Friday, July 31, 2009

Producer/writer Quincy Newell on Why We Laugh: Black Comedians on Black Comedy at the Roxbury Film Festival

Sunday at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the 11th Annual Roxbury Film Festival will close with a screening of Why We Laugh:Black Comedians on Black Comedy, a documentary on black comedy in America (click here for tickets and info). The documentary is sprawling, covering more than 100 years years stretching back to vaudeville's Bert Williams, the controversial career of Stepin Fetchit and the NAACP's sinking of Amos and Andy on TV, all the way up through Dick Gregory and Flip Wilson in the 60s and 70s, Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg, the Kings of Comedy, and Dave Chappelle.

Director Robert Townsend and producer/writer Quincy Newell take care to include opposing views about Fetchit and Amos and Andy, along with commentary from comedy legends and stars like Gregory, Bill Cosby, Chris Rock, and Paul Mooney as well as prominent figures like author and Princeton professor Cornel West, author, radio host and Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson, actor Louis Gossett Jr, and producer/director and Boston native Topper Carew.

I spoke with Newell about the film by e-mail this week.

What was the impetus for producing this documentary?

The objective was to chronicle the contributions of our iconic comedians and their impact on American culture as well as the impact America ’s evolving culture had on their perspectives.

How did you decide where to start, where the story began, and where it ended?

We took a chronological approach and tried to focus on comedians that had created seismic shifts in our paradigm through their work.

How do you feel the humor of black America fits with other humors in America?

Each culture has its own lens. I believe that the humor of black America is presented through a lens that is colored with the experiences of being black in America .

How did you decide how to handle the more controversial subjects and eras, like Stepin Fetchit, Amos & Andy?

We just wanted to be honest and thoughtful. While also recognizing the positive contributions.

Do you have any personal thoughts to add on those subjects that weren’t expressed in the film?

It’s a gigantic topic that has so many strains. This film does not paint the entire picture. It simply is intended to open dialogue and shed light on a subject that has not been discussed in this way.

Were there any stories that you wanted to put in the film that didn’t make it, like Pigmeat Markham, Godfrey Cambridge, or about the “chitlin’ circuit?”

Absolutely. There were so many stories and individuals that we wanted to include. The film would’ve been 2 days long if we did what we really wanted to do. (smile)

Not really a question, but I wanted to say I was glad to see so much on Dick Gregory. I feel he doesn’t get the mainstream recognition he deserves as pioneer in stand-up.


How important were the non-comic voices in the film – the members of Congress and the professors and such?

Well, it was important to get different perspectives and points of view. I think they help to complete the thought and bring a socio-political view to the forefront.

What are the plans for the film past this festival?

There will be a broadcast premiere on Showtime as well as a limited theatrical release in 2010. I believe this is an important document that deserves to be shared with anyone who will listen.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Quiet Desperation at Great Scott, Coxen's "The Camaro Whisperer"

Very few people would have ever thought of putting Bigg Nez and Joe Wong together as a hip-hop duo called Tin Tin Buffet, as Robby Roadsteamer has done in Episode 7 of Quiet Depseration, a faux reality show about the Boston arts and entertainment scene. It's those sorts of combinations that have made Quiet Desperation so appealing, throwing a couple of dozen of Boston's talented comics together in one story and seeing what happens.

Friday night at Anderson Comedy's show, The Gas, at Great Scott Roadsteamer celebrates Quiet Depseration with some of the show's contributors -- Mehran, Chris Coxen, Tom Dustin, Erin Judge, Shaun Bedgood, Ken Reid, and Joe Madaus.

Here's Episode 7, introducing Boston's newest hip-hop comedy team, Nez and Wong.

Coxen is one of Boston's most reliable character comics, and has a considerable collection of whackjobs and goofballs (there's a very fine difference, I would have to cite sources) including Ripps McCoxen. McCoxen has just added the title "Camaro Whisperer" to his resume, as demonstrated in the latest video from Coxen.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Former WFNX host Kenny Zimlinghaus returns to Boston to play Mottley's

Kenny Zimlinghaus has held a variety jobs in his career. He was a producer at WFNX's morning show before he was its host (as Kenny Z) in 2003, at the tender age of 23. He once interned simultaneously for Howard Stern and Phillip Glass for a summer (he says he mainly made copies for Glass and taught him to use his cell phone). Now he's still a radio host, working in satellite radio from New York City, and a stand-up comedian. He returns to Boston Thursday night to headline Mottley's Comedy Club.

How long did you spend in Boston? Did you start doing comedy in Boston or elsewhere?

I spent three years in Boston and basically started there. My first show was in NYC but I got my start in Boston.

Any memorable gigs from your time in Boston?

There's a ton a of memorable gigs. I watched a big local name drive a joke stealer out of town at a show, by putting him in a chokehold in the green room at the Comedy Connection and i was also on stage during a huge brawl at Nick's. It's actually a better show when the audience is rioting.

Was it strange to go from interning with Howard Stern to being his competitor with a morning show at WFNX?

It wasn't strange to go from interning for Howard Stern to doing mornings at WFNX. What was strange was the morning show at WFNX.

How did your time at WFNX help you when you moved on?

WFNX helped me a bunch before moving on. Henry Santoro gave me some great advice on women and the time I spent there helped me build up a callous for just how terrible a business FM radio is.

Did you ever figure out how to balance hanging out at comedy clubs after the shows and getting up at four in the morning for a radio show?

I find the best way to balance hanging out at clubs at night and waking up early to do morning radio is to just give up on thinking you're going to ever be well rested. It never happens. It hasn't happened in 10 years for me and probably will never happen so long as I get up while its still night.

How many shows have you done in radio since you left here?

Since I left Boston: I co-hosted "The Storm and Kenny Radio Show" in Charleston SC and now I can be heard mornings on SIRIUS XM 's "Cosmo Radio" and I host two other shows. One is "Guys Uncensored" and the other is called "He Said/She said".

Do you still keep in touch with Phillip Glass?

I have visited Philip Glass' "Looking Glass Studio", where I worked. I dont talk to him that much most likely because he prob cannot use his cell phone and he could care less to talk with me I'm sure :)

The 11th Annual Roxbury Film Festival kicks of with Comedy Night at Slade's

The 11th Annual Roxbury Film Festival kicks off with Comedy Night tonight at Slade's Bar & Grill hosted by Jonathon Gates with Chris Tabb, Bethany Van Delft, and Orlando Baxter. Wednesday is also the night Gates hosts his Blakc Comedy Explosion, which will go on as scheduled tomorrow at 9PM with Washington D.C comic Eddie Bryant.

More on the Roxbury Film Festival, and the film Why We Laugh, which closes out the Festival on Sunday at the MFA.

Slades Bar & Grill
958 Tremont Street, Roxbury
Phone: 617.541.3900

Monday, July 27, 2009

Walsh Brothers unleash The Ramada Boys, open for Joe Pernice

Boston fans got to see the Ramada Boys at the Walsh Brothers' Great and Secret Show a few years back, and now everyone can see them with a little production value on the Walshes' YouTube channel. Also, check out Erik Charles Nielsen as HoJo III.

More on this later, after I catch up with Chris and Dave, who are in town until next week's shows with Joe Pernice at The Brattle Theatre. They will also open for him on tour in support of his new book, It Feels So Good When I Stop.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Steve and Tony Save the World

If you're working on solving a problem right now, stop. In just a few hours, Steve Calechman and Tony V will get to work solving the world's problems in their Thursday night show, Steve and Tony Save the World. They are both veteran Boston comics, and as such, should be able to take care of everything pretty quickly by themselves, but they'll do it even quicker with the help of Josh Gondelman, Ira Proctor, and Tony Moschetto.

I caught up with Calechman by e-mail today to see how they're approaching the task.

How long have you known Tony V?

Fifteen years. Fifteen long and hard years.

When was the first time you guys performed together? Do you remember the specific show?

I try to forget such things but I think the first time we were on the same show was at the Aku Aku in Worcester. Most good things were born at the Aku Aku in Worcester. The first thing I think we did together was reading The Double Decker Purple Shul Bus to a roomful of young, single Jews. Tony read his kid's book and I translated it for him, since he has minimal sensitivity to any people who are not him.

How long has it been since you two did a show together?

We were at Tommy's last month but did separate sets. Also last month we did a show for an animal shelter in Salem and did the raffle at the end where are magical riffing powers were on full display. It was the best night of those people's lives.

What do you think makes the pairing work?

It really doesn't. It's just that it's a Thursday in July and standards are lowered in the summer. Really, if this show doesn't work, who's gonna know or care?

How did you decide to do a show solving the world’s problems?

In one of our many inane daily conversations, one of us usually has a beef with something. Not being slackers, we figure out a solution and realize that the world would be a better place if we were in charge. We also realize that it would be cruel and selfish to keep this brilliance to ourselves. If people choose not to come or listen, then the problem lies with them and we cry for their souls.

Do you have any of the world’s problems solved in advance of tonight’s show, or are you playing it by ear?

We always have ideas but we often work better without much forethought. The less that rattles around in our heads, the better.

Do you plan to revisit this concept as the world develops more problems after the show?
Unless we had something better to do, like a Springsteen show or a poker game. But ultimately, we'd answer if the call came out. Deep, deep down, we're just a couple of simple humanitarians.

Joy Behar -- Groupon Discount Tickets today only

If you've been thinking of going to see Joy Behar tomorrow at the Comedy Connection Wilbur Theatre but balked at the $32 ticket price, you can go to Groupon now and get tickets for $20.

I've used the service before, and it's pretty handy. The way it works is that a certain amount of people have to take the deal before it becomes valid. But only five people had to buy Behar tickets for that to happen, and when I checked last, they had sold eighteen tickets. Deal expires at midnight, so if this is something you could use, take a look.

The voices behind Steve Solomon's My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish, and I'm In Therapy

Steve Solomon was a stand-up comedian for ten years before he wrote his first one-man show, My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m in Therapy. He thought audiences would love the characters and the material – he does roughly thirty characters drawn from his own life, all with different accents and dialects (including his sister, the favored child who has smoked three packs a day for years). It was successful enough in New York to spawn a sequel, My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m Still in Therapy, which meant Solomon was touring with two different shows, plus doing the occasional stand-up gig.

He’ll add a third show to that mix in November – My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m Home for the Holidays, which brings the total number of shows in his repertoire up to four, including his Yiddish revue, The Man, Music, Mishugginna. But when he opens the original one-man show tonight at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, it will be the first time Solomon has played Boston.

I caught up with him by phone last week to talk about stand-up and his one-man shows.

When did you first write My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m in Therapy?

Probably it was written in 2002, started touring at the end of 2002.

What was the impetus to write it as a one-man show?

To do a little more than stand-up. I wanted to hit a market that was more universal in appeal than just 18 to 25 year olds at a comedy club.

Did most of the material start out as stand-up?

Maybe twenty percent of it. Most of it was written for the show.

How did you approach writing the stuff for a one-man show versus how you would have written it for stand-up?

Well, it’s a play, so it had to have a storyline, it had to have characters. There’s characters in the show, thirty different characters. It has a setting and scenes, and the whole approach is completely different. When you’re doing a stand-up routine, it’s, “How do you like pizza?” and “What’s your favorite color?” It doesn’t matter. This was structured with a director and we approached it like a play.

How did you work the different characters together? It must be confusing to keep them all together in your head.

At the beginning it was almost impossible. You’ve got to remember that my mother speaks in a very heavy Italian accent, my father speaks in a heavy Jewish accent, so when the two of them would argue, going back and forth between the dialects and the tone took a lot of training.

What are some of the other characters and dialects in the show?

Oh, we’ve got my sister the smoker, who was a three-pack a day smoker for the past fifty years and talks like this [assumes deep, gravely voice], “It has nothing to do with the cigarettes.” My therapist is Indian, Italian, and American, the cops that stop you on the street, the doctors you interacts with, the kids, all those voices.

Are all of the voices based on actual people?

Yeah. The running joke that I always use is my family took me to court to have my artistic license revoked.

Obviously some of them have seen this, do they ever give you pointers on if you’re doing them correctly?

No, the only thing my daughter asked me, I had this line where my friend would yell at me, saying my daughter is spoiled, and I would say, “No, she’s supposed to smell like that.” So she said, “Daddy, take out that line.”

Did you take it out?

Yeah, of course.

You hear that a lot, anyone who uses their family or loved ones in their act, how they react to seeing themselves or hearing themselves onstage.

My biggest fear was that my sister would get ticked off at me. When we opened at the Shubert in New York City, a lot of the newspapers and television stations were there. I think ABC television interviewed my sister and said something like, “How do you feel that your brothers makes fun of you?” And she said, [affects the gravely voice again] “Well, at least he made me famous.”

Did that help you in the respect that your sister can do no wrong?

No, not really. My relationship with my family has been always, always very strong and very positive.

It would have to be. How many different shows do you have on this theme now?

I’ve got My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m In Therapy, the original hit, then I’ve got My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m Still in Therapy, which has been touring for a couple of years. Then there’s a brand new one I’ve got opening in November, which is My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m Home for the Holidays.

Does anything sort of seep from one play into the other, or is it all completely different?

The characters, a lot of the characters come back. Rocky I, Rocky II, Rocky III, what would they be without Rocky? The characters come back, but the material’s all new.

Could you do any of the three at will or do you have to rehearse them to get them back on the blocks?

I have to review. After I do Boston, I run to Atlantic City to do the other show, then I run and go right to Spokane, Washington to do the other show for one night, and then I come back to New Haven to do the other show. There are lighting cues and sound cues, and I have to be where I’m supposed to be, so I really have to keep on my toes.

Do you impersonate specific people or just different dialects?

I do thirty specific people in the show.

I mean in general – also in your stand-up.

I just do the accents. I found that a lot of the old great comics used to do phenomenal impersonations of all these people, these people died, and no one [remembers]. Frank Caliendo is fabulous – what’s going to happen to him when George Bush dies. He’s got a problem. The same thing happened to Vaughan Meader, who used to do J.F.K. IT was uncanny, and the man became a superstar in two years, but as soon as J.F.K. died, Vaughan Meader was ended. So I have a technique, I have a skill that not too many comic have. And I use that in my plays.

How do you balance the plays and the stand-up? Do you lean more towards one than the other?

It’s busy. The play is booked solid through 2011 already. I love to do stand-up, I really enjoy it. There’s no money in it, but I just do it because it’s a wonderful proving ground. It’s a laboratory for comics to work out. I look forward to doing it. Most of the major cities that I perform in, I can’t do stand-up. The performing arts centers can’t have me working for twenty dollars an hour, and then going to a performing arts center. Many of the bigger comedy clubs ask me to come play, and I just can’t. The proximity to the performing arts centers, and the time frame [don’t work out].

What were you expecting when you opened the show?

I expected people to love the material the way I love the material. Of course, if you’re a critic and you come see the show, most of the critics say, well, there’s no character development, we really want to know more about the mother, the storyline was very vague. That’s not the problem. The problem is, they don’t look at the audience walking out, standing, laughing, wiping tears from their eyes. The New York Times really didn’t care for my show, but it ran for two years in New York. So? That’s the bottom line, the bottom line is this is a business, so I don’t really care that the critics don’t like it, the point is that it works. People keep coming back and bringing their family and friends. Then I’ve succeeded.

How many of these shows do you think you’ll do? Do you see yourself just perennially writing a new show?

No, I’m going to pretty much wrap it up at the end of the Holiday show. Then I’ll have four shows out there, and that’s more than enough. And I don’t want my brain to explode.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Discount Variety tonight -- Bethany Van Delft and Schooltree

Tonight at 8PM at the CinemaSalem Cafe, we have one of the best line-ups we've had yet for Presents... Discount Variety. We have the comedy of Bethany Van Delft and the music of Schooltree (Lainey Schulbaum, moonlighting from the Steamy Bohemians). Here's a bit more about them before you head out to the show.


Bethany Van Delft is a rising voice in Boston comedy, and part of another regular Thursday night show -- The Dress Up show at Mottley's Comedy Club. She is also founding member of “Colorstruck: Women of Color in Comedy”, New England’s first and only women of color comedy showcase. She has been featured in the Boston Comedy Festival, New York Underground Comedy Festival, and The Greater Boston Alternative Comedy Festival. She is a core member of the touring show “5 Funny Females”. She is a favorite at clubs and colleges all over New England, and will definitely win something and/or be on TV by next year.

How long have you been playing in Boston?

About 4 or 5 years seriously.

What are your favorite places to play?

I love comedy clubs, but I also really enjoy performing at venues where you wouldn't expect to see a comedy show. I just did Middlesex Lounge, it was a great time.

Who are your favorite musicians, locally and nationally?

I am ashamed to admit I am a little behind the times when it comes to local music. I tend to check out more music comedy like Steamy Bohemians, and MC Mr Napkins.

What is the best music show you’ve seen?

It's a toss up between WAR at the old House of Blues in Cambridge years ago, and The Nuyorican Soul concert at The Manhattan Center featuring all the bands from the recording, live.


Schooltree is Lainey Schulbaum, Boston-based performer, composer, audio engineer and producer. She is one half of Boston's dubious darlings The Steamy Bohemians, and co-founder of the acclaimed variety show Jerkus Circus. This solo project is avant-pop in genre - sometimes theatrical, often odd - played with piano, voice, and drum machine. Dark story-telling and vivid imagery characterize songs about stuff like going to the moon, naughty children, premature burials, and conformity. Lainey straddles the fence between serious musician and off-the-wall comedic performer with a discomfort that both delights and confuses audiences wherever she performs.

How long have you been playing in Boston?

Approximately one thousand years. Well, I'm rounding up - guess it's more like six.

What are your favorite places to play?

The Lizard Lounge, Ralph's Diner (Worcester), the Abbey Lounge (RIP)

Who are your favorite comedians, locally and nationally?

I love everyone locally, especially Bethany Van Delft. Louis CK and Mike Birbiglia are a couple of my favorite non-locals.

What is the best comedy show you've seen?

Jerkus Circus - every single one.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A second serving of Mike Dorval's Death By Chocolate

Death By Chocolate
July 21, 28, August 4, 11, 25
Welfleet Harbor Actors Theater
The Harbor Stage
1 Kendrick Ave.
(Next to Town Pier)
Wellfleet, MA 02667

On July 21, Mike Dorval resumes the July/August run of his one-man show, Death By Chocolate, at the Harbor Stage of the Welfleet Harbor Actors Theater. I spoke to Dorval when he debuted the piece in February at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre – you can see the video interview here. The show is personal and funny, about Dorval’s lifelong fight against food, and how he eventually won the struggle. I caught up with him again by e-mail to see what might be different as he continues to work on the piece.

How has the show changed since you debuted it in Boston?

The show is essentially the same with some edits here and there. The nice thing about the format is that I can change small things on the fly and make some additions, but I;d say the overall content is pretty much the same.

How do you approach the balance of the more dramatic personal stories versus punchlines and jokes?

That's probably the toughest balance for me, but I'm realizing that it is only difficult for me. Directly addressing the audience has such a "Stand-Up" feel that I need to remind myself that it's OK, when people go for a stretch without laughing. So far the audience has been pretty consistent in saying that's it's the right balance.

Are you still tinkering with the format?

Not really. I'm very happy with the format of the show and ending every night with a Q&A has been a big hit so far. I'm not sure what other format it might take, but if another media possibility presented itself, that would probably necessitate small adjustments.

Has doing stand-up in between affected your approach to the material?

The stand-up I've done in between hasn't necessarily influenced my approach, but my overall experience as a comic probably has. i think it's helped make me more aware of the audience and more in tune with them. it's also helped me with the tone of the show and setting a rhythm, that I can sustain.

Where will you look to bring the piece next?

As a matter of fact I just found out that I'll be doing Death by Chocolate at the Boston Center for the Arts from the week of Nov. 28th-Dec. 20! I'm very excited and can't wait to bring the show back to Boston for an extended run! And who knows what might happen between August and November?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

James Patterson headlines in his home town

Boston comedian James Patterson headlined his hometown for the first time at Mottley's Comedy Club in June. I caught up with him on the street afterwards to see what he has been up to in LA, and get his impression of the show. This is the video of that show, which also included Bethany Van Delft, Ken Reid, and Erik Charles Nielsen. It was a solid line-up, top to bottom, and also the first spot Nielsen had done in Boston for a while.

It had been more than a year since I had seen either of them perform, both of them on the bill for the Great and Secret Show West in Los Angeles last spring. Both had much better sets at Mottley's than I saw in LA, which was probably partly due to the fact that someone stole the AV equipment from the Improv's side room, where they were performing, just before the show started. Nielsen has turned into a standing blur onstage, raging about taking over the world and his love of Jane Austen books, shaking as if he were about to be beamed into another dimension. Which may well have been.

Patterson has always been a smart comic, and he is now much more at ease onstage, and has made the important leap of putting the material and stage presence together. He's the complete comic, and I look forward to the next time I get to see him do a 45-minute set.

Here we are, trying to dodge the Saturday night crowd outside of Mottley's to be comedy nerds. I'm the one you can't see behind the camera.

Part I

Part II