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Monday, January 26, 2009

Two-time WSF? guest does good

I just read that Kyle Cease has won the Comedy Central Stand-up Showdown. If you don't believe me, see for yourself.

Good on him. Kyle has been on our program twice before and is the only guest we've had who's essentially done his act in studio. I like it, but it's different. I think that's an American style thing. Down south, stand-ups get invited on to radio shows and usually it's a morning zoo kinda deal where everything's wacky. The comic works in a bit and the hosts cackle and ring bells and blow buzzers and all that. Obviously on our show, we don't do any of that. Hell, we hardly even laugh. But he was a great guest. I just checked our podcasts and see only one of his appearances is up. I'll have to look around to see if I have the other one. Meanwhile, if you haven't heard it already, you might enjoy Kyle Cease live in our studio from September 25, 2005.

Speaking of podcasts, as some of you may have noticed, the last one we uploaded is from December 2007. What can we say? We were distracted in '08. It flew by. This very morning I awoke to not one but two e-mails (one from a total stranger, the other a former guest) who asked when we were going to be posting more. Let me just say that's a new record besting the old mark of zero. So let that be my New Year's resolution. I know we had some great guests last year. So I'll work on getting some up for you and I'll let you know right here when that happens. But don't, as they say, hold your breath. Unless you have the hiccups, in which case by all means hold your breath until they go away.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

January 25: Simon King

Look at that, it's Sunday already. Showtime. The red light comes on at 11 p.m. Tonight we've got the King of Vancouver comedy, Simon King. Simon was scheduled us to be with us during the great snowstorm of '08 but the flurries, as well as my hacking couch, prevented us from going on with the show.

The Astro Boy lookalike last visited us way back in May 2005. No doubt he'll have lots of stories for us, including his recent experience at the Las Vegas Comedy Festival where he was the only Vancouver comic invited. And even though he spends a good chunk of time down in Los Angeles these days, we still call him a Vancouver comic. Simon is known for his fast-paced stream of consciousness so who knows where else we'll go in the hour. Tune in to find out.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Most political comedy does nothing for me. Not because I'm apolitical, but because it's usually so strident, so pushy, so... elitist. Like they know better than everyone else. Usually I agree completely with the comic's views, but I'm not interested in hearing my own views screamed back at me unless there's some level of wit and a different take on it. I think the problem is that some comics (Margaret Cho and Bill Maher come immediately to mind, but there are lots more) feel too strongly about the subject so they lose any distance. They care too much.

The Daily Show, in my opinion, goes about it perfectly. They aren't against trumpeting their viewpoints but are at least more nuanced and often take the opposite viewpoint so as to hold it up to ridicule rather than just bashing the opposite viewpoint. Of course, the outcome is the same either way. I just think the satirical route is the way to go.

Ian Boothby over at the Comedy Couch forum recently posted this great video of one of my favourite political comics, A. Whitney Brown. I used to watch Brown on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show back in the day. He was different. Dry. You had to listen to his words because nothing else about him smelled of funny. But he was. Very much so. Then he got a writing gig on Saturday Night Live, which also let him do commentaries on Weekend Update every so often. It was great stuff. He wrote a book called The Big Picture, which I read at the time but can't find anywhere now. And then he was one of the correspondents on The Daily Show back when it was hosted by Craig Kilborn. But we didn't get that up here, unfortunately. I love his take on supporting the troops. He goes about it backwards and is just as skewering as any of those more obvious comics. And I love that he doesn't have a delivery that says, "Here's the punchline! It's coming right up!" You actually have to listen.

Brown doesn't have much of a web presence but you can find a few things. Here are two you'll enjoy. The first is called "I Support the Troops" and the second is a stand-up set he did in Winnipeg a few years ago on the subject of atheism.

I wish we could see or read more of him.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My worlds are colliding

Being a life-long comedy and jazz fan, my worlds had never met before. It was one or the other. When I'm out on the town, it's either for a comedy show or a jazz concert. If I were a little older, I could have indulged both those interests in one sitting. At one time, comics used to open for jazz musicians. How awesome would that have been? Pretty. Jimmie Walker told me he used to open for Miles Davis. Imagine that for a second. Chances are, if you're under the age of 30, you only think of Jimmy Walker as the pudgy guy who shows up on Letterman every half a year or so. If you're a little older, you think of him only as the "Dy-no-mite!"-spouting J.J. on Norman Lear's Good Times. But if you're even older than that, or have read my interview with him, you'll know that he was a pretty hip Black Panther comic and was named Time magazine's comedian of the decade at one point. And Miles Davis is/was Miles freakin' Davis, the epitome of cool.

While I haven't seen a comic opening for a jazz musician yet, my two solitudes have at least come together on the same grounds, if not the same night. The Cellar Jazz Club on Broadway and Alma is about the coolest underground New York-style jazz club in the country. In fact, the venerable Downbeat magazine has named it one of the Top 100 Jazz Clubs Worldwide for three straight years. In the five year's of its existence, I've seen probably over 100 shows there from visiting and local jazz musicians. It's the place to be if you have any interest in the music.

And now they have comedy. Well, at least for this month. And maybe next. I've been the last two Tuesdays. Attendance has been spotty, but I remember the early days of the club and attendance was spotty for the jazz shows, too. Now it's regularly sold out. So I'm hoping they stick with the comedy because the venue is ideal. Not too big, not too small, good stage, good sound system.

Vancouver veteran, and Seattle Comedy Competition winner, Damonde Tschritter hosts. It's a pro night (as opposed to an open mic with amateurs) and what makes it different is that the pros are expected to do only new material. For someone who sees a lot of these guys, it's great for me because I know much of their acts by heart. But it's good for others, too, because most pros are able to make even their failed attempts funny.

What I don't like, though, is the fact that it's the same line-up each week, with maybe one or two different faces added in. The reasoning is that the crowd can sort of chart their progress from week to week. I think that's a lot to ask for. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. Repeat customers I'm sure would rather get a full sampling of the town's pro-comic community. But I'm niggling. It's still a fun show and I'm more than happy to make the trek in from the North Shore every Tuesday to see it.

Which brings me, somewhat sloppily, to the topic of gossip. I love it as much as the next girl, but I have enough of a journalist's mindset to want to find out the truth as best I can by asking the subject of the gossip if it's true. There's always two sides to a story.

Well, I was the subject of some gossip recently that took place at the Cellar. After the Snowed In comedy tour last Saturday, I ran into a young comic who said, "Hey, I heard someone yelled at you from the stage at the Cellar last week." I knew exactly what he was talking about, but not because there was any truth to what he heard. That is, I was heckled by a comic. Here's what happened:

I was sitting off to the side of the stage. Richard Lett, who was performing, walked to the piano to tinkle the ivories when he spotted me sitting there. Richard recently battled back from testicular cancer and had just done a chunk of material on the subject. For a while, he was hairless and bloated from his chemotherapy treatment. In his low, gruff voice he said, "The media's here! Nice haircut... Chemo wannabe."

That was it. People laughed. I laughed. It was harmless. Richard and I, while not friends, are certainly friendly. I always enjoy talking to him. We disagree on lots and neither of us is afraid of saying as much. And he's one of my favourite guests to have on What's So Funny? He's open and honest and thoughtful and a little bit insane. So it makes for great radio. So I took the jab in the spirit it was intended. It's a bald joke, for crying out loud. How on earth did someone hear that and jump to the conclusion that there was ill will between us? Believe me, if Richard wanted to, he could have skewered me on any number of issues.

Then this last Tuesday I sat in a different seat. Richard gets up on stage and spots me again, identifying me to the crowd then mentioned that he heard the same rumour about how he attacked me. He didn't get it, either. So there you have it. The original gossip is way more fun and interesting, but there was nothing to it.

My point is, go to the Cellar. For comedy. For jazz. Just go.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

January 18: Reza Peyk (and some notes on Norm Macdonald)

Hey there. It's me again. I'm just lying here on the couch watching Frontline and eating Mini Ritz Sandwiches. What are you doing?

Oh, yeah. This isn't a conversation. It's a blog. So I best be blogging. But damn these Ritz things are addictive. See, this is why I don't do drugs. I fear I have an addictive personality and if I started in on the reefers and doobies, I'd never stop. I've never actually been addicted to anything, but still, you never know. Hope these Ritz crackers aren't a gateway snackfood.

But enough about me and my orange fingers, let's talk comedy. First off, our flagship show, What's So Funny?, welcomes the Iranian sensation Reza Peyk tonight. Reza will be opening up for the even bigger Iranian sensation Maz Jobrani next Saturday (Jan. 24) at the Commodore Ballroom. Take a look at the young feller over there in the right panel. [UPDATE: That photo changes weekly and isn't there anymore.] Check out those tatts. I gotta admit, I'm a little intimidated. He'll be by far the hippest guest we've ever had on our show (with apologies to Jeffery Yu).

I've never met Reza before, but have spoken to him on the phone the last time he opened for Jobrani at the River Rock. The kid is enthusiastic and fun so I should be okay. It'll make for a lively hour of radio, I'm sure. Of course, I've been wrong before. But I've got a good feeling about this one.

Hey, I just got back from an evening with Norm Macdonald at the River Rock. I can totally see why some people wouldn't like (or "get" might be the better word) Norm but I love him. There are relatively few comics who just make me laugh without even being funny, and he's one of them. Wait a second, that doesn't sound right. He is, in fact, really funny. But he doesn't have to be. I just start giggling as soon as he opens his mouth.

I interviewed the guy two years ago and to date he holds the record for longest phone interview I've done. By a long shot. Most comics of his stature will give you anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. That day, Norm was just in a really chatty mood. It wasn't like a standard interview; more like a two-way conversation. We talked for 90 minutes. I had put a video on for my then 2-year-old son to keep him happy while I was on the phone, but at about the hour mark I had to, you know, feed him and that kind of parental stuff. The interview was essentially over anyway. I had asked all I needed to ask. So I just put my son in his high chair and made him his lunch, then fed it to him, all the while talking to Norm Macdonald. By this point, it was more like he was interviewing me, asking me questions and chatting. Some might describe it as surreal, but I kinda just go with the flow. Nothing much phases me. I transcribe almost all of my celebrity comic interviews and post them on the Comedy Couch with very little editing, but not that one. The last half hour, as fun as it was, was just unusable. I can't even remember why now. Just trust me.

One thing Norm told me then was this: "... sometimes I do an absolutely clean show just for fun. And then sometimes I don't." He was talking about how raunchy his shows can be and how he doesn't want kids there. Tonight I was thinking was one of those nights that he just inexplicably did a clean show. Yes, he threw in the odd swear word, but his set was kind of safe. At least, it started out that way. About half an hour in he started talking about how he believes in God and did some jokes that basically echoed Pascal's Wager, only a helluva lot funnier. Then he mentioned that he recently became a Christian. I have no idea if he really was, but it rang true. Yes, he was still making jokes and swearing, but he sold us (me, anyway) on the idea that he was searching for answers and found it in our lord and saviour Jesus Christ. Sure, he said the first thing he was going to do in heaven was "kick the shit out of Eve", but that's Norm. It was, I gotta admit, a little disappointing to think that he had taken the route of eternal salvation. I expect comedians to mock things like organized religion, not embrace them. But then as he kept going, I came to the conclusion that he's probably not a born-again. He still might be, though. If I ever get a chance to talk to him again, that question is definitely on the list.

It was at this point that he started taking us on a dark journey. A hilariously dark journey. From religion he went on to killing. I can't remember a comic doing such an extended bit on serial killing before. Dangerous, because he wasn't so explicitly condemning brutality. He talked about what he'd do if he were a serial killer (90 percent of the time, he said, would be in digging a really, really deep grave). He clearly wasn't supporting murder, but by taking on the persona of a murderer, I'm sure there were people there who thought he stepped over the line.

Then he started talking about one of his favourite topics: natural death from heart attacks and cancer and how he doesn't ever want to die. He has it in his living will that the plug shall never be pulled. And if it's too much of a burden on his family to leave their bridge game once every two weeks to go touch his hand, tough.

He also had little patience for diseases like alcoholism (it's the only disease where you get to drink all day) and bulimia (doctor to patient: You say you shove your fist down your throat and throw up? Yeah, don't do that. Now I'm going to go deal with this guy with bowel cancer over there). *Note: I'm not using quotation marks because I'm going from memory here so the wording might not be precise. But it's probably different every time he tells it, too.

Norm ended the evening talking about repressed memories and how horrible they must be. If he were raped, he said, that's probably all he'd remember and he wouldn't know anything about, say, the War of 1812. But hopefully those memories would come out some day. Then he imagined people talking to him about things, and he'd just answer something like, 'I don't know anything about that. But I do remember my uncle's cock.' And he took us through several scenarios where his uncle's giant cock featured prominently.

He did almost 90 minutes. Hmm, I'm sensing a trend with Norm. Maybe he just does everything in 90-minute increments. But it was a great show made all the better by his nasally fumbling delivery.

It was also fun seeing the Farley Brothers open up the show. But a different kind of fun. A plane-crashing-into-a-river kind of fun. Like, it's horrific and you can't take your eyes off it, but thankfully nobody gets hurt. I was never a fan of their late brother Chris, but he was clearly the most talented of the Farley clan. Their "act", such as it was, consisted of telling stories about their family. I gotta admit, though, I'd love to sit around and hear those stories. I just think that an act should be more than recollections. But they were having fun and it was infectious in an odd way.

Unfortunately I missed the Snowed In tour, which was finishing up its run at the Rio Theatre. I boogied over there hoping to catch the end, but got there just as the crowd was filing out. Spoke to some people, though, and by all reports it was a big success. The Kelowna paper said it was even better than the Just For Laughs tour, which is pretty big praise. Dan Quinn pulled this tour together and did all the leg work. Former Vancouverites Craig Campbell and Glenn Wool shared the bill with Dan. (Irishman Ed Byrne did all the shows but Vancouver.) They're already talking about doing it bigger and better next year. I definitely won't miss it then.

Sometimes there's just too much damn comedy in this city.

I feel sick now from all the Mini Ritzes. I think I'll go shove my fist down my throat. Talk to you later.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

January 11: Seth Perry (and some notes on Lily Tomlin & Kathy Griffin)

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a Seth Perry confirmation. So we're good to go tonight. Seth was scheduled to be on the program a few weeks ago but couldn't make it. So tonight we'll get to hear all about his run at the Seattle International Comedy Festival. And no doubt he'll plug his weekly comedy showcase at Jupiter, at Bute and Davie. And find out what else he's up to. So tune in tonight at 11.

It was another full comedy weekend. On Friday night I took in Lily Tomlin. I'm a casual fan of Ms. Tomlin. I didn't really know what to expect, or if I'd even enjoy myself. But she was absolutely fantastic. She did some local jokes and then tons of character work, telling her life story. I don't think I laughed even once (not all that surprising for me) but I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was totally impressed. The laughs came for me in the Q & A session where she proved she's a naturally hilarious performer. And what energy. I know 69 isn't ancient, but she had boundless energy, doing about two hours and floating all over the stage.

Kathy Griffin was in attendance and shouted out a question during the Q & A, asking Tomlin to please be a guest on her reality series, Life on the D-List. Tomlin showed great faux-attitude, saying she'd love to do the show, but would rather slit her wrists instead. She told Griffin you can't just expect to move up to the A-list so easily. For example, she herself had to do Katherine Hepburn's laundry for years to work up to the A-list. Finally, Tomlin's true humility came out. She'd do the show, but not because she wanted to, but because she had to, having slipped from the A-list thanks to that viral video of her swearing her head off at director David O'Russell on the set of I Heart Huckabees. Great show.

At the post-show meet'n'greet, Griffin's camera crew was there, and Kathy literally sat at the feet of Tomlin to observe the master. They had some great exchanges. At one point, the River Rock's crack media liaison guy introduced Lily to the Westender writer, who had done a story on Tomlin. Lily greets her and says something like, "That was a wonderful story you wrote." Then she stage whispers over to Kathy: "That's what you say to journalists." Very funny.

Then it was Griffin's show on Saturday. I'd seen her a couple times before; once in Montreal and once last year at the River Rock. We all know she's a chatty Kathy. What you see on her series and on talk shows is essentially what you get in her act. No real well-crafted jokes, but just really funny and engaging stories. It's a really conversational style. She's like a best friend who's just dying to tell you what they experienced or think, be it spending her birthday with Cher or hanging with Anderson Cooper on New Year's Eve. You know, just like your friends. She does a horrible Cher impression (as she admits) but a fantastic Rosie O'Donnell and Liza Minnelli. Griffin also did close to two hours, then amazingly went back and did a second show. I don't know how she does it. The paycheque probably helps.

Anywho, the radio show. Don't forget about it. Tonight. 11 pm. Ish.
Peace out, mofos.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

January 4: Marcus Ryan

After a couple weeks off, we've got a new show for you. With a new guest. I guess that's why they call it New Years. Our guest tonight, Marcus Ryan, hails (that's the appropriate weather term for today) from the great continent/country of Australia. Where, exactly, we'll find out. And maybe I'll get an answer to how it can be both a continent and a country. I've never understood that. If you don't speak Aussi, not to worry, mates. I have years of ESL teaching experience and we should be able to work our way through any miscommunication.

Take a look at our schedule over there in the right-hand panel. Our January dance card is all filled up: Seth Perry, Reza Peyk and Simon King. That's a solid line-up, I tell ya. So tune in tonight and every Sunday this month for some scintillating conversation about comedy.

Is that about it, then? Any questions, comments or nasty remarks? If so, you know where to leave 'em.