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Sunday, May 31, 2009

May 31: Nathan Clark

Wow, a whole week without a blog entry. Were you concerned about me? I had nothing to say this week, I guess. I'm not on hiatus, so keep checking back.

And the show marches on. Tonight we've got a newbie on. Not a newbie to the scene, but to What's So Funny? Nathan Clark isn't the garrulous sort who seeks out the spotlight, so it took some convincing to get him on. But he is funny. He's also a mainstay on the mainstage of the Vancouver TheatreSports League, an urbane member of Urban Improv, and one of the Canadians in Canadian Content.

Join us. It'll be fun. Kevin will be back, too, so if there are any calls they'll get on the air smoothly this week.


(Phone and station info are all there somewhere in the right column.)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

May 24: Eric Fell & Shaun Stewart; more new podcasts

A few weeks ago we had the Urban Improv gang in for the show. Seven of 'em, two of which were Eric Fell and Shaun Stewart. We didn't get a chance to talk to any one of them in detail, so we invited them back. These two fellers have lots on the go. Along with their Monday night Justice Pals show at Chivana, they have a Justice Pals podcast, and host Behind the Scenes on the internet. Oh, and they also have taken over the monthly Anzabonanza pub quiz. If I know them at all, there's a good chance most of the questions will be about Star Wars and/or comic books. We'll find out more tonight.


I hope you're all caught up on the podcasts because there are eight more to whet your whistle. Check these ones out when you get a chance:

Drew McCreadie & Ian Boothby from May 4, 2008:

Kristeen von Hagen & Laurie Elliott from May 25, 2008:

Jack Showers from August 10, 2008:

Paul Anthony from September 28, 2008:

Jane Stanton from December 7, 2008:

Richard Kiss from December 14, 2008:

Riel Hahn from February 15, 2009:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Maron & Gaffigan

Hey comedy nerds, got a great clip for you. Two of my favourites sitting around talking about comedy, kids and other stuff.

Marc Maron is a host on Break Room Live (and former guest on What's So Funny?). He's also full of existential angst, self-hatred, brilliant and really funny. Jim Gaffigan is a comedic force. And a pale one. He's in films (Away We Go hits the theatres soon), sells out theatres all over the place and has hit CDs and DVDs. Of course, any self-respecting comedy nerd already knows that.

There's some great stuff here. The Caroline and Costaki they reference are Canadian comedian Caroline Rhea and her hubby Costaki Economopoulos ("the biggest name in comedy"), who recently created a human. Maron is a single, childless man while Gaffigan is a father of three. Maron has been putting off visiting the baby because, well, he's not interested in kids. Gaffigan says he should. They discuss.

As a father of one (in fact, my wife was pregnant with ours when we first saw Maron in concert), I'm gonna side with Maron on this one. While my child is endlessly interesting and fun to me, I could care less about other people's kids. I mean, some of them are cool, but I don't need to meet them or interact with them. And since many are far from cool, why risk it? I can wait until they're more fully-formed human beings.

Gaffigan spoke of how great it is to be a parent, even with all the worrying. It reminded me of what Louis CK told me just five days before my son was born. CK crystalized the parental conundrum for me. It's must-reading for anyone who doesn't get having kids:
Here's the thing about it: It sucks on paper. If you write down things you're going to have to do and the way your life is going to change, there's just no way to justify it. It's the dumbest thing in the world to do.

But it doesn't matter because you'll be happy to do all of it. There's nothing going to be imposed on you. You're going to completely, voluntarily change your life in a way that if you could look in the future and see it from now, you would say, "Why the fuck would somebody do that to themselves?" But that's how powerful a force it is to have a kid. And it isn't like, "Oh, but they're so wonderful" and you're paid off for every hard moment with them giving you a daisy and saying "I love you, papa" -- although that happens, and it's pretty great. It's just that it's so important to you. It's such a big deal to have a kid that it just changes your motivations. It changes everything.
You can read the whole interview with CK here. While we're at it, here's one I did with Gaffigan, too. And let's not forget Maron, who I first interviewed in February of 2004.

Now here's the Break Room chat:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Podcasts, we've got podcasts...

We're slowly but surely catching up on the old shows and turning them into podcasts. It won't be too long before the podcast will be uploaded the week of the show. But for now, enjoy eight new/old podcast/shows:

Todd Allen from April 27, 2008:

Torben Rolfsen from August 17, 2008:

Graham Clark from September 21, 2008:

Seth Perry from January 11, 2009:

Maz Jobrani from February 1, 2009:

Sugar Sammy from February 8, 2009:

Damonde Tschritter from February 22, 2009:

David C. Jones from March 1, 2009:

And as always, you can listen to these over at the Comedy Couch and at iTunes. Your call.

Jay Mohr

I interviewed Jay Mohr last week. It was a two-parter just because he started out on his cell phone as he and his wife were driving up from Los Angeles to San Jose. He kept cutting out. After a couple of call backs, we decided he'd call back that evening, which he did. The first part of the interview was awkward because of the communication problems, but at night he cut loose. The interview was more conversational, which is just as well for me.

We spoke for a total of about 45 minutes. That full 45 minutes will eventually make it into print (or its online equivalent) via transcription, but I've crudely edited it down to 12 minutes for your listening pleasure. I realize 12 minutes is still a long time to spend listening to anything on the internet, so I'll give you a rundown on the topics covered:
  • Jay talks about calling our humble town "Hongcouver"
  • Russell Peters
  • Riffing as Norm Macdonald on male nurses, sausage curls and wiener dogs
  • The origin of his Christopher Walkin impersonation
  • His Rickles impression
  • What Danny Gans means to him
  • His knowledge of hockey
  • SNL gigglers and Jimmy Fallon
  • First false ending
  • Thank God for Canada
  • Canada in World War II
  • Second false ending
  • The problem with kids
  • One last weiner dog
Here's the clip:

My story on Jay will run in the Georgia Straight on Thursday, ahead of his May 23 visit to the River Rock theatre. His opening act will be Tom Segura.

By the way, I just finished reading Jay's book, Gasping for Airtime: Two Years in the Trenches of Saturday Night Live and really enjoyed it. If you haven't picked it up already, you should. It's a light, breezy, catty, self-absorbed read. Right up my alley.

ADDENDUM: The Mohr story came out today. You can read it here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

May 17: Leland Klassen

It was four years ago almost to the day that Leland Klassen last visited us: May 15, 2005, to be exact. Tempus fugit, baby. I missed the giant-handed freak, so I invited him back to catch up. We set the date for tonight and then I remembered I'd be out of town. D'oh! Thankfully Colleen Brow came to the rescue and agreed to guest host for me. So I'll be listening along with you. It's a shame for me because I was looking forward to seeing Leland again. For a while I'd see him all over the place. I ran into him at Sun Peaks and we chatted in the hotel swimming pool. Then on another vacation, we stopped in a mall in Swift Current (world travellers that we are) and spot a poster for comedy starring none other than the omnipresent comic, Leland Klassen. But that was a couple years ago now. I'll miss the big fella this time around.

Leland is a Christian comedian. What's that mean, you ask? Well, it means he works clean. That's about it from what I can tell. Mind you, I've only ever seen him perform in clubs and rooms, not church halls. He plays all over the continent. After leaving our studio, Klassen heads out on the road to Virginia, Maryland, New Mexico, Indiana, Saskatchewan, Ohio, Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina and Ontario. And that only gets him through June.

I'm sorry I won't get to be there tonight. But on the other hand, I'm looking forward to listening to the show.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dual Citizenship Tour ramblings

I saw Lewis Black's Dual Citizenship tour on Friday night. My review of the show is up at the Georgia Straight now. It's hard to squeeze all one's thoughts about a show into 400-odd words, so I'll ramble on a bit more now.

I really, really like Kathleen Madigan, who opened for her ex-beau Black. I'd love to see her in an extended set here sometime. Don't know if that'll happen, though, because, like many American comics who are good enough to sell out theatres across the United States, she doesn't have a high profile up north. If Paula Poundstone struggles to sell tickets, I imagine Madigan might, too. Hell, there were plenty of empty seats at Black's show, too, but that might be because they opted to perform two nights instead of one. But who knows? I could be wrong. It would be great if Will Davis brought her up for the Bleeding Media Conglomerate Comedy Festival this fall.

I guess we can't call Madigan the warm-up act because she did her 20 minutes or so, then there was a 15-minute intermission. So much for warming up the crowd. But I'm betting she was there more to allow the stragglers to arrive without missing any of the headliner. I would have preferred she just went an extra 15 – she's more than capable – without an intermission.

I liked his opening act the first two times I saw him, John Bowman, too, but he couldn't get across the border this time because of a 6-year-old DUI charge. Still, Madigan is a step up.

I mentioned Black's relaxed style in the review. That, for me, was a pleasant change. I liked the contrast. When he yelled, it meant something.

He got in some gloating at our expense, both geographically and politically. His tourbus took him from Toronto to Thunder Bay where, "THERE'S FUCKING NOTHING!" and on to Manitoba, where it's much of the same – plus they were coming off the worst winter on record. At minus-30 to -40 degrees for five or six months, "at what point do you not kill yourself?"

And he noted that our prime minister, Stephen Harper, referred to the H1N1 virus as "the Mexican flu" more than once, which is postively Bush-like. He said it was the first time in 20 years of coming to Canada that he's sensed jealousy from us.

The bulk of his act was personal in nature, as I mentioned in the review. And I much preferred it to the political, where he advocated for the legalization of marijuana and alternative energy, although I liked his line about the wonders of his iPhone: "I can download 3 million vaginas in a minute into this. Don't tell me we can't have alternative energy", even though it's nothing more than a variation on "If they can put a man on the moon...".

It was my third time seeing him in concert and this time was my favourite. A combination of a more introspective Black and a fantastic opening act made all the difference.

ADDENDUM: If you're wondering why I didn't review Flight of the Conchords, they were deemed to be a music act so you'll find it in the music section in this week's Straight. Or you can read it here.

To air or not to air? That was the question

A few days ago I posted a video interview with Eddie Brill, talking about the network debut of Joe Wong. In that same conversation, we also discussed the airing, 16 years after the fact, of a stand-up set by the legendary Bill Hicks. Back in 1993, the year before his death, Hicks appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, but his set famously never made it to air. A few months ago, Letterman tried to rectify the situation by inviting Hicks's mother, Mary, to the show and finally airing that long-ago set.

To my ears, Letterman sounded sincere in expressing regret. Others more cynical than myself (and there are a few out there) thought it to be exploitative – they were doing it for selfish reasons, among them ratings and a tie-in to an upcoming biopic to be made of Hicks starring Russell Crowe. Bollocks, says I.

First off, here's the clip:

Here's Eddie Brill, who has booked comedy on the Late Show for twelve years, on the topic. Since Dave isn't going to grant me an interview, his comedic right-hand man is the next best thing. He joins us in the What's So Funny? Skype Studio from Manhattan:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

May 10: Rachael Des Lauriers (repeat)

Happy Mother's Day, mothers of the world.

In celebration of the special day we dug through the What's So Funny? vaults in search of the biggest mother of them all to be a guest on the show. We needed look no further than November 27, 2005. That was the night we had Rachael Des Lauriers on, a mother three times over. Rachael hasn't been performing much these days. Maybe this will spur her on to get back up on the stage and start giving birth to new jokes instead of more humans.

So if you happen to be near a radio or computer tonight around 11, do give a listen to this classic episode.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The role of the critic

Came across a very interesting article in the New Zealand Herald today. In it, comic Rhys Darby takes comedy reviewers to task for giving away the punchlines in their reviews.

Darby, who plays the manager on Flight of the Conchords, called the practice "rude" and "lazy" and the reviewers plagiarists.

Let's see. Rude? Not unless their fans are, too, for repeating a good bit by a comic they like. You can talk all you want about why a comic is funny, but unless you can illustrate by way of example, you're not going to win any converts over.

Lazy? It depends on the review and reviewer, I'd think. If all they did was itemize the gags without any other insight, then I'd agree with Darby. But if they use one or two or three punchlines, with the precise wording the comic used while providing ample context, to demonstrate how and why the comedy worked, I wouldn't call them lazy at all.

Plagiarists? Uh, hardly. Plagiarism is the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own. Just like I did there with the dictionary definition. If the critic is citing the comedian, it can't be plagiarism.

But the subject is a fascinating one. Many times, it's the editors who demand specific examples of the jokes. My own rule of thumb is that unless I've got the wording exactly right, I won't quote a joke. And I don't want to give away too much. I don't think citing – at most – three jokes from a headliner is egregious. Presumably they have more than a handful of jokes in a set. The goal is to take a representative sample and also, if you can, show why it works or doesn't work for you.

Key words: "for you". It should never be forgotten, by either the critic, the comic or the crowd, that a review is just one person's opinion. It may be a slightly more informed opinion, but an opinion none the same. When I see a show that does nothing for me, but I'm sitting around hundreds of people who are all laughing hysterically, I feel it's incumbent upon me to mention that so the reader can think, "Hmm, it doesn't sound like it was a very good show. On the other hand, everyone else seemed to love it, so maybe the answer is somewhere in between." And then they can decide for themselves whether to check out that artist the next chance they get or not.

Check out this quote from Darby:
"There is a way to review live comedy and that's not the way. If I don't stand up and say it no one will. Comedians won't say it because they'll end up getting a bad review, or they'll be too scared."
I can't speak for other critics, but there's no way anything personal should ever get in the way of a professional review. Whether I like or dislike a comic personally has no effect whatsoever on what I think of their act. If someone wants to criticise me (and they have), I totally get it. Anyone who puts himself out there in the public eye, whether it be standup or critic, has to expect that not everyone's going to love what they do. Of course, I'll defend myself if I think they're wrong about what I do, but I appreciate the fact they're open with me about their opinions.

Here's an example. I once gave a stinky review to Brad Garrett. He then went on the Tonight Show and quoted from my review, and went on to make fun of me. I actually thought that was way funnier than his act. But if he comes to town again, I'd love to see him. He's a naturally funny guy and I've liked him for a long time. There was nothing personal about my review of his show. (See my rebuttal to his Tonight Show appearance here.)

Similarly I gave a less than positive review to one standup show by David Cross, while, at the same time, giving him kind words about his sketch show. He took me to task in a blog he wrote. Okay, he disagreed with me. Big whup. I like David Cross and have liked his standup. If he comes again, I'd hope I like his new show.

What's your opinion on what Darby said? Or Cross or Garrett, for that matter? Are they just overly-sensitive artists? Or do they have a point? What do you like to see in a comedy review?

Anybody? You there, in the back...

A Star is Born

Move over, Susan Boyle. There's a new improbable star in town. Or at least on-line.

You've seen the clip, if you didn't see the show. And if you haven't seen either, here it is for you. I'm talking about a Boston-based comic named Joe Wong who made his American network television debut on The Late Show with David Letterman three weeks ago. His appearance was the comedic equivalent of Susan Boyle's turn on Britain's Supposedly Got Talent, I thought. In both performers you have someone who breaks the mould. Rightly or wrongly, your expectations are shattered. Wong, an immigrant from China, walks on the stage and immediately reminds me of Andy Kaufman's Foreign Man character – only this ain't no character. And he knows how to tell a punchline.

Here's Wong's spot:

Pretty funny stuff. Does it bode well for other unknown comics to get a shot on the venerable late-night institution? I invited the man responsible for Wong's appearance, Late Show comedy booker Eddie Brill, into the What's So Funny? Skype Studio in Manhattan to talk about the Wong phenomenon.

In the mood lighting, Eddie looks pretty sinister, but he's a pussycat, as you'll hear. Also worth remembering when viewing: objects on the screen may appear larger than their actual size.

We also talked about Letterman's decision to run the late Bill Hicks' set 15 years after his death. We'll run that clip tomorrow. Or the next day. But soon.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Great Unknowns

I’ve never been one to play favourites. Even as a kid I hated the concept of “best friend”. I liked all my friends and didn’t want to rank them in any kind of order, or set one above the rest.

So when someone asks who my favourite comic is, I can’t say. There are plenty I really like for various reasons.

That being said, it’s always fun to read lists of everyone else’s favourites, even if it’s only so you can sit back and complain about who missed the cut. There are three such lists kicking around I want to compare. Each one lists what they consider to be the top 100 stand-up comics of all time. The compilers are Comedy Central, Britain’s Channel 4, and the political blog Crooks and Liars.

You might think there would be lots of crossover. Afterall, it’s not a list of their personal favourites, but who they deem to be the best. But there are only 22 comics who make it onto all three lists. Here they are, with their average ranking (rounded up or down to the nearest whole number) in parentheses:

Dick Gregory (64)
Jackie Mason (63)
George Burns (61)
Andrew Dice Clay (59)
Denis Leary (54)
Bill Cosby (42)
Bob Newhart (41)
Eddie Izzard (40)
Roseanne Barr (39)
Steven Wright (36)
Joan Rivers (36)
Bob Hope (33)
Steve Martin (27)
Jerry Seinfeld (25)
George Carlin (23)
Robin Williams (22)
Bill Hicks (19)
Eddie Murphy (14)
Lenny Bruce (11)
Chris Rock (10)
Woody Allen (7)
Richard Pryor (2)

Is that the definitive list then? It’s a good one, although I’d quibble with a few. I personally don’t see how Andrew Dice Clay makes it on to any list of the greatest. Most successful, perhaps, but not greatest.

More stats from the compilation: Forty-eight comics make it on to two lists. The most prominent, in my opinion, of these are Dave Chappelle, Andy Kaufman, Mitch Hedberg, Albert Brooks, Jack Benny, Jon Stewart, Sam Kinison, Don Rickles, Ellen DeGeneres, Billy Crystal, Bill Maher, Jim Carrey, Dana Carvey, Paula Poundstone, David Cross, Larry Miller, Lewis Black, Henny Youngman, and Billy Connolly. How those people got left off one of the lists is anybody’s guess.

What’s really interesting is noting the comedians to only make one list. Interesting both on who should have been on more lists, and those who surprised me by even making one. Comedy Central had 30 singles, Crooks and Liars had 27 and Channel 4 had a staggering 75. It's almost as if Britain were an island unto itself.

Of those that probably should have been on at least a couple of lists, but only made one, consider these acts: Louis CK, Norm Macdonald, Dom Irrera, Dave Attel, Wanda Sykes, Phyllis Diller, Demetri Martin, Emo Phillips, Sarah Silverman, and David Steinberg.

One thing that really stands out is how nation-centric they are. The two American lists are filled with mostly Americans and the one British list is filled with mostly British (check out their top 10: 1. Billy Connolly 2. Peter Kay 3. Eddie Izzard 4. Richard Pryor 5. Harry Hill 6. Bill Hicks 7. Bill Bailey 8. Victoria Wood 9. Chris Rock 10. Ross Noble. I’m ashamed to admit I’m not familiar with half of their top ten comics of all time!).

Which got me to thinking, it’s generally considered that Canada produces some of the best comedians in show business, right? Everyone talks about it. But who gets mentioned? People like Mike Myers, the cast of SCTV and Kids in the Hall, Jim Carrey, Martin Short, Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie, Norm Macdonald, Will Sasso, Samantha Bee and Jason Jones. In other words, very few stand-up comics.

In the three top-100 lists, a grand total of five Canadians made the grade. Six, if you include the Canadian-born American Mort Sahl. Comedy Central had Jim Carrey (36), Howie Mandel (82) and Norm Macdonald (83), Crooks and Liars had Carrey (36), David Steinberg (65) and Cheech & Chong (67) (Chong is Canadian and the duo met and formed in Vancouver). Channel 4 had nary a Canuck.

Deserved? Maybe. But Comedy Central includes comics such as Gallagher, Janeane Garofalo, Andrew Dice Clay, George Wallace, Paul Rodriguez, Pat Cooper, and Eddie Griffin. Channel 4 includes people like Dave Allen, Ed Byrne, Tommy Tiernan, Omid Djalili, and Ben Elton. Crooks and Liars includes Gilbert Gottfried, David Brenner, Shecky Greene, Jamie Foxx, Johnny Yune, Alan King, Totie Fields, Phylliss Yvonne Stickney and Rick Aviles.

No knock on any of them, but I’d put Brent Butt, Stewart Francis (left), Jon Dore, Mike MacDonald, Derek Edwards, Bonnie McFarlane, Irwin Barker, Mike Wilmott, Elvira Kurt (right), Shaun Majumder, Caroline Rhea, Russell Peters, Harland Williams, Ian Bagg, John Wing, Sugar Sammy, David Pryde, Jeremy Hotz, Ron James, and Pete Johansson up against any of them. And those are the ones just off the top of my head.

If I liked lists, I'd make my own top 100 stand-up comics of all time that included its share of Canadians. But I don't. Someone should though. So I could go through and critique it.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

May 3: Membership drive

No guest scheduled for tonight. The mother station, CFRO, is winding up its semi-annual membership drive. So we'll play lots of comedy clips and do the old PBS thing where we ask you, the listener, to call in and become a member in order to keep the station going and the program on the air. If you have some extra cash kicking around and want to donate it to the station, you can find all the payment options at the co-op website. That's all I'll say here.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Comedy Workshop

We interrupt this blog to bring you a special news bulletin:

Comedy Workshop Intensive

With Roman Danylo

Star of CTV’s “Comedy Inc”

This course is perfect for people interested in learning about several different disciplines of comedy. It’s also ideal for those already proficient at one discipline but have always wanted to try some of the other genres of live comedy. In this course you’ll learn elements of…

ü Improv

ü Stand-up

ü Sketch Comedy

ü The Business of Comedy

Saturday May 16th 12-4pm

and Sunday May 17th 12-4pm

$150 plus GST

for the two day course (8hrs total)

At Chivana Restaurant and Lounge: 2340 West 4th Ave

To sign up call: 604-733-0330 or E-mail:

Roman has been performing professionally for the past 20 years. He is one of only a handful of comedians to have performed in the prestigious Aspen’s HBO Comedy Festival and Montreal’s Just for Laughs Festival in the same year. In Hollywood he starred in the UPN Series “Off Limits” and has been featured on NBC’s “Late Friday”. Roman hosted a talk show pilot produced by fellow Canadian David Steinberg, and appeared in a sketch review show with Martin Short. Roman recently guest hosted several episodes of CBC Radios “The Debaters” and has appeared or starred in several Canadian TV Series including CTV’s “Corner Gas”, CBC’s “Comics”, “Made in Canada”, CTV’s “Comedy Now”, “Just For Laughs” and many more. In 2004 Roman won a Leo Award for his performance in CBC’s “Western Alienation Comedy Hour” and has been nominated twice for a Gemini for performance in “Comedy Inc.” Roman recently hosted a Gala at the “Winnipeg Comedy Festival” on CBC and performed his second gala set for “The Halifax Comedy Festival” also on CBC. Roman enjoys water sports, raisins and some humans.