NBC brought back The Marriage Ref for a second season, which premiered last night. It's Jerry Seinfeld's pet project and hosted by his friend and longtime opening act, Tom Papa.
Some people think the very concept is silly, having celebrities -- not particularly known for their ability to maintain their matrimonies -- serve as referees for civilian couples. Especially when the marital spats may seem to be silly themselves. You could argue that most family sitcoms rely on those very premises, though. Besides, The Newlywed Game has done this for decades, just without the starpower. But the thought of becoming a star through a fight with your spouse may produce an actual split in the marriage (see these two New Yorkers from season one). So.
What did The Marriage Ref get right in returning for a second season? For one thing, they actually brought the married couples on set. Before, they were stuck at home and on tape (or closed circuit), getting mocked by celebrities without any ability to even interact with them. The show also made it clearer that all of the couples would earn a vacation, with the studio audience rewarding one couple with $25,000. They got rid of Today correspondent Natalie Morales and her recaps, as well as Marv Albert and his replay commentary. And they even let Ricky Gervais throw a joke at the show by saying he had bet he wouldn't be on it a second time.
What did The Marriage Ref get wrong? Well, the idea of letting celebrities make fun of your marriage remains a bit of a reverse roast, even if you know you're getting paid to be on TV for this privilege. Aren't roasts supposed to be reserved for taking the powerful people down a notch? Also: Among next week's celebrity panelists is Tracy Morgan. I wonder if NBC already has re-edited the tapes on that episode. Can't wait to (not) find out!
If you thought listening to Jerry Seinfeld talk funny for an hour on HBO with Chris Rock, Louis CK and Ricky Gervais was something; if you thought seeing Seinfeld debut his own website today was something; well, this is something else entirely -- a revealing look into Seinfeld's career and thought process, as only a close friend like his stand-up touring & Marriage Ref partner Tom Papa could get.
Which is exactly what you'll be able to hear tonight on SiriusXM's Raw Dog Comedy channel. It's part of a limited-run series of chats called "Come to Papa," and debuts tonight at 6 p.m., with rebroadcasts tomorrow at 4 p.m. and again 9 p.m. (all times Eastern).
For a tease, find out what bit Seinfeld is currently wrestling with to figure out the jokes. What is the deal with tuxedos?
Roll the clip:
A very strange thing happened on Sunday night. Jerry Seinfeld introduced a new show on NBC and virtually nobody seemed to like it!
Wait. That's not strange. That happened before, when The Seinfeld Chronicles pilot appeared many summers ago, only to blossom into Seinfeld in the 1990s and make everyone think he invented the sitcom.
But what about this "hybrid" of a show called The Marriage Ref? NBC short-circuited its coverage of the closing ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver just to make sure we saw a half-hour preview of the series as scheduled at 10:30 p.m. Eastern/Pacific. And roughly 14.5 million people kept the channel on for the half-hour, which is a healthy amount of viewers these days, until you realize that even more people watched CBS at the same time to watch the boss of White Castle ruin his buns. That literally happened. More amazing was the instantly critical reaction to The Marriage Ref, as chronicled by Brian Stelter of the New York Times into insta-bad-buzz, and then today we've already got my former colleague David Hinckley at the New York Daily News trying to fix the show before its proper debut on Thursday. Can it be saved? Does it even need to be saved already?
What I do know is this: Of the 607 people I follow currently on Twitter, only one person had anything nice to say about the premiere episode. That was Dylan Gadino, who runs Punchline Magazine. Ahem. Let me just say this in his defense: Gadino is married. Many of the people who I saw hating the show are single. I am divorced. Please get your laughter out now before I resume.
OK. Ready to continue? Good. Remember earlier how I showed you some behind-the-scenes previews and meetings about the show? My sense all along is that Seinfeld took this basic premise -- married couples are insane, and there are many millions of them who sit at home at night watching TV, who would undoubtedly relate to more insane married couples getting mocked about their insanity -- and ran with it. That said, some things about the premiere were downright embarrassing and absurd. One of those things is not the inclusion of divorced celebrities. As a divorcee myself, I can see how anyone who has failed at marriage would feel even freer about weighing in on a couple's dispute -- and Alec Baldwin proved this with some great wit on Sunday. But. The animated introduction was unnecessary, indulgent and just plain wrong (as others have mentioned already, baseball doesn't even have refs, and nice limo!). Bringing in Natalie Morales from NBC "News" with the "facts" is supposed to lend credibility, but does the exact opposite. And having Marv Albert recap what we already saw three times in 20 minutes, considering it's Marv Albert of all relationship experts, is beyond dumb. As for letting celebrities mock regular people, well, sure that seems too smug, and maybe if you had the real couples in the studio for more interaction or introduced celebrity couple spats, it'd be more compelling. Tom Papa seemed perfectly fine as the host, although the series and network could have, would have, should have properly introduced him to the viewers and given him more to do and say. Maybe have him tell us the facts instead of Morales. I don't know. NBC and the producers were so set upon telling us this was the return of Seinfeld that everything else seemed like an afterthought. Which is likely why the debut made such a bad impression.
NBC has been running new ads for its upcoming show, The Marriage Ref, and by the initial looks of it -- plus reports back to me from people who have been in the studio audience -- there will be some funny unscripted moments as the celebrities and comedians weigh in on the various married couples and their idiotic arguments.
The network also has unveiled some additional new promo videos online to generate interest in the show, which debuts with a preview episode Feb. 28 following the Winter Olympics closing ceremonies before settling into a regular 10 p.m. Thursday time slot. Here, for instance, is executive producer Jerry Seinfeld warming up the studio audience (following who appears to be Martha Stewart's warm-up guy) with some of his stand-up material about marriage, and introducing host, longtime friend and his opening act on tour, Tom Papa.
Then we get to see an extended short film of Seinfeld and Papa ice fishing (previously seen on TV in a 30-second spot) spliced in with clips from the show.
And here is a look at an early production meeting with Seinfeld, Papa and the staff, in which Seinfeld describes how "living together" is much different from being married, when talking about one potential couple on the show. "They're still rookies!" Seinfeld said. "I don't want to see people take BP. I want to see them in the game!" Agree?
Want more? Two more behind-the-scenes videos after the jump...
I know, I know. NBC's earlier press session today is what everyone is talking about, with their official acknowledgement that they're moving Jay Leno out of primetime and back to 11:35 p.m., but that nothing is a done deal concerning Conan O'Brien. Yikes. Which is precisely why I wanted to remind you that there is good news coming today for comedian Tom Papa, who is hosting Jerry Seinfeld's new reality TV project, The Marriage Ref. It's the last session of the day at the TCA winter press tour (so nighttime here on the East Coast), but the network already posted a press release, saying that viewers will get a first-look preview of the show immediately following the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics.
I told Papa the last time I saw him that if NBC were smart, they'd get him to do some playful marriage refereeing with members of the U.S. Olympic team -- such as the figure skating pairs, perhaps! But that's predicated upon NBC being smart. Obviously.
The show's half-hour preview will air 10:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28. The regular hour debut will be 8 p.m. Sunday, March 14.
From the press release today:
"Utilizing the Winter Olympics as a platform for introducing this show provides an extraordinary opportunity," said Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment. "We've wanted to be in business with Tom Papa for some time and we think this is the perfect vehicle to bring him on board."
Added Jerry Seinfeld: "Tom brings so much to the table that he is just the perfect fit to be the "marriage ref." In fact, having toured with him for over eight years, he was really the only person I considered when I was formulating the show. My feeling is that when you take a subject matter as rich and universal as marital disputes, and throw Tom Papa into the mix, the end result is bound to be refreshing and hilarious. Viewers are going to love him."
A seasoned comedian, Papa has starred in two standup specials on Comedy Central, with his next one to be directed by Steven Soderbergh. A familiar face to late-night television audiences, he has amassed more than 10 appearances on the NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and was a frequent guest on NBC's "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" and "Late Show with David Letterman."
"My goal is to bring the simplicity of sports and apply it to the overly complicated situations that we all face in marriage. A call is made, a decision is rendered, everyone moves on," said Seinfeld. "This is not a therapy show; it is a comedy show and after 10 years of marriage, I have discovered the comedic potential of this subject is quite rich."
Papa will be at the center of the action and ultimately will make "the call." He alone will have the final say in determining the victor of each spat. He will decide right in the spot, who is right and who is wrong - just like a referee. Advising and influencing Papa's decision will be a rotating panel of "experts" comprised of opinionated top celebrities, comedians and sports stars who will weigh in and offer their own wit, wisdom and unique opinions.
That's what is known now. I'll update tonight after the official TCA session.
Earlier: Tom Papa to host NBC's The Marriage Ref.
Jerry Seinfeld did not have to look far to find someone to host his first primetime TV series post-Seinfeld. Tom Papa, who has opened for Seinfeld for several years on the road, will be front and center when NBC's The Marriage Ref debuts in spring 2010 after the Winter Olympics. Papa did have to audition, but he already has plenty of solid jokes about his own life as a husband and father to draw upon when he helms the six-episode order in front of a live studio audience in NBC's 30 Rock building (reportedly the SNL stage). They taped a couple of test shows there last month, but OCA says you'll be able to get tickets to 2010 tapings in Hollywood. The Hollywood Reporter wrote about this last night, although close observers of this site will know that we knew all about this for months, and were told that it wouldn't be official until January. Welcome to January! (Don't worry. We know it's November)
Papa, seen on big screens this fall in The Informant, also has appeared in episodes of The New Adventures of Old Christine, helped write Seinfeld's animated Bee Movie, and, in 2004, had his own short-lived NBC sitcom called Come to Papa. Speaking of The Informant, we hear that Papa made such a good impression on director Steven Soderbergh that Soderbergh is wanting to put Papa's stand-up act onto the big screen, too! So, double congrats!!
Here's a clip of Tom Papa on life, marriage and kids, appearing on The Jay Leno Show:
More about the show, you say? Certainly! Read on, after the jump.
There's a new trailer out for Steven Soderbergh's upcoming farce, The Informant!, and I include it here, not only because it's funny, but also and more importantly because Soderbergh seems to have carved out some juicy supporting roles for comedians Tom Papa (as someone Matt Damon is trying to snoop upon) and Joel McHale (as someone Matt Damon is trying to snoop for). Enjoy!
The TBS broadcasts from the inaugural Just For Laughs Chicago festival kick off tonight with Let Freedom Hum, a stand-up showcase hosted by a Canadian sketch actor, Martin Short, and featuring very little in the way of humming and nothing that we heard about the joys of freedom. But they put the title on the Internet and your TV listings, so let's just get to it.
As I mentioned last week, Martin Short certainly did his part to enliven the proceedings -- in addition to taped bits that brought back Ed Grimley (without pants!), Jiminy Glick and Lawrence Orbach, Short's opening monologue was both topical and edgy. The audience gasped at a number of his zingers, including one joke in which he called Adam Lambert a fruit, and another in which, in front of several TBS executives, he zinged the network by saying: "Meanwhile, TBS viewers are saying, who knew Tyler Perry was so light-skinned!"
But what about the stand-ups? Chicago native John Roy warmed up the crowd beforehand and delivered one of the better sets of the night, joking about how the locals are tougher because of the city's frigid winters and are fatter because of what they eat (though you'll see none of this on TV tonight, Roy did tape a performance at Zanies last weekend for a new stand-up series TBS will debut later this year).
Earlier in the day, I caught up with Tom Papa and Kathleen Madigan as they ran through their promotional photo shoots. Through the magic of my Flip cam and the snapshot function, this moment in time has been captured for posterity. I think Papa had powder in his eye. Or he's winking at us! Either way, Papa got things rolling on the right note once he hit the stage, mocking billionaires who have been killing themselves because, having lost their money in the recession, they could not stand to live like the rest of us. He also poked fun at his own life as a husband and father, and had the audience in stitches as he recounted trying to have a conversation with his parents online via Skype. Madigan was next up, and wanted us all to know how not to be jealous of her for having to visit her parents outside of St. Louis, and how much drinking must be involved to cope with life as a Madigan. She also curiously was eager to revisit the 2008 presidential election and Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama (did I mention we were in Chicago?) and expressed the fact that she was too cynical for hope.
Martin Short blew into Chicago this week and created a flurry of excitement with the return of some of his most famous comedy characters, and may have even topped that last night by delivering zingers that shocked the live audience for the taping of Let Freedom Hum, the TBS special from Just For Laughs Chicago that will air a week from today, at 10 p.m. June 26.
The live audience, which included Second City legends Harold Ramis, SCTV co-founder Andrew Alexander and producer Joyce Sloane (Short saluted each of them individually during breaks in the taping), saw Short open the stand-up comedy special with a taped sketch featuring Short in a scene as a pantsless Ed Grimley, who upon getting the TBS gig, breaks into song, knocks out Kevin Nealon in a cameo and gets a radical face tattoo. Once he took the stage, Short meant to knock himself down a peg or two, suggesting he was the cable network's second choice after disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich -- but Short tripped over Blago's name and decided to switch the target to Robert Blake. That was quickly followed by this aside directed toward the network and its most popular comedy programming : "Meanwhile, TBS viewers are saying, who knew Tyler Perry was so light-skinned!"
That would seem rather tame, however, compared to these quips from Short that drew gasps from the audience:
To his accompanying pianist, Jeff Babko (the keyboardist in Jimmy Kimmel's late-night TV band), Short said that his new daughter was named Tangerine because they wanted to pick a fruity name, "Tangerine if a girl, Adam Lambert if it was a boy." (Pictured at left: Martin Short with Jeff Babko performing live Thursday night at The Vic Theatre in Chicago, by Edward Pio Roda)
On the difference between hockey and Scientology: "Unlike Scientology, hockey has let Katie Holmes escape."
On tensions in the world: "Look at Iran...They had fraudulent voting in a fixed election. Good thing that would never happen here in Chicago!"
It's time for one last look around the 2008 Montreal Just For Laughs festival, which Variety reports raked in $10 million (which is about the same in Canadian as it is in U.S. dollars these days!) this July. Which means this final recap must begin with the guy who buzzed about the festival...
Doug Stanhope, who set up his Slamdance to their Sundance, aka Just For Spite festival with shows Friday and Saturday at Club Chaos, told me on Saturday night that he'd been offered a paltry $1,100 to perform 10 nights of one-man shows at the fest (or as he added, less than what he earned during his first trip to Montreal's JFL), which prompted his fury. Much of the buzz about Stanhope during the fest itself centered around two incidents, both of which Stanhope wrote about online. He first aired his grievances on Wednesday via 236.com, then on Friday night, after getting kicked out of a JFL venue by fest organizer Bruce Hills, Stanhope went to his MySpace to fill us in on the details.
Most pleasant surprise in a one-man show: Patrice Oneal. Here's a guy who seems so in your face and so not safe for work that, well, that's how his career even began in Boston, challenging another comedian. And he has made his name on the club circuit as that guy who won't take no gruff. But you take him out of the comedy clubs and put him in an intimate theater setting, give him a stool or a chair and just let him speak...wow. As I noted earlier, his one-man show, Positivity, is positively brilliant. He may think he's not getting any smarter. But this show is the smartest thing he has done.
The lucky New Faces bump? Last year, Tom Papa hosted all of the New Faces showcases and handled himself with such professionalism and managed to bring the funny, that I recall singling him out and hoping he'd get a show of his own. This year, Papa got the special one-man showcase named after the late Richard Jeni and earned nightly standing ovations for his show, Only Human. Here's the Montreal Gazette review to chew on. I saw similar magic coming from Greg Giraldo this year in hosting New Faces, and hope he gets a similar promotion in 2009. Giraldo always has mastered the art of topical social commentary, but there also has been so much going on in his world, both professionally and personally, that could be mined for a one-man show. Let's make that happen.
Funniest comic-on-comic impersonation: Greg Behrendt, who introduced himself to the audience as "a 45-year-old alternative comic," doing Russell Brand at the midnight Alternative showcase, slinking his way around the stage and joking about Brand having sex with Kate Moss.
Toughest ticket for a show I wished I'd seen: They say you mock the ones you love (some do), so Behrendt must have been paying tribute to Russell Brand's status as the hot comic of the moment. You had to sweet talk your way into his sold-out performances. Thankfully, I got to see Brand a couple of days later in New York City (my review of Russell Brand).
Toughest ticket for a show I'm not sorry I missed: Apatow For Destruction. Movie producers and movie stars should not always be confused for great stand-up comedians.
How young is he, again? Bo Burnham, at 17, is the new sensation, already signed to Gersh with a Comedy Central EP that zoomed up the iTunes charts. Where did he come from? Outside of Boston, since you asked. He generated some "heat" as they say in the bidness. I saw him the previous weekend open up for Joel McHale at Carolines and deliver an amazingly proficient and efficient 13-minute musical set of songs and rap. How did this tall, scrawny high-school kid making YouTube videos gain so much poise onstage with less than 20 live performances to his credit? He told me. "I'm young, dumb and fearless." Here's a recent fairly NSFW video from Bo fo yo (argh, I just really typed that and didn't backspace backspace delete, didn't I?):
State of the Industry vs. Comedy Person of the Year: Andy Kindler wins in a walk-off, as Kindler filled the room to more than capacity, with people standing in the foyer, then half of them walking out to skip the festival's awarding of "Comedy Person of the Year" to Judd Apatow. Having Apatow did guarantee that all his famous friends and industry associates would show up in Montreal, though, leading to some heartfelt words from Apatow himself, and a funny quip from Seth Rogen: "Look at us. We're a parade of bad fashion...It's like we're at the rehearsal for the award."
Just Comedy? Remember the days when you didn't have to pay $500 to attend a festival thrown on your behalf? Oh, those were days. But Just Comedy's two-day confab proved to be kind of eh. As I joked to Andy Kindler in our short video interview, I only stayed at the Webisode to Episode panel for about five minutes, because that's as long as that panel should have been. Don't they know this already? Because of that, I missed out on perhaps the liveliest panel of the confab, as club owners kvetched at length about the business of live touring.
All-around favorites: You couldn't go anywhere in Montreal without someone reminding you how great John Mulaney and Brent Weinbach were at the festival. I shall sing Mulaney's praises to anyone who asks, and it was great to see him knock it out of the park (that's a baseball term) at JFL, with people especially rapt over his tale of playing a joke on a restaurant at age 11. Mind you, he's only 25 now. He will tape a Comedy Central Presents next month and you will enjoy it. He's also co-headlining at Comix next month (Aug. 22-23) with Nick Kroll. As for Weinbach, he won the Andy Kaufman Award in Vegas last year for a reason, and showed why in Montreal with an over-the-top performance at the alternative showcases.
New Faces recaps: My favorites or yours? Brendon Walsh stood out for me with his cleverness, while Sean Patton surprised me because I had never seen him in a mainstream club before. Harris Wittels delivered the ballsiest set, ending a routine that included misnamed bands and masturbation issues with a joke about racism. Ira Proctor turned it around so much from the first set to the second that veteran Larry Miller couldn't stop complimenting him. Mo Mandel was the singular standout from the other group. Although truth be told, most people I talked to from the industry were relatively underwhelmed by this year's crop of New Faces as a whole. Then again, they were relatively underwhelmed in general.
State of the New Faces Industry: What does it say about the comedy industry and Montreal's New Faces that two of them, Iliza Shlesinger and Jeff Dye, are among the finalists for this season on NBC's Last Comic Standing? A few things. Among them: The NBC producers prefer fresh-faced comedians, even if they're relatively inexperienced, because it allows them to have control (read: earn money) by launching their careers nationally. Also, it means tough luck for industry wanting a piece, as NBC and the producers have them under its contractual spell already. Anyone want to guess whether Shlesinger and Dye already are locked up for the nationwide club/theater tour that follows the season finale?
The Masters: Speaking of Larry Miller, what a class act he proved to be in Montreal, not just for actually watching younger comedians and saying nice things to them, but also for being the consummate host for the Masters showcases. Miller has been one of the more amusing voices of reason on Bill Maher's HBO chat show, Real Time, and it's so nice to be able to see Miller onstage again doing stand-up. As he told audiences, "Almost everyone on the show is someone I've known for years and respect -- and they're all good." Well, I'll be the judge of that. Henry Cho, a Korean raised in Tennesee, "so I'm South Korean." If you didn't enjoy Esther Ku's jokes about getting Koreans confused for each other, what would you make of this master's trip to the homeland with his father: "When we went to Korea, he walked 20 feet away and I lost him!" Hal Sparks continues to sport his Criss Angel hair and magician look, despite how it looks. It looks like Criss Angel. Instead, Sparks ranted against people who miss his short hair, talked about losing his Kentucky accent, and did a big act-out about sexually peaking. Cathy Ladman hates her New York voice, and Montreal audiences weren't exactly thrilled with it, either. Another trip to the therapist and everything will be OK. Henry Phillips and his guitar? Well, here's a little number you may have heard before, "Sweet Little Blossom of Mine." Todd Glass: I hadn't seen him live in four years, and man, how I missed seeing his energetic self. Glass is a guy who's always on, even when he's not on he's on. What a bundle of fun! Remember when Glass was on Last Comic Standing and kept mugging for everyone at everytime...good times. At the Masters, Glass riffed on both Sparks and Phillips and then himself, and destroyed with a bit about how easy recipes are, such as corn pudding! Meantime, here's an oldie but a goodie from Glass. Thea Vidale and I sat next to each other on the "regional jet" up from New York City, and regional jet means really small plane, which means I actually should have and could have used the phrase, "C'mon and sit on Daddy's lap!" And Billy Gardell closed by focusing on how kids have changed and how we've all changed because of anti-depressants, with a presence that shows you what a veteran stand-up headliner's set is all about.
Shuttle buddies: Don't know how it worked out like this, because we didn't see other during the fest and came from different cities, but Kent from Ask A Ninja and I ended up on the same shuttles to and from the airport in Montreal. Serendipity?
But what about next year: What about 2009? As noted or hinted at previously, several industry folks grumbled openly about wondering why they'd come to Montreal again in the first place. The festival certainly didn't dispel stereotypes about the friendliness of French Canadians, as they tried every manner in the book to get industry up to Montreal -- including their annual withholding of the New Faces and Masters names until two days before most would arrive, adding this two-day Just Comedy confab and charging industry $500 to show up -- then giving industry folks multiple hassles once they made it to Montreal. And that's not to mention the outrageous prices in the Hyatt Regency ($3 for a Coca-Cola, $10 for a bottle of beer), the attitude of the Hyatt toward the industry (even though the festival encouraged them to stay in the Hyatt) and the fact that some Hyatt workers were picketing outside made for a big barrel of not-fun. Stanhope wasn't the only one to openly ask if Montreal has become more about making a profit off of comedy fans and less about being a place for discovering and launching comedy careers. So what will happen in 2009 when JFL joins up with TBS to host a comedy festival in Chicago the month before Montreal? Will the industry go to Chicago and skip Montreal entirely? It only served to make me miss the atmosphere in Aspen, a festival run by people who really wanted it to be a home for the comedy industry (even if it proved too expensive and snowy). It also makes me want to start up my own comedy festival, a true showcase to bring industry to the talents worth watching, both new and old. If anyone wants to help me make that come true, please holler my way. Thanks.
The folks at Just For Laughs announced part of its 2008 slate for Montreal yesterday (proving once again, that a blogger cannot take a day off!)...
This year, Montreal introduces its first "industry conference" -- Just Comedy -- with Ivan and Jason Reitman talking father-son comedy shop on July 17, and Judd Apatow getting honored as "comedy person of the year" (year unspecified) on July 18.
The Galas (the biggest shows in size and scope) include hosts Craig Ferguson (July 18), Jimmy Fallon (July 19) and an "all-star" gala with Ron White, Paula Poundstone and Larry Miller (July 20).
Special events listed include: Stiles & Proops: Unplanned (July 15) featuring, well, whatever Ryan Stiles and Greg Proops feel like doing that night; South Park Live (July 16) with Matt Stone and Trey Parker; Omid Djalili (July 17); and Apatow For Destruction (July 18) featuring the aforementioned Apatow with cohorts Seth Rogen, Craig Robinson, Russell Brand and others.
Club shows, which often get grouped into themes, include The Nasty Show with hosts Nick DiPaolo and Patrice Oneal; The Ethnic Heroes of Comedy hosted by Frank Spadone with Steve Byrne, Gabriel Iglesias, Maz Jobrani and others; AMP'd, the Music Comedy Show with host Craig Robinson; Laugh-rodisiacs, the Relationship Show hosted by Greg Behrendt; the midnight Alternative Comedy Show hosted once again by Andy Kindler; the Best of the Uptown Comics which in Canadian means "urban" which means "black," hosted by Bruce Bruce with JB Smoove, Craig Robinson and others.
Tom Papa gets promoted from New Faces host in 2007 to the "Richard Jeni One-Person Show Series" with his show, "Only Human" (July 14-20).
Of course, the real treats for fans and the industry come in the New Faces showcases (to be hosted by Greg Giraldo and Dana Gould), and we won't know who makes it to Montreal until this weekend's final New York City auditions: May 1 at Comic Strip Live, May 2 at Stand-Up NY and May 3 at Broadway Comedy Club.
Tom Papa frequently opens for Jerry Seinfeld on his nationwide theater tour dates, and Seinfeld is returning the favor this Thursday night by performing at a fund-raiser show Papa is throwing at Gotham Comedy Club for his sister's charity, City Green.
Papa explains via MySpace bulletin today: "A little background on the show... I've got a sister and she runs a charity called "City Green" that builds gardens in wasted urban spaces. Brings the community together, makes people happy, real do-gooder stuff! But I'm a do-gooder too and I'm putting on a fund raising show for her at the Gotham Comedy Club next Thursday, April 24th at 8pm. All proceeds go to her charity."
What more do you need to know? Right. The lineup, in addition to Seinfeld and Papa, includes Jeff Garlin, Colin Quinn, Kevin Brennan and Keith Robinson. It's a $40 cover and two-drink minimum. Get your tickets before they're gone.
I mentioned seeing Chris Rock at the Comedy Cellar the other night, and while yes, that twas a highlight, twas not the only light sparkling on Jan. 2 in the basement of a beloved Greenwich Village restaurant.
Mike DeStefano, whom I met a year ago in Aspen and immediately noticed his gruff exterior in his response to the comedy industry, and have come to enjoy much more upon repeated listenings, slipped in for a five-minute set at the Cellar so Frank Smiley from Late Night could see him and make sure he'd be ready for Friday's show on Conan.
Wil Sylvince dropped by much later in the night, also purporting to get ready for an upcoming Conan.
And Dave Attell, who I remembered had told me last month that he had a pre-approved date with Conan, was in the house for a regular late-night set. All of which led me to wonder that perhaps that show is banking on comedians to help fill the time while the writers continue to strike. Which ultimately is good for stand-up. Writers may have an issue with Jay Leno, but they're not going to besmirch a stand-up for wanting nationwide TV exposure for work they've already been doing for years. Right?
Also saw Tom Papa, who unleashed a rant about his in-laws and trying to spend New Year's with them, which seemed as much about allowing him to get his feelings out as much as it was about finding new material. He told me afterward that he even let go the night before -- right after it happened -- although Jan. 2 felt weirder to him because his wife (and fellow comedian) sat in the audience to hear him talk about her parents. Hope it worked out for him! Papa also said he'd received overtures from Jay Leno about going on his show soon (as soon as Monday) but worried a bit about the ongoing strike and it not being settled by then.
As they say in France, que sera sera, je ne sais quoi -- which translates into not one but two cliches. As for French Canada and Montreal, what better way to close out the 25th anniversary of Just For Laughs than with a gala hosted by native son William Shatner. What's that? You didn't know the Shatner came from Montreal? Neither did I, my dear readers. Neither did I. The fest's grand finale (though the festival continues with a couple of shows on Sunday, Saturday night represented the blow-out of blow-out spectacular shows across the board) had the city's streets teeming with comedy fans, and other people, too. Let me share a few salient points and thoughts from Saturday night...
Is there a stage past post-ironic to describe the public persona of William Shatner, especially when he "sings" Canada's rock hits? Or is that simply called ironic? Where is Alanis when you need her?
Zach Galifianakis doesn't need a piano to be funny, although it certainly adds a little something something (perhaps that je ne sais quoi?) to observations such as: "At what age do you tell a highway it was adopted?"
I now have very mixed feelings about Canadian stand-up Gerry Dee. Why? Dee rocked the televised gala audience with his set Saturday night, but I had the strange sense that I had seen and heard it all before -- mostly because I had seen and heard it all before, as his 6-7 minute set virtually echoed the televised sets he had performed this year for both Comedy Central's "Live at Gotham" and NBC's "Last Comic Standing." Most stand-ups understand that any set they've done on national TV gets "burned" (aka retired), so what does this say (or what should I take it to mean) about the rest of Dee's material? Like I wrote, mixed feelings.
Bill Burr deserves a development deal, or a big break. I saw him crush both at the Shatner gala and much much later, past 2 a.m. Sunday, as the final comic in the "state of the fest" showcase, devoted to (as the program says) "this year's breakout acts and must-see talent." He actually closed both shows, for good reason. He literally is sincerely funny and brutally honest onstage.
What are the odds that out of several hundred patrons, the most drunken and annoying one gets seated front and center? Most comedy club customers will say they may fear sitting there for fear of getting picked on by the comedian. But the same is true for the performers, as the New Faces 2 showcase demonstrated Saturday night at Kola Note, with a guy talking to (and sometimes blurting out and yelling at) each of the comedians, publicly apologizing each time until he got kicked out of the show. As host Tom Papa discovered, every square inch of that customer's table was occupied by empty beer bottles. "Two hundred beers and a sailor with low self-esteem equals chaos!" Papa said.
The name "LaQuisha" always seems to get a laugh (New Face comedian Geoff Keith proved that again). Must be the "qu" sound. At least that's what the comedy textbooks say.
New York stand-up Kurt Metzger politely informed the Canadians "why America is like, the best country": We own the moon. "Where is the weird Quebec separatist flag on the moon?" Eh? Metzger also made a somewhat compelling case for why God could be a woman. I shan't dare repeat it here and now.
As New York stand-up Matt McCarthy (no relation, well, not to me, anyhow) and I decided, Montreal is like the French Texas of Canada. Just a little bit different. Acts like it's its own country. And as the other McCarthy said during his New Face showcase, "I have never seen so many churches and strip clubs in my life. Make up your minds!"
Speaking of Texas, New Face stand-up Lucas Molandes showed yet again that Austin breeds very smart and clever comedians. His closing bit on the war in Iraq involved a sexual conundrum between a raccoon and a cat, but he apologized by saying, "Sorry folks, I just read 'Animal Farm.'" A couple of his other touchy observations: Native Americans made the dreamcatcher, "but the one dream they couldn't catch was the American Dream." And reading Anne Frank's diary "taught me you can't hide from your problems." Yikes! Still quite funny, though.
Also quite funny: Tommy Johnagin. His performance could be used as evidence that "Last Comic Standing" does indeed find and put promising comedians on TV.
Andy Kindler really is the comedian's comedian.
Joey Kola's and Bobby Kelly's impersonations of a female voice sound oddly similar to an impersonation of Joe Pesci. I don't mean that as a funny like a clown way, either. Just funny. And that's a wrap for now. Time to catch a plane back to JFK.
The New Faces of Comedy showcase is Montreal's version of the Best New Artist Grammy. Most of the 16 stand-ups selected for this week's showcases have several years of experience onstage, but they're new in the eyes of industry scouts, because this is the first step up the festival ladder. A few of the acts don't yet have agents or managers. Is that a good thing?
Maria Bamford (one of this year's Masters performers) and I talked briefly about this yesterday. I saw a comedian get an agent and manager -- which quickly resulted in a spot on Conan and headlining club dates -- out of the Aspen fest this winter. Worked out good for him. But Bamford, who once got two new representation offers out of a festival, said it can almost be like last call at a bar. "Who's the hottest one left here?" she said in one of her trademark voices. "And then the relationship has nowhere left to go." So there's that side of the coin, too.
The comics here aren't thinking like that, though. They're looking to be discovered.
How are they doing?
Last night, I caught half of the New Faces, and several members of the first group devoted most of their time trying to connect to the local Montreal audiences at Kola Note (which should be noted, is the most remote venue at the fest -- perhaps another reminder that the New Faces have a ways to go yet). Michael McIntyre (who sounded a bit like Stewie from Family Guy, but not, despite the fact that the FOX show and cast is also at the fest) joked about the local pedestrian signals with his own version of Monty Python's silly walks. Mike E. Winfield said "you guys have the most arrogant homeless people I have ever seen." Tom Segura said: "I was walking in your sex shop district...what do you call it? Oh, Montreal." A couple of the NYC comics in the showcase, Julian McCullough and James Patterson, brought the city with them -- McCullough talking about his Brooklyn neighborhood ("no, not that part") and contrasting the on-field performances of Barry Bonds and Darryl Strawberry ("He'd snort the first base line!"); Patterson on moving to the South Bronx "because my girlfriend wanted to study music -- she played the jazz rape whistle." Nikki Glaser managed to skewer the sponsoring MySpace and won the audience over with some off-color material. Pat Candaras exhibited a Lewis Black attitude if he were a frustrated grandmother. Mike E. Winfield had the look, if not the material. Sheng Wang was a hit with his wit and his closing bit tilting the phrase "you could do better" on its head. Matt Braunger brought this showcase to a close with a very strong personality and a funny bit about killer owls. But really, host Tom Papa had the best sets of the night in between acts, showing the New Faces how it's done.
Many comedians cover similar material in discussing relationships and observational humor.
Tom Papa demonstrated that well enough in 15 minutes warming up the packed Wang Theatre crowd for Jerry Seinfeld last night. Of course, Papa's NBC sitcom only lasted a few episodes, while Seinfeld's has been heralded as one of TV's best ever, and continues to prove its mirthful mettle nightly in syndication on stations across the country.
But that's not the only reason Seinfeld can bound onstage without an introduction and garner an enormous roar of audience approval.
Sure, plenty of other comedians tell jokes about Cialis or cereals, just as Seinfeld did last night. Where he always has stood out from the stand-up pack has been in his presentation -- deconstructing the details of an observation to the very essence of its lunacy.
An extended bit about the process of how items become garbage segues into asides about eBay ("Why don't we mail our garbage back and forth across the country?") and the irony in the collectibles market, to another segue into death and the art of being buried with your possessions ("They say you can't take it with you. I say you can!"). That's what still makes Seinfeld, for lack of a better cliche, the master of this domain.
Some jokes you've likely heard before, but that doesn't make his take on prescription drugs any less funny than watching a Seinfeld episode for the umpteenth time.
Now 51, married with three young children, he wondered aloud why he has to go to all of his children's friends' birthday parties. He also tackled humanity's increasing laziness and how a man's voice apparently changes once he gets married.
Seinfeld followed his 70-minute set by answering the most predictable audience questions and non sequiturs. Naturally, he doesn't see anything wrong with that.