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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Last Comic Standing: Week 8

Let’s get at this a day early, since I’ve got to go review a show tomorrow night. The TV guide tells me, “The Top 5 quipsters perform.” So by process of elimination and a masterful ability with basic arithmetic, that means two will get the boot from the seven who remained at the end of last week. According to my calculations, they should be Felipe Esparza and Jonathan Thymius. Will they be? Of course not. I am out of step with the masses. One anonymous commenter here wrote to say his/her favourites were Esparza and Myq Kaplan just because they were both unique and nobody else could do their material. Let me just state the obvious: comedy, like all art, is subjective. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its member states.

I think all the comics left are unique in their own way. That doesn’t make them all funny to me. Esparza has a unique look (for a comedian, anyway). It’s what’s coming out of his mouth I don’t find particularly entertaining. I wouldn’t say his jokes are particularly unique or original. But I recognize that many other people find him hilarious. No one I know or would care to have as a friend, but that’s besides the point.

Okay, it’s time to fire up the PVR and see what misguided choices the American public made (again).

They went with a new opening this week, trying to keep us all on our toes. Either that or Craig Robinson really is MIA. (I heard a recent WTF podcast with Marc Maron that Robinson was scheduled to be on and he was a no-show.)

The comics in turn walk to a mic stand (complete with mic) and introduce themselves: Myq Kaplan from Boston (sort of, he says, trying to be mysterious), Felipe Esparza from the East Los Angeles part of Los Angeles (over there, he says, trying to relate to the crowd), Tommy Johnagin from somewhere in Illinois (the birthplace of funk, he says, trying to be ironic I’m guessing), Roy Wood, Jr. from Birmingham, Alabama (whose biggest export is Rueben Studdard, he says, trying to get the American Idol vote), Rachel Feinstein from the urban jungle of Bethesda, Maryland (rubbing fake dandruff off her shoulders trying to to show she’s not just another pretty face, she actually has a scalp condition), Mike DeStefano from the Bronx and still lives in the Bronx (help him get out of the Bronx, he says, trying to distance himself from his people), and Jonathan Thymius who might look like the mayor of Ohio but he’s also from the Bronx (trying to keep up the weirdness).

Oh, there he is. Craig Robinson in da house, y’all! Will he make skin on skin contact with anyone this week? That’s all I’m tuning in for.

The results are in! The first comic who earned enough votes to perform this week is Jonathan Thymius! What did I tell you, people?! I know how to reverse pick ’em!

In keeping with the show’s secrecy and sketchy at best ethics, we are not informed of the vote totals.

Thymius looks as surprised as I do. I think he’s just panicking internally because he’s used up all his material and has already dipped into his old stuff.

They show a prepared segment with Thymius. He says he has a company called Comedy-o-gram where he hires himself out to perform stand-up comedy at special events. He straps a cardboard brick wall to his back, carries a mic and portable amp and heads out the door wearing a shirt and tie, shorts and runners with no socks. Is this a gag or for realsies? Hang on, let me pause and Google...

I’m back. I have no idea. The problem with doing a blog a day or two late is by the time you search for something like “comedy-o-gram” as seen on LCS, all the references are other blogs about the show.

Here’s Thymius on stage now. He enters with that dazed and confused look all around him, up and down, that he does every week like he’s never been there before and is blown away by the glitz. I think it loses its punch a bit considering he was just standing on that very stage ten seconds ago. Not to mention the fact he’s done that every single week he’s performed.

Ah, he gets around it with his opening line: “Is this Groundhog Day?” Not a big enough pay-off. More like a line he frantically wrote just so he could do the stunned walk out. His next line is a pet peeve of mine (note to anonymous commenters – this means it’s subjective): “You can tell by looking at me...” I don’t care what line comes next, I’m not buying it. It’s way, way too common a set-up that is always followed with a comedic flip-flop of what we see. In this case that he’s been exercising. The crowd barely murmurred, which is encouraging. But wait! He tags it with a Wendy Liebmanesque pause that refreshes, finishing his sentence with “ right not to work out.” I think the pause was a bit too long, but still it was a nice turn. He rubs his hands over his round belly just in case we didn’t notice it under his untucked shirt. No, we got it, Jonathan. The shirt’s not fooling anyone.

He flubs his next line and repeats it twice, to no reaction except for a few sympathetic laughs because he’s dying up there. He said, “On a scale of 1 to 10, I weigh only ten pounds.” Too bad he stumbled because that’s a good joke. He also faultered with his joke about wearing an armband, saying it was “for all the memories of all the comedians that were memorialized (long pause) on the show.” Very little reaction because it’s been too long since we’ve seen one of those “in memorium” tributes when someone gets voted off. The punchline being that they were taken out and killed, which seems awful, he says, “but hey, a deal’s a deal.” Too bad he couldn’t have set it up better because the premise was a good one.

His next one is just weak. When he was young, he wanted to be a cowboy “but I couldn’t stand the thought of being milked every morning.” 1. That makes no sense except in the most convoluted unrealistic pun sense. 2. The set-up was faulty. If he couldn’t stand the thought of being milked every morning, why did he want to be a cowboy? Why not set it up as his best friend wanted to be a cowboy? That way he wouldn’t be contradicting himself. He’d be coming off like an ignorant know-it-all and it would work a lot better.

Next he acts like something flew in his hair, which we can only assume was a moth or fly. He looks around and goes, “Whoa!” Then after a long pause, a dismissive, “Birds.” That’s some great writing. He ends with a bit about being in the scouts – the mid-life crisis scouts – that also ends on a pun. They get merit badges for memorizing all 50 prostates.

My Grade: C-

Let’s go to the judges: Andy Kindler calls him on the “patented look-around thing”. He says, “I don’t know what you’re looking at but it’s fantastic.” He also says he loves the fact he’d sit at home and write down, “Birds”. And finished by saying “I love you.” I praised these judges early in the season for not being assholes, but now I’m thinking they’re too nice. I mean, I appreciate they’re not there to hurt feelings and they can still get in their little shots within a compliment, but they’ve got to stop throwing around words like great and fantastic and hilarious and I love you so willy-nilly. Natasha Leggero says she didn’t get “milk a cowboy” either. Glad to hear. She says she thought it was a dirty joke. I think it ended that way when he said now he wouldn’t mind getting milked every day. She says, “I don’t think anyone else could get away with the jokes you’re telling. It’s absurd and silly and kind of funny, I think.” Perfect. She framed her criticisms in a compliment but didn’t go overboard. Thumbs-up, Natasha. (And yes, that’s another obtuse dirty joke.) Greg Giraldo said he’s done a lot of sets leading up to today and gets the sense he may be running out of steam at this point just in terms of jokes. Wow, I should be a judge. They each mentioned something I wrote about during the set.


Hey, Robinson just said six comics perform and one will be eliminated tonight. So much for my stellar arithmetic. But I blame the people who write the PVR info. They said five are performing.

The next comic who earned enough votes (we’ll take their word for it) to perform next is Roy Wood, Jr. That’s a good call. He had a really strong set last week.

In the pre-recorded segment, he did a funny bit with his mom, trying to put her in a sling because, “I’ll get more votes if my mom is crippled.”

He opened with a bit about being pulled into some drama at a fast food outlet “this week”. No need to fake a timeline. We know you didn’t write the chunk this week. The joke didn’t elicit a smile from me but it was okay. He took a little slice of life and managed a comment on the bigger picture, in this case misguided racism, or the perception thereof. A black guy getting cheated out of a chicken nugget is not in the Klan’s master plan.

I like his style. He’s got a strong point of view and still remains accessible. The next bit was about multiple-birth parents getting money and “snacks” from people. If you take a fertility pill to have a kid, fine, but if you have more kids than you can afford, “Ha-ha, not my fault.” So far I’m just admiring him without laughing. But I laughed at his next bit when he says, “Why do you have to keep all the kids? Where is that a written rule? You just met them kids. Pick two or three. You don’t know these kids.” And he turns it into a competition hosted by Craig Robinson: “Welcome back to Last Baby Standing.” And he follows it with another really funny and astute observation: “Six kids at one time, you get free stuff from Oprah; six kids, five different men, you’re on Maury Povich for a paternity test.”

My Grade: B+

The judges speak: Natasha says she feels like they could give him any topic and he’d make it funny. I don’t disagree. Greg says he’s like a grumpy old man in a young man’s body, but it doesn’t feel forced. It was a killer, killer set. I don’t disagree. Andy says, “First of all, thank you for standing up for the white man.” He loves how conversational he is. I don’t disagree.


Man, Robinson is funny. I just laughed at his over-the-top wrestling announcer voice saying the comics were all vying to win the title of Last Comic Standing: “Are you ready... to watch... them... VIE?!”

He then asks for a drum roll and gets a guy playing steel drum (which is a musical drum from Trinidad and Tobago).

The next comic who will move on and perform next is the tiniest person on the stage, Myq Kaplan, who also deserved to be there based on last week’s set. (If he ate meat or drank milk, he'd probably be taller.)

The pre-recorded bit shows him with guitar, telling us he used to do music. He sings a song telling us about himself. He doesn’t know his persona very well because in the song he says, “I lie about my STD’s.” The vibe he gives off is not one of a sexually promiscuous person but of a guy who’s never had sex before. He should play that up, even if it isn’t true, because that’s the perception. The next line’s about calling his grandmother and parents works, and it’s followed with, “I stalk and kill former lovers”. I’m okay with that because even though he doesn’t look like he’d have former lovers, I can see him as a serial killer. And it ends well because he gets back to his pedantic pseudo-intellectual persona where he says, “And sometimes I play music/but that’s self-evident.”

On stage, Kaplan does the old, but effective, trick of pretending to be the object of ridicule in the previous comic’s set. “Things have been going okay recently, but I ordered some nuggets and they only gave me four.” Again, I hate to over-analyze (ah, who am I kidding? I *love* to over-analyze!), the person cheated out of a nugget in Woods’ joke was a black man. Kaplan isn’t. Later he tells us he was married once, but got out alive. Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, that’s one out of every two people. So that means it’s either going to be you or your wife. Not a fan of that form of joke, either, which is basically throw a stat out there and misinterpret it to include you or the people around you. You’ve all heard countless variations on it: One out of two people are such-and-such. Look around you; if it’s not you, it’s the person sitting next to you. I liked his bit about having his remains scattered over a beautiful park when he dies... only he doesn’t want to be cremated. Just have his body parts strewn about like a scavenger hunt. He ends with a smart and funny description of the movie Final Destination and its effects on him. I’ve never even seen or heard of the movie and it was good.

My Grade: B-

Judges, what did you think?: Giraldo comments on Kaplan’s numerous applause breaks, saying he’s a very funny writer and a great performer. Kindler says he loved that he made people laugh at a movie that “I don’t even think is a real movie. They never heard of it; I don’t know what you were talking about, and yet you brought me along.” (Google alert: I just checked and it’s a real movie twice over. The plot isn’t exactly as Kaplan described it but the broad strokes are there.) The lovely Leggero said he’s very clever and if the show were called Last Comedy Writer Standing, he would definitely win. (Interpretation: she doesn’t think he’s a good comedian.)


Who’s next? Why, it’s none other than... Tommy Johnagin, who I thought had the best set of anyone last week.

In the pre-recorded segment, Johnagin lets us know in no uncertain terms that he’s one of us. That is, if you’re from middle America.

He likes those tight dress shirts. Will he have wet armpits this week? He says he had a pregnancy scare with a girl a while back (see, you don’t need to be time specific and say “last week”). Actually, “she had a pregnancy scare; I just thought I had to move.” Here’s an example of how to breathe new life into a tired premise. He’s essentially talking about the differences between men and women but doesn’t set it up that way. And his examples are fresh and funny. At any sign of a tummy ache, a woman’s friends automatically go to pregnancy, whereas his guy friends could see his girlfriend eight months pregnant and assume it’s just gas or she ate a baby. Another great line: “The only thing I know about babies is don’t shake ’em or feed ’em chocolate and I think that second one’s for dogs.” He ended on a bit about a penis “popping”. I didn’t get what that was until the very end when he said it meant “explode”. But it didn’t explain how it exploded in the first place, beyond being in a car crash. (Also, no pit stains.)

My Grade: B+

Judgerinos: Andy says he’s cocky, confident and hilarious. Natasha didn’t get the popping of the penis, either. But she still thinks he’s real funny. Greg said it was a great set.


Three comics left. Two will stay. It’s down to Mike DeStefano, Felipe Esparza and Rachel Feinstein. You know who I’d send packing. Of these three, DeStefano is head and shoulders above the others and should be called next.

And he is! In the pre-recorded segment we see the bad-ass DeStefano, all inked up, getting on a motorbike. He says he’s pretty much the same guy on stage and off stage and wants people to know it’s not an act. I don’t know what to make of that. I had hopes for him. But if that’s who he is off-stage, stay clear. But wait! There’s a payoff to the gag. He rides his chopper to a shop and we see him inside getting a manicure and pedicure, with his overbearing mother leaning over giving direction.

On-stage he tells us he was on drugs for 15 years (I guess that explains the tatts) and has now been 12 years off drugs. (Making him... old.) But he won’t talk to kids about drugs for some labyrinthian reason, but he will tell them his story. He did heroin, went to rehab and now is on national television. “So don’t do that... It worked out for me, I’m sorry!” I see now why Johnagin made his appeal to middle America. It just might pay off. He tells young girls worried about their weight that he has memories that weigh more than they do. (And he probably has underwear older than them, too.)

My Grade: C+

Judges: Natasha says, “Mike, I love you. I just hope the people watching in prison can get to a hall phone.” Good line. And she gives him a little wink. What was that about? Is the fix in? Greg says he’s always funny and he’s one of the few likable violent people. Andy thought it was his best set yet. “I love what you did and now I want to do heroin, too. Thanks, Mike.”


Either Feinstein or Esparza is going home. I'm fine with that. And it’s Rachel Feinstein who’s now told her last joke on the show. See you on SNL, Rachel.

In the pre-recorded bit, Esparza shows us his East L.A. workout. If Cheech Marin were dead, he’d be rolling over in his grave.

He comes out on stage and says he doesn’t like the stereotypes about Latinos. (This coming immediately after the East L.A. workout.) “We’re not all hard-workers.” That’s a nice bit of misdirection. He likens the Arizona law to club bouncers. If he gets deported, he’ll say, “But sir, I was already in there, though. My friends are in there.” He says he’s a weekend dad. This is the first we’ve heard of that. But I like where he goes with it. His kid shows up on Saturday way too early. “Like around noon.” His mom lets him in his room. “No respect!” I like those jokes because they’re saying lots of different things at once: He’s got a kid, he’s lazy, he lives at home, he’s selfish, he’s a bad dad. So far this is the best set I’ve seen from him. But he ends poorly with a joke about a scared smiley emoticon.

My Grade: C

The judges speak: Giraldo thanks him for making him feel better for his own parenting skills. He thought it was a solid set. Kindler calls him an original, which could be taken either way. And Leggero says, “Half the time I don’t know what you’re saying but it’s always funny.” I agree with half of that.

Going by my grade scores, here are my finalists, in order from top to bottom:
  1. Roy Wood, Jr. B+
  2. Tommy Johnagin B+
  3. Myq Kaplan B-
  4. Mike DeStefano C+
  5. Felipe Esparza C
That means Thymius (C-) will be voted out. And I’m confident about this prediction this time. You mark my words!

So that’s that. Next week, Robinson says, is the final performance show. Does that mean it continues in some other format after next week? Do they pare down from 5 to 1 in one fell swoop? We will see.

Monday, July 26, 2010

More Stanhope ramblings

A friend wrote me today asking if I really believed the moon landing was a hoax (in reference to the Matt Billon bit in the post below). Of course I don't think it was a hoax. But I still liked Billon's take on it (whether he truly believes it's a hoax or not). I've never felt the need to agree with a comic in order to find him funny. I thought the material was well-researched (there was plenty to chew on), well-delivered with conviction, and – bottom line – really funny. The fact I disagree with the premise and conclusion is immaterial.

Which brings us back to Doug Stanhope. I remembered a couple other bits he did last night. And similarly I disagree with his take, but that doesn't stop them from being killer jokes. He thought a great idea would be to register himself as a sex offender just so his friends wouldn't bring their annoying kids over to his place. I happen to like children (as a general rule), but that's just a great, great line whether you agree with him or not. He delivers it with such earnest contempt that you totally buy it, too. I happen to believe Stanhope isn't nearly the curmudgeon he lets on to be. First off, he's the nicest guy. There are no airs about him. And one hint I had was when I was interviewing him a couple weeks ago. He was entertaining his nephew and niece. Occasionally they'd come into the room and interrupt him and he treated them like anyone would treat kids. He sounds like he'd even make a good father. I think he doesn't like kids in principle (and who does, really?) but in reality he's fine with them.

Stanhope makes you think. Not in an Arsenio Hall "things that make you go hmm" kind of way, but gets you thinking about all sorts of stuff. The other chunk of material I remembered after the fact was his take on artists. He lives in a little town of 6,000, many of whom are artists. Stanhope is an artist. Yet he's come to the realization that he hates artists. And hates art. Again, he's always finding a new way to surprise, just when you think you know a guy. And whether I agree with the sentiment or not, he makes a great case against art and wraps it up in the perfect analogy. He talked about hearing an interview with Jello Biafra talking about his art and what he wanted to say in song, yada yada yada. Then they played a clip of the Dead Kennedys and it was practically unintelligible. Stanhope said if you've got something to say, just say it. Tone it down a little, make it more succinct and just say it. If the message is that important, don't make it harder to understand by flowering it up through art – just say it. Then the analogy: "I've got the cure for cancer here in this Rubik's Cube."

Doug Stanhope in Vancouver

At one point in a lull in Doug Stanhope's show on Sunday night, people were yelling out favourite bits of his they wanted him to do. They all went over his head. "You're shooting velcro darts at this Alzheimer's brain," he said. (Only he may not have used those exact words. Thanks to my own pre-Alzheimer's brain, not only do I not recall the exact phrasing, but it just took me ten minutes to come up with "Alzheimer's". Seriously. I had to Google "old age memory loss disease" to find it. But he definitely used the words "velcro darts" and "Alzheimer's".)

The point being that Doug and I are about the same age. He's five years younger but has way more wear and tear on his piece of meat – as he calls the human vessel. And while he can't remember every bit he's ever done, I can't remember every bit he did just a few hours ago. I wasn't reviewing the show for the paper so I didn't have to sit scribbling notes. It might have come in handy for this, though. Oh well.

Doug Stanhope wrapped up his Canadian tour in front of a sold-out crowd at The Bourbon in Vancouver on Sunday night. I'd never been to a comedy show at the bar before, and it had all the potential for a night full of drunken interrupting yahoos, but surprisingly it was a great crowd for the most part. Not exactly my people, but hey, who am I to judge? They were there to see Stanhope, but they listened and liked host Rob Mailloux. I liked him, too, especially the line about the decision to keep a child after a rape and how hard that would be: "He has his attacker's eyes."

The guest spot went to Matt Billon, a BC-boy via Alberta and Toronto and now Calgary, who killed. He had an fresh take on why the moon landing was a hoax, painting us a picture of the relative backwards society we lived in 40-odd years ago. Only forty years ago doctors were injecting the urine of women into rabbits and if the rabbit died, the woman was pregnant. He'd juxtapose things like that with a live, smooth broadcast from the face of the moon. Wrap your head around that. In 2010 he saw a live video from Baghdad that was all herky-jerky with a horrible delay. This was a broadcast from Earth! He makes a great point. And a funny one, too.

Then it was Stanhope's turn. This was the fifth time I've seen him. I'm not sure where it stands in relation to the others, but I hate fake comparisons anyway. He was at times hilariously brilliant and at times meandering, but never less than compelling. At one hour and 37 minutes, it wasn't the tightest of shows, but that's part of his charm. He's up there doing shots, forgetting what he was talking about, stumbling across a good line and instructing his girlfriend Bingo to write it down, and abandoning bits midway through because he's suddenly remembered he hasn't finished writing the joke yet. If that were the extent of his time on stage, it'd be a disaster. But thankfully he had a good solid 45-60 minutes of really great stuff, too.

One thing he's a master at is finding new ways to make his fans think. We know he's a libertarian at heart and he believes all drugs should be legal. But instead of going up there and getting everyone to nod in agreement, he finds a way to potentially piss off his supporters. He told us that 600,000 Americans were in jail for drug-related offenses, but that 580,000 of them are probably idiots. His message was that, yes, drugs should be legal, but since they're not, don't go advertising to the world your beliefs. And while you're at it, put on a turtleneck to cover up that swastika tattooed to your neck. Stealth, that's how you've got to do it. At the mention of the tattooed neck, I noticed two inked up people up front clam up, like they were thinking, "Hey, I thought you were one of us?"

He talked about how if you have a group (ethnic or otherwise) to identify with, it makes things so much easier when someone is an asshole to you. You can chalk it up to being a part of this larger group. Whereas people like Doug just have to face the fact that they're not liked or they're looked down upon as individuals, which can hurt so much more. It got me thinking about a conversation I had last week with a Chinese-Canadian friend of mine. She was saying how transparent it was when people would ask her where she's from. She'd get her back up and say, "I'm Canadian." Then they'd say, "No, I mean, where are your parents from? Or their parents?" To her, it was veiled racism. I told her that maybe it was, but she should know that I've been asked the same question and I've also asked the same question to other white friends. That was a revelation to her. When the issue of race (or religion or sexual orientation or whatever it is) is forefront in your mind, of course you're going to perceive most comments through that prism.

He went from there into a King Kong tale of Susan Boyle, painting her as this monster who had the voice of an angel. It was not an attack on her looks at all, even though they were certainly referenced, but on how society treats ugly people. (Maybe the reference should have been Frankenstein's monster since Peter Boyle played it in Young Frankenstein.)

Ten or so years ago when I first saw him, he did this big closer with a sexual act on a beer bottle that culminated in the shaken (and felated) bottle spewing its contents into the air. He's come full circle because now he's got another closer with beer as his prop. But unlike the earlier gag, this one was only used to illustrate a bigger point, it wasn't the crux of the bit. The beer swilling this time was only to punctuate his arguments. He was telling us why he doesn't tackle the big subjects anymore – or at least with the same frequency or emotion. And that's because he's been doing stand-up for twenty years and... nothing's changed! He's made not a bit of difference in the world. Always a master of analogy, he said it's as if he's been talking to starving people saying, "Look, there's a plate of nachos right over there," and they'd all laugh and say, "Yes, there is. Stanhope's right. There is a plate of nachos over there." And no one would eat it.

It's a phenomenon I've noticed over the years. I remember one instance walking out of a Bill Maher concert. He spent a good chunk of time slamming cell phone users and ridiculing them. Everyone was bowled over laughing. Show ends, lights come up, the aisles are slow to clear and everywhere I look someone is on their cell phone. I wanted to scream, "Weren't you listening? Weren't you just laughing in agreement with what he was saying?"

So maybe Stanhope is right. People believe in things in theory or in the larger picture, but don't feel it has any real bearing on their day-to-day lives. I had a philosophy prof who used to smoke in class (which was against the rules even back then). He said he knows smoking is bad for his health, but is this particular cigarette he's holding in his hands the one that's going to give him cancer? No. It's the same kind of intellectual disconnect Stanhope was talking about. Are we hypocrites? Or just human?

I don't know. But I do know it was a really good show. What I can remember of it, anyway.

(Here's the story I wrote on Stanhope for the latest issue of The Georgia Straight.)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

July 25: Anything goes

Did you enjoy the fireworks last night? I can honestly say I've never enjoyed fireworks at any time or place. They are the most over-rated form of entertainment I can think of, just inching out parades.

Here's the deal on the show tonight: We've got nothing planned. Doug Stanhope is playing The Bourbon, which isn't too far from the studio. I'll be at the show. Whether I get in or not is another question because it's sold out. But I'm the eternal optimist. And who knows how long it'll last. It's the last show on Stanhope's cross-Canada tour. Will he want to bail early or go long? Dunno.

So I may or may not be there for the show. How's that for commitment?! But trusty sidekick Kevin Smith will be dutifully there playing clips and doing whatever it is he does. If I get back in time, I'll join him. If I run into a potential guest at the Stanhope show who wants to come sit in for the hour and talk about what we just saw, there's always that possibility, too. We're putting the question mark back into What's So Funny?

But no matter what, there will be some kind of radio show based around the notion of comedy tonight from 11 to midnight on CFRO, 102.7 FM. You can live-stream it, too. Google it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Podcast episode 197ish: Todd Graham

What did I learn in this episode? I learned what a video mash-up is. I learned that Apocalypse Now is a pretty good movie. I learned that watching movies for a living can be tiring. I learned that you can take a 20-year break from stand-up. I learned that our regular theme song is better than the last-second replacement I found when I misplaced the original. And I learned who Todd Graham is, our guest for the hour. And you can learn all that stuff, too, and more by listening here or heading over to the iTunes store and downloading the latest episode of What's So Funny? in podcast format.

Some names trinkling in

It's not news, but in case you missed it some names have been released from the annual Global Comedy Fest, which runs this year from September 16-26. They issued their first press release a month ago, but I didn't mention it here because there were only four shows listed and, frankly, they weren't all that exciting. Usually a press release is trumpeting something worth bragging about. The four shows they announced were all decent, but nothing to write you about. However, in conjunction with their second press release earlier this week, I figure there are enough shows now to list them here for you. And no doubt there will be plenty more to come. I'll keep you posted:

Comedy Power Pack in 3D ~ September 17th at The Vogue Theatre: The first of its kind,Comedy Action Pack in 3D’ is a stand-up and comedy video show in 3D. Three of Vancouver ’s brightest new stars are teaming up for an exciting night of comedy. Reza Peyk (Iranian-Canadian), Ken Kirby - aka Gary Fong (Chinese-Canadian) and Jy Harris (Redhead-Canadian) are among Canada ’s new guard of innovative comics and will star in this first ever 3D comedy show that will feature stand-up, short film, sketch and outrageous characters.

Iliza Shlesinger ~ September 17 & 18 at Lafflines: Winner of NBC’s Last Comic Standing Season 6, Iliza Shlesinger is the first female and youngest comedian to hold the title of Last Comic Standing. In addition to performing at the coveted Just for Laughs Festival, her credits include Comedy Central Presents, Comedy Central’s Live At Gotham, Showtime’s Pauly Shore & Friends and NBC’s Last Call with Carson Daly.

Charlie Murphy ~ September 18 at The Vogue Theatre: Charlie Murphy’s rapid evolution from "Chappelle's Show" cast member to top-billed international comedian, playing to sold-out audiences around the globe, has been remarkable. He has spent the past eight years performing his critically acclaimed stand-up show and solidifying his position in Hollywood as a true acting talent, in his own right.

“Asian Connection” featuring Joe Wong ~ September 19 at Lafflines: Self-proclaimed “all American immigrant,” Joe Wong came a long way from a rosy-eyed new immigrant to a blossoming comedian. His jokes range from ethnic and personal to political and bizarre. His humour is not easily categorized, but always inspired. Joe participated in the David Letterman Showcase at the Boston Comedy Festival in 2005 and won rave reviews for his performance. In 2006 and 2007, Joe headlined numerous high-profile shows, including the Autism Speaks Show, AC/DC Benefit Show and the Ticket To Asia Show. He recently headlined The Radio & Television Correspondents' Dinner and was the highlight of the evening with his roast to President Obama and Vice President Biden.

Kyle Kinane ~ September 21 & 22 at The Comedy Mix: Kyle Kinane has performed at comedy festivals across the United States, Canada and England. A regular opener for headliners such as Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn, Kinane has appeared on Last Call with Carson Daly, the BBC, and Judd Apatow’s Funny People. He was also rated #5 on’s top 10 list of upcoming comedians.

*Gerry Dee ~ September 23rd at The Vogue Theatre: Gerry Dee won ‘Best Comic in Canada ’ at the 2008 Canadian Comedy Awards and is the first Canadian in twenty-seven years to win the prestigious San Francisco International Comedy Competition. He has appeared on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing 5” and can be seen weekly on “The Score” with his humourous segment called “Gerry Dee-Sports Reporter”. (*tickets for this show will go on sale July 2nd)

Chris Porter ~ September 23, 24, & 25 at The Comedy Mix: Best known for his third place finish on Season 4 of Last Comic Standing, Chris Porter has been a touring comic since he was 23. His raw energy and unique perspective has distinguished him as one of the elite comics in the industry. Born and raised in Kansas City, Chris brings a true stand-up experience to his live shows. There are no sound cues, no puppets, and no catch phrases - just gut wrenching laughter drawn from his own experience and observations. Chris can also be seen on his own Comedy Central Presents special and Live at Gotham.

Tom Green ~ September 24th at The Vogue Theatre: He has graced the cover of Rolling Stone, commandeered the coveted guest-host chair on The Late Show with David Letterman, and conquered the World Wide Web with his free-wheeling, wildly popular internet talk show, "Tom Green's House Tonight." Now, Tom brings his unique brand of hilarity to the art of stand-up comedy. Experience one of the great comic minds in the field of entertainment, live and in person, when Tom Green takes the stage and provides non-stop laughter with his brilliantly cracked view of the world around him.

“ComedyFest Encore Italia!” featuring Tammy Pescatelli ~ September 30, October 1 & 2 at Lafflines: Tammy Pescatelli is one of America ’s funniest and hardest working women of comedy. Beating out thousands for the enviable spot as part of the Final Five on NBC’s Last Comic Standing Season 2 catapulted Tammy’s career and solidified her as one of the sharpest women in the comedy world. She has appeared twice as a guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Dennis Miller and has appeared in her own half-hour special for Comedy Central. Most recently, Tammy finished #1 on Comedy Central’s 2010 Stand-Up Showdown.

The funniest person alive

I have a love-hate relationship with Bill Simmons, who writes The Sports Guy column on ESPN. I share his passion for basketball, but I can't abide his homerism for all teams Boston-related. He's really funny most of the time and I hardly ever miss a column, but he stole my moniker, even if he had no idea. Back in the early 1990s (I think) I did a weekly sports column for an embarrassing sports weekly that nobody read. Even if the columns weren't up to Simmons' standards, the title was absolutely perfect for me: The Sports Guy. I didn't come up with it, but thought it was perfect because it worked on two levels, it being my name and all. With Simmons, it just works on one level. But I'm not bitter.

Simmons used to work on The Jimmy Kimmel Show (in what capacity, I have no idea. I could Google it, but I couldn't be bothered). So he's got his comedy bona fides. And in his latest summer mailbag, he answered a letter about comedy so I have the perfect chance to plug him in this blog. He's the kind of writer who veers off topic so even if you're not a fan of whatever sports he's writing about, his columns are always entertaining. But this is all comedy. See what you think:

Q: Who is the funniest man alive right now? Personally I like Zach Galifianiakis -- he's the Kevin Durant of this category. We know he will be great, but he isn't quite there yet. I'm still taking him.
-- Joey Miller, Dallas

SG: I spent way too much time thinking about this. The short answer: Yes. 2009 belonged to Galifianiakis over any other funny person. Not sure about 2010 yet.

The long answer: With the NBA, I can just click on a list of MVPs for the past 50 years that gives me a general idea of "Who was the best player alive for that year?" We don't have this for the "Funniest Person Alive" title, and really, we should. You have to nail at least one of these questions to qualify for that given year: Were you in the hottest comedy of the year, or even better, in the middle of a run of hot comedies? Were you carrying SNL? Did you have an iconic stand-up special, cable TV show, late-night show or comedy series? Did you routinely crush any late-night appearance or SNL hosting gig? Did you have a huge approval rating with little to no backlash? Do we associate that year with you to some degree? I need resonance beyond just cult affection, which unfortunately rules out the great Bill Hicks (who has a strong case for 1990).

For instance: 1982, 1983, 1984 ... Eddie Murphy. Period. That was the Eddie Era. SNL, "Delirious," "48 Hrs.," "Trading Places," "Beverly Hills Cop." Done. There was no doubt whatsoever. And sure, there may have been some doubt in other years. But here's what I am thinking for guys in my lifetime (starting in 1975, when I could start remembering stuff, along with input from 10-12 friends).

1975: Richard Pryor
Best stand-up comedian alive (and the most respected). Also crushed his only SNL hosting gig ever with its first legitimately great show and water cooler sketch.

1976: Chevy Chase
SNL's first breakout star as it became a national phenomenon. He also made the worst move in Funniest Guy history by leaving the show as he was wrapping up his Funniest Guy season. Even "The Decision" was a better idea.

1977-78: John Belushi
Replaced Chase as SNL's meal ticket in '77, then had the single best year in Funny Guy History a year later: starred on SNL (during its biggest year ever, when audiences climbed to over 30 million per episode); starred in "Animal House" (the No. 1 comedy of 1978 and a first-ballot Hall of Famer); had the No. 1 album (the Blues Brothers' first album). No. 1 in TV, movies and music at the same time? I'm almost positive this will never happen again. And also, if you put all the funniest people ever at the funniest points of their lives in one room, I think he'd be the alpha dog thanks to force of personality. So there's that.

1979: Robin Williams, Steve Martin (tie)
"Mork and Mindy" plus a big stand-up career for Williams; "The Jerk" plus a best-selling comedy album plus "official best SNL host ever" status for Martin.

1980: Rodney Dangerfield
His breakout year with "Caddyshack," killer stand-up, killer Carson appearances, a Grammy-winning comedy album, and even a Rolling Stone cover. Our oldest winner.

1981: Bill Murray
Carried "Stripes" one year after "Caddyshack." Tough year for comedy since cocaine was ruining nearly everybody at this point.

1982-84: Eddie Murphy
The best three-year run anyone's had. Like Bird's three straight MVPs. And by the way, "Beverly Hills Cop" is still the No. 1 comedy of all time if you use adjusted gross numbers.

(Random note: Sam Kinison's 1984 spot on Dangerfield's "Young Comedians" special has to be commemorated in some way. At the time, it was the funniest six minutes that had ever happened and could have singlehandedly won him the title in almost any other year. It's also the hardest I have ever laughed without drugs being involved. Sadly, I can't link to it because of the language and because it crosses about 35 lines of decency. But it's easily found, if you catch my drift.)

1985-86: David Letterman
Went from "cult hero" to "established mainstream star," ushered in the Ironic Comedy Era, pushed the comedy envelope as far as it could go, and if you want to dig deeper, supplanted Carson as the den father for that generation of up-and-comers and new superstars (Murphy, Leno, Seinfeld, Michael Keaton, Tom Hanks, Howard Stern, etc.) ... and on a personal note, had a bigger influence on me than anyone other than my parents. One of two people that I could never meet because I would crumble like a crumb cake. (You can guess the other.)

1987: Jay Leno, Howard Stern (tie)
Seems like a million years ago, but Leno's frequent appearances on Letterman's showalways
and enjoyable "Tonight Show" guest host spots stole the '87 title from Letterman just because he seemed newer and fresher. (Note: The Leno-Letterman spot delivered the goods. They were unbelievable together. That's what made it so unbelievable when Leno backstabbed him for the "Tonight Show" job.) Meanwhile, Stern's morning show had become a tri-state phenomenon and reached the point that people were trading cassette tapes; he even landed a Fox pilot that year.

1988: Eddie Murphy
Reclaimed the throne with "Coming to America" one year after "Raw." Also, Arsenio Hall's show had taken off and Eddie was a frequent guest. The last great Eddie year. Alas.

1989: Dana Carvey
SNL's first breakout star in five years thanks to the Church Lady, his Bush Senior impersonation and a bunch of other things that didn't really hold up. What's weird is that Phil Hartman's SNL stuff held up much better, only it took Carvey leaving for people to realize how great Hartman was.

1990: Billy Crystal
Never had a career year but accumulated enough momentum from his stupendous SNL stint (1984-85), "City Slickers," his HBO comedy special and his late-night guest spots that his 1990 Oscars host job (the best ever to that point) wins him the award in a weak year. FYI: You could make a decent Bill Hicks case here, but he just wasn't well-known enough.

1991: Jerry Seinfeld
The year his show started taking off, much to the delight of everyone who loved him from his Letterman/Carson spots and the four episodes from the previous summer. I will never forget me and my buddy Kurt Sanger trying to convince everyone else we knew in college to watch the first episode of Season 2 with us (January 1991) and only a couple biting.

1992: Jerry Seinfeld, Mike Myers (tie)
Seinfeld's show became a smash hit; Myers was SNL's biggest star during a resurgent era and also made a hit movie ("Wayne's World," now the most dated comedy of all time and totally weird to watch, although the "Bohemian Rhapsody" scene remains funny).

1993: Mike Myers
Weak year. Myers had SNL, "Wayne's World 2" and "So I Married An Axe Murderer." You could talk me into giving the entire "Simpsons" writing staff this spot just to get them on the list.

1994: Jim Carrey
"Ace Ventura," "The Mask" and "Dumb & Dumber." Has anyone ever gone three-for-three with smash hits in one year? Now he's just a crazy person on Twitter.

1995: Chris Farley
His long-awaited "I always loved Chris Farley and now I feel totally vindicated because I knew he was going to be famous" year with "Tommy Boy." Which still holds up, by the way. Silver medal to Norm MacDonald for crushing it on "Weekend Update" during and after the O.J. trial.

1996: Chris Rock
He underachieved on SNL to the point that, when he switched to "In Living Color" for one year, nobody gave a crap. By 1995, he had fallen into the "doing guest spots on 'Martin' and 'Fresh Prince of Bel Air'" stage of his career. And then, out of nowhere ... "Bring The Pain" happened. The best stand-up special since Eddie in his prime. Who knew?

1997: Garry Shandling
The best season ever (Season 5) of one of the greatest comedies ever ("The Larry Sanders Show") peaks with "The Roast" (the single funniest episode in the history of the show). Good enough to win a weak year.

1998: Adam Sandler
Became an A-List comedy franchise with "The Wedding Singer" and "The Waterboy." Weak year otherwise.

1999: Mike Myers, Chris Rock (tie)
"Austin Powers 2" (and A-List celeb status) for Myers; "Bigger and Blacker" special and an inventive weekly HBO show for Rock.

2000: Will Ferrell
At the height of his SNL powers at this point thanks to his Dubya impersonation. You could make a very strong "Will Ferrell was the greatest cast member in the history of SNL" case.

2001: Matt Stone, Trey Parker (tie)
A seminal season for "South Park" (Season 5) peaks with the ballsy Osama episode
just eight weeks after 9/11. Weird year for comedy in general. You could make a strong case for Ricky Gervais here; I would give it to him except for the fact that I hate British people.

2002: Larry David
His best "Curb Your Enthusiasm" season (Season 3) and it featured my single favorite episode (the one with Krazee-Eyez Killa).

2003: Dave Chappelle
Season 1. Enough said. The last unequivocal, there-is-no-doubt-whatsoever-that-he-has-the-title comedy season.

2004: Dave Chappelle, Jon Stewart (tie)
Season 2 for Chappelle and a breakout year for Stewart (the 2004 election, his "Crossfire" appearance, the release of his book and his Peabody Award).

2005: Steve Carell
"The Office" takes off and "The 40 Year Old Virgin" hits theaters. Good enough to take a splintered year. Thanks to the Internet boom and cable boom, comedy now became so specialized that it became infinitely more difficult to say one person was "The Funniest Man Alive." My personal choice: Ferrell again, just because of "Anchorman."

2006: Sacha Baron Cohen
Borat. More than enough.

2007: Larry David
Comeback year for "Curb" as the Blacks move into Larry's house. Runner-up: Judd Apatow.

2008: Tina Fey
"30 Rock" takes off and Palin falls into her lap. Our first and only woman!

2009: Zach Galifianiakis
His "Hangover" role was funnier than anything anyone else did ... right?

2010: ????????
Five months to go. Haven't had a breakout star yet. Unless you count the double rainbow guy. So there you go.

To read the whole mailbag, or at least part II of the mammoth thing, click here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Last Comic Standing: Week 7

Thursday already? I have been getting the Monday night Last Comic Standing blog up on Wednesdays, but I went to the premiere of Kooza, the latest Cirque du Soleil extravaganza, last night instead. Before we get into LCS, let me give you a little comedy anecdote regarding the Circus of the Sun.

Several years ago at the Just For Laughs festival I saw Christopher Titus do a new routine at a club. It was all family material. I forget the joke but the gist of one of the bits had to do with his child being born and falling out of his wife swinging by the umbilical cord. He referenced "Cirque de Soleil" and it got barely a laugh in the birthplace of the thing.

Did you catch the subtle error there? He said ‘de’ and pronounced it like the fourth letter of the alphabet. Probably it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference in the States, but I sensed the reason he didn’t get a bigger laugh was because of that minor error. Most people in the audience would probably speak French, and those that didn’t probably took enough French in school to know the difference between ‘du’ and ‘de’.

Or maybe the joke wasn’t that good. Who knows?

But a couple days later I found myself backstage at one of the big televised galas. Titus was on the bill. I had played in the artist vs industry basketball game previous to this and had spoken to him a bit there. So I felt comfortable offering my bit of lay advice to him and his wife in the greenroom. When his name was called by host Carl Reiner, off he went and proceeded to do that chunk of material. When he got to Cirque du Soleil reference, he nailed it. Huge laughs, applause break.

It’s the little things.

He and his wife made a beeline for me after his set and they were really appreciative. I felt like I had a hand in that applause break.

Oh, one other Cirque du Soleil note before I fire up the PVR. I was reading a review of last night’s spectacle and found out that the funny little impish clown was a guy I went to school with: Colin Heath. I was impressed. And no, I didn't go to clown college. This was junior and senior high.

Okay, here we go. Awesome, it’s only an hour this week. Just to recap, last week the general public was going to vote three of the final ten off the island. I thought it was a no-brainer. Three, in my eyes, were significantly weaker than the others: Felipe Esparza, Jonathan Thymius and Rachel Feinstein. I also realize the public is a ass [sic] so I suspect one or more of these three will stick around for another week. Let’s see.


Funny intro this week. The announcer says, “And now, the man who puts the obinson in Robinson: Craig Robinson!” Gotta love it.

The judges are back this week. I wonder why? I guess we’ll find out. But first, the results are in. They’re going with this unnecessary grouping thing again. Why not just read the seven names?

The first grouping is Roy Woods, Jr., Mike DeStefano, James Adomian, Myq Kaplan. Geez, I had all these guys advancing. Who knows how many they’ll choose, but if I were putting these guys in order, it would be: Adomian, Kaplan, Woods, DeStefano.

Mike DeStefano advances. No numbers are given, which just makes things suspicious, if you ask me. Who’s to say the producers didn’t just decide who to advance?

Roy Woods, Jr. also advances.

Myq Kaplan is still in the running.

That means James Adomian, who I thought had one of the best sets last week, is going home. Interesting that they go to a little highlight package and Adomian is doing the voice-over, talking about losing. So obviously they were told ahead of time. Unless everyone had to record a win speech and a lose speech.

And now those three get to perform. Starting with the Italian dude, Mike DeStefano. Someone’s been reading my blog! His inkwork is all covered up this week. He bought some expensive soap, but it doesn’t wash away shame. He had a rough childhood so he can’t express emotions beyond hunger. Nothing particularly good so far. But then he started talking about couples therapy and I thought it got a lot better. Here’s where his bravado works for his persona. He’s showing us he’s a sexist pig but in a way that puts himself down, so we can laugh at his character and laugh at his frustrations. One line I really liked that got absolutely no response from the crowd was when he was telling us what his ex-girlfriend was telling the counselor: “’I want us to be connected’... and then it sounded like a siren after that. That’s all I could hear.” Good line played to crickets. Overall: Decent.

Andy Kindler summed it up well. He said DeStefano is both frightening and loveable at the same time, like he has a heart of gold wrapped in a fist. He especially liked the “Does it clean shame?” line. I didn’t. But I could totally see Kindler doing a line like that and it working way better. Natasha Leggero did her siren impression before saying he was very funny and the set was excellent. Greg Giraldo’s beard is thicker. That’s all I noticed from him. He’s allergic to razors.


Roy Wood, Jr. is next up to perform. He’s talking about the World Cup soccer tourney and I’m thinking, ‘Has he done this before?’ But no, I don’t think he has. As a guy with no time for soccer, I was with him. I liked his line about how pissed we’d be if the Lakers lost to Al Qaeda. That’s how these soccer countries must feel when they lose to the American team. ... He claims he’s 31. I wonder how long he’s been saying that? He’s gotta be the oldest looking 31-year-old I’ve ever seen. But it’s a student loan chunk so maybe he has been doing the joke for a while. I liked his line: “I shouldn’t have to pay you for stuff I don’t remember.” ... Also had a great take on the civil rights fights. Funny and had a strong point. Overall: Good.

Natasha says he’s so likeable. Greg he was very funny. Andy loves his voice.

Next: Myq Kaplan makes fun of the “right” crowd, those annoying people who tag an approval-seeking question after each sentence, right? Yeah, like that. ... Ooh, he just hurt himself possibly during an applause break when he sarcastically said, “Thank you everybody... Thank you for wasting my time.” ... He likes to trumpet his own intelligence a little too much, which makes me think he’s less intellectual and more pseudo-intellectually pedantic. He was called gay by the jocks in high school because he spoke in complete sentences. But he got on a bit of a roll there and ended well. Overall: Pretty good.

Giraldo liked the way he handled the applause break, so there you go. He called Kaplan (and you can be sure this is going in his press kit), “A lot of funny in a little package.” Kindler got his opinion about audience voting in and, as always, made it funny. He said he wishes there wasn’t voting. “I believe in a comedy dictatorship.” I don’t quite agree. I’d prefer a comedy oligarchy, but we’re at least in the same ballpark. Kindler thought Kaplan was fantastic. Leggero said he doesn’t sell his jokes with his personality, but just with the strength of his material.


The next group of four consists of Rachel Feinstein, Tommy Johnagin, Felipe Esparza, and Laurie Kilmartin. Remember, I had both Feinstein and Esparza and gone. But if only one can go, I’d say Esparza. Let’s see how it plays out:

Oh, they’re just going with the loser. Laurie Kilmartin. Wow. Well, America voted for George W. Bush twice so these kinds of things happen in a system like that. Too bad. Oh, I see how TV works now. She recorded her goodbye montage after the announcement on stage. Because it really seemed like she was hearing it for the first time.

Back to the comedy. Or “comedy”. Rachel Feinstein’s cast of characters hits the stage. She was in Vegas recently and a guy was walking towards her. “You know when you can actually smell a douche?” Are we talking about the guy again or is this a new bit? I guess either way the answer is yes. She goes into her continuing audition for Saturday Night Live with a great voice of an old-timey Hollywood actress. But as for the material? Uh, not so much. Overall: Passable.

Kindler said she was fantastic and he’s amazed by the voices. Again, he singles out a line that I thought fizzled: “Even my breasts are concerned.” It’s an okay line but it didn’t fit with the characterization she was doing. Leggero said she has the perfect mix of writing and performance. Giraldo said she’s so great, so great.

Robinson, in giving out the voting methods, tells us to keep in mind we can only vote ten times per method. Say what? I haven’t voted and have no idea if Canadians are permitted to vote, but what happened to one person-one vote? Ten votes by phone, ten more by internet? That explains Bush, though.


Tommy Johnagin enters dressed to the nines. Or at least eights. He looks sharp anyway. Except for the large sweat stains under his pits. But at least he draws attention to them first. Nothing worse than seeing unaddressed sweat stains. I see that’s his M.O. in life. He’s an open book. He tells us that if you do something crazy in a relationship, tell everyone because eventually someone will out-crazy you and you’ll feel better about yourself... I like his fast-paced delivery. Good jokes well told. (There’s a blurb for the guy.) I’m laughing at his bit about his dumb mechanic, who waited three days before finding out the problem was the starter. “I don’t know anything about cars. But if it doesn’t move and it has a part called the mover, check it on day one next time.” Overall: Very good.

Natasha said it wasn’t her favourite set but everyone loved him. So far on the night, it’s my favourite set. He responded, “That wasn’t my favourite comment.” Giraldo practically stole my blurb! He said, “Great jokes well delivered.” What are the odds?! Kindler loved that he showed the sweat.


Felipe Esparza is next. He starts the exact same way as last time: “So how you guys doing tonight? Good? Alright”, said in rapid succession. Man, it’s like he’s performing in another language. This is two sets in a row where I have no idea what he’s talking about. He says he lives in a gated community: the windows are gated, the back door’s gated, the front door. Help me out here. I hate not getting jokes. Then he says, “The restaurant that’s parked in front of my house...” and he has to stop because he gets an applause break. Seriously! Am I being punked? Then he makes fun of someone for speaking in broken English. Hey, at least they have an excuse for not understanding them. His punchline was just as mysterious to me. And it keeps getting worse. He went to a haunted house in his neighbourhood that cost twenty bucks to get in, thirty bucks to get out. And worse. But he seems to be enjoying himself, as does the audience. Overall: Horrible.

Greg thought he had a killer set, but he was careful not to say anything too positive. Andy was more to the point: “The crowd loved you, which usually makes me want to go the other way.” He also says he can’t see how anyone wouldn’t love him. Natasha touched her breast and I’m out of my funk. And she had a great comment: “Your jokes are very easy but people loved them.”


The last group is between just two comdics: Jonathan Thymius and Moronzio Vance. This should be a no-brainer. Thymius has to be the one to go, don’t you think?

Holy shit! I don’t often swear in print, but I think it’s warranted. Vance had one of the best sets last week and Thymius wasted time and belched. But Vance is going home. That’s democracy for you. Thing is, I doubt Thymius has any more material.

Side note: Does Craig Robinson have some sort of Howie Mandel germ phobia? I don’t think he’s shaken anyone’s hand. Ever.

And now Thymius is back out to waste some more time. He’s on a roll, he says. He recently found out he’s not the devil. He read the tag on his underpants wrong. It said “satin”. He was home-schooled and went on a lot of field trips. Like to the liquor store. Hey, a good line! But the series of tags that followed weren’t up to its standards. He recently worked up the nerve to go to a massage parlour, but got a plausible, more realistic ending. He painted an ugly picture with his reference to getting older: he tea-bagged the toilet water. He ends with an impression and you just know it’s going to be anything but. He turns around, then turns back and says, “Were you in Brenda’s room?” The joke being that nobody knows who it is. He tells us it’s his friend Marty. But, to get too literal again, it doesn’t work unless his friend sounds exactly like him because he didn’t even alter his voice. But I submit it doesn’t work anyway. It’s just stupid. Overall: Mediocre.

Andy thought he was fantastic but doesn’t look like he means it. Natasha finds him silly, gross and weird. Greg thought he had a great set and his jokes couldn’t be delivered by anybody else. What I think he means is nobody would ever want to deliver those jokes.

Well, what will John and Jane Q. Public decide? Who knows? Robinson told us we’ll learn the results next week. I wish we’d see numbers instead of just the end result. I want to know just how badly out of step I am with the masses. Did they say how many would be voted off next week? I missed it and I’ve already deleted the episode.

I made my predictions last week and got all three wrong. I’ll put this week’s contestants in order of preference, from best to worst, based on their performances this week:
  1. Tommy Johnagin
  2. Roy Wood, Jr.
  3. Myq Kaplan
  4. Mike DeStefano
  5. Rachel Feinstein
  6. Jonathan Thymius
  7. Felipe Esparza
But what do I know?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

July 18: Clips and maybe a call from Lachlan Patterson

Tonight we're playing comedy clips for the hour. I'll play tracks from the likes of Steve Hofstetter, Jackie Kashian, Laurie Kilmartin, Robert Hawkins, Tom Segura, Paul F. Tompkins, Joan Rivers and a couple from Lachlan Patterson's new CD, Jokes to Make Love To. And we'll try to catch up with Lachlan, who may or may not call in from the island and tell us what's happening in his life since his move to L.A. For those in Vancouver who missed him at the Comedy Mix this weekend, he'll be back on Thursday to headline the Cabin Eatery on West 4th near Macdonald.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Last Comic Standing: Week 6

I don’t know why I keep putting off watching Last Comic Standing each week when I like the show. But I do. Maybe it just seems like a Wednesday night kinda show to me.

Let’s fire up the tubes and see what’s in store for us this week, see which unremarkable comic the producers put through this week and which original one loses. Or is it an audience vote this week? Either way, it spells doom. But maybe I shouldn’t be so damn cynical and just turn on the TV.

But first... I interviewed Doug Stanhope last week and asked him about the show. You’d expect him to hate it, right? Turns out he doesn’t. Not only that, but he feels responsible for the show even being on the air. Read on:
Guy MacPherson: You watching Last Comic Standing?
Doug Stanhope: Yes, I watch that religiously. I’ve seen a lot of guys I laugh at. I wonder if I’m getting soft because I’m laughing at a lot of these comics. I know a lot of them.

GM: They seem to be a little better this year.
DS: Yeah. Well, I mean, when you get Andy Kindler and Greg Giraldo... They had to do that consciously. There’s a lot of people I love. It’s a calculated move to get people that comics like involved in this. Not have Ant... When all of comedy is against Last Comic Standing, it’s going to hurt their credibility. So bringing in Andy Kindler had to be a calculated but brilliant business decision on their part.

GM: You watched last week, right?
DS: Yeah, yeah, I’ve been watching this season, yeah.

GM: I’m surprised with some of the final picks. It made me think that the judges are there to talk a little bit after each act, but nowhere does it say that they’re making the decision.
DS: No, that’s obvious. And it is calculated. No one that waits in line gets on the show or has a chance. That’s the shit that pisses you off. When they do the opening rounds and show people: “I’ve been here for four days waiting in line.” You don’t get on. People that are getting on... I did the presentation pilot for Last Comic Standing. I’m the fucking Himmler behind that whole stupid show.

GM: Really!
DS: 2500 bucks to live in a house for three days. A presentation pilot is a pilot that the production company makes to show the network, “This is what it’ll look like.” And the network decides whether to buy the show based on that. So, yeah, it was me and John Heffron and Jodie Maruska... There were five comics. It was just like a microcosm of what the show would be. So I feel somewhat responsible for it even being out there.

GM: Did it come close to you actually being on the show?
DS: They invited me on the show later on. I wanted to do it, the same reason I wanted to do Girls Gone Wild because it was some stupid thing I could go fuck with and not care, but it’s all gonna end up in how you look in editing. If I went and tried to just trash the thing, like it was some fucking bad bar mitzvah I was hired to perform at, they could edit you to look like the biggest asshole in the world. But everyone that gets on there, like Laurie Kilmartin this season, you know if there was odds on some offshore betting site, I could have made money telling you who’s going to go through on these rounds. Laurie Kilmartin did not wait in fucking line. She has more tenure than the judges on this fucking show. They’re all friends. It’s like if you knew that Randy Jackson and fucking Simon Cowell were life-long friends with the American Idol performer auditioning next, but they make it seem like they waited in line. No, she didn’t wait in line. She was invited, had a timeslot, came in, they knew ahead of time, they’re all friends. Yes, she’ll be moving forward.

GM: But I don’t think any of the ones who are there now waited in line, either.
DS: Not unless it was a goofball. They find the goofballs out in line, I’m sure. A guy walks in in a fucking bee suit with his fucking assless chaps or something, yeah, that guy waited in line! But the people that actually move forward, I’m sure 100 percent of them were invited.
There you go. Now on with the show.

Wow, Craig Robinson gets a standing O to start the show. Is that just fake TV nonsense or have these people really been watching and enjoying his hosting as I have?

There are ten finalists, four of whom I’ve liked so far. Of course, I’m just going by what they show us and any one of them could surprise me tonight.

First up is one that I like: Laurie Kilmartin. And not just because Stanhope is putting his money on her. I really liked her first time up, then last week she didn’t have as good a set, I didn’t think. But I’ve heard her on Marc Maron’s podcast and she was really funny so I’m biased. Oh, and look, she’s talking about what she talked about on Maron’s show: her breakup and how she found out her boyfriend was cheating on her. What really galled her was that, in reading the other woman’s e-mails to Kilmartin’s boyfriend, this other woman was a horrible speller. I’m surprised the censors let her punchline get through. She wrote back to this woman in language she could understand: “Feck off you miserable batch.” I’ve mentioned before the similarities in content between her and Louis CK. And here’s another one: She talks about having no privacy on the toilet with her 3-year-old kid constantly around her. But I guess there’s only so much material to mine off toddlers.

Yup, it’s viewer-rated. God help us all. She’s got no chance now. It’s going to be some hyper emotive fast-talker whose act is like a shiny object to the dullards at home, you mark my words.


Next up is a guy that I haven’t liked at all so far, but I’m going to watch with an open mind. Felipe Esparza tells us before he gets up there, “Forget about Pedro, vote for Felipe.” I don’t know what that means. Who’s Pedro? Must be an American slogan we don’t get up here. Here’s his opening joke: “You ever go home after a night of partying and reflect on your life, lay there and think, ‘Damn, I haven’t done anything.’” And he gets laughs! What the hell?! Again, I have no idea what that even means. And the tag was just as bad. Something about his buddy and the buddy’s wife being in the top bunk. What it has to do with partying, I have no idea... Yeah, yeah, I get that he was reflecting on the fact he’s done nothing with his life, but why is that funny? And the payoff is that he at least isn’t married and sharing a room and bunk bed with someone. But really? That’s good enough for the finals? Good lord. And then a bit about sucking up to a cop on his first arrest that goes nowhere. This is really bad and reflects poorly on the show. And it doesn’t get better. There’s a lame joke about Mexico wanting to help out in Iraq but “they need a ride over there.” Gawdawful. But I did like his line about what he tells women when he takes off his shirt for the first time and she sees his stretch marks: “I was attacked by a mountain lion.” (By the way, I recently found out that a mountain lion is what they call a cougar in California. I always thought they were different animals.)

Felipe gets a one-person standing ovation.

Roy Wood, Jr. is here to go all the way. I thought he was rather pedestrian earlier in the show and was surprised he advanced. We’ll see. He talks about sports fans and getting punched in the face. One of his bits starts off with a false premise and I immediately turn off. He talks of somebody getting up in a sports bar saying that swimming is the number one sport in America. And I just refuse to believe anyone would say that. Not even Mark Spitz or Michael Phelps would say that. Now, it’s conceivable somebody really said that, but it sounds more just like an excuse for him to make some jokes about swimming. His bit about society needing failures (“somebody has to make the hamburgers”) is decent, even if I remember Brent Butt doing a similar bit years and years ago. But I only ever heard him doing it once so he might have been riffing. And Wood had a great line: “We need failures in America. They provide chicken nuggets and lap dances. Those are important services.” And an even better tag about where he gave this particular advice on career day.

Nice set by Wood. Not outstanding, but good.


Craig Robinson welcomes us back in a Santa outfit, saying he’s giving us the gift of laughter. I love this guy.

Maronzio Vance is next. I do not like the way he enters the stage. He’s lifting his hands trying to get the audience to be louder. Just be funny; that’ll do the trick. He asks the audience how they’re all doing, which brings me to a pet peeve. I can see a host asking that. But if you’re on a show with ten comics, and you hear the crowd response after someone before you asked the same question, remember it because they’re likely just as good as they were five minutes ago. Vance says he always wanted to be a super-hero but couldn’t afford it, listing off all the costs associated with fighting crime in a cape. So he needed to find a super-hero that’s economically friendly and decided he’d be Pay Attention Man. I really liked his set. Original material, cool delivery. He screwed up just a bit when he was spelling out a confirmation code, but it was negligible.

Rachel Feinstein was one I liked earlier. Her mom is aggressively white and getting sassy. She wants to be black. She does a lot of voices and does them well, but I’m not laughing. I think she should be on Saturday Night Live because she’s cute, got a big personality in her act and can do characters. And someone else can write her sketches.


Tommy Johnagin surprised me by getting through. He got a call from his mom today. Yes, I’m sure he did. But he made me laugh (yes, occasionally it happens) with his bit about his mom drumming up visitors for his grandmother. He also had a funny bit about an ugly stripper juxtaposed with the smoking ban. Not sure how much support he’ll get from women voters but it was a good set.

The funniest thing about Jonathan Thymius is his look. He takes his sweet time starting, and I suspect that’s because he doesn’t have all that much good material. His opening joke is about him confusing his life with Mike Brady’s. Stupid. He also paused because he thought he was getting a sign from God. Then he belched, saying, “I guess not.” That’s sure to win over America. He ends on a fake juggling routine that never happens. Let’s just pretend that set never happened.


James Adomian, the man of a thousand voices, is next. Not sure I like his new look with the hat and tie, but whatever. I don’t think it suits him. But he gets me laughing right out of the gate. He’s all worked up about Aesop. What’s not to love about that?! The moral of the story for Aesop, according to Adomian, is, “The negative critic sitting under the tree misses the big picture.” So true. So even this bit had a moral. And was delivered with ridiculous conviction. Then he goes into a Paul Giamatti impression. (Quick aside time: Did you know Paul Giamatti is the son of former baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti? Look it up.) But it’s an impression with a purpose, rather than a hey-look-at-me-I-can-do-an-obscure-impression impression. Well, maybe that was part of it, but it had context and was funny. Of course, it kinda sounds like Jackie Gleason, too. Will middle America even get the impression?

Mike DeStefano’s bravado is tiresome. He says the next set he’s doing is going to be perfect and that people are going down. You can’t help but hope he gets knocked down now. DeStefano is old but he’s hanging on to his youth, which explains why he wears a dress shirt but needs to roll up the sleeves so we can all see how cool and hip he is with the ink all over his forearms. Somewhat ironically, he starts by saying, “Have you ever noticed that the wrong people have self-esteem?” Um, yeah, I think I just did notice that. He does a line that could very well have been uttered by Rodney Dangerfield. It wasn’t, but it has the same old-school rhythm. Talking about a friend who told him he has women banging the door down, DeStefano told him, “Yeah, from the inside!” Ba-da-boom! Then he points out some African-Americans in the crowd and says, “Look at the black dudes. They love me, the black men. I feel like a chubby white girl sometimes.” He ended with a bit from his experience as a drug counselor that rang false to me and ended with weak wordplay: “You need rehab; you don’t need to redecorate.” Not a perfect set by a long shot, but it wasn’t bad. It’s just that my back was up because of all his smack talking.


Myq Kaplan starts with the same line he used in a previous episode: “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s have another round of applause when I’m done.” We see where he gets his love of words from. He talked about his pedantic English teacher grandmother who took all the fun out of everything. Then he did a chunk on vegan douchebags, of which he is one. He tells us vegetarians live, statistically, seven years longer than non-vegetarians and vegans up to 15 years longer. Well, he lost me right there because I immediately had to Google it, not being either. The first item I found was from a German study that said vegetarians may have a significantly lower risk of mortality than people who eat lots of meat. Read down four paragraphs, though, and they say, “However, entirely abstaining from meat consumption does not appear to be the healthiest nutritional lifestyle. Comparison of the three categories suggests that those who occasionally consume meat have an even lower risk of mortality than the other groups.” And then this from another link: “Also, there is no evidence to suggest that vegans live longer than omnivores. In fact all of the evidence indicates that a middle road is the best. For human beings the healthiest diet includes both meat and vegetable tissue. The best solution to good health is neither vegan nor carnivore. Nor is it traditional vegetarian, since it is the dairy products that cause many of our dietary products.”

I know, I know, it has nothing to do with the joke, which was decent. And I’m sure there are studies out there that say any number of things. But I’m a bit of a stickler for misinformation or false premises. If something makes me stop and think because it’s wrong or seems wrong, the comedian has lost me. They have the mic and can, through joke telling, impart knowledge even if that’s not the intent. I don’t think the response “lighten up, they’re just jokes” is good enough. It’s like if you find something that is intrinsically wrong or false in a Superman movie and you point it out, and you’re met with, “But you’re okay with the guy flying around in a cape?” It’s apples and oranges. I buy that he can fly, and I buy that they’re just jokes, but there must be an underlying truth. If Kaplan had simply said, “I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I read somewhere that vegans live 15 years longer on average”, I'd have thought nothing of it and it wouldn’t cause me to get lost in thought. I’d go with it.

I liked his street musician joke. It got a groan, for some strange reason. It was good. Didn’t like his closer about pointing at people, though.

So here’s how it’s going to work. All this voting will only get rid of three performers. Then next week the final seven will go at it again. That’s as far as they said. At least we’ll get to see if these people have enough good material to last a few weeks.

I didn’t vote, but will right now. The three that should go seem pretty obvious to me: Felipe Esparza, Jonathan Thymius and Rachel Feinstein.

I think Tommy Johnagin had the best set, followed closely by Maronzio Vance and James Adomian. Then Roy Wood, Jr. And finally Laurie Kilmartin, Myq Kaplan and Mike DeStefano.

You’re welcome, America. Of course, I’m positive my votes won’t jibe with the phoned-in ones.