Something felt a little different this Labor Day weekend. What could it have been? Oh, that's right. The Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. When I was a kid in Connecticut, the telethon aired on the most popular station (WFSB, Ch. 3) and without cable, it was the only thing on for Labor Day. Now, of course, we've got plenty of distractions and in NYC, the telethon airs on Ch. 9 and I almost forgot it even happened. Thank goodness for Internets. Because someone named "rkoisgod2009" recorded and uploaded this masterpiece of cuchi cuchi ("cougar" edition), and, words are failing even me right now. I got to meet Charo two decades ago. To think she is not only capable of doing this on TV, but willing to do this on TV, is amazing. Funny for all of the right (and all of the wrong) reasons. If we all give to the MDA now, will they promise to bring Charo back next year?
There was some actual comedy on the show, too. I think. After the jump, a video from Ralphie May backstage at the telethon, telling viewers why he helps out Jerry's kids, plus a segment from the 1990s with Jerry Lewis telling Jerry Seinfeld how to make his sitcom better. Did he follow the advice? Would you?
Before I get to my review of Cheech & Chong: Roasted, the TV show that'll air on TBS at 10 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 30 -- and the TV taping over the weekend at Caesars Palace was a mess from start to finish thanks to production snafus, delays, and some awful attempts at roasting -- let's meet our roast victims, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, the pioneering stoner comics of the 1970s who have reunited after many years apart.
So yes, they're happy to be together again and touring with a live show. But what about the roast, which is sure to test the TBS editing crew?
Things I learned from watching the TV taping of Cheech & Chong: Roasted...
Variety magazine named its "10 Comics to Watch" for 2008 and wrote up profiles on each of them this week. Their choices? Read what they have to say about Russell Brand, Brandon T. Jackson, Anthony Jeselnik, Jon LaJoie, Ralphie May, TJ Miller, Jay Phillips, John Mulaney, Paul Rust, Casey Wilson.
Let's assess. John Mulaney, I've had the privilege to see him several times since moving to New York City, and every time, he slays. This kid, and really, he's still only four years out of college (the same time I finally dipped my toes into professional stand-up comedy) and already so masterful and such a stage presence, it's amazing. He's a writer for Demetri Martin's upcoming Comedy Central sketch show, and he'll tape his own half-hour Comedy Central Presents at the end of the summer. Big fan of Mulaney, I am. Not that I'm a comedy Yoda just yet.
Anthony Jeselnik is a great joke writer. Sometimes a bit dark (a bit?). But yes, keep an eye on this fella. Also getting his Comedy Central Presents this year.
Time Out London named Russell Brand U.K. Comedian of the Year, and he chewed up the scenery in his movie debut this year in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and I'll have much more to say about Brand next week when we meet up in Montreal.
Casey Wilson, well, already has a big "watch me" sign on her as the newest member of Saturday Night Live, joining the cast after the Writers Guild strike this spring. It'll be more than interesting to see what role she gets to play this fall.
When I saw T.J. Miller last year in Aspen, I knew he'd be on TV very soon, and he was the best thing about the short-lived ABC sitcom Carpoolers. But I don't care how much he jokes about it, the caps of the ketchup bottles are the feet. They just are.
Paul Rust works in the Los Angeles, and I saw him last fall doing sketch work in Vegas at The Comedy Festival. I can see how you'd want to keep an eye on him.
Ralphie May: Shouldn't he have been the one to watch in 2003 when he was working on TV projects with Jay Mohr and getting submarined by Dat Phan on the original Last Comic Standing? Curious.
I'm not that familiar with Brandon T. Jackson, because he's a kid and I'm not, but he'll be in the cast of Tropic Thunder, so, OK. Jon LaJoie? Huh? Don't know what to say about Jay Phillips, but I need to get out more (no, I don't). Fine. I'll see you all in Montreal!
A columnist at the Minneapolis Star Tribune weighed in today on the reality behind "reality" TV show Last Comic Standing, which begins its sixth season on May 22. That's right. The sixth season. A little late for a journalist to get around to figuring out what's really going on with the show. Especially since we already knew from the very beginning that NBC casts this as a TV show, and not as a search for the funniest stand-up comedian. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The funniest comedians don't need Last Comic Standing, because they already have enough exposure and certainly don't want to have to compete against each other (though that still would make for a very intriguing show), so this is more aptly thought of as the Search For The Next Comedian We Can Turn Into A Household Name, Or At Least Make Some Money From Them. Producers always have the first and last say on who made the cut each season. And all of those thousands of wannabes who stood in lines for hours each winter would see that the only times their linemates made the TV show were to be made fun of -- for all of the comedians with agents and managers bypassed the open call lines for timed auditions. This is and always has been the case.
We can start at the very beginning, in summer 2003, with host Jay Mohr and that first season's runner-up, Ralphie May. Anyone who had seen Mohr in a comedy club the previous year or on TV had also likely seen May, because the "contestant" toured with Mohr as his opening act and worked with him on his short-lived Mohr Sports on ESPN in 2002. Mohr's other opening act, K.P. Anderson, and his traveling friend, Walter Gause, also served as writers and producers on both Mohr Sports and the initial Mohr-hosted seasons of LCS. Which may put Dat Phan's surprise win into a different context for you. Or not.
Either way, Barry Katz has managed Mohr and several of the LCS contestants over the years, all while running the show. So there's that to keep in mind.
In the second season, when comedians and the industry realized that the show was enough of a hit to actually mean something for their careers, many more turned out to compete. And the small print that tells "astute viewers" of the power of the producers actually made it into the televised footage when celebrity judges Drew Carey and Brett Butler complained when their picks (including Dan Naturman) didn't make it into the LCS finalist house.
The third season, albeit bungled in the end by behind-the-scenes politics at NBC that sidetracked the finale, simultaneously revealed a great perk of prime-time TV, as the comedians began touring clubs across the country during the season in groups of three or more, and producers realized they could package tours for LCS comics. This practice continued in the fall and winter after season four, and then season five saw the final five LCS comedians get a national club and theater tour.
So we all should know the drill by now. Any professional comedian knows to weigh the potential cons (getting yelled at by a celebrity judge or edited to look like a villain) against the much bigger potential benefits (getting promoted from a club feature or showcase comedian to a national headliner, along with the elevated profile and merchandise sales and TV/film opportunities that come to anyone with prolonged exposure on prime-time network television) of trying out for Last Comic Standing. And that's why, each season, if you look closely during each city's callback audition performance shows, you'll be surprised at the veteran headlining talent that appears among the faces waiting for their names to be called from the stage.
But from the beginning to now, it's never simply been about finding the funniest comedian around. It's been about making a TV show that people want to watch and talk about the next morning (and now blog about). And that's just the reality of it.
Less than one week before a new crop of comedians get to add a Comedy Central TV credit to their bios as Live At Gotham tapes next week at Gotham Comedy Club. I'll have more info on who's performing when later. For now, though, I can tell you who'll be your hosts for the evenings.