Friday, May 28, 2010

The BC Q&A: Jim Florentine on heavy metal, football, and A Little Help

Jim Florentine’s first exposure to a mass audience came thanks to a puppet. Florentine voiced the character Special Ed on Comedy Central’s Crank Yankers, on which puppets made prank phone calls. The show was canceled three years ago, and Florentine has moved on to That Metal Show on VH1 Classic, frequent radio appearances, and a new film, A Little Help starring Jenna Fischer and Chris O’Donnell.

But the compulsion to prank stays with him. He’ll release a new Terrorizing Telemarketers CD later this year on the late Ronnie James Dio’s record label, and he’s also planning another Meet the Creeps prank DVD with his Metal Show partner, Don Jamieson, for late summer or fall.

Florentine comes to the Comedy Connection Wilbur Theatre tomorrow. I caught up with him by phone this week.

Do you have to do any research for That Metal Show or do you pretty much know your history already?

Sometimes I have to do some research, just check up on some facts. Some of these bands have been around for twenty-five years, so I might have missed some of their mid-90s stuff that they did, so I’ll look up a little stuff. Most of the stuff I’m fairly familiar with. I’d say about eighty percent I’m pretty familiar with.

Are there any particular favorites from the shows you have coming up?

We have Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper coming up on the show, which is going to be great. We just had Zakk Wiyde on, Ozzy’s old guitarist, and the reunion of the band Dokken. They came on, so that was really cool. And then Slayer. You can never go wrong with Slayer if you like heavy metal.

How long have they been doing it now?

I think they put their first record out in ’84.

I used to sit at the metalhead table in high school, and I remember the Slayer, Metallica, and Anthrax t-shirts.

They were one of the original thrash bands.

Do you have anything against nu-metal? I know there was an introduction to one of the shows where you said, don’t be disappointed your favorite nu-metal band isn’t on the show.

I have no problem with it. I like a lot of nu-metal. The problem is, on VH1 Classic, it doesn’t fit the format. It’s more like classic hard rock, the videos they play. It’s like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Iron Maiden. Not so much the newer stuff like Lamb of God, Shadows Fall, Slipknot. I love all those bands, too. We’ve had Hatebreed on, so once in a while, we can introduce a newer artist, but [with] the format of the network, it’s not really our decision. It’s not really our call.

It’s been kind of a rough couple of weeks for metal. Is there anything you want to say about [Slipknot bassist] Paul Grey and Dio?

Yeah. Ronnie was a guest on our show, we were friends with him. We knew him well. We were out in L.A. about a month ago for the Golden God Awards, the heavy metal awards show, and it aired on VH1 Classic, actually, last weekend, and we’re doing interviews for the red carpet and Ronnie came up. Ronnie came out because he was up for best vocalist, which he did win. We talked and he said, yeah, I just had a little setback, the chemo’s kicking my ass, but I’m going to do summer dates, and I’m starting to slowly sing again. I’m going to beat this and I’ll be all right.

That was a month ago. And it’s just really sad. He was such a nice guy. He’s one of the nicest guy I ever met. He was just incredible. Everyone that was around him or any musicians will say the same thing. He was just a sweet guy.

And then Paul Grey from Slipknot, that was such a tragedy because that band was so close-knit. If one guy out of the nine can’t make the show they’ll cancel the whole show. It’s just like, look, this is our original band, and this is it. It really sucks, because I’ve known Paul for four or five years from being on the road and seeing those guys and hanging out with them. He was just a really nice, quiet, super guy too. It’s a shame, it really is. And was a main songwriter, too. He was a main writer in Slipknot, he wasn’t just the bass player.

People don’t realize how many nice people there are in metal. That might take some of the air out of it, but if you go to a really heavy show, people are nicer there than at a lot of the mainstream shows.

It’s true, and the musicians are, too. Maybe because they’ve been around a while or something, they’re not young punks anymore. And then you look, that’s probably the reason they got this far in their careers, is just being nice and not being a dick to people and not burning bridges and just treating people the way they would want to be treated. And it always comes back to you. I mean, Rob Halford [of Judas Priest], sweetest guy in the world. My girlfriend met him, my girlfriend doesn’t even like heavy metal, she’s into country, and she said, I can’t believe what a nice guy that guy is.

I don’t know if they don’t want to let that slip because of the reputation, there has to be something edgy about it.

Well that’s the thing with metal, it doesn’t have to be, “Raarw, I’m fuckin’ – I love heavy metal and that’s it,” and, “This stuff’s gay, everything else sucks.” You don’t have to be like that. Like I said, you can like a Stryper and you can like a Slayer. Even Kerry King from Slayer said, we mentioned Stryper to him, and he said, “Look, I’m not a fan of the band. Obviously I don’t agree with their lyrics, but, hey, whatever.” He goes, “We’re actually going to do some shows with them.” There were some offers to do some shows overseas. He said, “I’ve got nothing against those guys. Let them do whatever the hell they want.”

I think it can be that way in comedy, too. I think people are surprised sometimes when they see a guy like Brian Regan on Opie and Anthony or an edgier show like that. And there’s a real respect and mutual admiration between some of the comics who are edgier, and those that aren’t.

That’s true. Speaking of comics, I lived with Jim Norton for four years, we were roommates. And everyone’s like, “How’d you live with that guy? Oh my god, that must’ve been insane!” And I’m like, the guy was the best roommate I ever had. He was amazing.

I remember telling Norton in Montreal once, are people surprised when you’re a nice guy, and he said, I guess sometimes, but that’s my act, I’m not a monster.

You’re thinking, how can I bring Jim Norton to meet my family? That’s what people think. He’s totally fine. Totally respectful and everything else. He’s just got some strange things he’s into.

How big is your role in A Little Help?

I’ve got three or four scenes with Jenna Fischer. I play her love interest in the film. It was just in the Seattle Film Festival last week, and this weekend it’s in the Staten Island Film Festival. It’s a smaller film. They’re trying to put it in festivals, get a little buzz going for it. That was great. They’ve got a pretty good cast. Chris O’Donnell’s in it. I’ve got a really nice role in the film. It’s not a lot of scenes, but my role is pretty pivotal.

Is this something people might not expect to see from you? It looks like a fairly serious drama.

Yeah, but you know what, I guess they call it a “dramedy,” so there’s some comedy in it, too. My role’s pretty comedic in it. I would love to do a dramatic role.

Is that something that you’ve looked for or ever gotten offers for?

Yeah, I mean, I’ve done a couple of small films. As a comic, you’d love to have a nice film career. I think you can be a lot edgier in a film, and the characters can be more developed than in a corny sitcom or a reality show or something. I’ve always wanted to go that route.

Does the fact that your comedy is a bit rough hurt your chances for something like that? Do people try to pigeonhole you?

It probably used to be like that, that was the case, but then again, now you get famous if you’ve got a sex tape out there. You get TV shows from it. If you screw Tiger Woods you get a reality show. I think that’s all out the window now. Before it was like, this guy’s too crazy when he goes onstage. I don’t think that matters anymore.

But if you were looking to do more dramatic roles –

A good case is Denis Leary. He was a really edgy comic, was really out there, really crass and everything else. He’s had an amazing career, and it didn’t hurt him. He basically found his persona and made it work on TV and it’s great. His stand-up was really crass.

He did a lot of that by writing projects and creating projects for himself. Do you see yourself doing something like that?

Yeah. That’s how we got That Metal Show. We came up with the idea, it was mostly Eddie’s idea. Eddie Trunk. We thought it would be a good show, because we always sit around, us three, and argue about stupid stuff like that anyway, so why not put it on TV? Because a lot of people do.

Coming up, were you concerned with creating a “tight five” for late night talk shows, or –

Yeah. I’m supposed to be doing the Leno show, The Tonight Show, probably by the end of the year.

Was that a world you were concerned with when you were first starting, when you were finding your voice, or did you just follow your own path and ignore the industry concerns?

At first, I wasn’t. My stuff was edgier and a little raunchy and everything, so I knew that wasn’t going to be my path, Letterman and stuff. But as you get on in your career, it’s like, so what? You do five minutes, and it’s more exposure. You do five clean minutes, it’s on TV, and you pick up some more fans and let them come see you at clubs doing your own thing. I got no problem with that. As long as it’s material you really like doing, I’m not going to write clean jokes for the sake of writing clean jokes.

Does Special Ed stick with you? Do fans still talk about Crank Yankers?

Yeah. Absolutely. People still go crazy over the show. It’s been off the air for three years now, and for some reason, people are still obsessed by it. Which is cool. I got no problem with it. It put me on the map. It’s great. I love that. My goal in comedy was always to get people to come see me in a comedy club instead of just being the guy up onstage, “Hey, who’s this guy?” That was my thing, because then I knew at that point I could pretty much do whatever I wanted onstage, because people are coming to see me. And that character really helped me get to that point.

Do you plan on doing any more Meet the Creeps videos?

Yeah, we’ve got another one coming out. Me and my partner, Don Jamieson. We’ve got a bunch of stuff that we shot that’s been laying around that we’re going to put it together and put one out for later this year. The hidden camera stuff.

And then also we have these prank call CDs where we mess with telemarketers, called Terrorizing Telemarketers. There’s a volume five, we’ve put out five discs so far. It came out about a year ago, we put it out ourselves, and now Ronnie James Dio was starting a record label and wanted us to be on his label. So we actually signed to his label. It’s still going to come out, we signed a deal a while ago. That’s going to be coming out late summer or fall.

Is that label going to go forward? Are there people in place to do that?

There are still people in place to do it. I know Ronnie had a lot of stuff in archive that they’re going to release, some footage and video from the 80s and stuff like that. They’re working on that, anyway.

How did you wind up on Inside the NFL on the NFL Network?

They were looking for someone, I guess Wanda Sykes was moving on, they were looking for another comedian to do some sketches. The producer, this guy Brian Hyland, knew me from comedy or wherever. I came in and I talked to him, I told him I was a huge football fan and I got the gig. The show won an Emmy, so I’ve got an Emmy working on that show for a year. So it was great.

Do you have a particular allegiance, or are you just a fan of the game?

I hate to say this since it’s a Boston paper, but I’m a Miami fan. But I don’t hate the Patriots at all. I like that organization. I like the way it’s run, the coaching and everything else. I like the way Belichick goes balls up and doesn’t care about running up the scores and pisses people off. That’s the way football should be played.

Everybody’s trying to rip each other’s heads off and kill each other on the field, but then Belichick goes for another touchdown when they’re up thirty-one to seven, “Oh, my feelings are hurt.” That’s so stupid. I don’t get that. What’re you practicing for, why are you studying tape? Coaches are sleeping in their offices and not seeing their families, and then suddenly they’ve got to pull back when the game’s getting a little out of hand? Bullshit.

Any final thoughts for Boston?

I love coming up there. The crowds in Boston are always amazing. I don’t get up there as much as I’d like to. So I’m really excited. They’ve got that sarcastic, dry humor, because that’s the way they are up there, too. They don’t get offended easily. That’s what I like about Boston.

Do you think New York, New Jersey, and Boston might have more in common than any of them would like to admit?

Yeah. And throw Philly in the mix, too. Absolutely. That’s why a lot of great comics have come out of Boston. They know that if you’re not funny, they’re like, oh, this sucks. You’ve got to be funny coming out of a tough area like that. Some of the most amazing comics have come out of Boston.

You’ve got to impress the folks who are coming out from M.I.T. and the folks who just finished a pipe-fitting job.

Exactly. It definitely helps.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Jim Florentine half-price tickets

If you're a fan of Jim Florentine, you can get half-price tickets to Saturday's show at the Comedy Connection Wilbur Theatre by clicking here and entering the code, "FUNNY." Apparently, the Connection folks aren't overly concerned with someone cracking the code.

Watch this space for my interview with Florentine, coming soon.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The BC Q&A: Tess Rafferty, Emerson grad and Soup writer

Forty-nine weeks a year for the past six years, Tess Rafferty has been a writer on The Soup, making fun of television for Joel McHale and company. You’ll sometimes see her on camera on the show, or sometimes on the Web as Grace Church FBI/CIA/SAG/AFTRA. But for a while, you haven’t been able to see her much in Boston. Tonight, you’ll get to see the Emerson grad back on her home turf, in Boston where she started comedy.

Rafferty’s first gig was at the Comedy Connection in the mid-nineties, which is where she met Frank Ahearn, whom tonight’s show at Tommy’s Comedy Lounge is benefiting. Ahearn had a massive stroke in December, and while he is recovering, he’s still not one hundred percent. So comedy friends like Rafferty, Gary Gulman, Steve Sweneey, Joe Wong, and others are pitching in to help out.

I spoke with Rafferty by phone from Los Angeles.

Do you get much time to go onstage, considering your day job and other obligations?

Not as much as you would in Boston. I get up a fair amount. I go up a couple of times a month out here still. There’s just not as much stage time out here anyway as there is in Boston. But it all evens out.

Do you consider yourself a writer first and a stand-up second or do they hold equal weight for you?

You know, I don’t really think of it like that, I guess. I do appear on camera on the show as well, and I do side projects, and I’m getting stand-up out there. So I don’t really think of it as any one thing. I think of it as, I kind of do it all, or it’s all part of the same thing that I do.

But there are different muscles you need to flex, doing stand-up, writing, and doing things like Grace Church.

It is different muscles, which is really what makes it fun. It’s fun to get your sea legs and get up and do stand-up again. It’s a completely different set of muscles than when you’re doing something on camera. Because stand-up’s so immediate. The first time you tape something that’s for television, you don’t have a live audience there. Film is even worse because you don’t have anyone there.

If I tape something for The Soup in the studio, there’s usually an audience there who’ll laugh. But if I’m taping something for Grace Church or another short film, there’s nobody there. You’re so used to that immediate response for stand-up, and it’s something that, if you make a joke on the set of a movie and it’s funny, you don’t get anything. It’s a very weird experience, especially for stand-ups. That laugh is what keeps them coming back.

A lot of comedians will say that instant gratification is what makes them prefer stand-up to anything else they do.

It’s the same reason why so many of them did so much coke in the 80s.

There’s that, as well. Is ‘The Soup’ like a giant opium den there, is that how the creative process works.

No. It is really funny because, you would hear the SNL stories and everything about, back in the heyday of comedy writing, there was coke everywhere. I wasn’t there, you just hear all the stories. And everyone on The Soup just really likes good wine. That’s our vice. We’ll pick a place for drinks, and it has to have good wine.

You’d hear stories about that in Boston, too. But you were at Emerson after all that had passed, correct?

I didn’t graduate from Emerson until the early 90s.

What was the scene like then? Were you doing stand-up or just studying it?

I did start doing stand-up there. It was an interesting scene. The boom had sort of passed for all of comedy. Boston has always been such an amazing comedy town, but, you know compared to the way it had been… You had to go out and find different venues. I was around when The Comedy Studio started. That’s kind of like my era. There wasn’t as much work in the clubs. Boston is a great place because they’re very loyal. The people who keep coming back want to see the headliners and the big guys and stuff.

So there’s not a lot of spots for as many new acts as there were. And a lot of the new acts were kind of… it was when alternative comedy was popular. People were trying to do different things, and so it didn’t really lend itself to the regular Friday night line-up at Nick’s, for example. I was doing more coffee shops, and The Comedy Studio. Those kind of venues. The Cantab. Different places where people would put up rooms and try to get people to come out.

It seems like at one point, you had people like Nick Di Paolo and Patrice Oneal at Nick’s, on that side of things, and you had clubs like, for a while, Catch A Rising Star and then The Comedy Studio providing different kinds of comedy, so you had a pretty diverse scene.

For me, I was after Catch, and Patrice and Nick had already moved down to New York. So it was a little bit later than that. But I always compared it to… when I was twenty-one and I was onstage somewhere in Boston – Boston gets so many people out to see comedy – I was onstage at 21 doing jokes about sex, and nobody wants to see me doing that. Because for most of the audience, I’m like their daughter’s friend who’s a bad influence.

I think it’s really hard, the more I do this, I think it’s really hard for a person who’s in college to really break through. And I think it’s amazing when college-age stand-ups do break through. Because the audience isn’t college-age, and I think there’s a disconnect with a lot of America. I mean, out in L.A., all they want to see a lot of times is youth. But I think for the rest of America, and the people going out to clubs and spending money, twenty-one year-old kids don’t have the money for a two-drink minimum and to pay for parking at Faneuil Hall.

That’s the story with sitcoms, too. The ones that are really successful are about the people who are in their 30s and more seasoned like the Roseannes, the Seinfelds, the Tim Allens.

Absolutely. Ray Romano, Ellen, Brett Butler. You don’t know who you are ‘til you’re that age. You don’t have a voice, you don’t have anything to say. Nothing’s happened to you. Well, things have happened to you, but nothing that the rest of the world can relate to. Or the rest of the country. It’s so limited, the things that I thought were funny, or the things that I had to talk about when I was first starting out. They’re no less real to you, but how many people can relate to the fact that your roommate stole your boyfriend or something. Or how many people want to hear it.

What did you study at Emerson?

I was a theatre major with an art history minor. I did some writing, I took some playwriting classes. I had an independent study my senior year in political theater. So I did some writing in that as well. But I wasn’t a writing major.

Did you study comedy there? I know there have been workshops and classes, and improv groups and such.

I studied comedy with this great teacher who’s name is Ron Jenkins. No relation to Rick. He has a degree from Harvard, a PhD from Harvard and a degree from clown college.

Right. He wrote Subversive Laughter.

Yes, absolutely. So he was a huge influence on me when I was at Emerson. So I took a comedy course with him. In a way, I was a late bloomer to comedy. I always really admired stand-ups, but I would be afraid to say I wanted to be a stand-up because I was always afraid that the way I saw the world wasn’t funny. But then I was doing theater at Emerson. And the roles for women in plays are by and large just atrocious. They’re just horrible. And I always say you’re playing someone’s mother, whore, maid, or wife. That’s all there is to do in these plays. And I just got so frustrated that I started writing my own stuff out of frustration.

If you go back far enough into the Greeks you can play all of those at once.

Right. Exactly. And still end up poking your eyes out. So that’s how I got into writing stuff for myself that became stand-up.

Was it something you were eager to try? Was it something you tried because you just needed the outlet?

I was doing sketch comedy, and the problem with sketch comedy is that you’ve got to organize five or six comics’ egos, and bring props. So that was kind of a nightmare. And I kind of had a thing that I was putting together and the right opportunity came, which was actually at the Comedy Connection. And a local comic at the time, Chris Maguire, who became my boyfriend later on, he said, we’re looking for new acts, do you want to audition? And I had something I could use. And it’s the same story every comic has. The first time, you kill. And then you never get those laughs again. There wouldn’t be a second time if you didn’t do well your first time.

But it was at the Comedy Connection, and Frank was the general manager at the time, and he’s always been such a supportive figure for myself and my life. It’s why I’m coming back Monday to do the show. I think of it as my home club. It’s where I started. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve played a lot of places, and I owe a lot to Rick Jenkins, as well. If Rick has a stroke, I’ll be back on the plane for Rick, as well.

He’ll be glad to hear that.

[laughs] Yeah, I know.

Go ahead and have the stroke, Tess says she’ll be here. We know you’ve been holding out.

[laughs] Like I said, I still have the tape, and I looked at it again a few years ago. And I was like, god, that was a good set. I haven’t gotten laughs like that since. The Comedy Connection was a really special place for me. Frank and the rest of the staff, they mean a lot to us.

Have you kept in touch since you’ve been in Los Angeles?

Absolutely. Frank would go out to Las Vegas a couple of times a year. Kevin Knox, who was another really good friend of ours, would play Vegas a couple of times a year. And this other friend of ours, the two of them would go out and play golf and eat at great restaurants every night. My boyfriend Chris and I, we would go out to see Kevin and Frank and Joe.

We’d spend a couple of nights out there a couple of times a year. So we saw them more socially, not just around the club. I always credit Frank with making me a food snob. I’d never been to Vegas before, and he started taking us to all these great restaurants. They knew a lot about wine. I always say we have Frank to thank for the fact that I’m the pretentious snob that I am.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

John Tobin on Frank Ahearn and Tommy's Comedy Lounge

Monday night, Tommy’s Comedy Lounge will host its last gig of the summer, a second benefit for co-owner Frank Ahearn, who had a massive stroke in December. The first event last month was sold out, and featured enough great local comedians in the audience and hanging around outside to put on second simultaneous benefit. Ahearn was also speaking to people through Skype at the show.

Monday’s show includes Steve Sweeney, Gary Gulman, Joe Wong, Joe List, Chris Zito, Tess Rafferty (read my interview with her on FGH tomorrow), Paul Nardizzi, and Harrison Stebbins.

I spoke with Tommy’s co-owner John Tobin after the first benefit, before it was announced that Tommy’s was going on a summer hiatus, so Tobin and Ahearn could reassess the club and see how Ahearn is feeling later this fall. I wrote about the club in Friday’s Globe, quoting Tobin that the intention is to reopen the club, and that he would feel it was a failure if it didn’t open up again.

Here’s the video of that interview:

Friday, May 21, 2010

Video: What to expect on The Good Stuff

Last Friday night, the late night comedy show the Good Stuff made its debut at Mottley's Comedy Club. It was a glorious train wreck, the kind of thing that happens when good comedians come up with a great plan and then throw it out the window at the last minute.

There was a Dating Game parody that featured a guy in a Boba Fett mask as one of the bachelors. Host Tom Dustin says he has no idea who the guy in the mask was, which is easy to understand, because bachelor number three didn't get many questions, and didn't answer some of the ones he got.

The show also featured The Comedy Race, a contest designed to find otu which race is funniest. It was white versus black to start, pitting Dave McDonough against Baron Vaughn (Vaughn edged out the win). There was stand-up, of course, and a musical guest that performed mostly outdated song jingles.

Tonight, the show is on again. I spoke with the guys behind the show, Dustin, Sean Sullivan, and Dan Boulger, outside of the open mic at Sally O'Brien's in Somerville Monday about what you'll see on The Good Stuff tonight and in the near future.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Cheech and Chong tickets on sale at... 4:20PM

Cheech and Chong were gone from the comedy landscape for 25 years. Fans had to go to the old albums and movies to see their favorite high-minded heroes. Now, you can see the pair on tour and on their new DVD, Hey Watch This, which chornicles their Light Up America reunion tour, which began in 2008 and is still going strong.

Now it's called the Get It Legal tour, which Cheech and Chong will bring to the Comedy Connection Wilbur Theatre on July 8-9 (they'll also be at the Cape Cod Melody Tent on July 11, tickets go on sale for that tomorrow). The DVD was released on 4/20, and just to keep the theme going, the Connection will start selling tickets this afternoon at, yes, 4:20PM. You can get tickets here at that time.

On the last tour, Cheech and Chong concentrated on a kind of greatest hits package, doing scenes from the movies and albums, with Chong doign stand-up in between. Now that they've been together for more than a year, it will be interesting to see how much new material they might generate, and if they can get away with replacing some of the more classic stuff they've been doing.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tonight, The Rob Crean Show is dead!

There are few option for comedy on Tuesday nights in Boston, so it is with sadness that tonight we say goodbye to The Rob Crean Show tonight at O’Brien’s in Allston. Rob Crean and his Anderson Comedy cohorts started the talk/variety show in in March of 2008 (first guests, Crean notes, were Myq Kaplan, who just celebrated the release of his Vegan Mind Meld CD and his Comedy Central special at The Comedy Studio, and Comedy Studio regular Renata Tutko). Crean would do an opening monologue and welcome comedians, musicians, and other guest.

Crean reports the main reason the show is ending is that his producer, Lucas Lewis, is moving to Connecticut (to see Crean and Lewis talking about the show, take a look at this post from January of 2009). Tonight’s show will welcome back guests and regulars from the past two years, including Katie McCarthy, Kate Robinson, and Gretchen Gavett (doing their “Vagenda” segment), Matt Wilding doing his news segment “Wilding Wilding World,” Mehran, Josh Gondelman, and musical guest Bone Zone. Recent show regulars, Lucas Lewis, Adam Haut, Brendan Thomas Crowley, and Ryan Douglass.

Crean’s other regular show, The Gas, at Great Scott, will continue every Friday. Here are a few parting shots about the Rob Crean Show from Crean himself.

Will any elements of it get ported over to the Friday night slot at Great Scott?

Yes. We're trying to do more of the "segment" style sketches we did at Great Scott at "The Gas." We may even try to do a tighter version of the show at The Gas. It'd be a lot different, we wouldn't really be able to have a band, but we might get acoustic acts instead. We'll see.

Do you feel like you've accomplished what you wanted to do with the show?

Depends on the month really. Some shows go so well, and you leave the venue thinking, "that's exactly what I was trying to do," other shows have three people show up, after you've spent all month putting together brand new material that you're going to do once. That doesn't feel great.

Do you see more shows with a sense of community in the Boston comedy scene these days?

Good question. When I first started doing comedy, I felt like it was really hard to connect with people, and now I don't, but that's probably just because I've been around for a while now. I wonder if people who are new find the scene more welcoming now that I did. There were a few people who were really welcoming when I started though, namely Renata Tutko and Shane Webb.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Video: Quiet Desperation 20

As Rob Potylo gets heavier into the band side of his creativity (he's playing Great SCott May 31 with his band), Quiet Desperation is back to focusing on the music side of things, although there are still plenty of comedians in different roles in the current episode. Here's QD 20, posted earlier today. I have more from the Quiet Depseration Rumble show to post soon, so keep checking back.

The BC Q&A: Dave Willis and Dana Snyder from Aqua Teen Hunger Force

For ten years, Aqua Teen Hunger Force has been a popular eleven-minute cartoon on the Cartoon Network’s popular Adult Swim programming block starring a giant box of fries (Frylock), milkshake (Master Shake), and wad of meat (Meatwad). Last night at the Comedy Conection Wilbur Theatre, it was a live show.

How it makes that leap is hard to explain, even for show creator and Meatwad voice Dave Willis, and voice of Master Shake Dana Snyder. But god love ‘em, they gave it their best show when I spoke with them last week.

They talked a bit about the history of the show, how they plan to bring it to life onstage, and the new Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Volume 7, out June 1, which includes an extra detailing how they found the guy who is currently playing Carl on the tour.

They also talked about the unavoidable subject in Boston – the marketing campaign gone wrong in 2007, when Light-Brite images of Mooninites, created by local artists to advertise the show, shut down parts of the city when they were mistaken for bombs. Dave and Dana spoke by phone from somewhere in a bar on a tour stop in Buffalo.

Thanks for taking the call.

DAVE: We’re in Buffalo. Dana is purchasing two giant foam chicken wing hats. You know the cheesehead hats? He just got two buffalo wing hats. He’s going to turn our entire bus into a rolling garage sale.

Have you been picking up stuff like that from different locations?

DAVE: Not much, not much. But occasionally. We have some people onstage tonight that might be forced to wear them. I’m afraid. And I’m afraid they don’t know about that just yet.

Well, this won’t come out in time to warn them, so you’re safe.

DANA: No, no. this won’t come out in time.

DAVE: That’s true. He’s not going to know until right before he gets onstage, so. But he eats fifty chicken wings in every audience, so wearing a hat won’t be anymore humiliating. Coated in suicide sauce.

So who’s in the cast of this show?

DAVE: Well, it’s Dana and myself, but we also have the young lad, Dave Long, Jr., who won the Carl look-alike contest –

DANA: Yeah.

DAVE: -- from our live-action episode and we decided to bring him on tour. Since he worked at a liquor store, he said, yeah, let me just check with my boss and see if he’ll hire me back after I give him the finger.

DANA: Let me just go shove my boss and I’ll be ready for the bus.

DAVE: Yeah, I told him on a Tuesday and he was on the bus by Thursday. It’s great. I think Carl has helped inform his life. I think it’s like the Green Lantern when he puts on that ring. As soon as he shaves his head bald, he becomes someone else. Someone more powerful.

DANA: He was attempting to drink two PBR tallboys in Columbus, Ohio last night screaming, “I am the real Carl!” at the top of his lungs. [Dave laughs] So it’s safe to say the glove is fitting him.

You’ve been a great, positive influence on him, then, you’re saying?

DAVE: Yeah.

And that’s chronicled on the new DVD, correct?

DAVE: Yes, that’s true. Our exhaustive, nationwide search for the real Carl.

Was it harder to find the one character who’s human than it might have been to find some of the other characters?

DANA: Well, it seemed clear right from the start that they wanted to get just the best lookalike as possible for Carl.

DAVE: We kind of approached it like, we’re going to have to cast him anyways. They’re going to have to find us. We’re going to have too much trouble finding them.

Can he act? Can he do what you need him to do onstage?

DAVE: He is a better actor than we are, than either one of us are. That’s the great bonus, that we actually have a guy that’s really good. Three hundred pounds, that doesn’t mind shaving his head bald and wearing a mustache.

DANA: Wearing nothing but his tighty-whities.

DAVE: Or a wifebeater just stained in wing sauce. And yet he can act as if he’s a member of the union. He’s incredible. He’s getting more and more coarse as each episode—each live show progresses. And it’s just working better and better.

How did you decide on the different voices for each character? Each character has a very specific cadence and timbre.

DAVE: We didn’t know what we were going to go – oh, wow. I’m looking at a picture of Burt Reynolds with the police chief of Buffalo. It’s framed on the wall of this place. It’s in a place of high honor.

DANA: Right beside the toilet.

DAVE: Yes. Entitled “Smokey and the Bandit,” engraved in brass. We didn’t know what we wanted for Shake. In fact, I was doing the rough voice of that in the room as Ignignokt, one of the Mooninites. That was the original Shake voice. But we were just casting a wide net, sort of seeing what we got from the description, “jerky.”

DANA: It was meant to be, at that point. You throw that word in.

DAVE: Dana was just a friend of an ex-girlfriend and we auditioned him very informally, but the cast is great.

DANA: I had to leave a message on their voicemail. That they then erased accidentally before they could play it for the boss.

What made you decide to tour with Aqua Teen Hunger Force?

DAVE: We did a couple of live things. We occasionally get asked to speak at a school or something.

DANA: Really just a Q&A, but we were just sort of like, even at those Q&As, we want to make it something more than just a Q&A, we want to make it more memorable. Then we flew down to Australia, they put us down in a convention down there, and we sort of worked up this opening song.

DAVE: Just to mix it up a bit, to make it not a boring, “Oh, how great are you?” – “What’s your favorite episode?” – “Oh, they’re all so good.”

DANA: To make it more like a show instead of this dry Q&A, which is what everybody does. But it all sort of came out of there. We started to book stuff, and then we were like, oh shit, we actually have to put a whole act together.

What does it look like? What’s the staging of it like?

DANA: Oh, spectacular. Have you seen Sunset Boulevard on Broadway?

No, I haven’t.

DANA: Did you see The Color Purple on Broadway?

No, but I did see the commercials.

DANA: Okay. Picture that, many of the sets…

DAVE: We built a special backdrop for it.

DANA: It’s not even a backdrop, it’s a frontdrop.

DAVE: We built it especially for this show out of duct tape and duvetyne.

DANA: You can clearly see that it says “ATHF” on it, and it’s being held up by unused microphone stands.

DAVE: No, we have puppets made by one of the guys from Jim Henson’s company.

DANA: Ex guys from Jim Henson’s company.

DAVE: Just because they have mental illness or problems doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of making puppets just as good as the Henson company. Yeah, we had puppets made for the characters… I don’t know. It’s like the show. It’s an extension of the show in a lot of ways. We’ve never been the best animated show on television.

But still, how do you take a show that’s to absurd and fantastical visually and conceptually and make it into a stage show?

DAVE: Well, we’ve made it into an absurd variety show, basically. We’re doing some songs, we have some absurd audience participation, we have Carl’s regional beef, where he yells and tells you why your city sucks wherever he is. We have a Meatwad soundalike contest.

DANA: I basically take on my Shake persona onstage of berating people for not giving me the proper amount of respect and applause. And women for not throwing their room keys or underwear up.

So there’s no overall story arc, necessarily?

DANA: You’re not going to see a story up there, I’ll tell you that much.

DAVE: There’s an arc in there in that I think the humor is definitely informed by the show, and we’re sort of the arbiters of that. So if you like the humor of those shows, you’re going to enjoy – you’re not going to see characters, in full-length suits of the characters ice skating around with a whole story behind it.

DANA: It’s more the sensibility and the humor of the show.

DAVE: Yes.

What was the biggest challenge in porting it from animation to the stage?

DAVE: This, right now, explaining…

[Everyone laughs]

DANA: Trying to explain what the show is.

DAVE: It feels like when we read reviews of shows we’ve done, we’ve gotten great reviews. We just wish those reviews came before the shows than two days after.

DANA: So many people, they just don’t know what it is. And it’s hard to explain other than “it’s a variety show,” but people say, “How can you have a variety show about a cartoon?” It almost works the opposite. I’ve had some friends who have come to the other shows who have said, “I didn’t even ever watch Aqua Teen, but I thought the show was really funny. Then it turned out I had friends who were super big Aqua Teen fans who said, that was beyond what I wanted it to be. So it sort of works great.

DAVE: Even if you don’t know what Aqua Teen is, you’ll still enjoy it. And if you do like Aqua Teen, you’ll love it. And if you don’t like it, you’ll just be saying, oh, that fat guy in the flip-flops and the undershirt was very funny. But the Aqua Teen guy is like, “No, that’s Carl, you don’t understand, man.

Do you find you’re selling out a lot of places? That the Aqua Teen fans are showing up for the tour?

DAVE: I think people are mostly confused. I think everywhere we go, we get a few hundred strong, but I can see where people are like, I don’t even know what the hell this is, man, and it’s my Saturday night. But I assure you, it’s well worth your time.

I could see you getting a lot of rhetorical questions in interviews, like, “What the hell?”

DAVE: Yes. That’s a good one. What the hell? What the hell? What the hell, man?

Did the live action episode with T Pain and Jon Benjamin help with the planning of this?

DAVE: Not at all. They are so completely unrelated. The only thing it helped in was helping us find Dave Long, the real, live Carl. But other than that, they were just completely two totally different entities.

How will the Squidbillies make an appearance?

DANA: Granny comes out and she gives a cooking demonstration for her world-famous crusted red snapper, country style. Which she pulls out of the audience, she asks if there are any budding chefs with hot, big muscles who love to party.

Do any of the other characters make it in?

DANA: Not really. Granny’s really the only one.

DAVE: It depends on where you are, but not in Boston. I know in Charlotte, the voice of Early is going to be a big part of the show. But each show is going to have a different unique thing, and fingers crossed, I think there will be a couple of very unique things in the Boston show.

Would you consider doing an entire Squidbillies tour after this?

DAVE: I’d love to –


DAVE: -- Unknown Hinson is the lead voice of Early Cuyler, and the guy’s an incredible performer. His side gig is playing lead guitar for Billy Bob Thornton’s band. They guy’s incredible. I’d love to do like a traveling medicine show with those characters. You never know. People seem respond to them. When you make cartoons and you’re not out there in the public eye or doing a lot of shows, you really don’t have a good gage for how the show is being received.

Was episode 100 a big landmark for you?

DAVE: Yeah, it was. When we started, I didn’t know if we were even going to get to make more than one. I didn’t know if they were going to pull the plug before we finished one. So to have one hundred episodes, almost ten years later, is a nice little achievement.

And to have a franchise build on these characters.

DAVE: Yeah. I look forward to them putting together a ride at an Adult Swim water park – pi

DANA: Turnerland Music Park?

DAVE: -- thirty years from now my son leading a lawsuit to try to get some of the money.

DANA: After you’ve wasted your fortune away.

DAVE: Yeah. My fortune. Right.

What do you have planned next for the show?

DAVE: Well, Aqua Teen is no more. Now the show is called Aqua Unit Patrol Squad, and they’re going to be detectives, from now on, every episode. We’ve already written and recorded four episodes, and – boy, there’s some cackling ladies in this bar. We were staying inside because of the wind, but now it’s just cackling alcoholics. No, the characters are going to be detectives from now on. Every episode will be a crime they have to solve. A mystery.

So were you careful to avoid Mooninite imagery advertising in Boston?

DAVE: No we weren’t. We weren’t careful advertising in Boston, and we certainly weren’t careful advertising in Boston a few years ago, either. We’re the same reckless, not thought through…. I will say, though, that I’m hoping that we can show something special for the Boston crowds. That’s pretty much all I can say.

DANA: Just don’t even elaborate, Dave. You said it.

Do you still get feedback about that? Boston was the only city that had any problem.

DAVE: It’s odd that you would say that, because you live in Boston, because everyone else… but you’re not an idiot. They keep asking us about it, you know? I had to go through a media training course based on what happened in Boston. If we’d have worked on South Park, we’d have had an episode about it six days later. Turner, especially after that lawsuit, was like, you shut up about what happened there. That never happened, that city doesn’t exist.

I can tell you, there’s a fairly large contingent of people, at least that I knew, who were puzzled by the whole thing. I can see that at first, you didn’t know what it was, but once you realized what it was, why was it a problem?

DANA: It was a very puzzling situation to say the least.

DAVE: I can say that I didn’t even know about it until I heard people talking about it, and then I turned on the news. I didn’t even know those Light-Brite things existed. Now I own one. I keep it inside, I wouldn’t want anyone to say there was a bomb on my house.

DANA: Now it just looks like you have a bomb in your house.

DAVE: We didn’t even know that thing was happening. That was like a marketing arm of the company. I will say the one thing that angered me was that the media kept calling it a “hoax,” which implied that Turner not only put a device up there, but claimed that it was a bomb. I mean, that’s what a hoax infers. That was not at all the case, you know?

Were you ever in touch with the local artists who did the whole thing?

DAVE: No. And it was like a slow media day combined with this crazy thing, so we got non-stop press for a couple of days. And just when I thought it was starting to die down, these two guys start talking about 70s hairstyles. It was like, wow, you guys found a way to stretch it another thirty-six hours.

DANA: I read something about the main guy who did that in the local Boston paper about three weeks ago. He’s like a big performance artist or something now, a DJ. And that’s still referenced every time someone is describing them.

So the tour is almost over after this, right?

DAVE: Yeah, our last day is May the fifteenth. Atlanta, Georgia.

Do you think after this experience you might tour with Aqua Teen Hunger Force again?

DANA: In the world of show business, anything is possible. Just ask a fifty-five year old Sean Connery, after he said he would never play James Bond again. And then he was in Never Say Never Again.

DAVE: One of the worst James Bond movies. So I guess the answer is, yes we would tour again, but only if it could be really terrible.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The BC Q&A: Tom Cotter

Tom Cotter’s comedy career is officially old enough to drink this year. It was twenty-one years ago that Cotter first ventured into Boston to pursue a comedy career, where he met up with some of the city’s most celebrated comics (including Don Gavin and Steve Sweeney).

Since then, he's been on the Tonight Show, had a show spotlighting his marraige to comic Kerri Louise (who also has Boston roots), and from time to time appears on the Onion New Network.

He’s back at Dick’s Beantown Comedy Vault tonight, a place that Dick’s owner Dick Doherty says Cotter hasn’t headlined since 1991. I took the occasion to as Cotter a few questions about his history with Boston and his stand-up career.

When was the last time you played the Vault?

The last time I was at the Vault was when I was in the Boston Comedy Festival's comedy competition, (2004 perhaps?) It was a preliminary round of the competition, and that was the year I won the competition, so I have very fond feelings about the Vault.

Before that it was at least 15 years since I had been here.

Do you remember who was on the show with you?

The other folks that were on the show in 2004 were the other contestants. I know Tom Simmons, Daryl Lenox, and Teddy Bergeron, were there.

How often do you get back to Boston to play?

I don't get back to Boston as often as I would like, as I feel so at home here, and I love the whole comedy vibe.

What was your first experience with comedy when you moved to Boston?

My first comedy experience in Boston was twenty-one years ago when I drove up from Providence to audition for the Johnny Walker Comedy Contest. I was humiliated. I fled back to Rhode Island with my tail between my legs and knew that I had a very long way to go. It was extremely humbling, and it lit a bonfire under my ass.

What was it about this scene that made you want to become a comedian?

Seeing the talent level from Boston was terrifying and inspirational at the same time. When you see guys like Don Gavin, Steve Sweeney and Kevin Knox you say "I want to be that funny." I knew that Boston was a comedy Mecca, and I wanted in.

Do you and Kerri have any more comedy projects together in the works?

Kerri and I have a few irons in the fire. We are in talks with some networks (Gameshow Network and a few others). We have these webisodes called the Parent Loft that are put out by Oktane Media, and there are several more in the pipeline. There aren't many married comedy couples out there, so we get calls because we are somewhat of a novelty.

Anything else you're up to people should look out for?

Last week I filmed a Fathers Day special for Comedy Central that will air on the Comedy Central web site starting a week before fathers day and perhaps on the network also. I am doing some more stuff for the Onion this Monday.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The BC Q&A: Bill Burr

Bill Burr says he’s happy. He should be. He’s got a new CD/DVD special, called Let It Go, coming out in August, he sold out two dates at the Comedy Connection Wilbur Theatre on Friday and added a third show for tonight, and he’s in the new Steve Carell/Tina Fey vehicle Date Night. He’s got his Monday Morning Podcast on which he gets to vent his spleen, had a short but successful tour o f the U.K., and he’s living in North Hollywood, a place he says he loves.

Not to worry, though. He’s not so happy that he’s lost his sarcastic edge. I spoke with him by phone last week about the new special, selling out his home town, and “Nature Boy” Ric Flair.

Coming from Boston and New York, was Los Angeles as big a change as the east coast versus west coast comedy bits would have you believe?

I lived out here for a little bit ten years ago. That was more of a culture shock because I wanted to live in New York at that time. But just, my career had taken me out here. And I ended up going back to New York. And I loved New York and everything. I stayed in New York just long enough where I still love the place and I didn’t get sick of it. It’s just one of those deals.

New York is awesome, but after a while, there’s something not natural about living with twenty floors above you and below you. You just feel crunched down after a while. You gotta get out of there. I like L.A., man. Even though the traffic is brutal, the people are a little flaky, there’s a lot more space out here. And I love the weather.

Do you still have anything like you had in New York, meeting the other comics at the Comedy Cellar?

Out here it’s the Comedy Store. The Comedy Store is the freak show. And I mean that in a good way. It’s a crazy place. I love it. The Improv is great for hanging out. The Laugh Factory. It just takes you a minute when you get out here to just sort of settle in and see who you’re going to hang out [with]. It’s like, moving to the other side of the country.

How tough are the crowds at the Comedy Store? I saw you there really working hard to win people over who seemed indifferent to every comic up there, including Dave Attell and Dov Davidov.

No, it can definitely be challenging. It’s not for the faint of heart. That’s kind of why I like it. I always end up in those comedy clubs where there’s a certain potion of comedians who just don’t work there because they think it’s too negative or too difficult or the crowds suck. I don’t know if it’s that Catholic upbringing where I have to punish myself, but I’ve always felt at home.

And I also saw the challenge of it. Oh, this is a tough room? Let me go in there and I gotta figure it out. The job that I have, there’s a lot of fear involved when you first start out and a lot of stuff you have to overcome. So I’ve always been of the mindset that, if you’re afraid of something, just jump in with both feet.

The rooms you were playing when you first started out in Boston had a similar reputation. Seems there were a lot of tough rooms here.

Oh yeah. Nick’s Comedy Stop was no joke. Back in the day, when they would paper that thing, and you had 400 people who thought they hit the lottery just because they got free tickets and couldn’t care less about the show? Kevin Knox used to go up there and slap them around, turn it into a show. And then you’d go up there and try to ride the wave that he crated.

Nick’s is celebrating 30 years this weekend with Don Gavin.

Wow. That’s unbelievable. I’m really happy that, even though it’s not the Nick’s that I knew, I’m really happy that it still exists. Most guys, the first place they started was either demolished or turned into a Forever 21, you know?

When did you get back from your tour of the U.K.?

It was really quick. It was like three one-nighters. I did London, Dublin, and Glasgow, Scotland. It was just awesome. An awesome, unbelievable experience, jus to go over there and see what worked. You know what reference worked and actually killed, and I didn’t have to change it over there? I made a reference to Ric Flair.

The wrestler Ric Flair?

Ric Flair is huge. I threw it out there just to see. It got this huge laugh. I was like, wow, I knew that guy was world famous, but that guy is famous famous. My girlfriend was over there, she was like, I can’t believe Ric Flair worked. I was like, yeah, he went to Japan I don’t know how many times. Those guys were travelling the world. It was awesome. I hope I meet him someday. I want to tell him that story, because he seems like just a great guy.

What’s the context for the reference?

I was talking about Tiger Woods, how they were trying to redo his public image. I was like, why are they doing that? He should just go out there and be the bad boy of golf. I said I’d go out there, I wouldn’t even be wearing a shirt. I’d go out there like Ric Flair. It goes on after that. People jus timmediately related to the joke. It got a huge laugh. Whereas other things, I talked about kickball in fourth grade and they didn’t know what that was so I had to switch that up. But Ric Flair is the man.

Was there a lot you had to change? I know people always fret about what might translate.

No, I tell stories about my life. I would think a guy like Dennis Miller would have a big problem. He has so many references to pop culture. I think it’s easier now with the Internet and YouTube, we’re becoming more like one whole nation. But they had something over there called – what the hell was it called? They had these two twins. Ah, Jesus, I can’t even remember their names. IT was like this American Idol thing, and there were these two kids who were really into Vanilla Ice, thought he was the shit, and they were twins, and they somehow combined their names. Whatever their names were, they took half of one name and half of the other and that’s the name that they went by. They’re sort of huge over there in Ireland.

Did you have time to write about what you discovered once you got there?

Ah, yeah, I made an ass of myself. I asked them in London if they had squirrels. I hadn’t seen any. Evidently, not only did they have them, they had red squirrels, and some idiot trying to impress women over there with his travels hundreds of years ago brought the gray ones that we have over here and they kicked the shit out of the red ones that they have, ‘cause they’re smaller squirrels. So now the red ones are protected. That’s what I learned during a show.

We’re even imperialistic in our animal husbandry.

Absolutely. Insurgent gray squirrels. If anybody deserves to be taken over, it’s England. A taste of their own medicine.

Especially by squirrels. That’s the first wave.

Exactly. You go subtle. You go subtle.

Once the red squirrels fall, you just push the rest of the country right over.

9/11. You just blame it on 9/11.

So you have the new CD and DVD coming out – when is that coming out?

We don’t have a release date yet. I’m guessing sometime in August is when it’s going to come out. And I’m also in that new hit movie, Date Night with Steve Carell and Tina Fey.

I saw that. I kept hoping you’d be the guy to kick down the door and shoot up the place in the end.

I did get to take Common down, though. You know?

Was that a fun shoot? They didn’t give you a lot to do as far as comedy.

Well, they were trying to do a thing where it was sort of serious, and the funniness mas more with Steve Carell and Tina Fey, and then those cops being dirty cops, they didn’t want them to be wacky dirty cops. That aspect of it was serious. So yeah, I had a couple of people say that. “I saw you, you were great, but you weren’t funny.” It’s the usual thing, “You’re a comedian, how come you didn’t have a lampshade on your head?” That’s not what the director wanted.

Would you want to do more stuff like that where you’re not necessarily in a comic role?

Dude, I would take anything that they want to give me. I’ve been taking all kinds of acting classes out here, and I really enjoy it. I’ve gotta tell you, comedy’s a lot harder. It’s like they say, it’s a lot harder than the dramatic stuff. I say that because, somebody might be messing up some drama stuff and it might take you a minute to figure it out, but when a joke bombs, it bombs, and everybody knows it.

It’s very hard in a dramatic thing, if the theater’s quiet and people are paying attention, it’s hard to tell, are they bored or are they actually riveted? Unless you turn the lights on and look at their faces. But if you’re watching a comedy, and it’s a packed theater and nobody’s laughing, it’s pretty obvious that it’s bombing.

It’s probably harder to diagnose comedy, as well. If there’s a problem with the delivery, you can’t necessarily just say, try it this way.

If you’re talking about testing it in front of an audience, for comedy, you have to do that. You have to see if stuff plays. That’s another thing, too. Me and two of my buddies, we wrote and shot a short film that we’re trying to get into short film festivals called Shooting Angles. I just saw the final copy of it, it looks great. So I’m hoping I’m going to get something out of that.

Is that the one you were talking about on the podcast?

Yeah. It came out really good. We did it for ten grand and shot it in three days. The acting in it is great, it’s really funny, and it looks awesome. I’m really, really proud of it, and I’m hoping it’s the first of many. It was me, Robert Kelly, and Joe DeRosa. We all came up with the story, Joe wrote it and directed it. We all produced the thing, put our money together. Lou Wallach came on board, from Comedy Central. We just got the final edit done, now we’re making copies, we’re trying to give it to everybody we can to move the careers along, as they say.

What’s the synopsis?

It’s one of those things I can’t tell you, because there’s a misdirection in the beginning that would give it away.

Are you going to do more with these characters, or do you want to do more short video in general?

I’m thinking it’s more the ideas. We’ve got another idea, something we’ve been kicking around. A couple of ideas, actually. There’s three of us, so we just sit there throwing out ideas. You throw an idea out there and it goes through the mulcher, and if it survives it, then we do it. And if not, we either try to add on to that idea or abandon it and move on to something else.

How would people keep tabs on that? Just listen to the podcast and watch your Web site?

And then Opie and Anthony. We had a lot of fun when we were shooting that. Jim Norton was joking around like he was upset he wasn’t asked to be in the film. And the reality was, we didn’t ask him because it was such a small part we didn’t want to insult him. It was classic Opie and Anthony, where they are somehow able to trash something and it actually ends up being positive and you get three days of great radio out of it. I know their listeners are aware of the movie. They did us a big favor by trashing us for not putting Jim in it.

Do you like doing the podcast? Is that something you’ve taken to?

Oh, yeah. I love doing it. And really, to be honest with you, it all came out of the idea to get my name out there and to hype my gigs, but another big part of it was, I remember when I had a day job and Mondays sucked. I hated going to work on Mondays. Actually, the reality was Tuesday was always more difficult than Monday, Monday I was such a zombie. I just figured give somebody something to look forward to on Mondays, if they enjoy it, just give somebody a laugh. People listen to it on their way to work, they listen to it in their cars, they listen to it when they work out, they download them. They listen to them on airplanes to get through flights.

It’s also one of those things where it’s a fun exercise for me a a comedian, where I get to talk about a lot of stuff I wouldn’t necessarily talk about onstage. A lot of topical stuff. I don’t waste my time too much with topical jokes, unless I’m building a new hour. Right now I’m putting together a new hour, so I need new jokes, so I’ll have more topical things.

But topical jokes, they’re almost like appetizers. It’s like, whatever, I’ll get some mozzarella sticks. It’s no big deal. But with the podcast, you don’t feel like you’re wasting your time on a comedy stage, where if you’re really putting together a great topical bit, by the time you’re going to do a special a year and a half later, you’re going to seem like a guy who hasn’t written any jokes.

So the material you’re working on now is different from the material you did last time you were in Boston?

Yeah. It’s pretty much all different. It’s gotta be. I haven’t been there sine February of last year. I’ve written a new hour since then. So it’s going to be all different.

Are you still trying to keep on track to do a special every year or year and a half?

No, no, it was every two years. I think I might wait three years this time. Hopefully I’ll have some major life changes. I got some brilliant advice one time where it was just like, if you don’t have anything to say, don’t say anything. In two years, if I feel I have something to say and I want to record it, I will. But I’m feeling like this next one’s going to be about three years.

Do you feel like you’re running out of things to say?

No. Christ, it’s not like I’m 70. No, I don’t feel like I’m running out of things to say, but it just feels like three years will be right for the next one. My life is really nice right now. It’s on an upswing. I’ll always have a new hour every year, but it’s like, I think two years is the quickest you can put it out and still have a memorable special.

Is it harder to write from a place of happiness?

Yeah, but when you have happiness, you have the fear of losing it. You just tap into that paranoia. It never ends. I just don’t ever feel, like when you said do you feel like you’re running out of things to say, it’s just like, Jesus, my problem is I can never shut up. I do a podcast where I babble for 50 minutes and I have no problem filling that 50 minutes. I don’t really repeat myself, either. It’s why I enjoy doing radio, it’s why I enjoy doing stand-up. Running my mouth is something I’m good at.

Does it mean more to you to have added more shows in Boston?

Well, considering most of the acts that come through town only do one night, those are big acts, the fact I was able to do two Fridays and one Thursday, that’s huge for me. It’s the stuff you dream about as a comedian. Man, what if I could do Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, a venue that big? That would be unbelievable. And just have a killer hour. And that’s what you need, too, man. You need a killer hour. That’s the perfect amount of time for people to see you. That’s the perfect amount of time where, if you do your job, they’ll leave wanting to come see you again.

The BC Q&A: Billy Connolly

Billy Connolly’s last shows in Boston, in 2007, were a revelation for audiences that hadn’t had a chance to see him in years. Rambling, profane, and hilarious, Connolly has a winning confidence onstage, truly allowing himself to go wherever his brain will take him. Connolly’s confidence isn’t steeped in knowing what comes next, it’s about not knowing and pushing forward anyway.

Connolly’s charisma and inventiveness have made him a legend in he U.K., where he regularly tops “best comic” readers polls, even though he has lived in the States for nearly twenty years (he’s lived in New York since 2008, and lived in L.A. before that). He’s been a pirate in the Muppets version of Treasure Island, a zombie in Fido, and faithful servant to the Queen in Mrs. Brown. He’s also been an action star in both the original Boondock Saints and the recent sequel, and he’ll be a Lilliputian in a new version of Gulliver’s Travels. And he was almost Doctor Who once.

If that’s not enough Connolly for you, you can even get his voice on your GPS device. Or you can go see him Friday at the Shubert Theatre.

I spoke with Connolly by phone last week, a conversation that was itself rambling, profane, and hilarious.

I see the Boston dates are the only ones on your schedule.

Yeah, we’re going to start doing little sporadic raids into the country instead of doing tours all the time. The next one up is Chicago after that. It’s a terrible problem getting dates. It takes you a year and a half to set up a tour, you know? This way you can grab two nights here and three nights there.

So you don’t think you’ll do a standard sort of tour…
Oh, I will again, but they just take so long to prepare. Meanwhile, you’re sitting spinning your thumbs wondering what to do next.

It looks like you have plenty of movie roles to fill in the time.

Yeah, yeah, I’ve been very lucky that way. Aye. And I’ve been drawing for a while, and I’ve just got news that there’s a gallery in London interested in doing an exhibition of my drawings. So I’m very pleased with myself.

Is that something you think you’d release as a book?

I don’t know. Really, because I’ve never done anything like this before. I can’t draw. I’m just [doing] abstract and strange things. I couldn’t draw a cat or a mouse or a bicycle or anything like that.

It’s an interesting thing to pursue – if you say of yourself, “I can’t draw,” what do you get out of it?

Yeah… there’s just something lurking in your brain, you just let it drive your hand. It’s very strange – it’s very pleasant.

You’ve said that sometimes you forget what you do for a living and it’ll only come back to you once you’re onstage.

I do that very often.

Is it something you’ve learned to combat? It seems it came at you again in 2008.

Yeah, it’s a weird thing that I have to trust myself that it’s always there. You know? Because there’s no way to check up on it. And the more nervous you get, the less you remember. It’s a terrifying set of circumstances.

I remember, at Astoria [Theatre] once, the promoter was in the back of the car, and my roadie was beside me in the front. And we were driving up to the gate in Queensland, and I said to the roadie, “How do I start?” And he said, well, you usually say such and such. I said, “Oh yeah. What do I usually say after that?” And he told me. I went, “Yeah, yeah. What was the punchline?” And he told me and I went, “Oh, yeah, of course!” The gig was hugely successful, and I came off and he said, “My god,” he said, “I was terrified. I thought you were mentally ill, asking your driver. Was that for my benefit?” I said, “No, I was being absolutely serious.” As I get nervous, I forget everything.

You should have your driver or your roadie up onstage with you.

Oh, yeah. And I take notes and I never look at them, because they mean very little. It’s not like a diary. They’re just jottings, little dash jottings. So when you look at them, you get very, very little information. Or you get half a page of information, but you get on and talk for two hours. Half a page, a thing that says, “The army.” Thank you very much.

I remember we did a TV interview while you were here, and you pulled it out and read a few phrases and had no idea what the hell they meant.

[laughs] That’s right. I’ve got loads of those books. I actually like the books themselves, you know those wee notebooks you buy in bookshops, the wee black ones. Hemmingway used to use one. I forget what they’re called, but I’ve got loads of them tucked in pockets all over the place. They’re absolutely useless. To make anything of it you’d have to round all the notebooks up and put them together. My wife’ll publish them when I’m dead. I’ll do that for journalists. Sometimes I’ll just read out the list. I’ll take a list onstage and read out the stage, and it’s nothing like what I just did. I can’t explain it. I’ve never been able to explain it. It’s a kind of organic affair.

John Lennon said once that the Beatles would write lyrics just to see what the critics would make of them. Just to confuse tham and see how they would over-analyze them.

Oh, yeah. I remember. Because John, at the time, I was around at the time, and the Melody Maker, the weekly music newspaper, would come out on a Friday, but you could get it in London on a Thursday night around midnight, and John Lennon said, I love Thursday nights around midnight. I go down to Piccadilly and pick up a Melody Maker and see what my lyrics are about.

You should release some of those lists now to see what people make of them.

Yeah. Maybe we should make a poem of them, and a drawing. I don’t know.

It’d be a Lewis Carroll type of –

Oh, it’d be nothing as pretty as that. It’s a bit coarse. It’s kind of coarse, I think. But it’s good to look back. Sometimes I’ll read [something], my god. Sometimes you think you’re not moving along, you’ve been doing the same thing for a long time. Then you look at your lists, and you’re way beyond them. It’s kind of confusing. I’ve never really been in total control of it. And frankly, I don’t want to be. A lot of guys, you look at them and you can tell the stuff, they’ve written it. They didn’t think it up – well, they thought it up and wrote it down in a methodical way, and it’s got that written feel to it. I hate it when you’re watching a comedian and you think, he has said this a million times, these same lines.

I guess the trick is to write something and perform it as if you haven’t.

I’ve never written anything, it just happens. I’ve attempted to write it afterwards so as I might remember, but I’ve never gotten round to that either.

Do you get the feeling that what you’re doing is still rebellious, the way it was earlier on?

There’s a great deal of rebellion involved in it because there’s a great deal of rebellion in me. I’m still angry about everything, you know? I’m still angry about war, about politics, and the fact that we haven’t moved along as a species. I still get angry when I watch television and people are trying to justify being in Afghanistan and telling us it’s a corrupt regime. You’re sending your sons to defend a corrupt regime. That still makes me angry and rebellious.

How do joy and anger fit together?

If you’re relying on just the anger, you’re up a gum tree. You’ve had it. But then anger can become fun. It’s like, if you’re giving your children a lecture on how to behave and you fart in the middle of it, they won’t believe a word you say. It’s just one of those things. Everybody will fall about the room and nobody will give one shit about what you just said, no matter how important it was. Because comedy and vulgarity, like I deal in, is just like that. It takes its own stand.

You said something last time we spoke that’s stuck with me, about profanity not being cursing and not being swearing – it’s profanity or vulgarity, it’s not cursing or swearing.

A lot of people don’t know what language is, you know? To curse or swear you have to invoke gods. And I don’t. I don’t believe in them, so how can I invoke them? I’m neither cursing nor swearing. I’m merely being profane. And I don’t give a fuck what you think about it. If you don’t like it, go watch someone else. Go watch Jimmy Fallon and lose the fucking will to live.

Not a big fan?

Jesus. His next joke’ll be his first.

Were you surprised that Boondock Saints II finally got made?

No, I wasn’t. It had so much good will riding along for it from so many good people, you know? It just had to be done. And of course, it had that extraordinary drive by Duffy, by Troy Duffy. He’s just a driven man. If it didn’t happen, somebody would’ve got hurt. [laughs]

Is that kind of thing fun to play? The action roles?

It’s amazingly good to play, especially with a cast like that, where you’ve all done it before and you all know and like each other. And I can say with my hand on my heart there’s nobody in the movie I don’t like. I like them all and they all like me. We got on like a house on fire. And so we all met in Toronto to do the second one, it was like – well, I’ve never been to a school reunion, but I imagine that’s what they’re like. “Oh, good to see you! You look like you’ve lost weight.” All eating and laughing and getting on with it. And everybody was so together and knew their part so well.

Not only that, Troy had done amazing things. He had hired fans as extras. Dedicated fans who had been writing, and he said, “Do you want to be in it?” Shit, yeah. So they’d flown in from all over the place to be in it. Some of them had the actual tattoos and all that. So there was an extraordinary atmosphere about it. So they weren’t like regular extras. There was a different feel about the place.

That’s an unusual thing for a movie, would you say?

Yeah, well, often you’ll get extras that are kind of wooden. They’ve done it a million times and they’ve got kind of a ho-hum attitude to it. So even the extras were up to it. There was kind of a bright-eyed feel to it.

You’ve been named recently, yet again, Britain’s favorite comedian by and by Channel 4.

That’s right. I heard that last week. It means very little to me. You don’t even get a phone call. Do you know that? I get nothing. They don’t even phone me to tell me. If I want to know how I did I have to watch the program. Or people tell you in the street, “Oh, I see you’ve won.” “What? What have I won?”

But at the same time I’m… I’m a bit proud of it. Of course I am. But it’s also kind of a burden, and I do feel the weight of it. And it’s something that I never asked for. Like if you had to enter, I’d have never entered a competition like that. Because you can go to a bar and just see somebody being brilliant. He’s having a great night, he’s flying, he’s in the zone. And that night, he’s the best comedian in the world.

Do you get to see, in New York, there’s probably a lot more comedy that’s more accessible to you.

I tend not to. I sometimes go to Annabelle’s, but it’s very, very rare. And it’s usually to see someone I’ve no chance of stealing from.

Have you ever found yourself unwittingly –

Oh, many, many times. Because a year later it rumbles into your head and you think it’s your own.

Do people call you on it?

No, I’ve never been called on it, but it’s just dawned on me where I got it. Maybe I’ve been doing it two or three weeks and I’m like, shit! I remember where I got it now.

That’s got to be an immensely disappointing feeling.

Yeah. It is for a while, but there are so few things that are totally original. And this is the absolute truth, I can say this with my hand on my heart, and swear on my children’s lives, that I thought I’d said the most original thing ever. My wife was writing a book about me, and I’d said I don’t like going on holiday. I don’t like those kind of hotel holidays, because that’s my life – flying and going to hotels. And she said why don’t we go on a cruise? And I said, oh, you’re joking. And I swear this is true. I said to her, “It’s like jail with an option of drowning.” Right? It’s a prison with an option of drowning. And I thought it was really funny and so did she. And tra la la.

About a year later, I was reading something by Admiral Lord Nelson, and one of his guys had something almost identical. Fucking Lord Nelson! What was that, the 18th century, 19th century? Fucking hell! I didn’t know that was possible. Sometimes you think you’re being dead original and boom.

There’s also got to be some allowance for people who are outright stealing material. That’s not something I would think could be condoned.

Some people steal outright and it’s outrageous. It’s intellectual property, and it’s a crime. And I include people who tape you and stick it online. My material is none of their fucking business to do with what they wish. You can’t just take the workings of my brain and start putting them where you want to. That’s such an arrogance.

But there are other guys, and I won’t name names, who are often accused of stealing when they’re not stealers at all. They are comedy black holes, everything goes into their head and comes out a different shape. And I think you probably know who I’m talking about. He’s often accused of stealing, and he doesn’t. I don’t believe he’s ever stolen a word, consciously.

Some people, they just absorb it. They go to clubs all the time and perform all the time, and all the people they hear all go into their head and comes out as a mish-mash. I think that’s art itself. I think writers do that constantly. Novelists do it all the time.

Were you skeptical when you were asked to lend your voice to a satnav for Tom-Tom GPS?

Oh, I couldn’t wait. I couldn’t, because I had been doing a thing about it onstage. My Range Rover had a very posh woman [affects an upscale woman’s voice], “Talking like that, how do you do?” And she called roundabouts “traffic circles.” I was telling the audience about it, she goes, in a huff, if I take a wrong turn, she gives me the silent treatment. She won’t talk to me for half an hour. So I said, put me on, I’ll do one. And I did a spoof one onstage, you know. And I would say, “Turn right… I said right, ya prick.” And lo, out of the blue came the offer. John Cleese had done one.

Is the Gulliver’s Travels your in live action or animated?

It’s live. But it’s all green screen.

It’s interesting casting, making you a Lilliputian, considering your nickname is –
The Big Yin, yeah. Like the giant. What a nice guy.

The tallest Lilliputian.

[laughs] A giant dwarf. It was a kind of tiresome process, acting at a piece of plaster on a wall, or a mark or a laser dot on a wall. Talking to it. But it was made up by the fact that the cast were lovely and funny and everything, you know. And Jack’s such a lovely wee man to work with.

Do you think comedy audiences have changed much since you started?

Not as far as I can see. Although I don’t get as many hecklers as I used to, and I’m delighted to hear it. Earlier in my career, I used to get hecklers, shouting and bothering. They like to listen to what you’re going to say. They know you’re inventive and you’re going to build something. So I can only speak for myself, but I tend to get people who are there to see me because they like me. SO I can’t really judge on the broader audience the way a guy who does comedy clubs could tell you. He would be better to ask if the audiences are changing. Mine aren’t changing. They people who like me come to see me and we all have a great time.

Do you ever want to get back up on a club stage and do a smaller show?

No, I don’t, because I never did it. When I did the clubby stuff I was a folkie, I was a musician. I was in bands, and I was being funny between songs and stuff. And I have no desire to do that anymore. Although I did it Saturday with Steve Martin. We had a fantastic jam. Have you ever heard of a guy named Tony Trischka? He was there and Mark Johnson who invented this style called clawgrass. And a fiddler and a mandolin player, and a guitar and a bass player, out at Steve’s house. Oh, it was great.

Have you ever wanted to play music again?

Yes, I get the urge, but I don’t quite know what to do about it. I don’t want to be a musician again. I don’t want to be in bands. I don’t like the arena. I don’t want to go around to radio stations talking to fuckwits all my life. The music side of things is hell, talking to these music stations. These idiots who think they know what they’re talking about who couldn’t fucking play with themselves, you know?

What would it look like if you did it? It would be hard for you at this point to go onstage and just do a set of music without doing comedy.

I don’t know. I think I would be driven to make it funny. Well, Steve’s having a lovely time. Steve Martin’s out touring with a bluegrass band. And he manages perfectly. But I don’t know if I could. But over the years, I’ve been trying to work out a way of trying to put my banjo back in to my act. But I can’t find a place where I could stop talking and play. And I haven’t done that. As soon as I stop playing I start talking again.

Well maybe just bring it up with you, and whatever happens –

And just leave it on the floor or have it standing there, the way I used to. I don’t know. I really don’t know what to do about it. Then I start questioning why I’m doing it. Am I playing it just because I can, am I showing off? What am I doing here? What is the point? Should I write something funny for it or should I just play it nice. I don’t know what to do. I think too much about it. Sometimes you should stop thinking about it and do things.

Your childhood comes up often onstage. How do you find something new in topics you’ve covered to frequently?

It’s because they’re not huge chunks, really. Usually they’re just moments. They’re a story of a particular day or an event. The entire event I’m talking about didn’t take a day, and I’ve got 67 years worth.

I suppose if you tried to start at the beginning, all hell would break loose.

Bring on this huge, fat diary. “Then is was Tuesday, a rainy day if I remember. 1942.” [laughs]

Well, you are known for doing long stretches of material. You could probably beat your record for that pretty easily if you started out that way.

There’s a thing on YouTube, and if you look it up, it’s “Billy Connolly Wildebeest.” That was an ad-lib. On that night, I’ve only done it like three times, Wildebeest, and that night that’s on YouTube is I think the second time I ever did it. It was exactly the same as the first night, and it came in one piece. You might be amazed. It’s very long. Sometimes ad-libs come complete. Big Chunks.

Is there anything else you’re up to that I’ve missed?

Not at the moment, no. I’m having the time of my life just doing bugger all. Except I draw in the morning and I go for a cigar with my friends in the afternoon.