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Saturday, November 29, 2008

November 30: Seth Perry... not

In the long and storied history of the Seattle International Comedy Competition, only one Canadian has come away the winner. That Canadian was Vancouverite Damonde Tschritter. But, damn, Seth Perry did well this year. We may know who won it by the time we hit the air tomorrow night with Seth, but as of this writing all I can say with certainty that it isn't Seth. He will, though, I'm sure, tell us lots of good stories about his experiences all across the so-so state of Washington. We'll also ask him why he doesn't have more clips on YouTube so we don't have to resort to using high school wrestlers with the same name.

I'm just hoping to have a voice by airtime. I've been fighting some damn bug all week. It was so bad I had to cancel a scheduled interview with the hilarious Ian Bagg. But we'll get him on the next time he's in town, I promise.

That's it. What have you been up to?

UPDATE: Seth Perry has had to reschedule. Which is just as well because I'm still hacking and can't talk. But Kevin and I will go in, troupers that we are, and fill the hour with some hilarious comedy clips.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

November 23: Patrick Maliha

I remember when Patrick Maliha was just a standup comic. Today, he's still a standup comic, but he's also got his hand in everything else. Not only does he run almost every comedy room in the lower mainland, giving Mark Breslin a run for his money, but he does movie reviews on TV's Urban Rush and an afternoon talk show on CFUN radio. I, for one, hope Patrick does his movie reviews for ever. Because whenever somebody questions how I can review comedy without ever having done it myself, I always point to Maliha and his movie reviews.

Tonight – it's tonight already?! – Patrick joins us for what is sure to be a spirited hour of conversation. Always opinionated, Maliha is also the only guest in our four-year history who uttered the 'c' word live on air. Ah, that's co-op radio for you! I betcha he's never done that on his CFUN show, the pussy.


I didn't see any live comedy this week, but I did interview Cheech & Chong for a story coming out later this week in the Georgia Straight. Yeah, that's right. They got a guy who's never smoked weed to interview the most famous stoners in the world. Hey, if Patrick Maliha can review movies without ever having made a film, why not?

They're playing the Queen E. on Dec. 5.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

November 16: Byron Bertram

I'm spent. What a comedy weekend it was here in Vancouver. Friday night started with the Just For Laughs comedy tour at the Centre. A solid, if unspectacular, start to the weekend. There was no one I hated, but no one blew me away, either. Five comics performed and I present them to you in order of preference: Pete Zedlacher (Canada), David O'Doherty (Ireland), Hal Crittenden (Britain), Finesse Mitchell (USA) and Danny Bhoy (Scotland). As soon as that show ended, I raced up to the Vogue where Louis CK was 15 minutes into his act. Man, what a forceful and funny comic he is. Seeing him immediately after the JFL acts made you realize what was missing in the earlier show. The five comics there all knew how to make a crowd laugh (and some were laughing uncontrollably), but it didn't have the same impact as CK. His comedy is more... real, I guess. Or at least he presents it that way. It was a great show.

Saturday night was my most anticipated show of the season in Dame Edna at River Rock. She was supposed to be here last April but had to cancel. I know some people think she's just a drag act, and old-school at that, but she's so much more, and if you've never seen her live, you owe it to yourself to check her out next time she's in town. That being said, it seemed like she had an off-night. Still plenty of laughs, but too many lulls, too.

And how do I top it off? Well, how about standup comic and street performer Byron Bertram? Boo-ya! He'll be making a return visit to What's So Funny?, but it'll be my first time interviewing him. I can't remember what happened last time. I think I was sick, so trusty manservant Kevin took over the hosting duties. So let's just say this is his first real visit to the show. I'm hoping he does the whole thing in various accents. The guy is amazing.

Hey, you know what else is kinda amazing? His father, Gordie Bertram, it turns out, was (or is... I guess we'll find out) a jazz musician who played with my jazz musician father. Not only that, but Kelly Dixon's jazz musician uncle (Frank Mansell) also played with my dad. That's neither here nor there, but whatever. It's not all about you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Louis CK & Finesse Mitchell (and not Dame Edna)

I spoke with Louis CK and Finesse Mitchell recently. Both are playing in town on Friday. CK is headlining at the Vogue while Mitchell is hosting the annual Just For Laughs comedy tour over at the Centre.

CK is probably the most respected comedian working these days. He’s uncompromising, challenging, and he is always writing. Each year he writes a completely new one-hour set. He not only will talk about just about anything on stage, but he’s also a great interview who gives generous answers.

I did a feature on Louis CK for the Georgia Straight, which you can read on Thursday. But there was so much left on the cutting room floor, so to speak, so I thought I’d give you some bonus coverage. The fully transcribed interview will eventually go up on Comedy Couch but I can’t tell you when that’ll be.

I was interested in his take on the internet since he has so many clips on-line and since so many artists are so protective of their art.

Here’s his take on sharing:

I used to put stuff on as I developed it. I used to just do sets and tape them and then throw it on. ... And then I stopped doing that (laughs) because once my focus became doing these hours, I don't put undeveloped bad versions of that material out until I've put it out as a special in its best form. And then I don't care who chops it up and puts it out. The new special I have, there's like ten different people who have posted it on YouTube in different pieces. That's fine, that's great, I don't care. And sometimes people, when I was developing that set, they'd come to one of my shows with a camera phone, videotape it, and put it on YouTube. When that's happened, I've written the person and said... I don't tell them they have to take it down; I believe in sharing on the internet. But I just tell them, "I personally rather you wait until after it's come out in the special." And a hundred percent of the time they've taken it down.

GM: I know a lot of artists are more controlling about what goes up.
LCK: I dunno. I mean, I make my money on ticket sales. I'm not a person that makes money on royalties. If I did, I might feel differently. I don't know. The last album that Radiohead put out, they put the whole album on the internet for free. A free download for a finite amount of time. And then they took it down and put it on sale and it fucking killed, made a shitload of money. It's like radio. The internet is the radio. People don't know their history. It's ridiculous. This goes all the way back to rag music. You know why they call it a rag?

GM: No, I don't.
LCK: It refers to the sheet of music it's written on. It used to be, the only way you could ever hear music was to go see somebody play it. Around the late 1800s, if you wanted to hear a Scott Joplin song, or whoever the fuck, you had to go watch him play. And before there were records or anything, there were rags, which were the sheet music and lyrics of a song. And some musicians got the idea to publish their songs as a thing you could go buy at a dimestore and take it home and play it on your home piano. A lot of musicians said, "What are you, crazy? Because who's going to come watch you play it if they know how to play it themselves?" But obviously it made songs a huge hit and the person who wrote the rag would play it live and packed every theatre. And when they came out with the phonograph, everybody was like, "Shit! Of course, if they hear it at home on their radio, they'll never come out." Of course record sales promote live... And vice versa. Hey, guess what? You're getting paid for the record and the people made a shitload of money on those rags, too. I mean, it's just stupid. And the radio is free. Nobody gets paid at all for radio.

GM: Somebody does, don't they?
LCK: I don't think... I don't know. Do radio stations pay like a small fee to [the artists]? I don't think they make a shitload of money. But everybody goes and buys their records. It's proved over and over again that the more exposure the artist gets, the more people are going to seek it out.

GM: What about with your CD's? Are you okay, then, with people copying it or lending it?
LCK: I guess I am. I guess I don't care. Also, personally, I'm a pretty savvy person, computer-wise. I know how to use computers really well and I don't know how to get a bit torrent. I don't get any of that. I don't have time to teach myself how to download a torrent, you know what I mean? My new special is available that way, copiously. And after all these years of that stuff being available, I don't know how to do it. I don't have a real P-to-P thing, since Napster went down all those years ago. And I don't want to pay some subscription version of Napster when I can just buy it on iTunes for 99 cents. I have to believe that most people are like me or even more not going to go through this shit. But the people that do are fanatics. They love the material and they don't have the money to pay for it or they don't want to pay for it for whatever reason. But the people like that are good advertisers, good word of mouth. (laughs) I mean, you gotta understand. It's not like my comedy's my own private business. Like, I got into this shit to have people hear these ideas. And if people are poor and they wanna steal, I dunno. Like, I know it's not right to think this way but I kind of give them a pass (laughs).

GM: And they'll probably be the first to line up to come see you.
LCK: That's a fact. People come up to me after shows a lot and they say, "Hey, man, I downloaded your stuff for free. I stole it. I'm sorry." And I'm like, "Hey, you're here. You paid 30 dollars to see me so I don't care."

And there's lots more where that came from. I'll let you know when the full interview goes up.

Finesse Mitchell says he hates interviews, although he was very charming with me over the phone. “Sometimes I'm funny and sometimes I'm just informational,” he told me. I wrote a piece on him for the Province newspaper, which will be out in a couple days. There wasn’t as much left over, but I’ll throw you a few bones anyway.

The former SNL’er wrote a relationship book called “Your Girlfriends Only Know So Much”. He said he’s now considered a relationship guru. Interesting response when I asked if he was like standup Greg Behrendt, who wrote the best-selling “He’s Just Not That Into You”. He said, “Except I'm funny. He's not funny... I stopped liking him when he started wearing glasses.” And I have no idea if he was joking. I honestly couldn’t tell.

The former strong safety and cornerback for the University of Miami said that his college days were the time of his life. “I'm a frat guy so we were always throwing parties,” he said. “My college experience was probably the best time of my life. And SNL was second.” Mitchell was teammates in his freshman year with Dwayne Johnson, who went on to become a fake wrestler named The Rock, and then a fake actor. Mitchell recalls, “The guy I see on TV was not the guy I knew our freshman year. He was a little quiet.”

That’s it, folks. That damn Dame Edna wouldn’t speak to me because her shows are sold out. I’m sure she would have, but I couldn’t convince her people to allow it. But if there’s one person I’d love to interview, it’s Dame Edna. I’ve seen her live twice and loved both shows. I’ll see her again on Saturday at the River Rock. Looking forward to it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

November 9: Brett Martin

Tonight What's So Funny? welcomes Winnipeg's own Brett Martin. Or is he Calgary's own? Whatever he is, he's Vancouver's own Brett Martin now. What else do I know about the man? Not much, other than he has a dormant blog that looks exactly like our blog, complete with the Converse star in the corner. His blog, though, is really good. I wish he'd update it, but reading past entries is entertaining enough. I'll link you to it but don't get all confused when you see the almost identical layout. His came first. And while our blog might not be as good, it certainly is more current.

Seriously, that's about all I know about Brett. I've seen his standup act once and was impressed. But I'll do my due research before airtime and we'll have lots to talk about, don't you worry. It'll be a riveting hour, believe you me. So tune in. I know I will.

The hour will cap an interesting weekend of comedy. It started with Joe Rogan and Ari Shaffir at the Red Robinson theatre in Coquitlam. Some very funny stuff, too many dick jokes for my liking, and way too many yahoos screaming shit out. Then Saturday night I caught Bob Newhart at the River Rock. His opener was the Jack Stafford Big Band. I love jazz and big band music, and they were great, but I just find it an odd pairing. It's like my worlds colliding.

It was my third time seeing Bob. I feel I can call him Bob because I've interviewed him three times and he's just so nice and accomodating. His show isn't hilarious. I know many people who've gone to his show all excited and came away disappointed, but he is what he is. Warm and gentle and humorous. He stammers out street jokes, but makes them his own, and throws in one classic bit for old time's sake (this time it was Sir Walter Raleigh Introduces Tobacco to Civilization). Not hilarious or groundbreaking, but like that funny, but low-key, uncle you have.

Great comedy coming up this week, too. On Friday it's Louis CK at the Vogue, the Just For Laughs comedy tour at the Centre and Dame Edna at River Rock. She's also there on Saturday. And the weekend ends when we welcome Byron Bertram back to the studio.

I'll try to have something on Louis CK for you in a day or two, so check back when you get a chance.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Wright Stuff

I saw Steven Wright at the River Rock Show Theatre on Saturday night. It was my second time seeing him. Human experience is a funny thing. I believe our moods shape our experience more than we ever admit. You could be sleepy or grumpy or, really, any of the other dwarves, and that will make your experience less pleasurable, no matter what's happening on stage (or on screen or whatever the art form you're taking in). The first time I saw Wright was at the Orpheum a few years ago. My take was that he was great for about 20 minutes, then his slow dulcet tones kind of put you to sleep. Now I think I just might have been sleepy anyway. It's no reflection on him.

On Saturday he went from 8:15 to 10:00 o'clock. That's a long damn show – and even longer, I'm thinking, for someone who essentially does one-liners. How does he store all those jokes? Yes, he'll do some drawn-out narrative pieces, but they're essentially one-liners stitched together. Same when he picks up his guitar and recontextualizes his jokes in song. But I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Wright doesn't have a single genuine word in his act – no references to Vancouver, no reactions to the reactions he was getting. Nothing. But it works. I guess so. The guy has been doing this for about 30 years.

Here's an example of how rote his act is:

Do you think in Europe Miles Davis is known as Kilometre Davis?

Funny enough line and it got a lukewarm response. I'm thinking that if he just acknowledged the fact that he was in a country that uses the metric system, the joke would have got a much bigger laugh. He could have asked us if that's what Davis is called here. I'm not sure how; that's his job. I just think that as soon as he said it, with Europe as the reference point, the natural inclination to laugh was hindered with the thought, "Hey, we use the metric system."

I know some of you won't agree. I've been told I'm too analytical, but I'm convinced I'm right on this. Let me go off on a tangent to prove my point. About five or six years ago I was at the Just For Laughs festival in Montréal. At one of the clubs I saw Christopher Titus do a joke that ended with the punchline "Cirque du Soleil". Only he, being an American with no knowledge of French, pronounced it "Cirque dee Soleil". It got a moderate laugh just because, I thought, people started thinking as soon as the laughs kicked in, "Ooh, he just butchered the pronunciation." Cut to a few days later. I'm hanging out backstage at the gala. Titus is there with his fiancée. Everyone had to get there hours before so there was a lot of sitting around. I had played basketball with him the day before so I got to know him a little bit. We're sitting around and I tell him the correct pronunciation of Cirque du Soleil. Just the "du" part. I say it seems insignificant, but I betcha it makes a difference. So he goes out there, says the joke with "du" instead of "dee" and it gets a huge reaction. Applause break, even. He and his fiancée made a point of coming up to me after and saying how right I was. (Yes, it could have been that it was the gala and the audience would have lapped it up anyway, but I'm sticking with my story.) So I think if Wright had made a simple change to his joke, it could have got a much better reaction.

Not that it matters, I guess, when he's got so many more coming down the pipe. Everyone in the world, practically, has their favourite Wright joke. How he keeps churning them out is beyond me. I think acid probably has a lot to do with it. He can get pretty bizarrely surreal. Here are some choice jokes of his I managed to scribble down:

The New Testement is pretty old. I think they should call it the Old Testament and the Most Recent Testement.

What did Jesus ever do for Santa Claus's birthday?

Next week I'm gonna have an MRI to find out whether or not I have claustrophobia.

When I was a kid I was told practice makes perfect. Then I was told nobody's perfect. So I quit practicing.

A friend of mine has Reverse Tourette's Syndrome. Random people just swear at him.

I'm addicted to placebos. I could quit but it wouldn't matter.

I think it's wrong that only one company makes Monopoly.

A friend of mine has a trophy wife. But apparently it wasn't first place.

I asked my girlfriend if she ever had sex with a woman. She said no. I said, "You should try it; it's fun."... So she did... Now she's gone.

I finally figured out what I want on my tombstone: "You're next"

Whenever I think about the past it just brings back so many memories.

When I was a little boy we had a dog that was born with two vaginas. And we named it Snatches.

Why are ballerinas always on their tiptoes? Why don't they just get taller women?

A friend of mine does voodoo acupuncture. You don't have to go. You're just walking down the street and you go, "Woah, that's much better!"

The beauty of his work is that it translates so well to the page. But at the same time, the page (or computer screen) doesn't do him service. He adds so much more through his pauses and tone of voice. I was going to say 'persona', but I'm convinced what you see on stage is pretty much what you get in real life. I interviewed the man once six years ago. It was the most awkward interview I've ever done – and I've done a lot. Again, through no fault of his own. That's just the way he is. I'd ask a question and he'd think, then think some more, before finally offering a brief answer. If you know someone well, not a problem. But if you're talking over the phone to a stranger who you figure probably doesn't want to be talking to you, those pauses can be painful. In each one I'm thinking, "Is he mad at me? Was that a stupid question? Is he ignoring me now? Should I move on to my next question?" Often, he'd give a short sentence then stop. I'd wait, then wait some more, and just when I think I should move on to the next subject, we'd start talking at the same time. So I figured that's just the way he is. S-l-o-w. Or maybe just t-h-o-u-g-h-t-f-u-l.

I got to meet him after the show this time. Well, "meet" may be the wrong word. The River Rock and the Red Robinson theatres both do these horribly awkward meet-and-greet sessions with about a dozen lucky fans after the show. And I'm always invited and usually go. I'm not sure why I go. Maybe because they take your picture with the artist and you can show it to your grandkids and they can think you hung out with them or something. But nothing could be further from the truth. What happens is the dozen or so of you are herded down the elevator and led into a room where we stand around trying to look like we belong. Then the star of the show is ushered in and led to the front of the room. One by one we're introduced to said artist, who shakes our hand, and we turn to the camera and smile. Occasionally the comic makes it worthwhile. Dana Carvey, for example, is always on and seems like a helluva nice guy. Lisa Lampanelli was full of life and had everyone in stitches while calling everyone a "cunt". Don Rickles, though, was the best. He shuffles in wearing a tuxedo top under his robe (no pants). He's in full Rickles mode. As soon as the photo is snapped he says, "Now get the hell outta here!"

Steven Wright walked in and looked much older than he does on stage or TV. I mean, the guy is in his early 50s, so maybe he looks his age. It was just surprising. He also didn't look like the healthiest person alive. And it appears he's got the Howie Mandel germ phobia thing going. He wouldn't shake hands. We each got a fist bump. And when he put his arms around people for the pose, I noticed his hands were kept back so as not to touch their outer garments even. It was just the illusion that he was hugging them.

After the show, my friend and I were sitting out in the bar and Steven came wandering through looking like he was really looking for someone. He went back and forth for probably 15 minutes. Nobody looked twice at him. Odd, that. I figured he'd be quite recognizable.

Another thought on the evening: I'm always loathe to assume anything a comedian says has any basis in fact in their lives. And I probably wouldn't with Wright, either, if it weren't for the fact that I've been reading a lot lately on the suicide death of my favourite writer, David Foster Wallace. I'd read him for years and never had an inkling he was depressed or suicidal for decades. He'd make references on occasion, but it seemed like an abstraction. While waiting for my friend outside the show, I, in fact, was reading a Rolling Stone article on Wallace, so it was fresh in my mind. With Wallace, I thought how, I guess, you can never really know what's going on in someone's head unless you're really close to them. And not even then sometimes. So, anyway, when Wright made his first suicide reference, my alarm bells went off.

I got a papercut from writing my suicide note. That's a start.

A funny line and I'm sure it's just an example of great joke writing.

I'm insane. You think it's a show.

Hmm... that could very well be true. Then he sang a song about suicide:

I wanna put a closure on my mirth.

I realize he could completely be playing to his deadpan persona. It wouldn't fare that well if he talked of puppy dogs and lollipops and had a rosy outlook. It wouldn't match. So let's just hope he's much happier in real life than he lets on under the spotlight.

Check out some Steven Wright video over there in the right-hand panel ––>

Wow, that was long. No wonder editors hate my guts.