Shane Mauss was on Conan last night, too.
Mauss explained why you should be able to buy grenades instead of guns, and maintained his streak of consecutive mentions of his girlfriend by name on national TV appearances (hi Maggie!). They live in Austin, so if you're at SXSW, please say hi! It's the friendly thing to do. I know I will.
Roll the clip.
If you wonder, what good is it to try out for Last Comic Standing if you're not going to make it to the finals, well, I've noticed that a few of the semifinalists already have cashed in with new late-night TV credits -- Kurt Metzger did Fallon a couple of weeks ago, Mike Vecchione is on Leno this week, and last night, Shane Mauss had a set on Jimmy Kimmel Live. But what's with the 1980s-era cliche brick wall comedy boom makeshift club stage that Kimmel's staff has set up here? I know at heart it's more about the corporate beer sponsorship, but still, a little distracting to see Mauss (or anyone) perform in front of cardboard walls faked to look like cliche brick. The spotlight also makes the lighting weird.
While I continue to mutter to myself like the old man I am becoming, you sit back and watch the clip. Mauss manages to get in another joke on TV at the expense of his real-life girlfriend. The streak is alive! Roll it.
Someone decided it was hot enough in here to buy some ice cream treats, stay home, and get giggly with it tonight. OK. Fine. It was so hot in NYC today that my brain obviously isn't working, so maybe the mush of the TV will make everything right in the world again. Either that, or Craig Robinson and a kitty cat will tell me it's time for the first part of the semifinals of season seven of NBC's Last Comic Standing. Finally we're getting somewhere. UPDATED: Now with video clips!
Are you ready for your first semifinalist, Myq Kaplan? I put the comma in the wrong place there, because he is more than ready, he is already done because this was a taped performance. Don't call in with your votes just yet. Kaplan is feeling bookish this evening, telling us about books, movies, and movies about books. Kaplan also is the first, at least if we're presuming they haven't edited the placement here, to have to deal with the hyped-up live audience at the Alex Theater in Glendale, Calif. Judges Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Andy Kindler all have nice things to say about Myq Kaplan. Kindler says Kaplan "absolutely killed" which means he lost the pool? "I can't think of a funnier line in comedy than Brad Pitt is in this book." And we're getting judges notes, as if it really is going to be the American Idol version of LCS. Then again, we did hear judges give notes to comedians during the semis in previous seasons, so maybe it's just time for a commercial break. Any predictions? I have one!
Jamie Lee is up next, and she admits backstage that she is terrified about being seen by millions on the TV. Too late! You're on TV! Lee gets whoops from audience members when she says she's originally from Texas, but wants to joke about her model roommate in NYC. Lee also mentions dating a comedian, and knowing it's bad when even their inside jokes were bombing. (Note: Lee already has told me that her jokes about her comedian ex are not really about her comedian ex, for those of you who were thinking about someone specific just then). Leggero says Lee has "huge potential," while Giraldo says it wasn't her best set. Based on these notes, you could swap them out with Idol, couldn't you? You could. You could.
Mike DeStefano wants to be so good, the audience sets the place on fire. I'm not sure that would actually be a good thing, but it makes for a soundbite. DeStefano jokes about how everyone in his neighborhood was Italian, including the old Chinese guy and the young black kid. Did you know that Italians shrink and get mean when they get old? This audience is so hot, they're hooting and handing out applause breaks for everything. DeStefano keeps saying "thank you, thank you" like a politician trying to get back to his stump speech. Because he wants you to know how he deals with pretty ladies. Kindler finds him "hilarious" and could not criticize any portion of his set. "And you have screamers," Leggero added. She asks about his Jesus tattoo, and DeStefano corrects her: "It's Jim Caviezel."
And so it begins again. Two years since we last left NBC's Last Comic Standing with an abrupt five-person finale, the show has returned to us, reborn with a new host (Craig Robinson), new judges (Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo) and a new promise to focus firmly and seriously on the business of comedy. Do they mean it this time?
For one thing, it's more than entirely possible that we already have seen this year's winner on TV before. By we, I mean the collective we and not just the you and me we, although that's also true -- Oui! Oui! -- because by taking comedy seriously, the producers already have made it clear that even though all of our contestants could be called up-and-coming and even aspiring, they are by no means rookies. When LCS first hit network TV in 2002 as comedy's version of American Idol meets Survivor, the bounty of a televised stand-up comedy special and development deal meant so much more for the field of participants. In 2010, so many more half-hour specials, late-night slots and cable showcases have given stand-ups a chance to grab a TV credit or two or more. So much so that as we, in real-time, already have our 10 finalists, we know that many of them are in this game for a lot more than a half-hour TV special. They're here for primetime network TV exposure on a regular weekly basis, the national theater tour that's sure to follow for the final five, and fame, fortune.
But first. We open Craig Robinson playing the keyboard and singing about the show's return, to reveal the Hollywood Improv and contestants behind him, as we saw in one of last week's teaser videos. Then we get the first montage of our judges as well as many quick looks at comedians, including a sneak peek at a naked Andy Ofiesh. Andy Ofiesh! Each of the judges gets an introduction, which is nice and also weird since they are peers or idols of the contestants. Giraldo gets a clip from his 2009 DVD special, while Leggero gets meta with a clip mocking reality TV competitions from Leno, and Kindler is even more meta as Robinson specifically credits Kindler for "The Hack's Handbook."
Our first contestant featured at the Hollywood Improv is Maronzio Vance. He says he auditioned way back in season two, and his first joke is about the woes of living in a studio apartment. Kindler gives him props for playing to the production crew, and they go at it. "We will see you tonight!" Kindler says. We will see him again, yes indeed. Our second featured contestant is Felipe Esparza, who shows us his apartment and friends in Los Angeles before we see him telling jokes. "What do you guys think? More? Less?" Giraldo says he knows how funny Esparza is, but thinks his audition set didn't showcase him fully, and he makes it to the night showcase despite getting a no from Leggero. "These guys pushed you through," she says. How far will they push him through, you may be asking?
And then there's a guy with a guitar and a red devil outfit. He wants to call himself my professional clown name, so even before the judges say no, I say NO! A KISS something or other. Other nuts. A guy who opened by saying, "No joke." Interviews with the longshots standing on the sidewalk for hours, with Robinson telling them eternal truths such as NBC giving the prize to Jay Leno.
And we're back to actual comedians, with Kirk Fox. We saw him in a teaser video, too, although here we see him surrendering during his routine. No surrender, though! He makes it through to the night showcase.
Our next featured contestant is Laurie Kilmartin, whom I think of as a NYC comedian but is listed here as a Walnut Creek, Calif., resident, showing us her new home with her son, talking about being a single mom and stand-up comedian. Now here she is onstage joking. And the judges like what they see. Hmmm. We are less than 20 minutes into the show, and already this much good news? They are trying to win us over early, it appears.
In the first running non-sequitur bit of the series, Giraldo sets up Kindler by giving him more time to come up with wardrobe suggestions for Kilmartin (whom, fun fact, seemed to wear the same outfit in her backstage and onstage appearances; and even funner factor, has been someone I knew about from when I first started in comedy in Seattle in the 1990s because her headshot stood out from the others along the wall of the Comedy Underground), and then we see him testing the confidences of several other comedians, starting with Renee Gauthier (in an unbilled cameo) and going through several others. "I want you to wear your hair up AND down," he tells one woman.
It was such a joy to witness firsthand when stand-up comedian Shane Mauss earned his first big break three years ago this month. You can see some of the evidence here when I celebrated with Mauss and friends after his first Conan taping in March 2007, and the subsequent piece I wrote for the Boston Phoenix about his wild ride from low-to-no paying gigs in Boston to Aspen, HBO and NBC.
When he signed with an agent and manager, he started hitting the road. As a headliner. It could have daunting. Perhaps too much, too soon.
Cut to present-day, when his first half-hour Comedy Central Presents special is airing, mere days after his first full-length CD has dropped on the Comedy Central Records label, called "Jokes to Make My Parents Proud." And I'm very happy to say that Mauss still warrants the plaudits and attention. This clip from his special includes the bit that opens his disc, about a freak accident at a Six Flags amusement park. Roll it.
Even when he was a virtual unknown in Boston, though, Mauss took the craft of joke-writing very seriously, if also perversely. The title, after all, is his acknowledgment during the set that his decision to talk about how drunk he gets, how he pushes buttons with the FCC, and tries to talk his girlfriend into having "butt sex" isn't exactly how his Wisconsin family may have hoped their son would make his comedy debut.
As he explains on track #6, in which he has to dictate one of his Conan sets over the phone to an NBC censor: "The FCC lady -- little bit of a cunt." Pause for laughs. Beat. "But try calling her that. She has a little buzzer there. It doesn't work." He pokes fun at the idea of debating a censor over made-up words such as "gaytarded" and "faggert." Continuing into the next track, there's an unfortunate -- or is it insightful -- reference to his planned but never-completed return to Conan for the earlier Tonight Show (Mauss was supposed to be on this month). Mauss shares the info he learned from NBC about what wouldn't even fly in the 11:30/10:30 hour. "That is for CD only!" he concludes.
Sometimes, the main difference between stand-up comedy on HBO and stand-up comedy on Showtime seems to be that HBO lets you know it's coming. Their promotional efforts are everywhere. Showtime, you blink, you may miss it. Which is my way of saying a new comedy showcase began last week on Showtime called Comics Without Borders, hosted by Russell Peters. With Peters attached, the first instinct is to think this will feature an array of comics from other lands to get their proper introduction to American audiences. But the show takes the other interpretation, that here, the comedy can and will go anywhere. No borders.
On last week's debut (available On Demand), Peters told the audience at El Portal in Hollywood that his show will put a spotlight on comedians who need to be on TV more, regardless of their past experience. Unlike other half-hour comedy showcases, Comics Without Borders actually gives each stand-up enough time for audiences (both live and at home) to get to know them, preceded by a minute or two backstage introduction in which the comic just talks. In other words, two comics per half-hour instead of three, four or sometimes even five. In the debut: Justin Worsham from Modesto, Calif., and Dean Edwards from Brooklyn, NY. For Worsham, this was his TV debut, and he joked about babies, what parents do to their toddlers, and how he and his wife interact and sleep. Edwards had a short stint on SNL. In his return to television, he didn't mind dishing on the differences between Eddie Murphy and his brother, Charlie, poking fun at Charlie's need to share "true Hollywood stories," as well as impersonations of Jay-Z and Denzel Washington. Almost to remind you that SNL could've used him better when they had him (or take him back if they'd like).
Comics Without Borders airs at 10 p.m. Thursdays on Showtime.
Eight finalists have made it to tonight to compete for nice prize money and who knows what other rewards at the inaugural Great American Comedy Festival. And they are...
Erin Jackson, Shane Mauss, Deacon Gray, Marianne Sierk, Chris Coccia, Drake Witham, Jim McDonald and Chuck Bartell. Really a cross-section of America, come to think of it. How about that. They'll tell jokes again tonight in Norfolk, Neb., at the 1,234-seat Johnny Carson Theater, although this time, their judges will be Robert Klein, Dick Cavett and Wende Curtis (owner of Comedy Works in Denver).
Some other info, courtesy of Mr. Eddie Brill, coordinator of the fest:
The winner gets $5,000, but second and third place aren't exactly shabby, taking home $3,000 and $2,000, respectively. Also, Brill notes: "The Saturday night gala will be hosted by Robert Klein. Also performing that night is Nick Griffin, Jeff Caldwell, myself, The Brave New Workshop, and the three top money winners from the comedy finals. Jeff Caldwell is hosting the preliminaries. I am hosting the finals of the comedy competition. Nick Griffin will be closing the competition shows while the judges votes are tabulated." Cavett, who will receive a Legend Award, will take Qs & give As. Other events include a weeklong comedy camp for kids, workshops and a Christian comedy show.
Related: Did you know Dick Cavett blogs for the New York Times?
Earlier this year, I told you that during the tapings for Comedy Central's Live at Gotham, comedian Shane Mauss had himself one of them thar American Idol moments, knowing enough of his surroundings to gaze into the camera as it panned across the stage, in close-up, to deliver a punchline. Well. That moment is captured here for your enjoyment. The full episode with Mauss airs this coming Friday, June 20. Enjoy! Mauss also is among 24 comedians taking part in a showcase competition this week at the inaugural Great American Comedy Festival in Norfolk, Neb. (Johnny Carson's hometown).
After the jump, another clip with Mauss talking about airbags in cars, knowing the date, and blind people. Enjoy!
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.
How did Shane Mauss, a virtually unknown stand-up comedian from Boston in February, find himself telling jokes on Conan O'Brien in March? This photo of him (center) with me and Dan Pasternack of Super Deluxe only tells part of the story.
After the jump, photos of Shane Mauss and friends the night he debuted on Conan!
Or a recap of other shows and stuff from Friday and Saturday at the 2007 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival
Colbert received his Person of the Year award from CNN's Jeff Greenfield, as they sat in front of a giant poster/mock magazine cover of Colbert as the Person of the Year with the subtitle: "Not you. Me." A good dig at Time. Also fitting for the Colbert character. He said this was his third time at the festival, but "this is the first time I've looked out at the front row and not seen everybody asleep!" I barely got in, and barely made it to the post-show press opp (my bad on both counts). Very funny and friendly guy. For those of you playing the home game, the Colbert Report writers come up with most of the “Word”s on Fridays, because it can take a while to write the backstory and explanation for each word. Some insightful comments on Bill O’Reilly and Barney Frank. Video tributes from his friends and colleagues. More to come on this in other forums that pay me. But the show was so packed, Colbert made time to give props to people stuck in the lobby.
Fat City Lounge
The title of this year’s late-night show at Aspen, where anyone and everyone can drop in for a few minutes of stage time. Friday night’s hosts Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter joked about the show’s musical theme and riffed on the Irish (hey!?). Charlyne Yi, who played an NBC page on a recent episode of 30 Rock, stepped up first with her guitar and rocked out to a song called "God knows I finished my whiskey." Hmmm. Sketch group Olde English followed with a sketch about the Fernberger family whose condo the troupers were staying at in Aspen, showing off the family's framed photos, posters, paintings, living room chair, track lighting and drapes. Apparently, the HBO folks weren't so happy about the sketch ending with the troupers simulating sex with said items. Either way, what made me enjoy it was not knowing whether the guys really did take these items from the condo or not. TastiSkank brought the funny with songs about "I heart dirty boys," "Hydrocodone," "Please manscape the area," "Oops, I f--ked you again" and "You're the worst sex I've ever had." Showalter had to take off to his other scheduled show, so Ian Black introduced a special guest, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (as played by UCB's Seth Morris) who read his open letter to Hollywood. Tim Minchin closed the show. In the first 30 seconds, I wasn't sure what to make of this Aussie as he air-drummed, air-guitared and lip-synched. But as soon as he sat down to the piano, everything changed. He can play. He can sing. And he can tell some wickedly perverse jokes. Anyone who can write a peace anthem for the Middle East is good in my book, even if I'm going to keep on eating pigs. So glad I decided to catch this show.
After watching the pilot for this new FOX sitcom that debuted Sunday night (twas funny in an outrageous way, although upon watching it and the second episode Sunday, I've decided that it's entirely due to Rob Corddry and Lenny Clarke), Spike Feresten moderated a panel discussion with creator Ricky Blitt, star Corddry and Seth MacFarlane. "It's sort of a Wonder Years starting at 32," Blitt said. MacFarlane joked about drinking so early in the day: "I drink because I'm comfortable being the only white person in this town." Corddry downplayed all of the roles that are coming his way in movies. "Those nine films, they're all like don't-blink roles," he said.
Best of the Fest Awards ceremony
Hosted by Jamie Kennedy, with presentations also made by Judith Light and William Baldwin. Deciding to sit with Shane Mauss and a guy from SuperDeluxe front row center turned out to be a wise decision, especially when Mauss won an award as the best stand-up of the fest (along with Kirk Fox, who got off one of the funniest ad-libs by saying, "William Baldwin's complaining he didn't win an award? He already won an award. He's not Daniel."). For his part, Baldwin kept cracking jokes, perhaps to let us know that he, like older brother Alec, is ready and willing to do sitcom work! At one point, though, Baldwin stopped to look out into the crowd and saw the fro of Eric Andre. Paraphrasing here, Baldwin shouted to Andre: "You were on fire last night. Do you remember? You crashed the party, holding a sled over your head as you shouted, 'Let's rub boners!'" Um. Yeah. I was there. I remember. But most people in the audience were merely weirded out. Afterward, the guys from Super Deluxe took Mauss, myself and Ben Kronberg out to dinner at La Cantina. Fun, quick Mexican meal, and then Mauss and I raced back to the Belly Up for his final showcase.
Group B: Andy Borowitz hosted this standing-room only stand-up showcase. Erik Charles Nielsen went first, and seemed less intense than the first night I'd seen him, mixing up his material a bit. But the audience wasn't quite ready for him, and his decision to back into an unlit corner of the stage during his closer didn't help, either. Alexandra McHale has some funny nutritional advice, but I had to make a note in my notepad to alert Gary Gulman that someone else is coming for his cookie jokes! Na'im Lynn must really have a problem around the holidays, though he seems nice enough. TJ Miller has so many characters in his act, I feel like I'm watching an audition for SNL. To which Dan Boulger asked, "What's wrong with that?" John Ramsey has so many sharp, solid, clever jokes that he must be introduced to Myq Kaplan to see if they'll either become fast friends or mortal enemies. A poop joke as Russian history? Seriously? Seriously funny. Shane Mauss, fresh off his festival win, got to close the show and was funnier than I'd ever seen him. He threw in some old jokes and some rare jokes. And he had the audience at his bidding.
The parties: The Sierra Mist Lounge in the St. Regis provided a fun and comfortable environment to kick back after the shows each night during the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, although it seemed better on its slower nights (Wednesday and Saturday) than on Thursday and Friday, when it got so packed you could barely move. Met some nice comics (Nick Swardson) and even some nice lawyers (Jeff B. Cohen, aka lawyer to the comics, aka Chunk!). A ping pong table and foosball. Dan Boulger thought he had a brush with Cheryl Hines. Only problem was that the parties ended too early, as the lights came up at about 1:45 each morning. Which invariably led to the afterparties.
The UCB "house" was where it was at each night. Seth Morris and the rest of the guys couldn't have been nicer. The basement hopped. Anyone and everyone would show up (see my earlier post about William Baldwin's party reference during the awards ceremony). And our small band of comedians and merrymakers bonded throughout the week, making for a four-day party. Only problem was that we'd have to shepherd each other back up the icy mountain to the condo.
The so-called "mansion," on the other hand, ugh. Took a lot of effort to get there, by car and by foot. And once there, it really was too large and anonymous to have any fun there. As we remarked to each other afterward, we could've had much more fun at the UCB place. Or even at our place.
We still have a lot of catching up to do, you readers and I, and we still have a lot of partying to do, Mauss and I and the other comics, so there will be a lot for me to bring to you on Sunday. In the meantime, here are the other award winners...
Best Stand-up – Kirk Fox & Shane Mauss
Breakout Award Male – John Oliver
Breakout Award Female – TastiSkank (Sarah Litzsinger and Kate Reinders)
Best Alternative – Tim Minchin
Best Sketch – Summer of Tears
Best One Person Show – Nilaja Sun for “No Child…”
Some of you are hungry for this sort of information, so let me just tell it to you straight. Shane Mauss (in showcase group B) and Dan Boulger (in showcase group D) both have performed twice in Aspen, and they're already the talk of the town. Mauss got an early lead on the buzz because he had performed twice before Boulger's group had its festival debut. But they're both majorly slaying. Big time. All sorts of industry attention. The appropriate cliche here would be wicked good. Steven Wright's publicist told Mauss that no less than five people already had e-mailed him saying he had to check Mauss out. Boulger is having to tell people, sorry, but I already have representation.
I'll have a lot more to say about them later, but just wanted to let you know they're representing Boston very well so far.
Thursday in Aspen: The 2007 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival
Before my recap, let's get straight to the latest installment of the Shane Spotlight, in which my comedy condo roommate Shane Mauss describes his day.
“I had some meetings yesterday with people who saw my show the previous night and liked it. Those went extremely well. Met more people. And then I had another show at the Belly Up, which comics have been complaining about a little bit toward being on the hit or miss side. From my experience that’s the way the show has been. But our group had a great show. I don’t think it conflicted with any of the important shows, so that helped a bit. First night I bit the bullet. Last night I went up third. That seemed to be a good spot. I mixed it up a little bit. I did about new stuff for almost half of my set. They told us not to. But I was right. Everything went fantastic. I had a great set. Everyone in my group had a great set. And a bunch of people were talking to me afterwards. They seemed to be interested in what I was doing. I got a lot of new contacts. It couldn’t have gone much better.”
Did anyone give you a pile of money?
“No, no one gave me a pile of money. Everyone talks about that, but no.”
Mauss also enjoyed seeing and meeting Steven Wright, and had this to say about the other shows.
“I’ve been incredibly surprised by the level of creativity by essentially every performer I’ve seen. Every performer different and unique, which is the most important thing,” he said. “I think I saw about eight hours of comedy yesterday -- which is a lot of comedy to take in -- and it was all good. that’s how much fun the festival has been.”
Wednesday in Aspen: The 2007 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival
Twenty-four hours after I boarded a Silver Line bus in Boston for the airport, I’m sitting in a condo on the side of the mountain in Aspen, coasting on my fourth wind into what already is shaping up to be one of the craziest weekends of my life.
Notwithstanding marriage and prison.
And those are two entirely different stories, mind you.
Focus, readers. Focus.
But first, an examination of how we (meaning I) got here.
Listed departure time for my United Airlines flight from Boston’s Logan airport: 7:49 a.m Eastern
Actual departure time: 9 a.m.
Why? After getting out onto the runway, the pilot announced we might have a delay in Denver, so we need to fuel up. Don’t we have enough fuel? Regardless. Or perhaps not without some regard, we taxi back to the gate, put some more petrol into the plane, and finally take off.
Listed arrival time in Denver: 10:30 a.m. Mountain
Actual arrival time: 11:30 a.m. Mountain
Why? See above.
Still plenty of time to catch the 12:43 p.m. flight to Aspen, only the flights are canceled. They’ve all been canceled. Wednesday and Tuesday. What to do, what to do. United Airlines books us on buses, which board and leave Denver from the airport tarmac. Yes, really. Our bus pulled away from gate B73 at 3:15 p.m., arriving at the Aspen airport five hours later, just in time to see the lights of an actual airplane landing there. What? Not that it could’ve helped us. That flight had arrived from Chicago. Apparently, not all planes are created equal, and the new planes from Denver somehow lack the wherewithal to land in Aspen unless the weather conditions are idyllic. Not that this should surprise anyone who has flown into Aspen before. The airport isn’t merely tucked or nestled among the mountains. From the air, you don’t even know Aspen or its airport runway exists until you’re on top of it.
Anyhow, my roommate for the week, comedian Shane Mauss, endured an even more arduous journey on Tuesday. He and other performers, including fellow Bostonian Dan Boulger, had attempted the flight from Denver, only to turn around just before landing in Aspen -- they then had to wait hours for a bus, which took six hours to reach Aspen since the mountain passes, were, um, not quite passable. They missed their official unofficial “warm-up” industry showcase. And they didn’t get their luggage until Wednesday afternoon. So who was I to complain? Exactly.
Anyhow. The luggage arrived with me, and we both made it to base camp, aka the festival and the condo, by 9 p.m., or a half-hour before George Carlin’s scheduled performance.
A brief high-altitude sprint and a well-placed phone call led me to the Wheeler Opera House with minutes to spare. The p.a. announcer noted that Carlin is celebrating 50 years in comedy (as is Don Rickles, subject of a special ceremony and panel later in the week), and film clips displayed Carlin’s transformation from goofball to social critic to what he is now, ultimately a little of both. A critical goofball.
He came right out and announced he planned to deliver 77 minutes of all new material. If the audience didn’t like it, well, please consult any of the seven dirty words.
“The audience doesn’t really figure into my plans,” Carlin declared. “The way I see it, you’re here for me. I’m here for me. And no one is here for you.”
So what about him?
Well, Carlin delivered closer to 80 minutes. He did acknowledge that the altitude might make the gaps seem longer as he caught his breath, and he noted more than once that he would rely on his notes and that this was a workshop. Not a show. But almost a show.
The strongest sections appeared to include a 15-minute riff on the b.s. we accept without questioning it, followed by a 10-minute discussion on people who won’t shut up, and ways to perhaps induce them into silence.
Among the less-successful, completely throwaway lines were a few disgusting street jokes and a joke that literally and figuratively felt ripped from a scene in There’s Something About Mary, as well as an oft-told bit about how all athletes shouldn’t be praising God for their success.
Carlin did share some insight by recasting the nuclear proliferation into religion and class issues, and ended with a different take on human rights.
The workshop should prove useful as Carlin develops his new act.
After a brief break, Carlin re-emerged for a few photographs and a few questions for the press -- the only other media reps there were a woman from the AP and a guy representing Sirius radio. Holding down the anchor slot, Carlin immediately noted my Irish name and Boston reference, asking me what county my family hails from. Carlin also comes from Irish stock. At any rate. Got in a couple of good questions and received some solid answers which will resurface soon enough.
But onto the next show.
Arrived at the night’s last stand-up showcase too late to see Mauss, but saw TJ Miller and Erik Charles Nielsen. Former local Jon Fisch hosted this group. I’d seen Miller and Nielsen before, but only on tape. I want to hold off on saying more until I see that group as a whole in one show.
Boulger spotted me when the lights came up, and we were off to the VH1 party at Bar Aspen. Plenty of comics and industry types milling about, taking advantage of the limited (two-hour) open bar. So Boulger and I didn’t stay long, instead heading back to the St. Regis, where I spotted two civilians talking to Steven Wright in the lobby. Without too much coaxing, I got Boulger to join me in engaging Wright in about a half-hour of comedy talk in the lobby. I won’t tell you exactly what Boulger offered Wright, 1) because I don’t want to spoil the surprise if he accepts, and 2) because I could barely contain myself from laughing at Boulger’s offer.
Everything went quite swimmingly. So much so, in fact, that I implored Wright not to say too much until I could break out the official recorder and notepad for a later date. Even at 1:30 a.m., you have to know when business and pleasure are getting awfully close to one another. Especially in a place like this comedy festival, where everyone feels so comfortable so quickly.
Another area of the St. Regis main floor has become the Sierra Mist Lounge. Ah, the commercialization of comedy. Searching for the appropriate cliché here: Perhaps, the more things change…
The lounge had specialty drinks, foosball and ping pong. Mauss and I teamed up for a friendly pong exhibition against Hari Kondabolu and Chris Fleming. We won. Not that you can win an exhibition. But we won.
Kondabolu also happens to be staying in our condo (or, should I say, I’m staying in his), and he quickly earned good vibes from me when Google notified me that he has New England connections -- having studied at Bowdoin and performed before at the Comedy Studio -- and that he moved from New York to Seattle last year (which, for anyone who knows anything about my own personal comedy history, translates into major bonus points). He and I already have played the name game quite well. More to come on that front, as he gets his first showcase on Thursday.
But the Sierra Mist lounge -- pretzels, mini corndogs and all -- closed all too soon, though, and after more than a bit of banter, we arrived at the UCB house after-party. More comedians, more amusing incidents. Met Seth Morris, artistic director for the UCB’s Los Angeles branch, who informed me that they’re going to launch some sort of “Wicked Pissah Funny” series this spring highlighting all of the Boston comics who’ve migrated to the Left Coast’s La La Land.
But that’s for another day and another post.
It’s now time for the first installment in the Shane Spotlight, in which I ask stand-up Shane Mauss about his day in Aspen -- at the very end of the day. Tonight’s installment occurred at, oh, somewhere past 4 a.m.
First, a news bulletin.
Mauss went up first tonight in his showcase -- biting the bullet, as they say -- only he chewed up the bullet and spit it out, letting everyone know that he would be bringing the funny this week.
So, Shane, how was your Wednesday?
“I woke up in dirty clothes with fuzzy teeth. My teeth were fuzzy,” he said. “I refused to buy a new toothbrush for three dollars because they said my bags were going to be here any minute now. Next thing I know, it’s been two days and I haven’t brushed my teeth or changed my clothes. And then I got all my stuff.”
How about your first show?
“I was the first comedian up after the host, Jon Fisch,” he said.
Had you met him before?
“I’d worked with him in New York a little bit.”
Did that make you more comfortable about starting the show?
“Going up first, I knew that might not mean the right number of people in the audience. I was more worried about people not showing up until after my set. But I almost preferred going up first tonight. I had a good time.”
Did it feel different at this festival compared to other gigs?
“I don’t know if I was nervous or my throat was really dry from the altitude. But I felt different. I felt nerves from time to time. Not that often.”
Whom did you meet today?
Mauss consults the program guide. “I went to Stand-Up A, I liked the bottom three the most,” he said. “But my group won.”
Local 20-year-old Dan Boulger — let me repeat that — 20-year-old Dan Boulger took home the top prize and an estimated $7,000 as winner of the 2006 Boston Comedy Festival stand-up comedy contest! Boulger told me afterward that the only gig he has lined up so far is a date in October in Portland, Maine, at the Comedy Connection there opening for Jimmy Dunn. That should change. As an even more surreal moment, last night, Jimmy Dunn was standing outside Remington’s on the sidewalk with Tony V. I told Dunn that he’d be working with Boulger soon. Dunn didn’t even know. Yes, my friends. The Boston comedy scene got a little bit of a healthy shake-up. Methinks this will be a good thing.
The final order of finish in last night’s finale:
1) Dan Boulger
2) Darryl Lenox
3) Ryan Hamilton
4) Brad Upton
5) Stewart Huff
6) Floyd J. Phillips
7) Shane Mauss
8) Russell Bell
I have no major complaints or quibbles with the judges’ cumulative scorecard here. I had it between Boulger and Lenox, and in my cynical heart of hearts, didn’t think the judges would side with the kid over the comedy vet, but impressed that they did. Hamilton could’ve had a shot, too, but going up first is a hard sell.
If you thought prelim 5 of the contest proved tough to judge, what to make of prelim 6, which had comics all over the map from good to bad to ugly? Well, let’s attempt a recap!
Prelim 6 (in order of appearance)
1) Dana Eagle: The old I may look prim and proper but I’m crazy trick. Perceptive self-reflective opening line: “Number One is good at the end of the night!” Showed her panties for laughs. It worked. Talked about the phenomenon of tattooing one’s backside. On hers it’d say: “Road blocked — go around!”
2) Rich Aronovitch: Horshack’s kid is pretty funny. But. As he even remarked, “I open with porn, I close with porn. I do Holocaust jokes in the middle.”
3) David Reinitz: He opens by telling people not to read the paper, so he’s automatically not funny in my book. Not funny! Closes by reading the side effects of ads for Zocor, Viagra. But he does accurately point out that having Southwest Airlines as the festival’s official airline sponsor is ridiculous, since Southwest doesn’t even fly to Boston.
4) DT Owens: Church and bible jokes, from a guy from Birmingham, Ala. Who knew?
5) Dale Jones: Ernest Goes to Jim Carrey Camp.
6) Shane Mauss: Is there an applause break curse? Shaner gets one on his first joke! (Kelly Mac got an applause break the night before, to no avail) I will also note that before he went up, he whispered in my ear: “So far, I’m winning.” After his very funny set, he’s right. But there still is half a show to go.
7) Chicken Towel: I didn’t catch his name when he went onstage, so Chicken Towel it is, since that was his first of SEVERAL long routines. Actually, maybe his name should be Cirque du Silly. Actually, maybe I should look up his name. Michael Rayner. And he’s turning out to be actually quite entertaining. But he went on and on and on so long, he couldn’t possibly win. Did he care? I didn’t get a chance to ask him. Someone suggested that perhaps, he just wanted the stage time to impress the real judges in the room and get some gigs.
8) Dwayne Gill: He’s a cop. Anything I say can and will be used against me in a court of law and public opinion.
9) Brad Upton: I remember him from Seattle. And frightening enough, he remembers me. But why is he here? He’s a headliner. Does he need some new road gigs, too? I had a theory about white guys in suits (they don’t do well in contests, but black guys in suits do). But that’s just silly. And Upton is funny. On immigration and aliens stealing “our” jobs: he recently hired a 20-year-old foreign girl to do a job his wife wouldn’t want to do! The crowd loves him. Good for him.
10) Joey Carroll: He’s been in Iraq. So this should be smooth sailing. Until he tells a joke about Anna Nicole Smith’s son, who just died. Earlier, though, he had a winning bit about Halloween, including the one time he dressed up as the Grim Reaper and kicked in his grandma’s door. “C’mon! Let’s go!”
11) Frank Santorelli: Another longtime headliner in this contest. What gives? “Listen, I don’t need to be here tonight. I was on Star Search. I shook Ed McMahon’s hand on television. What did you do tonight?” He rips on host Jim Lauletta: “A very funny man…offstage.” Tells the crowd he is 48, but feels young by shaving his pubic hair. Ah, youth.
12) Dan Sally: Opens with all new material! Suri Cruise pictures! His newlywed wife is preggers! As they used to say on TV: “For originality, a perfect score of 30!” Closes with his tried-and-true engagement story. Good stuff.
And the results are…another three-person advancement!
Brad Upton, Shane Mauss and Frank Santorelli move on to the semis! If only they had room for four, Mr. Sally. If only they had room for four…