over at HR 57, and there was an open mic advertised at Ben's Chili Bowl, which I don't remember seeing when Barry, Herzog, Reggie Watts and I went over there to sample the local institution's Chili Half-Smoke (online, the menu says it's named after Bill Cosby!).
Oh, did I mention that the Question Mark Suit Guy (informercial guy Matthew Lesko) was there, opening the festivities with a horrible comedy sketch that he and DC Councilman Jim Graham planned out? You can see that and more in this short highlight reel I put together from my brief sojourn to DC:
Settle down, everybody. Late Night with Jimmy Fallon debuted on NBC overnight, and we already knew that the show's debut would bring in higher ratings (2.3 rating, 8 share in metered markets, compared to Conan's final season average of 1.7, according to the network -- full ratings info available Thursday), that Jimmy Fallon would be nervous, that the crowd would be excited, and that all late-night shows will evolve into something else over time (see: Conan, Kimmel, Ferguson). So, again I type, settle down, everybody. Your reviews are not helping anyone really. Although, in the name of truth-telling, it should be acknowledged that some casual viewers tune in to the debut of any show and make snap judgments about whether to become regular viewers. For them, and for you, some thoughts.
Cold Open: Perfect. Just perfect. Opening cold (just like SNL), viewers still expecting to see Conan O'Brien indeed saw Conan O'Brien, packing up his things in what is now Fallon's dressing room, to literally hand the show off to him. And they get to make a jab about the fact that Jay Leno is not leaving.
Monologue: Fallon managed to handle the hyper teen audience with some ad-libs, proving Lorne Michaels right for telling Fallon to spend much of 2008 on the road in comedy clubs to prepare for heckling and all sorts of nonsense like this. The jokes themselves had some moments, too (Disclosure: I know of and am a fan of some of Fallon's writers, and could pick out a couple of their selections), but things really got interesting when the monologue segued into...
Eugene Mirman has announced the planned lineups for his crazy-yet-true-because-it-is-Eugene-after-all comedy festival named for him, taking place Sept. 25-28 in Brooklyn. Mirman pretty much has it covered -- most of his usual and unusual suspects will appear over those four days and nights at two venues, Union Hall (where Mirman already hosts the popular Tearing the Veil of Maya showcase on Sundays with Michael Showalter in Park Slope) and The Bell House (a new joint the Union Hall folks are opening nearby).
Time Out NY playfully hinted at what a Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival might look like, with hints from Mirman himself.
Want to see who's scheduled to perform?
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.