2010's Boston Comedy Festival had plenty of competition to attract audience members to its competition finale last night at the Wilbur Theatre, from Denis Leary's Comics Come Home XVI, which packed upward of 6,000 in Agganis Arena to see Jim Norton, Pete Correale, Thomas Dale, Lenny Clarke, Joe Yannetty, Adam Ferrara, Jimmy Dunn and Steven Wright -- to the Wilbur's next-door neighbors at the Wang Theatre, where Jim Gaffigan (who also made a cameo at Comics Come Home), was holding court to 3,600 fans. Todd Barry, meanwhile, was headlining at the Hard Rock Cafe, Darryl Lenox was playing Cheers Comedy Club, and the Comedy Studio and Mottley's featured their own motley crews of stand-ups on the rise.
With all of that competition, the BCF persevered with a strong finals lineup that produced its first-ever tie, bookended by performances from Lenox, Joe Wong (who received a Boston Comedian of the Year Award) and Robert Klein (who received the fest's Lifetime Achievement Award).
Klein noted that his first Broadway production, "The Apple Tree," previewed in Boston's theater district before hitting Broadway in 1966, and he joked about how Mike Nichols got to stay in the Ritz, while Klein was stuck in a seedy hotel called the Avery in Boston's "combat zone." Wong, meanwhile, served as a living role model for all of the comedians in the contest who didn't win, because he has never won it, either. Instead, he said that Letterman's booker Eddie Brill saw something in him during the 2005 contest and helped groom him for his two Late Show appearances in 2009-2010.
Nate Bargatze and Saleem Muhammad, who goes by just Saleem onstage, did achieve dual firsts by tying for first-place in the 2010 competition. Bargatze wasn't fazed by having the "bullet" spot in the lineup, joking about his attempts at community college, defending Wal-Mart, and questioning his ability to take an actual bullet for his wife. For Bargatze, a Tennessee native based now in NYC, this is his third big competition of the year, having already achieved wins twice at Carolines (for its "Final Four" tournament in March, and then its "New York's Funniest" in November). Saleem, a native of Dayton, Ohio, now based in L.A., told the audience he was "your final negro of the evening," claimed he was more surprised to see a black First Lady in his lifetime, wondered why white kids are more black than he is, and acknowledged that being gay is tougher than being black.
Wil Sylvince took third place. The other finalists -- Orlando Baxter, Nick Cobb, Matt D., Mehran and Lamont Price -- all put in strong performances themselves.
I caught up with the top three finishers after the show backstage at the Wilbur Theatre for a quick chat to find out how they'd split their prize money and record deal. Roll it!
Wil Sylvince showed me and some famous comedians this short film he did this summer with Paradise Square Films. He didn't tell us what it was about before we watched it, so I'm not going to tell you any more. It's pretty great, though. Roll it!
Wouldn't you enjoy seeing that on HBO? In the meantime, see Wil Sylvince pull no punches when he performs stand-up this weekend, Sept. 10-11, with Shawn and Marlon Wayans at Tommy T's in Rancho Cordova, Calif.; Sept. 14 at the Punchline in San Francisco for NBC's Stand Up For Diversity showcase, Sept. 16-19 at Carolines on Broadway here in NYC with Top Dogs of Comedy (with Capone, Mark Viera and Corey Holcomb) and presenting his annual competition, NBC Universal's Short Cuts Film Festival, starting Sept. 22 as part of the New York Television Festival.
It has been heartening to see the comedy community come together and help in the fund-raising efforts in Haiti following the devastating 7.0 earthquake that hit the already-impoverished island nation earlier this week.
Amid all of the late-night TV hullaba-uh-ohs, Conan O'Brien made sure to point out how comedic actor Ben Stiller already had launched a great service for Haiti in StillerStrong. Following in the steps of other major catastrophes, there will be a nationwide televised telethon on Jan. 22 shown on multiple stations, and co-hosted by Haitian-American Wyclef Jean, George Clooney and Anderson Cooper.
I caught up with Haitian-American stand-up comedian Wil Sylvince last night at the Comedy Cellar. Sylvince has written comedy material for Wyclef and The Fugees. Good news from him: Sylvince told me most of his family already has immigrated to the States, and he managed to catch up with all of his friends who still live in Haiti. But there are so many people who need help there. Here is a short video message from Wil we shot outside the Cellar last night:
Most of all, the relief effort needs money. Mercy Corps has set up a Comedians For Haiti fund-raising site, and The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre here in New York City will bring out some of its biggest celebrities from Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show and 30 Rock to participate in two special performances of ASSSSCAT called MercyCAT on Sunday, Jan. 31. Tickets are $30, with every dollar going to Mercy Corps.
Elsewhere in NYC, Comix comedy club has announced The I'm With Coco Benefit For Haiti on Jan. 28, with a lineup still in the works (so far, Todd Barry already has signed on, and Sylvince is likely to to be there, too) along with artist Mike Mitchell, the man who designed the popular "I'm With Coco" poster. UPDATED! Hosted by Seth Herzog with Dave Attell, Todd Barry, Wyatt Cenac, John Mulaney, Wil Sylvince, Anthony Jeselnik, Jeff Kreisler, writers from The Onion and more.
Comedian Liam McEneaney and his "Tell Your Friends!" show will host The Haiti Benefit Relief Show at Lolita bar in the Lower East Side (upstairs, not the basement) on Jan. 25, with a lineup that includes Janeane Garofalo, Kristen Schaal, Wyatt Cenac, Todd Barry, Victor Varnado, McEneaney and music from Tracy Bonham and A Brief View of the Hudson. Tickets: $10 UPDATED! Lewis Black added to that bill.
I'm also hearing that Carolines On Broadway is putting something together for Jan. 20, but waiting on details for that. UPDATED! “Stand-Up for Haiti” will take place on Wednesday, January 27, beginning at 8:00 p.m.,1626 Broadway, between 49th and 50th Streets, in Times Square. Power 105.1 FM’s Ed Lover, who hosts the station’s top rated morning drive program, “The Ed Lover Show” weekdays from 5:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m., will host “Stand-Up for Haiti,” which will include performances by comedians Kevin Hart, Jeffrey Ross and Dave Attell, with more names to be added to the line-up. Tickets to “Stand-Up for Haiti” are $35 each and can be purchased online at www.carolines.com. For more information call 212.757.4100. One hundred percent of the ticket sales from the event will benefit Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (www.doctorswithoutborders.org) and the William J. Clinton Foundation (www.clintonfoundation.org).
In Los Angeles, Tim and Eric are putting on their very own For Your Haiti benefit screening and panel discussion on Jan. 26 with them along with John C. Reilly and more. I hear it's already sold out?
If there are other comedy efforts for Haiti -- either in NYC or elsewhere -- please let me know and I'll include them on this post.
There are a lot more serious things going on in the world while us comedy fans talk about late-night TV comedy talk shows.
Stand-up comedian Wil Sylvince, a past winner of New York's Funniest Stand-Up contest and native of Haiti, knows this all too well. The devastating 7.0 earthquake Tuesday near Haiti's capital city has killed thousands. Sylvince just posted this message on Facebook.
"Thank U 2 all 4 UR prayers & support 2 Haiti's horrible disaster Donate: Clinton Foundation- www.clintonfoundation.org/haitiearthquake Donate $10 to Haiti- Red Cross: Text "HAITI" to 90999 or log to www.redcross.org/en & click "DONATE" Donate $5 to Haiti- Wyclef Jean's Organization Yele.Org: Text "Yele" to 501501 Contact loved ones in Haiti- US State Department in Haiti: 1-888 407-4747"
Sylvince also posted a link to this Facebook Haiti group page. So please do what you can to help.
On tonight's Late Show, David Letterman also takes a couple of minutes to tell people they also can donate to the World Food Project. Here's a clip.
So, that happened. What a weird, wild 30 hours for Katt Williams in New York City last week. It began on Wednesday afternoon, when NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien taped its show and never heard from Williams, a scheduled guest for that night's program. His people told me the next day that Williams, traveling by tour bus, simply got stuck in traffic and never made it into Manhattan in time.
Williams and his entourage did arrive later that night, and sometime in the 2 a.m. hour, NYPD searched a car (allegedly lacking a license plate) traveling with said tour bus, found a handgun in the car, and arrested the entire entourage, including Williams. A source close to Williams tried to assure me that he had been detained on charges of "Pimpin." Ha! Either way, the comedian didn't make bail until 18 hours later, and hurried over to Carnegie Hall, arriving at 8:36 p.m. Considering his stand-up concert was supposed to start at 8 p.m., theater staff and the New York Comedy Festival people were more than a bit anxious awaiting his arrival, and started the show late, plus had opener Wil Sylvince pad his time onstage. Williams emerged to applause at 9:09 p.m. and promptly filled us all in on at least some of the details. He first asked for patience. "I just got out of jail 35 minutes ago," he said. "I had 15 n!&&ers with me. They took us all in!" He also quipped that he didn't rush over just to cash a paycheck, as he'd been paid in advance. After a few more thoughts about the discomforts of incarceration, Williams launched into his regularly scheduled routines, talking about what Barack Obama's presidency means to black Americans, a lengthy historical retrospective on the pilgrims, the great American melting pot, and the beginnings of slavery. If blacks had begged for reparations before, Williams wasn't asking on this night. "This week was the greatest gift you ever gave us, period," he said. He also took a few moments to discuss his dislike of Sarah Palin, and after delivering an hour of material, Williams closed with another five minutes of rapping. Very impressive stuff for a guy who had not gotten a wink of sleep the entire day and barely a minute to decompress from 18 hours in jail! Even Chris Rock, in attendance, was smiling as he left Carnegie Hall. After the show, Williams seemed to be in good spirits as he wound down a very eventful day and night with other comedians at the festival's official afterparty at Carolines.
If any publicity is good publicity, then this is as good a time as any to remind you that Williams has a new DVD out on Tuesday, It's Pimpin', Pimpin'.
And here's a clip:
If you were to ask me at the start of the 2008 New York's Funniest Stand-Up contest, who I thought would win, well, someone did, and before I could say "John Mulaney" (whoops, he's not even in the contest? wait, what? oh, right, Mulaney is headlining at the Punchline in San Francisco this week, so he already had plans), I thought, Julian McCullough was the only Carolines club comic returning from among the 2007 contest finalists, so, yeah, him. McCullough did win the $2,500 prize last night at Carolines, along with a week of gigs at the club and an additional spot opening for one of the New York Comedy Festival headliners.
"I'm going to move to Hoboken with this money," McCullough joked while holding the large cardboard fake-check, in between sincere sentiments about his fellow competitors. "I want to thank Carolines. They've changed my life over the past two years."
McCullough told me afterward that he already had a festival gig opening for Susie Essman at Carolines this weekend. Which makes me realize that picking the winner of this contest is simple! Last year, winner Wil Sylvince had a festival gig before the contest; this year, 'twas McCullough. So if you want to win in 2009, get yourself booked in the fest first!
As even McCullough pointed out when he opened his finals set, stand-up comedy contests don't mesh well with stand-up comedy personalities. "Take the hardest job in the world and pit us against each other," he told the audience. And this contest has some work to do, too -- it uses the same audition process as Last Comic Standing (preferring appointments over open calls), which gives an advantage to comedians who know the system and the Carolines staff; and the name, well, the name of the contest, "New York's Funniest Stand-Up," is about as much of a misnomer as Grammy's Best New Artist. Actually, it'd make more sense if they called it New York's Best New Stand-Up, because even if the stand-up has worked for years, he or she is new to the New York City scene and industry and at least that separates that title from the many great and funny stand-up comedians who live in the city. That said, it's great that the Carolines-produced festival addded the contest to its lineup, because it's one of those events that helps make this week in NYC comedy more special and unique than any other week.
Want to know who I think New York's funniest stand-up is? Want to know how everyone else did in the contest? Keep reading...
If there's such a thing as alt-comedy, then can there also be such a thing as alt-black comedy? Elon James White thinks so. White and fellow New York comedian Baron Vaughn have been trying to educate audiences on the notion that there are many different types of black stand-up comedy, through their Shades of Black shows, their online site, The Black Comedy Project, and this weekend, their first full-on comedy fest, The Black Comedy Experiment. The "Experiment" debuts tonight and runs through Saturday night, with all shows at the two venues in The Tank.
Tonight's mainstage shows are Souled Out (featuring Walli Collins, Rick Younger, Leighann Lord, Dean Edwards, Mike Yard and Marc Theobold) and Desiree Burch's 52-Man Pickup. Other one-person shows include "The Oreo Kid" by Jordan Carlos (who auditioned last week for Saturday Night Live as a potential Barack Obama), "30 Years in Africa" by Michelle Buteau, Robin Cloud's "Bag O' Bitches," "Mystery Up at Negro Creek," by Baron Vaughn, and "2-Faced" by Erica Watson. There'll be special editions of Chicks and Giggles, Laughing Liberally and Shades of Black. And that's not all.
That SNL just got a lot of buzz over their search for a cast member to play Barack Obama only brought more attention to the plight of black comedians in getting the industry to notice them. "We couldn't ask for better timing, literally," White told me last night. That SNL didn't cast a black comedian for Obama didn't surprise White. That Jordan Carlos and Donald Glover got face time with Lorne Michaels pleased him, though. "I was happy that two of the three Obamas were on our festival. There's our buzz!"
In White's view, the fact remains that most audiences and Hollywood industry types think of only one type of comedian when they think of booking a black stand-up. They think of Def Jam, he said. "Everybody feels I'm harping on it," he said. It's not that Def Jam is evil or bad, he said, but rather that the great success of Def Jam created a model that everyone else has tried to duplicate without thinking or considering other forms or styles of comedy. That's been the pattern, White says, going back to Bill Cosby. When Richard Pryor emerged, "he kicked the door down," but then other comics tried to be Pryor, then tried to be Eddie Murphy, then tried to be the Wayans Brothers, and more recently, Def Jam. "It was just bravado. In your face," White said. "But it pigeonholed us for years." The opportunities simply aren't there, from SNL to HBO. "Dwayne Perkins might get to do Conan. But where's his HBO special?" White's online essay in October, "Did Def Jam Ruin Black Comedy?" sparked a furious back-and-forth debate with comedian Todd Lynn. "Todd Lynn says there ain't no thing as an 'Intelligent N----r' show. The fact is, though, he thinks there's one way of doing it, but in my opinion, there are many ways of climbing the ladder," White said.
He acknowledges that "the chitlin' circuit is strong in Harlem and the Bronx," and that New York City has lots of black comedians and black rooms, but wonders where the mainstream breakthroughs are for them. And White also knows that even though he's a Bed-Stuy Brooklyn native, he sounds like he's British and doesn't always fit in either an urban Def Jam scene or a white scene. "There are jokes I have that I can't tell in front of a white audience. It's because they just don't get it, nine times out of 10. They don't have the same life experience I have." So there has to be another way. "It was the same when the alt-comedy scene started. That's why I believe in alt-black," he said. "Some people argue I'm just putting another label on them and I understand that."
Like the comedians who formed an alternative to the club scene so they could work and build their own fan bases, White hopes to do the same for the many "shades of black" comedy. He's not against "urban or Def Jam" comedians who are good, saying Patrice Oneal is great and killed on that show. He's against black comedians who are hack about their blackness, such as the woman who threw her weave into the audience to get a standing ovation.
White still doesn't know if he and Vaughn and the experiment will succeed. "If we make enough ruckus, at least we'll be a footnote," White said.
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.