What do they say about New York City: There are eight million stories, and sometimes it seems as though eight million of the people telling them think they're comedians? No, that's not it. It is a fact, though, that America's biggest city is also its biggest comedy mecca. Hollywood may be Hollywood, but New York City is where comedians are born funny, become funny or arrive to thrust their funny upon us. I think we should meet some of these people. This is a new recurring feature, a mini-profile of newcomers, up-and-comers and overcomers of New York's vibrant comedy scene. It's called Meet Me In New York.
Tom Shillue likes to tell stories, and he's good at it. So good he won the ECNY Award this year for Best Storyteller. The year before, he won the ECNY Award for Best One Person Show, Supernormal, which he has revived for a current run at PS 122 that extends through this Saturday, April 9. In my initial review of his show, I called him "our generation's Garrison Keillor." I meant that in only the best way. You may have seen him in the movie, Mystery Team, or in any number of nationwide TV commercials. But let's let Tom (photographed below by Seth Olenick) tell us more about himself.
Name: Tom Shillue
Arrival date: Feb. 28, 1991
Arrived from: Norwood, MA
What was your best credit before moving here? Hosting a live show at Universal Studios in Florida. It was a professional job, and paid salary and benefits. That's where I met Aasif Mandvi. We moved to NYC at the same time, and were show business buddies, trying to crack into the NY scene the old fashioned way.
Why did you pick NYC over LA or anywhere else? The "If you can make it there..." ethos cried out to me. New York! I fancied myself like Jack Lemmon in the apartment, minus the complicated work environment and the suicidal girlfriend.
How long did it take to get your first paid gig in NYC after moving here? I was a real go-getter. Aasif and I hit the pavement, answering ads in backstage with 8x10's and cover letters. Within a week I was cast as "the big spender" in an asian karaoke video of the song "Hey, Big Spender". I was paid $100 cash. Off and running!
How is this scene better/same/worse than the scene you moved from?
In real life, maybe you audition a few months ago for a comedy competition that's going to be televised everywhere in America and beyond. Maybe your audition goes well. Maybe it goes well enough that you get asked to perform again at a live audience showcase, and then that goes well enough that you receive a red-ticket envelope to perform again in Hollywood. So maybe, just maybe, you're excited to see yourself on television and so are your friends, family and loved ones. So what happens when you and they turn on the TV and, an hour later, are wondering, did we and they blink and miss you? Hold that thought.
Because we're living by TV producers' rules. And in Last Comic Standing's seventh season, even when they say it's not business as usual, it's still show business. Last week, they edited the New York City auditions together to allow some comedians to get better treatment than they should have, while putting others in the background to tease you. What's doing for round two in NYC?
Well, first, host Craig Robinson tells us what happened previously on LCS, which was that nine comedians received tickets to the semifinals. Wait a minute! Nine??? That cannot be right, no matter how you edit it, because they let 12 people through on the night I watched live and in person, and apparently another 12 in the other showcase, so already, you and I know that there are going to be some comedians who were happy a few months ago, but who are going to be much less happy tonight.
Cue the actual and the artificial tension!
Brian McKim -- for people born before the Y2K bug wiped out the first version of the Internet, you may know him as "The Male Half" of Shecky Magazine -- gets the first uncredited one-liner of the evening, followed by a montage of comedians we should expect to be seeing later in the hour. By the way, if anyone has been watching all of the pre-season promos, Robinson is sneaking in his proposed catchphrase mantra for the season: "Be about it!"
We officially start the night off with Jerry Rocha, from Dallas, who says he has been a professional stand-up for eight years, and vows to hug anyone and everyone if he doesn't advance. He jokes with the judges about his racist uncle who doesn't quite get racial jokes. Our judges are given the superimposed title of "Comedy Jurist" this evening, which sounds much more foreboding than before, when they were judges. Now they're judges and jury? Me no get it. But me still likey Andy Kindler, Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo, so me no stop recapping. Calise Hawkins apparently is from Illinois (I know her as a Jersey girl, where she lives now, while you simply know her as a single mother with a big Afro!), and she takes us into her home with her daughter, and how adorable are they? Kindler isn't a big fan of her material about a homeless guy on the subway, but he and Giraldo both think she's a good performer, and Leggero enjoyed it, so Hawkins gets another chance to perform. Mike Vecchione jokes about his New York City cop look, and I know and you know and we know that he is funny, and even Leggero, who happened to see Vecchione the other night at the Comedy Cellar agrees. Who wants a pretzel?
Zed is the future of stand-up comedy? Somebody better tell Ron Lynch about this competing comedy robot. "Is this a character you're doing?" Giraldo asks. A woman has a whip on the sidewalk. For some reason. Kindler talks about clowns and jugglers, and jokes about all comedians starting out as novelty acts. You remember Lenny Bruce the sword swallower, right? Kindler prefers seeing a comedian sweat. Take that, deodorant ad!
Kyle Grooms doesn't have to worry about that. He did an Obama impersonation in the early TV ads for this season, and he does it for the judges, too. Giraldo says he is not a fan of impersonations but knows that that's not a big part of Grooms' act, so no worries. He's through.
Of all of the things that happened at the ECNY Awards ceremony Monday night at Comix in NYC, this sequence from the opening video was an all-around crowd pleaser. You don't need to have seen the original aged TV footage to appreciate this, but if you have (or if you want to see "Trololo" first), then seeing comedian Tom Shillue perform an homage to "Trololo" is even that much more magical.
Here is the whole thing, uncut. Glorious. Great job, Tom! And congrats on winning for best one-person show, too. This video just so happens to be another example of how Tom Shillue is "Supernormal." Roll it!
I was more than tempted to write something whiny and petulant about the ECNY Awards, but then I saw Marc Maron in a Twitter "fight" today with one of his followers about the principle of paying for art (you should definitely pay for art, whether it's a podcast, a creative performance, or this very Website), and then I saw that Funny or Die had filmed a public service video with Heidi Montag (so they obviously are hard up for cash, because why, why, why), and then I saw even more people were following and media outlets were interviewing a 19-year-old that Conan O'Brien followed for no particular reason whatsoever on Twitter, so really, maybe this is just a lost cause. Anyhow. When I saw Gabe Delahaye a couple of weeks ago, I told him that his Videogum and its mighty minions would beat me handily for "Best Website," so I called it. Still. No matter how silly you think any awards are, when they announce them live and decide to nominate you, there's a moment right before the announcement when you get nervous, and moments afterward where they've announced someone else's name when you have to remind yourself that it's just a silly award. I'd much rather have a job that pays my rent and offers me health insurance, vacation and sick days. So if you have one of those, please consider hiring me? Thanks!
In the meantime, here are your 6th annual ECNY Awards winners...
Best Improv Group: I Eat Pandas
Best One Person Show: Supernormal – Tom Shillue
Best Website: Videogum.com
Best Host: Gabe Liedman, Jenny Slate and Max Silvestri
Best Book: Rejected: Tales of the Failed, Dumped and Canceled – Jon Friedman
Best Sketch Comedy Group: Murderfist
Best Technician: Carol Hartsell
Best Variety Show: Risk! True Tales Boldly Told
Outstanding Achievement in Postcard or Flyer Design: Fag Life: A Conversation with Fred Phelps – Mindy Tucker
Best Short Comedic Film: Everyone Poops Trailer – Landline TV
Emerging Comic Award: Myq Kaplan
Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Tweeting: @Lizzwinstead
Best Musical Comedy Act (Group or Solo): Snakes
Best Female Standup Comedian: Morgan Murphy
Best Male Standup Comedian: Hannibal Buress
I have plenty of other thoughts about the ECNY Awards, and comedy awards in general, but I'll save those for another time and place.
Derrick comedy has a laugh-out-loud hilarious, dark comedy movie on their hands, and if all things go well, soon enough, there will be a distribution deal for Mystery Team. How do I know this? I managed to get in on one of the intimate free screenings in New York City earlier this week, and talked to four-fifths of the team behind Mystery Team afterward (Dan Eckman, Meggie McFadden, DC Pierson and Dominic Dierkes -- Donald Glover was over in Long Island City being executive story editor on 30 Rock). Roll the clip!
As mentioned in the clip, Mystery Team debuted in January at the Sundance Film Festival to mostly positive reviews and buzz. Director/co-writer/editor Eckman said he managed to cut more than six minutes from the version Sundance audiences saw, getting the running time down to a leaner 98 minutes. "Watching it with an audience six times at Sundance really opened the whole thing up," Eckman told me.
If you haven't heard the buzz yet, let me fill you in. Donald Glover, DC Pierson and Dominic Dierkes play three high-schoolers who are still living off of their childhood "fame" as boy detectives who solved neighborhood mysteries a la Encyclopedia Brown. Glover's Jason is as animated as a Looney Tunes character with a propensity for disguises that rely on fake mustaches. Pierson's Duncan has memorized trivial trivia and thinks that makes him a boy genius when it just makes him a nerd. Dierkes' Charlie is a dumb jock without being a jock. They're 17, but still living as if they were 7. "No case too hard, no case too tough," reads the hand-painted sign outside Jason's house. And their mysteries are as tough as figuring out who stuck their fingers in an old lady's pie. Until a girl rings Jason's bell and asks him to solve the murder of her parents. The boys take the case and quickly find themselves in over their heads, literally and figuratively. Will they grow up and/or solve the case? Aubrey Plaza (NBC's Parks & Recreation) plays the other orphaned sister. Bobby Moynihan (Saturday Night Live) shows up every so often as a grocery store cashier who still idolizes the Mystery Team. And there are plenty of other great comedian cameos and supporting roles with an emphasis on the UCB: Tom Shillue, Matt Walsh, Kay Cannon, Neil Casey, Jon Daly, Will Hines, Ellie Kemper, Anthony King, John Lutz, Ben Schwartz, Kevin Brown and Robbie Sublett among them.
And here comes another surviving new player on the online comedy video front, The Huffington Post's financed humor arm, 236.com, with a new video looking back on the lewd conduct arrest of U.S. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), who, you may not recall, never did resign his office after getting caught trying to hook up with another guy in an airport bathroom in Minnesota. Nope. Craig is still in the Senate. So here's a reason to toast the forgotten heroes of anonymous airport bathroom sex, with featured starring roles by Jon Benjamin, Tom Shillue, Todd Barry and Aimee Mann. Surprisingly almost safe for work!
Comedian Tom Shillue took his new one-man show out for a test run on Sunday night at Joe's Pub in New York City. He called it Supernormal, with a tagline of "stories so normal, they're radical." And yes, these are very normal, regular, relatable stories for anyone who grew up in a small town, particularly a small town in New England in the 1970s and 1980s. Shillue looks back on his childhood in Norwood, Mass., and weaves tales about his father's Catholicism, living with his grandmother and his uncle Bobby during college, Thanksgiving dinner, his father-in-law, the blizzard of '78, boy scout camp and his high school reunion. It was the kind of small town where multiculturalism meant weekly taco night. And Jewish girls. Shillue mines his hometown life for stories as easily and as grandly as if Norwood were his own Lake Wobegon, except it's all real. Close your eyes and you could imagine listening to Shillue every week on the radio, our generation's Garrison Keillor, delivering a slice of home. He's not the most energetic comedian you'll ever meet, but he remains quite engaging. So much so that 68 minutes of stories flies by.
Shillue says his next step is figuring out where to mount a run of the show. When he does, I'll be sure to let you know how you can catch him. On a related note, Shillue has built an established base of fans for his stories at Moonwork's Evenings of Original Works, and the Moonwork comedy season resumes Sept. 27.
You didn't think I sat through more than 50 hours of stand-up comedy last week and forgot to get some video of it, did you? So here's a scattered selection of footage from the world record comedy show last week at Comic Strip Live. But first, let's reflect on what happened, and consult an expert on world records and champions who also happened to close the show, 30 Rock's Judah Friedlander!
After the jump, four other videos showing what a comedy club looks like on the inside at 7:30 a.m., the silliness of comedians Rory Albanese and Mike Birbiglia as they attempt to redo a funny riff, my own self-analysis after 27 hours of comedy (and 38 hours awake!), and the official recognition from the Guinness World Records people on Thursday night...
Dead-Frog compares last week's SNL cold open with an old live sketch featuring Rowan Atkinson doing something similar, but also quite superior. Hmmm.
ChuckleDumper has a long interview with Tom Shillue (who since the interview has been on tour in Asia (Hong Kong, Manila, then into China) with Matt McCarthy, so he should have plenty of stories to tell!). Lots of quotes to choose from. Here's one: "I don't even know who these guys are that are playing the mainstream clubs now. All the guys I know are off playing these small rooms. I think the thing that's changed is that people can find their own audience now and [the audience] can find out what's going on over the internet and go see these shows. They don't need that marquee name, or chain. Now you can find out on the internet who you're into, and kind of go to that show. You have comics like Patton Oswalt with his Comedians of Comedy, creating these tours, just for his fans and people who like comics like him."
Neil Padover writes a nice profile of Jamie Lee for The Apiary. In case you're curious about Lee's day job (which goes unmentioned in the piece): She's a publicist for Comedy Central. (Future discussion item: How many Comedy Central employees, past and present, also have had comedy careers as performers?)
Punchline Magazine compiles a series of audio clips featuring hecklers and comedians interacting with audience members.
While it's interesting to hear how different stand-ups interact with audiences, whether it's regularly scripted crowd work or truly improvised riffs and observations, I wonder why this has been captured for posterity on audio in the first place? Well, then. Certainly some comedians want their CD recordings (and DVDs, too) to keep the natural ebb and flow of a show in effect, and therefore don't want to edit out any interruptions just for the sake of a pure set. Because there's not really such a thing. And sometimes, a CD/DVD recording cannot help but include an audience interaction. But should they cut it out? Perhaps. Throughout my personal history with the comedy business, I've heard friends, co-workers, acquaintances and strangers alike perpetuate two longstanding and widespread opinions they place on comedy clubs and live stand-up: 1) That they shouldn't sit in the front row because they'll "get picked on" by the comedian, and 2) That if they yell out something, they're "helping" the comedian. These audio clips won't change their minds. Not even the hecklers. Because hecklers don't get it, and when they hear these CDs, despite hearing the comedians rip on them, they'll think, but look at how it made it onto the CD, so it must be not only a good thing but the right thing to do.
Back in the day (that's a term, loosely translated, meaning before you were born), magazines such as the National Lampoon engaged in a practice commonly known as lampooning, sometimes so much so that these lampooners would produce and publish an entire spoof of another news publication. Tony Hendra, who once worked at the Lampoon, masterminded the new buzzed-about parody newspaper My Wall Street Journal (see it online now or later!) that hit the streets Tuesday (though some reports had it surfacing earlier, according to the New York Times, still for the moment an actual newspaper source of record). I spoke with satirist Jeff Kreisler, one of three executive editors on the 24-page paper, which blends elements of Rupert Murdoch's tabloidy tabloid of daily tabloids, the New York Post, with his new acquisition, the Wall Street Journal. Is it also a play on Murdoch's other big get, MySpace? You'll just have to watch the video and find out as Kreisler flips the pages with us from a hotel lounge in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan (does the lounge's electronic music soundtrack enhance or distract from the comedy? we embed, you decide!):
Buy it on Amazon.com with a click!
Furthermore: Kreisler brings his Comedy Against Evil tour to the Purple Onion next weekend, April 25-26.
After the jump, a bonus video in which comedian Tom Shillue gives me and Kreisler advice on where to shoot our interview, with an unexpected guest appearance by Todd Barry!