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Sunday, December 28, 2008

December 28: Still no show!

Still no show? What gives? Well, we here at What's So Funny? (TM) like to end the year on a whimper rather than a bang. And if you tune in, you won't even get an encore presentation. Instead you'll be greeted with the Korean-language show and Korean pop music. Sorry about that. It's just the way things are. Accept, grasshopper.

But we'll be back with a vengeance next Sunday. We've got an international comic on. An Aussie. I hope I understand him. I sure hope our regular listener in Tasmania is listening. (Yes, we have international listeners, too, thanks to live-streaming.)

Anyone get any good comedy-related Christmas presents? Feel free to share in the comments section. (Is it totally transparent I'm just fishing for comments? It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact I never get any and have no way of knowing if anyone views this blog. Honestly. Really.)

Hey, we went a whole year without getting a podcast up. So when they start trickling in (soon, I hope), you'll have lots to listen to. A whole year's worth – if I can find them. I'm sure there were some good ones. Did you know you can find us on iTunes? And it's free? Why don't you go download one and listen to it between 11 and midnight tonight and pretend we're on the air.

Happy New Year if I don't talk to you before then. Okay, happy New Year even if I do talk to you before then. Because that's the kind of guy I am.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

December 21: No show tonight

Looks like we're done for the year, folks. Man, it's like we live in Canada or something. I love the snow and all, but my car doesn't. Just as well since I'm still hacking and sneezing from whatever monster bug is out there. Man, if there's ever a case for homeschooling, it's that. Kids bring home the darnedest things, don't they?

So I've broken the news to Simon King, who was scheduled to be on tonight. He took it like the man that he is. Simon just got back from the Las Vegas comedy festival, I do believe. The only Vancouver comic in attendance. I'm sure he had some good stories to tell. Thankfully he was gracious enough to rebook and he'll be back on Jan. 25 (aka 11 shopping months until Christmas '09).

If you want to tune in tonight anyway, there will be a repeat... er, I mean an encore presentation. The station is going to run the Nov. 16 classic with guest Byron Bertram. It's a must-listen. And if you've already heard it, you catch so much more the second time.

Next week we were taking off anyway. The Korean language show that usually follows us will be starting an hour early in our place. That's for you, Paul Bae.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a see ya later.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

December 14: Richard Kiss

Welcome to winter. I don't know about where you are, but over here on the north shore of Vancouver, it's a freakin' winter wonderland. Given the hills here, I have no idea if I'll be able to get to the show tonight. We'll see. I sure hope so. Our guest tonight, Richard Kiss, is leaving town on the morrow, going back to his home in sunny California, where he's been living for the last 17 years.

I first saw Richard in a stand-up comedy competition at Yuk Yuk's last year. Come to think of it, I last saw him at that competition, too. I liked what I saw. He's a math/computer nerd who was also a member of the UCLA Comedy Club (I have no idea what that is, but it sounds impressive, I guess just because it's at UCLA).

Hey, speaking of Yuks, I saw a great show there last night. Jon Dore was in town. If you've never seen The Jon Dore Television Show, watch it. It's pretty damn funny, and original, to boot. I know, it's on the Comedy Network, but not everything they do sucks; just most of what they do. This one's good, though. Trust me. He's also a really funny stand-up. The show was hosted by Sean Proudlove, who was on fire. It was fun watching him work. He came out to a really chatty crowd. Proudlove doesn't have the voice that really commands an audience to sit up and listen. So he started in while everyone was yakking away. But, pro that he is, he immediately related to them by addressing the Christmas parties in attendance and calling out the bosses. That got everyone listening and once they realized he had the goods, were in the palm of his hand the rest of the way. Former Vancouver Dave Tsonis middled and the crowd loved him, too. I like his new single guy material. Even if he gets a new gal in his life, he should keep it. It suits his persona. A good night of comedy on the town.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Robin Williams concert

I saw Robin Williams' Weapons of Self Destruction tour at the Queen E. on Monday night (see my review in the Georgia Straight here). I had seen Williams a couple other times at the late lamented Urban Well in Kitsilano over the years. Now, I'm the first to admit that I'm not a big laugher so I don't know that it's a huge knock on the guy to say I never laughed once any time I've seen him. I sit in awe at his energy but I don't laugh. Don't get me wrong, I don't sit there hating him, either. It's more of a neutral-bordering-on-negative opinion I have, as opposed to an active dislike.

There's only so much one can write in a 400-word review, so let me expand a bit. I've long been on the record that there is no such thing as a hack premise; only hack jokes. If you can offer a new twist on an already tired subject, I'm all for it. I came to this conclusion after years of watching Irwin Barker, who does hilarious bits on Costco and airline travel. The bottom line is funny.

The problems I have with Williams' bits are that the premises are, for the most part, the jokes. We're supposed to laugh at his take, but we've heard the take countless times before. (I should point out here that the sold-out crowd absolutely loved the guy, so what do I know?) Sometimes I could place who said the same thing before him, other times I couldn't. Maybe some of you will be able to tell me.

* Canada is like a loft apartment over a biker bar. This may very well be original, but the format isn't. Canada is like a [something benign or good] over a [something crazy] I've heard lots of times. I think the joke is in the form rather than the specifics. Is it legit to just replace the words? It doesn't seem so to me but maybe some of you have differing opinions you'd like to share with the class.

* Snow would be nice. This refers to Vancouver getting the Winter Olympics. Irwin Barker did this joke (only much better) back when we first got the bid. Others have done it since. Irwin actually had jokes (and lots of 'em) to go with this premise. Williams made the premise the joke: "Snow would be nice."

* "Muthafucka, yeah!" This is how he would love to see president-elect Barack Obama at his inauguration. Again, the idea of the "real" Obama coming out of the closet once elected in the form of a ghetto rapper has been done to death.

* "...left turn and then another left turn..." Here he recontextualized an old joke about the simplicity of Nascar, but the point is it's not his joke. And I guess that's fine, to a point. But the joke hits like it's supposed to be something we hadn't thought of before. Now, maybe lots of people there hadn't heard it before, but there's something not right about the whole thing.

* "We still haven't found Osama... a 6-foot-7 Arab on dialysis." Again, who hasn't heard this dozens of times already? One defence of joke theft is parallel thought. It's a legitimate defence, too. But when something is out there all over the place, that defence gets thrown out. Yes, bin Laden is a distinctive looking fellow and the U.S. hasn't found him. He might very well have put those two facts together on his own, but once the joke becomes so prevalent, you gotta just let it go.

* Who will build the wall? This joke (about Schwarzeneggar wanting to build a wall to keep out the Mexicans) has been the subject of other theft charges. Joe Rogan went after Carlos Mencia, claiming his buddy Ari Shaffir did the original line. But the joke was out there even before that and just about everyone's done it. I saw Alonzo Bodden do the joke at Yuk Yuk's not too long ago. So I guess if everyone else is doing it, Williams should be allowed. And maybe he should. But he should know better. That's the thing.

* Starbucks next to a Starbucks. Funny thing about this one, we've heard it hundreds of times about Vancouver. But Williams, despite knowing the city well, was talking about Seattle. Again, it's premise as joke. We've all observed, here and in Seattle, the unique phenomenon of two Starbucks franchises close to each other. So what else do you got for us? Is that it?

* Sped-up Babe Ruth. This was an odd one because his old buddy Billy Crystal did this bit for years. Granted, the ideas were different. Crystal used it to show how funny it looked watching the old baseball players on newsreels. Williams used it to show that Ruth was actually buzzed on Coke (big and little c). But still, it's the pantomime that gets the laugh and Crystal is the guy who picked up on that. Williams shouldn't get a free ride.

* "Sex with an alcoholic is like playing pool with a rope." Nuff said.

* Nazi pope with a gay wardrobe who opposes gay marriage. It's so easy and not the least bit original. But if he had some killer jokes in that now-old premise, I'd say go for it. He didn't.

* On their first design, pubes were straight but females kept going, "My eyes!" Again, nuff said.

* Why aren't there more funny Germans? Because they killed them all. Now, this one just sounds familiar. For all I know, I heard him say it. Can anyone help me out here? I want to be fair.

* Chinese script on a tattoo that turns out to mean nothing more than 'ass monkey'. Everyone's doing this joke now and I can see how everyone came to it. Whitey gets a foreign language tattoo. Easy-peasy. But you gotta be aware of what's out there. We've heard it. Stop it.

* The human male has a penis and a brain and only enough blood to run one at a time. This one was even emblazoned on a shirt at the merch table. Surely Williams didn't write this, did he? It seems unlikely.

And then there were the mouldy-oldie topics: Chretien, Olympic Stadium falling apart, Margaret Trudeau, Michael Jackson, Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky, Camilla Parker as a horse, cats/dogs, anal leakage, Viagra, porn acting...

I know I'm repeating myself, but I just want to drive the point home. While I have no idea if he steals jokes, it's lazy comedy. Surprising coming from a guy who works so hard. The thing is, he famously talks fast. He does have some good lines and maybe if he just slowed down and eliminated the borrowed jokes, he could accentuate the good, original material.

And while, like I said, I didn't laugh once, there were still a few lines and bits I thought were okay:

On Harper: "How did you find a guy to make Bush look good? He is so bland!" On reflection, not a joke at all. Maybe I just liked it because I agreed with it and it showed he's on top of Canadian politics, at least on the surface.

On Bush: "The reign of error has ended." Is that his? See, when you do so many jokes that aren't original, I can't totally get behind you when you say something halfway decent.

On Bush: "He comes from a family where the smart brother is named Jeb."

On Bush at summit meetings when no other world leader but Blair would stand by him: "It was like the U.N. version of Rainman." Then he launched into Bush as played by Dustin Hoffman. Not an original impression but seemed fitting.

On Palin: "Did Ronald Reagan and Vanna White have a kid?" He followed it up by talking about how they handed "the baby around like a joint". Nice image.

On his bad film choices: When his GPS tells him to take a right on the Golden Gate Bridge, he tells it, "I'm not that depressed." It responds, "Really, Robin? I saw Bicentennial Man."

On his alcoholism: "A functioning alcoholic is like a paraplegic lap dancer. You can do it, just not as well as the others."

He also did an inspired long bit about designing humans by committee. I thought for sure it would be his closer, but it wasn't. And maybe my favourite bit was in the encore when he trotted out some ancient impressions but had them doing porn: John Wayne, Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart. Of course he had to ruin it by finishing with Christopher Walken, but whatcha gonna do?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

December 7: Darcy Michael & Jane Stanton

It's been a while since we've had two guests on at a time. In the early years, it was much more common. Don't know why I switched other than it burns up more guests this way. Either way is fun, though. Tonight Darcy Michael makes his annual visit. This is his third trip to our little show and it's always lots of fun. He is one fun homosexual. But I guess that's redundant. Jane Stanton, on the other hand, will be making her first appearance. She and Darcy are good pals so it's a perfect match. Darcy has a new CD to promote and just finished taping an episode of The Debaters on CBC radio, and Jane has a Teen Angst show she'd like to talk about. Among other things. So tune in tonight and listen, won't you? Please?

All right, it's nap time! My favourite time of day!

PS The Cheech & Chong show was surprisingly good. I really enjoyed it. Read my review here.

THIS JUST IN: Darcy Michael's car broke down so he won't be joining us tonight. He said he'll call in, though. See, this is why I have two guests booked! I knew there was a reason.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Marin & Tommy

Ever wonder if Cheech & Chong would have made it as big if their names weren't alliterative? I mean, what are the odds two guys with 'ch' names meet and take the comedy stoner world by storm? The mind boggles.

In last week's Georgia Straight, I wrote the cover story on the comedic duo, who met right here in Vancouver. It's the definitive biography, if I do say so myself. Treat yourself to that fine bit of writing. Go ahead. You deserve it.

It was fun putting the story together, if a bit rushed. One thing I was really hoping for was to talk to former RCMP narc, Det. Abe Snidanko, who C&C immortalized as the Clouseau-like cop on their trail in the movies, Sgt. Stidenko, as played by Stacey Keach. I actually did talk to Snidanko, who's now retired, but he wouldn't talk. “I don’t give interviews. Thanks anyhow,” is all he would offer. I would have loved to have heard his opinion on the stoners, and to find out if it's true he was shipped off to Turkey for 17 years after he became well known.

Here are some other morsels that didn't make the story.

I spoke to the pair on Cheech's cellphone as they were driving (or being driven) from Portland to Eugene, Oregon. So it appears they genuinely do like each other. Remember, for years and years they didn't have a lot of nice things to say about each other. Cheech went on and on about how easy it's been getting back on stage with his old buddy. There were virtually no awkwardness on stage. And they did next to no rehearsing beforehand. "It took us like 30 seconds," he said about how long it took to get their rhythm back. "I'm not kidding you. It was scary. Like when you have a tattoo and you go get it off you have a scar that looks like the tattoo. It was beyond easy. It's part of our DNA."

Cheech never said one way or the other how important the comedy was back in the heyday, but he did mention something that suggested he knew the gimmick was equally important in their quest for fame: "Wherever we went, we attracted an audience. And most important, we attracted a reaction from everybody. In L.A., we played black clubs in the black sections of L.A. because they paid money. The white clubs would convince you to do hootenanny night. So we started honing our act in black clubs. And we kept ourselves alive that way."

Chong, the prime mover of the duo, hinted that their stoner image was, at least in Cheech's case, just an image: "We became stoners more than starting out stoners. Actually, Cheech was almost celibate. He was like a priest. He never did anything. Then he started smoking a little bit. We became stoners. Our audiences made us become them. Because your audience really dictates your material. And when we found out stoner material and rock'n'roll really go good together, we hit upon the golden secret, the golden key. Stoner material and jazz and rock'n'roll and music... Stoner material and music really go hand in hand."

I personally was interested in Chong's musical background and his reminiscences of the early Vancouver music scene. I guess I'm just amazed any time someone has more than one marketable talent when there are some of us who don't have any. As is well known, Chong was in a group that was signed to Motown and he owned a club here in the city, taking credit for the burgeoning blues scene at the time.

"Tommy Milton and I had a club called the Blues Palace and we brought up Ike and Tina Turner to open it. They came up and more or less set the blues standard in Vancouver."

As a kid in the '70s, I never got into Cheech & Chong. I may have heard some of their albums but wasn't interested. I'm not sure why because I certainly was interested in any and all comedy I could get my hands on. But not them. I'll get a full immersion on Friday when I attend their reunion tour and report back on what I thought. Not sure how I'll refrain from inhaling the whole show, but I'll try my damndest.