Friday, February 27, 2009

Who Are The Whitest Kids U'Know?

What exactly is the Whitest Kids U’Know? We know they have a TV show that airs Tuesdays at 10PM, now in its third season on IFC (the first season was on FUSE). We know they are a comedy troupe that is coming to Great Scott tonight to play a show with Anderson Comedy. Then there are the viral videos like “Hitler Rap” that spread through YouTube, and even a movie called Miss March (out March 13)written and directed by Whitest Kids Zach Cregger and Trevor Moore, who also star.

The Whitest Kids U’Know, then, is a five-person comedy troupe (rounded out by Darren Trumeter, Sam Brown, and Timmy Williams) with experience making short films and producing a weekly live sketch in New York City. Their show in IFC looks mort like a collection of short films than a traditional live sketch show. That may be splitting hairs, but it’s a distinction of which the troupe is aware.

“The funny thing is that when we first started as a troupe, we were pretty much at our very early stages, trying to make a TV show for a live show,” says Brown, a Sandwich native whose brother tends bar at Miracle of Science and the Middlesex in Cambridge. “And then eventually, once we started doing the weekly shows, we realized we’re making a live show. We started writing to that, writing stuff to work with a room. And yeah, second or third season, we had to shift our minds back to making a TV show again.”

“Sketch has changed. It’s like SNL doing ‘Digital Shorts,’” says Trumeter. “We still think of them as sketches but the format has kind of changed, because we’re not playing in front of an audience.”

Cregger, Moore and Brown all had experience with film studying at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Williams studied film at Brooklyn College, and Trumeter brought a depth of theater experience when he joined the troupe, and had also made a short film. That experience was a tremendous help when they were transitioning from the live show to television.

“Us being able to produce out own stuff is how we got going,” says Brown. “We all just knew how to edit, spoke that language of how things are laid out with cuts and things like that. We were able to speak to the finished product.”

Running a weekly live show was also a boon, giving the group a lot or material from which to create the first season. “The first season of the show, 90 percent of the sketches we had that season were written before we got the show, from doing the live show for so long,” says Brown. “The second season we had some [material] from doing stuff live. But then doing the third season was all new.”

The troupe has a taste for scatological, potentially controversial, and sometimes even mean material. They have featured sketches about miming workplace masturbation and a spiteful grade school teacher who tells a student his mother died in a car wreck. Probably one of the least controversial is the “Hitler Rap,” which shows the former fuehrer reformed and battling MCs instead of leading a holocaust.

When they started with IFC, the network told them they would have pretty much free reign for content, they took it as a challenge to push boundaries. “They really let us do whatever we want,” says Brown. “But the interesting thing is that this season, we weren’t as compelled to just push the boundaries, we were more like, all right, let’s just make the funniest stuff we can make. And it still ended up [with] more animal sex sketches than ever. Like, oh, we just are really weird people, aren’t we?”

The Kids are still waiting to hear if they will have a fourth season with IFC, and are working on a Whitest Kids movie. But in the meantime, they’re happy to be able to get back on the road and play in front of a live audience. “The tour has been amazing because we kind of threw it together last minute, and the turnout has been insane,” says Trumeter. “We had no idea that we had this many fans.”

Anderson Comedy's The Gas presents The Whitest Kids U'Know at Great Scott. 18+. 8 p.m. $15. 617.566.9014.

"Deer Sketch"

“Slow Jerk”

Classroom Sketch

"Hitler Rap"

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Stephen Lynch On Baby Seals and Peanuts Kids

Stephen Lynch will be in town tomorrow, playing the Comedy Connection Wilbur Theatre for two shows I am told are now sold out (never hurts to check Ticketmaster if you are still looking for tickets, though). Not a bad kickoff for his Comedy Central Live: 3 Balloons Tour, which will eventually take him across the US and into London, Ireland, Sweden, and Holland, with more dates still to be announced. And that's before his new album, also named 3 Balloons (coincidence?), hits shelves on March 24.

The album can get a bit raunchy, with tunes like "Medieval Bush" (self-explanatory) and "Hallelujah," in which Lynch professes his thankfulness for a certain part of the female anatomy. Lynch is coming off a Tony-nominated run in the title role of The Wedding Singer on Broadway, and getting right back to work -- he has a new DVD and a new special due by the end of the year. I caught up to him by e-mail this week.

So when can we expect your children’s album?

I don't need to do a children's album. I feel my records are appropriate for any age. Next time your baby is crying and won't sleep, try humming a few bars of "Waiting for My AIDS Test to Come Back," for example. Your child will be both entertained and lulled into sleep.

3 Balloons goes even a bit further into the scatological – did you have all of this to get out of your system after having to be a bit cleaner on Broadway?

I don't think this album has much in the way of scatological humor at all. It covers a wide array of topics, from those bad-ass Peanuts kids to my experience as a grade school teacher to Marvin Gaye's diary entries. I certainly felt a sense of freedom in what I could write having done squeaky-clean Broadway for a year, but as is always the case, I never decide to write for shock value or gross out value. It's what i think is funny. By the way, I did manage to sneak a line about "clubbing baby seals" into The Wedding Singer, so it wasn't all bad...

I can hear “The Ballad of Scarface” or “America” playing on college folk stations or at coffeehouses with no one quite noticing the lyrics at first. Do you listen that genre of folk music?

I've always loved the folk music. Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Pete Seeger, It's the simplest way to tell a story, and sometimes the most effective. So it works for what I try to do too. Plus, it's easier to write jokes in that style, as opposed to say, Pantera or Yes. Although "Roundabout" IS hilarious...

“America” almost seems heartfelt at times – is that something you think about? Trying to write something you actually feel sometimes, while still going for the joke?

I wrote "America" in London a couple years ago, when the world's view of our country was probably at its worst. The more hopeful ending came as a burst of inspiration after the Presidential election. That song is the closest thing to sincere that you'll find on one of my records. Well, that and the AIDS test song.

Have you ever performed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah?” Maybe a medley of yours and his?

That medley would be 73 minutes long. But very profound. And moving. His is a song about spirituality, sin, regret, repentance, and longing. Mine is about tits.

You used fan videos to help promote the show in your newsletter. Do you approve of people posting their videos of your shows online? Is it something you explicitly condone?

I love the fact that everything is online. It's like free advertising. I just did sold out shows in Scandinavia, where I've never been on t.v. or the radio, and I can only credit YouTube for the fact that anyone knows any of my material over there. It does get a little weird when you perform a song for the first time, and the next night people are singing along to it. Very creepy.

Did you take anything valuable away from having been on Broadway with “The Wedding Singer?” Did you find a different audience there?

The first few months of shows I did after The Wedding Singer brought a few curious Broadway fans, most of whom left after the first song. Let's just say that I don't have the same demographic appeal as "The Lion King."

Were you surprised by the Tony Award nomination?

What are you insinuating? That I SHOULD have been surprised? How dare you? No, I wasn't surprised- I was expecting the Goddamn nomination! And I should have won, too! Son of a Bitch Jersey Boys! Ok, I was surprised.

How did you approach the arrangements since you had a full band to work with this time?

I just played them like I play them live onstage, then added other instruments in to fill out the sound. That way I hopefully avoid overshadowing the comedy. I actually think the other instruments make some of the songs funnier. Especially that crazy slide whistle- always hilarious!!! there's no slide whistle.

Are you bringing a band on tour?

No, but I will be performing some of the songs karaoke style to a track with full band and orchestration. This allows me the freedom to move around the stage, go out into the audience and do quick bong hits backstage during a song.

Is this the same show that’s going to make it to the DVD?

I'm not sure what the DVD is going to be yet. It could be the new show. Or maybe a combination of the new show and the show from the last tour. Or the new show, the old show and some Klezmer music. Or the new show, the old show, some Klezmer music and a few Lionel Ritchie covers. Yeah. I've just decided. THAT'S what the DVD will be.

What are the “multi-media” elements of the show?

I'm still working on these, even a couple days before the first show. It will most likely consist of short videos, slides, images to accompany songs as I play them live, etc.

Does having Comedy Central behind this tour help get you into venues you haven’t played before, or help you get more people in the seats?

Every time one of my specials air on Comedy Central I see an increase in ticket and record sales, so yes.

Your father has a folk trio in Saginaw – do you ever play together? If so, what do you play?

We usually sit around the piano and do Klezmer music. And Lionel Ritchie covers.

Nick DiPaolo on TV

Danvers native Nick DiPaolo will be on Jimmy Kimmel Live! tonight (12:05AM on ABC). He'll also be on the Hannity Show on Fox News March 5 and the Roast of Larry the Cable Guy March 15 (10PM on Comedy Central).

The Lonely Island and Albert Brooks, SNL Throwback

The Lonely Island trio, made up of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone, has gotten a lot of credit for bringing Saturday Night Live into the Internet age with the Digital Shorts segment. Short musical clips like “Chronicles of Narnia (Lazy Sunday)” and “Dick in a Box” with Justin Timberlake helped SNL reach a new audience, and one they could cater to rather cheaply and easily.

The group has been around since 2001, and just released their first album, Incredibad, which they will be signing tomorrow at the Newbury Comics at Faneuil Hall (event starts at 7PM, get there early if you want a spot in line), which is my tangential excuse for posting this on Boston Comedy.

For those who may want a refresher, here’s the clip that first got people’s attention:

A lot of people have treated the short film as a new phenomenon, and in many ways, it is. But the original mission of Saturday Night Live included bringing short films to a hip comedy viewing public. For the first season in 1975, comedian Albert Brooks made six short films that are forgotten classics in their own right. Brooks was already a Grammy-winning comedian, and his film shorts were brilliant, on-point show business satires.

Brooks only lasted one season, after which he transitioned from stand-up to writer and director, and made films like Modern Romance and Lost in America. But Brooks was a name people recognized, which, by many accounts, helped build the initial buzz for the show. It seems these films aren’t available anywhere online (if anyone has a link, please send it to me at, but you can find them on the first season of Saturday Night Live on DVD. If you’re insatiably curious right now, you can check out transcripts on the Saturday Night Live transcript site.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

DJ Hazard's Park Your Grok in Fraggle Rock

When DJ Hazard comes to Boston from New York to play the Comedy Studio Friday (for a guest spot) and Mottley's Comedy Club on Saturday, it won't be the first time he has made that trip. Hazard is a Boston comedy legend, part of the Ding Ho crowd and mentor to many a local comic over the years, but he was born in New York City. He came to Boston as kid and wound up staying.

This is DJ's story about coming to Boston, with a tiny bit of embellishment about the Blue Line and Hazard's subterranean subjects. And we here (okay, I, here) at are proud to present...

Park Your Grok in Fraggle Rock
By DJ Hazard

Are we alone? No one followed you, right? Okay, I have a confession to make. I’m not from around here. I was born in New York City.

My family moved here a year after I got out of high school. I had no idea what Boston looked like. I knew Boston existed. I knew the Red Sox came from somewhere to play Yankee Stadium. I figured there were some buildings on a dock where Carl Yastrzemski, Julia Child and the Kennedy Family all lived together.

I was leaving a playground of sixty story buildings and all night subways. At least I was also getting my very first plane ride, which turned out to be the next best thing to losing my virginity. Some thirty minutes later, the pilot announced that we were approaching Logan Airport and that, if we looked out the window, we could see the Boston skyline. He forgot to mention that I was sitting on the wrong side of the plane. All I could see were miles and miles of little wooden buildings, empty lots and the vast Atlantic. I thought I was being taken to live with the Pilgrims.

On top of that, my folks had rented an apartment in Winthrop and our cab ride went right from the airport to the middle of what I had seen from the air. I hid in my room for three days. Some kindly neighbor lady, bless her soul, asked my Mom if I wanted to see ’the city’. She explained that all I had to do was go down to the corner and catch some bus to some place called Orient Heights and get on the subway. I found the subway and tried not to panic as each of the following stations heralded a further plunge into my Green Acres nightmare.

Wood Island: From the frying pan into the fire. This must be where they get lumber for their cabins.

Airport: Hmmm, perhaps I could stow away on an airliner and get back to civilization.

Maverick: What the hell was this? Time Travel? Now I have to deal with cowboys?

Aquarium: Some guy and a fish tank. Great.

State: State of what? Solid, liquid, gas and plasma? Was I now dealing with oblivion on a sub-atomic level?

Government Center: I figured if it ain’t here, it ain’t nowhere. I got off the train and trepidly walked upstairs.

The rest is history. As you all know, the scary-looking but kindly Lava People surrounded me as soon as I emerged from the T kiosk. They made me their King and began construction of the Hancock Building as a token of their loyalty. I told them that if they really loved me they’d renovate Quincy Market into a tourist Mecca, transform the Commonwealth Pier into the World Trade Center and put the Orange Line underground. They complied.

Life was good as the omnipotent ruler of Boston’s Subterranean Mutant Population. At least until a couple of years ago, when they took it upon themselves to dig a huge tunnel under the waterfront as a surprise birthday present for me. I knew they meant well, but I guess they figured out that they screwed up. Good Lord, the poor little fellows were so depressed. I told them that it was okay, but they kept trying to make it up to me. They replaced Boston Garden with the Fleet Center. They chucked IMAX Theatres everywhere.

The one thing they couldn’t accomplish was rebuilding Fenway Park. It seemed like their every attempt was met with a force far more mysterious and powerful than their own Lava Mutant power. That force was called Red Sox Nation.
Lava People… Red Sox Nation… Lava… Sox…

The push and pull threatened to pull the very fabric of Boston apart. A truce had to be declared for the sake of my adopted city, its inexorable fan base and my Empire of Underground Minions. I asked the Lava People if there was something they could do that could make Red Sox Nation happy, leave Fenway untouched and serve as an apology for their mega-flop burrow beneath a perfectly good Southeast Expressway.

A few days later they returned and said that through ways I wouldn’t understand, not being a real Lava Person and such, they could make the Red Sox win the World Series. I said go for it and, in one fell swoop, never had so many had so much to revel about.

Personally, it was right up there with when I found that loose brick behind the Union Oyster House that spits out gold coins. But that, my friends, is another story.

Bonus Hazard Material:

Video of Hazard at the Boston Comedy Festival

And check the music links on Hazard's MySpace. He has posted some rare and lost tracks along with tracks from his new album, Man of Hazardium.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Eugene Mirman Reads Things He Wrote Tomorrow In Boston

Since starting out at the Comedy Studio in the late 90s, Eugene Mirman has covered a lot of ground. He’s gotten attention for strange bits like the “Marvelous Crooning Child” on his Web site – a picture of Mirman as a child that sings classic rock songs. He’s written and directed short films, played supporting roles in TV shows like Flight of the Conchords and the new Adult Swim show Delocated, and toured with the Comedians of Comedy. So it’s no surprise that he’d have a lot of general life advice to offer. That’s what he does in his new book, The Will to Whatevs: A Guide to Modern Life, in which he teaches you to survive dating, politics, stardom, and whatever you feel is an impediment to achieving the perfect life.

He’ll read from the book tomorrow at 7PM at Brookline Booksmith, and come back to Boston March 26 with Wes and Eugene’s Cabinet of Wonders, a variety show starring Mirman and John Wesley Harding, with author Rick Moody, former Boston comic Larry Murphy, and a few other surprises. He’s also working on his third album, the follow-up to The Absurd Nightclub Comedy of Eugene Mirman and En Garde, Society!, which he recorded in Chicago in November. It’s expected to arrive later this summer from Sub Pop. I caught up with him by phone from New York this week.

So what possessed you to write a self-help book?

It seemed like a good idea. Well, it came out of the fact that I did an advice column on my site and then I made little books that I’d sell on tour from the advice column. And then from that little book, it led to writing sort of a fake self-help book.

How much of the book came from those, or did you write something completely different?

Totally different. But the idea of it, originally I pitched just sort of me answering a Dear Abby book, all ridiculous. And then it sort of morphed into this bigger project that was this fake guide to life.

You cover a lot of ground in it. Was there a temptation to take one particular topic and parody it?

No. The book has lots of elements of various self-help books or inspirational books, but it’s not a parody of any one thing. No, it wasn’t like I really wanted to only do politics or love or something. I kind of like that I would write about how to start a business and how to be in a band, how to get married, all this different stuff. I especially enjoyed writing the stuff I knew the least about, like raising a family.

I was going to say, at the risk of sounding somewhat ignorant, did you do any research for this?

In a sense I did a great deal of research because I wanted to get certain things a little bit wrong. So to do that, I had to find out the actual thing, like what happened to Bernard Goetz or random things, like the details for the Beatles. But I’ll just make some joke about something that happened in 1962.

It seems like, especially in the timelines, there was some research put into when things actually happened, which may have been completely and utterly ignored by the time you wrote it.

Yes. Basically a lot of that stuff, the formations of countries and things, I found out exactly when a language or various things happened only to make a joke about it. But in a sense, as a result, I read a lot about Dr. Spock and raising children and the Tammany Hall Machine. Just lots of random stuff. And all to goof around.

How did you pick out specific things? I mean, you must have been aware of Dr. Spock and Tammany Hall.

Yeah, I would just research the history of education or when people first started suggesting how to raise children other than the Bible. Certain things became prominent and certain ideas became prominent. Some things I had vague ideas on, and sometimes I’d be right or wrong. But then I would read about them.

There’s a hint of autobiography in certain stories and a lot of places in Massachusetts come up. Are most of those bits true?

Anything that sounds like it’s true probably is. Everything that involved a thing that happened to me in high school or on a date is true. Everything that involves me advising John F. Kennedy is probably false.


Yes. If it involves a rock star from the 70s, I most probably made it up. And if it involves a girl from 1987, it’s probably true.

There’s a sort of wonderfully disorienting effect of that, when you read four or five sentences about something from your childhood, and then something comes completely out of left field.

Yes. I kind of wanted it to be a mix of truth and made up things and to not have any distinction between the two. So yeah, everything is half lies. But half truth. Seamlessly.

Are there any self-help books you think are worthwhile?

You know, actually, supposedly a lot of them are. I have a friend who teaches psychology and philosophy and he was saying that actually self-help books help people about as much as therapy. I got a bunch of self-help books when I started doing this, looking at them, and it is funny, because a lot of them will say the obvious thing, which is the thing you should do. Everything comes down to having a good self-image and not being addicted to drugs. And not getting into abusive relationships, whether they are emotional or physical. Obviously, you shouldn’t get into a physically abusive relationship. But it’s funny because a lot of books will just go, like, “Hey, tell your parents to stop being mean to you. And tell them that it hurts your feelings and it makes you eat a lot.” It’s funny, because a lot of it is very obvious, but it’s still very helpful to read it for people.

There were some books that had a tone that I probably made fun of at times. It’s sort of smart alecky and self-aware. Just kind of casual in a very silly way. Like, “Whatevs,” that sort of tone, a lot of things will use to show you that they’re down to earth. When they tell you about leaving your abusive relationship.

I love the use of jargon, “mind-thinkers,” and all those phrases that sound like they could be ripped right from those books.

Yes, a lot of those books had, they’d all make up things, they all treated it seriously. They’d create their own jargon. And a lot of them had lots of quotes. Many of them had two quotes – they’d quote Shakespeare and then they’d quote Jay-Z, and it was to show you just their true depth of world information. I thought that was really funny, very silly. Trying to prove, “Hey, I know about books and about music.”

Did you take anything directly from those?

No, but reading all those quotes is what led to me making up my own quotes from my own books and things, some of which have a casual tone and some of which have a fake Confucius tone.

I thought that was pretty brilliant, as well.

There’s also something to that that pokes fun at the arrogance of some of these books, where the tone is one of such grand knowledge. And some of which is very true, it’s just still funny. This real truth-talking tone of some of the books is funny to me.

I thought you also managed to capture your onstage comic voice very well, which is not something that seems easy for a lot of comedians who write a book to do.

I’d been writing various things, I did a column for the Voice online for a while, and I would articles and stuff. So I’d become somewhat used to trying to write in my voice translated into print. I think what made me pitch the book in the first place was I thought that I could do that. I thought that it would work out.

It’s not, as one might think, as easy as talking into a tape recorder and writing down what you would say. There’s an interpretation there, which is a leap that a lot of comedians don’t make when they write a book.

Right. I think that’s why I have so many parenthesis and dashes, bullet points, that sort of thing. I think that that kind of structure, along with the visual things, help model the book in a way that my voice would translate to.

When you go to readings like the one at the Brookline Booksmith, do you read from the book or do you –

I do. I don’t read a ton. Short is often better. But I will read a little bit from my book. And it’s funny, because if you read it, it works very much, but when I try to come up with things that are written so quickly, to actually say them is a little bit hard. I think it’s a little clumsy because it’s so much at once. But if you read it, you can just read along and read it in the right tone. But if I mess up a word or pause wrong, then it messes the joke up. But I pick parts that I read specifically to blow people away. No longer an issue. But I was a little nervous to read something that had, like, 15 asides.

Do you do any stand-up in between?

What I do is I do a PowerPoint presentation with a video and then I read from the book and then I do a Q&A. And then I sign books for people.

I’m not sure how you’d feel about this as a compliment, but it reminded me of when I was in high school reading Dave Barry’s books, and I used to laugh out loud and want to read them to my neighbors and other people, who would then get angry and tell me to quit reading my book to them.

Other than the part where you use my book to annoy people, I really like what you said.

It does seem really quotable.

I did want to write a book where, I mean, it’s almost funny, because I don’t know if I really ever intended for anyone to sit down and read the whole thing. Just like I doubt Mark Twain wanted that. I kind of thought of it as something you could read from the beginning or you could just open it and start reading from the middle, or you’d read little parts of it periodically throughout your life as you needed to laugh and forget about the failure of government.

Is it something you think you’d do again?

I would maybe. I think that as I did it, I learned a lot from doing it. I think that I would ask someone to give me a huge bag full of money first. It should be a box, I guess, but a bag is easier.

But yeah, I think that I would do it. The thing about it is that it took years. It was very rewarding, it was very fun. But also it was this crazy large project.

Are you glad to have it out there in the world, and –

I’m very glad that I did it and I’m very glad that it’s out there. Similarly to making albums and stuff, I like the idea of making things that are out in the world and having these products, these artistic, like, completed creations. And I like that I have things in lots of different mediums. I like doing different sort of things.

I wanted to ask you about the term absurdist –

Did you say “absurdist” or “observant?”

“Absurdist,” which you apply to your own comedy on your album and I’ve heard a lot of people apply to you.

You’ll notice, by the way, that you heard them apply it to me after I put it in the title of an album. Which, as a note to people, is a very convenient way of pigeonholing yourself. So if you ever want to be known as brilliant, your album should just be called “Brilliant.” Because people will be like, “That guy is brilliant.”

“The Brilliant Comedy of…”

Yeah, exactly. “The Brilliant Comedy of Eugene Mirman.” And people will be like, “You’re comedy is brilliant, right?” “Yup, yup. That’s exactly what it is.” I don’t know what gave you the idea, but thank you.

I think I’ll put that in the title of every piece I send in now. “Nick’s Brilliant Piece on Eugene Mirman.”

Yeah. It’ll happen. What was the question about absurd?

You kind of answered it. I was going to ask if it was something you embrace, or is it--- I had actually thought you were poking fun of how people describe you when you named the album.

I think it’s all of it. It’s the same thing as the book. The book is half true, half false. The book is occasionally real advice and occasionally not at all, or fairly dangerous. It makes sense. I think that it’s completely reasonable to say that I’m absurd and my comedy is absurd, and at the same time, probably making fun of it. I sort of like when something is both, when it’s not obviously the thing itself or making fun of it, that it’s sort of this weird combination.

And also the term seems to be thrown around a lot. I notice myself describing things that way, but trying figure out how to get beyond that, to say what in particular. But the nature of absurdist comedy kind of defeats that. You could call Tim and Eric absurdist…

You could do that. You could call us both absurdist and you’d be fairly accurate. But there’s other elements to it. I don’t know that somebody would necessarily know what the comedy was like by hearing that word. You’d need a second word. Or a third.

I also wanted to ask you about the show you’re doing with John Wesley Harding.

He was just at my home and we were working on it.

Are you doing things together, it’s not like a one, two thing where you do what you do then he does what he does?

It is all of it. It is me doing what I do, him doing what he does, us having friends do stuff, and then us doing a few bits together.

How did you come to know him? Is he a New York guy?

Yes. We grew up on the Isle of Wight together. I met him several years ago when him and Scott McCaughey played Tinkle, which was a show a show that David Cross, Todd Barry, and Jon Benjamin used to do together in New York. He lived not far from me, and I think that I would ask him sometimes to do shows of mine, and we would meet up sometimes. And he recently, maybe this fall, he recorded this live CD and had different musicians and things do stuff, and he asked me if I would introduce it and do a little comedy bit. And it was at Union Hall where I do this show every week.

And then after I did it, it was really fun, I said that we should consider doing a tour, a tour of stuff, together. And he put together this variety show in New York that I did something on and Jonathan Ames read, and Rick Moody, and guest musicians. And it was sort of this variety show called the Cabinet of Wonders. He sang some songs and did some songs with some of his guest musicians and then people read, and I did some comedy, there was a ventriloquist. And then out of that, we decided to take that out on the road and have different guests in different cities. ‘

I know I’m probably missing a million things that you’re up to.

That’s okay. Who can keep track?

How do keep track of it yourself? I know you’re doing a guest spot on a live action show on Adult Swim…

I finished shooting Conchords and that and I’m now about to mostly on tour. I recorded a third album, which I have to edit together and figure out what will be included from the recordings. That the next big thing that I have to sit and listen and do. But otherwise I’m mostly touring and doing interviews.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Rogan Filming New Special

Newton native Joe Rogan announced on his site,, that he will be filming a new one-hour comedy special for Spike TV next week at the Southern Theatre in Columbus, Ohio. He'll be filming two shows, at 7PM and 10PM. For those who find themselves in Columbus on the aforementioned date, you can get tickets here.

No word yet on when the special will air. This will be Rogan's second one-hour special, following Joe Rogan Live!, which aired on Showtime in 2007.

BNN Mondays: Woo At War

Robert Woo has been covering the War on Drugs for Boston News Net, and this week moves from actual opiates to the opiate of the masses. After kicking meth, he has found Jesus. This is his report.

See the rest of the Woo At War series here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Random Notes

New England natives Al Ducharme and Bernadette Pauley are back in Boston tonight and tomorrow playing Mottley’s Comedy Club. Bethany Van Delft hosts tonight, Stephen Donovan hosts tomorrow… Interesting pairing tonight and tomorrow at Dick’s Beantown Comedy Escape at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Worcester, with John David and Joe Wong on the bill (with Kris Norton)… Great line-up at the Comedy Studio this weekend. Tonight, Renata Tutko hosts Doug Chagnon, Chris Coxen, Nate Johnson, Erin Judge, Chrissy Kelleher, Shane Mauss, Andrew Mayer, Brian Moote, Chris Pennie, and Ronald Reagan 80s. Saturday, it’s Jessie Baade, Taylor Connelly, Paul Day, Erin Judge, Mehran, Brian Moote, Sean Sullivan, PJ Westin, and Jono ZalayDom Irrera is at the Comedy Connection Wilbur Theatre tonight (take a look at my Q&A with him from earlier in the week), and ex-SNL Weekend Update anchor Norm MacDonald plays tomorrow. They also announced a couple of additions to the schedule this week – Jay Mohr is there May 2 and Demetri Martin, fresh from the success of his new Comedy Central show Important Things with Demetri Martin, comes to the Wilbur April 10… 5 Funny Females is back at Max Stein’s in Lexington tonight with host Susan Alexander, Ellen Moschetto, Erin Livingston, Jess Sutich, and Jessie Baade… If you happen to be down in North Providence, RI tomorrow, you can catch Amy Tee’s Comedy Chaos at the Sunset Bar and Grill, with special guest Dana Goldberg.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Discount Variety Kicks Off Tonight at CinemaSalem Cafe

Tonight is the official kickoff of Presents... Discount Variety. You may have noticed the funny little button at the top right of the screen. That takes you to the Facebook group with links, future guests, and show info. Take a look and join the group for regular updates.

Tonight, the musical guest is Hugh McGowan, a longtime regular on the Boston folk scene and an accomplished songwriter and musician, and Renata Tutko, who will be showing some videos and doing some stand-up. I will be hosting and doing a bit of comedy and music to warm things up. Here's a bit of a preview of McGowan and Tutko.

McGowan plays his song "Venus:"

Tutko in a video short with the sketch group The Untrainables:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dom Irrera Back in Boston

Philly native Dom Irrera has played Boston countless times during his more than thirty years in comedy, most recently and frequently at the Comedy Connection. I’ve spoken with him in the past for the Boston Globe (you can search, or just walking around mingling at Just For Laughs in Montreal, which he plays regularly. Although he does voice-over work for cartoons and has a day gig with DirectTV, you won’t find a better specimen for an American stand-up comedian, constantly touring and writing. He’s at the Comedy Connection Wilbur Theatre Friday. I asked him a few quick questions by e-mail.

Do you still get people asking for the classic bits even after you released the CD?

Every show. Its good because now I get heckled just with my own bits. I rather they be asking for it then booing me if I did it.

Is there a Greatest Hits: Vol. Two on the way?

Yes, I need one more joke.

Are there any tough rooms for you anymore?

C’mon man I’m not stupid. Do you think I go to a room like that at this point?

Do you enjoy the voice-over work (Barnyard, Hey, Arnold, etc)?

Yes, I do. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I used to do a show called Full Frontal Comedy at night and in the day time I was doing Nickelodeon’s Hey Arnold. It was a fun juxtaposition between night time raunch and daytime innocence. The yin and yang my friend…

How many dates a year do you do? Do you ever get tired of the road?

No... it’s hard to tell. When I’m in New York Philly or Boston it doesn’t feel like I’m on the road. Luckily, I have so many friends in Boston that I come in early so I can have dinner with everybody. Go Boston College!

How did you get the gig for The Supreme Court of Comedy?

Jamie Masada, the man he owns the Improv came up with the original concept. I came up with the idea of having more comedians on the show to represent the plaintiff and the defendant. He pitched it to Direct TV and they liked it.

Do you feel compelled to know anything about the actual laws concerning the cases presented to you to judge?

Yes, somewhat. In certain cases I do. Especially cases regarding exhibitionism.

How can people see it if they don’t have DirectTV?

Tell them to fly Jet Blu. Stop eating so much and spring for DirectTV.

How often have you played Boston?

At least one to three times a year for about 20 years.

Do you remember the first time you played here, and what the venue was?

It was Nick’s. I went on after Don Gavin, Steve Sweeney and Kenny Rogerson. Thank god those guys like me because they are extremely strong acts.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in stand-up comedy over the years?

The other comics appear to be getting younger than me. They have such good skin!

What else do you have coming up?

I signed up another year with Barnyard and I’ll be working with the NFL Network in the Fall. We got picked up again by DirecTV and by the way did I mention DirecTV?

Monday, February 16, 2009

BNN Mondays: Valentine's Day with Boston News Net

This week, another bonus helping of Boston News Net videos from their Valentine's Day show. We start with Street Smarz with Kristina Smarz, who went looking for love on the streets of Boston. Bostonians gave lots of advice, but no actual love (unless you count "number eight"). Since she came up empty, Smarz is looking for more advice on how to find love, and will take suggestions through the Boston News Net Web site (check the link below -- but watch the clip first).

Ryan Douglas notes that Boston didn't celebrate the birthday of Egar Allen Poe's brithday this week, even though he was born here, and gives a few suggestions on how to remedy that in the future.

See more Boston News Net videos here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Special Moment with Barry Tattle

Barry Tattle has been boosting romance in Boston, Bermuda-style, for years as part of Chris Coxen's League of Characters. Tonight and tomorrow at Mottley's, he'll be offering a very special date night with Barry Tattle's Valentine's Day Surprise. I thought it was time Boston got to know Mr. Tattle a little better, so I asked him a few questions about the show and his romantic expertise. Scroll down for bonus video (Tattle sings!).

What do you have planned for Mottley’s, without giving away too much of the “Surprise?”

I have tender moments of all varieties that I plan to nurture the audience with. There will also be live music performed by two lady-pleasing musicians from the Grownup Noise (Adam Sankowski and Paul Hansen). On Friday, we'll have guest chuckles from Jon Lincoln, Erin Judge and Dan Boulger. On Saturday, we outsource our ha-has to Robby Roadsteamer, Renata Tutko and Tim McIntire. Also, if the mood is sensual, I will share some dark, delight-filled stories from my Tattle Tales collection.

Why would couples come to see your show?

To reboot their love-drives. Romance goes stale if you don't take it to the shop for tune-up now and again. Modern lovers are easily distracted in a world of email, cell phones and other beeping mechanisms. It's my duty to make sure remind them of their romantic wonders.

Why would single people come?

To learn how not to be single anymore. This is my guarantee with the class I teach - "Love In Today's Unjazzy World". I teach it in the basement of a Unitarian church. It's a Harvard Extension Extension course. I'm not even sure Harvard knows about it.

What are the key elements of romance?

Chardonnay, an oceanside sleepover and precious intentions will get you started in a precious direction.

How long have you been a romance expert?

It would be easier to answer the question, "When did the first breeze ever happen?"

What is the most romantic song ever written?

"I Want To Be Your Man" by Roger. Basically it sounds like a duet between an ebony hero and a fax machine. It's pure beauty.

When did you first fall in love with Bermuda?

When I exited my see, I was born in Bermy.

How do you stay breezy in Boston?

I dream and I speak in hushed tones.

How do you get along in a notoriously sarcastic city?

It's more like: how does a notoriously sarcastic city get along with Barry Tattle? My body has a way of altering any climate, bringing with me Bermuda's soft winds and whispery ways.

What is the rest of the Tattle clan like?

They all have figures that were designed in Paradise, forged in the heavens, and exist in your dreams. The gents all wear a sugar broom (mustache) with honor and the ladies smell better than a vacation resort.

How do you usually spend Valentine’s Day?

With a feminine creature who's beauty is so electric, it could power a city in a very modern world.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mike Dorval's Death By Chocolate

Mike Dorval starts a two-week run with his one-man show, Death By Chocolate, tomorrow at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre. I caught up with Mike to talk a bit about Death By Chocolate at his recent appearance on the Rob Crean Show, interviewing him live on location, just around the corner from O'Brien's Pub in Allston. Scroll down for a sneak peek at the show from Dorval's reading at O'Brien's (for which he followed MC Mr. Napkins, to explain his opening joke).

Mike Dorval Interview:

Death By Chocolate Reading Part I:

Death By Chocolate Reading Part II:

NOTE: If you are interested in seeing more video interviews and local comedy clips like these, drop me a line and let me know. My e-mail is linked in the lefthand sidebar. I am looking into better recording equipment and more access to tape local shows.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Out Today: Eugene Mirman's The Will To Whatevs

Eugene Mirman’s new advice book, The Will To Whatevs: A Guide to Modern Life, is so helpful, he needs two prefaces and three introductions to prepare you for all of the help. And even that won’t fully prepare you, which is why you need to read the rest of it.

Mirman covers everything you might want to do in life. Want to own the night? Find love? Find a rhythm guitarist? Make millions of dollars off of the ideas of foreigners? Or just get through high school without embarrassing yourself? Mirman packs it all into just over two hundred pages.

According to Mirman, Mirman is in a special class of people like coaches, priests, and psychologists that he calls “Mind Thinkers.” That’s what qualifies him to help you Over-Actualize yourself, and make up words like Defendtastic, that don’t actually mean anything, but help enhance the perception of Mirman’s authority. Each chapter covers a different life question, bolstered by timelines and graphs and quotes from Mirman’s other books (“If no one figures out you are pretending to be retarded, your life will be greeted with treasure.” – Eugene Miman, from his book Inspirational Proverbs for No One in Particular.).

It’s easy to hear Mirman’s comic voice while you’re reading Will to Whatevs. His brand of absurdist misdirection works wonderfully with the concept of a fake (?) advice book. His thoughts on making an impression in high school – “Buy the most expensive jeans in a two-hundred mile radius of your town and wear them on your first day. If anyone asks how you could afford them, say that your father is president of Ashton Kutcher.”

Those who are familiar with Mirman as a stand-up could hear him delivering that line onstage. And since his delivery is so important to the joke, give Mirman a tremendous amount of credit for making that translate in print. That transition is not always easy for a comedian, which is why books just based on a comedian’s act are often lacking punch. Whatevs, though, is the type of book you’ll want to look up from and quote to whoever is around you. Try to resist doing that, though, since, if you’re me, it tends to irritate people.

There are a few treats for Mirman’s Boston fanbase. He talks about growing up and going to school here, and in his list of suggested Halloween costumes, number ten is “Rick Jenkins, founder of the Comedy Studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts.” I’m not sure what that will mean to the rest of the country, but it should make Boston comedy fans smile.

A few favorite quotes:

On money:
At any given moment you stand at the threshold of opportunity, just a million dollars and a new idea away from having fifty million dollars and the kind of car a Poison groupie would let you punch her in the face to ride in. I will help you cross over that threshold and punch that groupie.

On Condoleezza Rice’s death from a power overdose:
I know she isn’t dead right now, but I am hoping that this book becomes a classic, and when people read it a hundred years from now, they’ll figure that Condoleezza Rice, whoever she was, died from smoking power.

On protesting:
Nothing tells the government to keep doing what they’re doing like a small number of seemingly confused protesters defeated on a street corner. Do not hold a tiny protest, please. Hold only big ones.

On business models:
Either way, don’t forget to “like wear a rubber in the shower,” if you know what I mean, which you don’t, because it’s too complex. So to really understand this, buy my other book, Eugene’s Confusing Analogies, Explained!

On formerly held jobs:
Both law and investment firms are feudal in nature and seem to lack the instinct to treat all employees like people rather than fourteen-dollar-an-hour hookers with no future or teeth.

Monday, February 9, 2009

BNN Mondays: Love Revere Style

For those who are a tad bitter about Valentine's Day, and, in particular, NECCO candy hearts, Jenny Z. reports from Revere on what lovers really think of NECCO candy.

See more Boston News Net videos here.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Steve Macone Does Kenny Chesney

Steve Macone sent this to me via Facebook, his take on a Kenny Chesney tune, recorded at The Comedy Studio. For your happy Sunday viewing.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Random Notes: Levy, Clarke, Crean, and Costello

Former Boston comic Dan Levy’s Comedy Central Presents premieres tonight at 10PM (see the clip below)… If you have HBO Comedy and you’re an insomniac, check out Rodney Dangerfield’s 1988 stand-up showcase special Nothin’ Goes Right at 1:05AM. The line-up features Cambridge’s own Lenny Clarke, as well as Bill Hicks, Dom Irrera, Robert Schimmel, Carol Leifer, Andrew Dice Clay and Barry Sobel. It repeats 2/18 at 4AM… The Off-Broadway comedy The Queen of Bingo comes to The Company Theatre in Norwell tomorrow (at 4PM and 8PM) and Sunday (3PM)… The line-up for Tuesday’s Rob Crean Show at O’Brien’s includes Anderson Comedy, Ahmed Bharoocha, MC Mr. Napkins, and Andy Ofiesh… Boston native Sue Costello has announced she will bring her one-woman show, Minus 32 Million Words, to Right Turn Live! in Arlington April 10 and 11.

Dan Levy’s Comedy Central Presents…

Lenny Clarke from Nothin’ Goes Right:

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bill Burr On the Verge of A Dilemma

In comedy, no matter how high you climb, there’s almost always another plateau to reach. Take Canton native Bill Burr, who has played to arenas with Opie and Anthony’s Traveling Virus Tour, been a regular on one of TV’s biggest programs in Chappelle’s Show, and headlined some of the bigger clubs in the country.

I spoke with Burr about that in August for the Boston Globe, when his first one-hour special, Why Do I do This?, debuted on Comedy Central. At that point, Burr was looking at trying to produce another new hour of material for another special to be taped sometime this year, and had a pilot for Comedy Central brewing.

Two one-hour specials in a little over two years is a pretty lofty goal for a comic, something Louis C.K. is doing now, and George Carlin used to do regularly, but few others even tried. And while Burr is still on track for that, he takes a bit of a shot at himself for pursuing it.

“I’ve got to admit, I was pretty blown away when I saw how Carlin did a special once every two years for almost 30 years,” he says, speaking by phone from Los Angeles. “I really got inspired by that, yet I also am realizing that he’s him, one of a kind. It’s one of those things like, he did one every two years, I’ve gotta do one every two years, and then I was thinking the other day, why don’t you do one when you’re ready to do one? And not be on one of the all-time geniuses of comedy’s schedule.”

The yet-unnamed pilot is currently under consideration at Comedy Central, and Burr has high hopes for it. “We shot it and they seemed thrilled with it, and now they’re going to show it to a test audience,” says Burr. “And I’m hoping that some guy from Dodge City doesn’t come in there and just go [shouting], ‘I don’t like his shirt.’ And then my dream is over.”

The pilot is a strange mash-up of Burr’s comedy, similar to the regular Monday morning podcasts he posts on his site. There are short videos, set-ups, man-on-the-street interviews, and other elements that Burr has a curious way of describing. “The format’s kind of like the Banana Splits, in a way, you remember that show?” he says. “Remember the whole base of that show was they just went back to a bunch of mascots going down a water slide, and then you watch a cartoon, and you’d come back and they’d be shooting each other with water guns, and then you were on Danger Island. I’m obviously not dressed up like a mascot, but it’s like, there doesn’t have to be this ‘comedian stands in front of crowd…’”

Burr will continue to write stand-up comedy if he gets the pilot, and hopes to have his new hour of material filmed by the end of the year. But he will have far less time to devote to it. It’s a problem a lot of comedians would love to have, but a problem nonetheless, and one Burr is preparing for.

“You can stay real sharp by just continuing to go out, doing guest spots,” he says. “I don’t know, I’ve never had a TV show before, so I don’t know how that works out. But I do know I don’t like bombing, and I don’t like doing old material. I think sometimes when you see that happen to a guy it’s because the person’s not working at it. I don’t plan on doing that.”

Burr says he has seen comedians do embarrassingly old material, and while he works hard to avoid being that guy, he gets a morose kick out of watching it. “It’s funny watching them, especially if they have some topical material, how they get into it,” he says. “They’ll just start off with basically like a lie. It’s like, ‘People are still talking about O.J. Remember O.J.?’ People aren’t still talking about O.J. You just haven’t written a joke. Or they’re like, ‘Aw, my kid’s crazy, he’s listening to this C+C Music Factory.’ How old’s your kid? Thirty?”

If the Comedy Central show makes it to air and blows up, Burr will be thrilled. But if it doesn’t, he’ll still be a top-notch stand-up comedian, and he won’t be starting back from the beginning. “You take a chance and the next thing you know you’re back in the mailroom,” he says. “Me, if this thing flops, I go back to selling out shows in Boston. No big deal. I just keep rolling along and I’ll come back with another wacky scenario to try to plug me into.”

When he comes to the Wilbur tomorrow, he’ll have a couple of old friends opening for him in Larry Myles and Tony Moschetto. Burr singles veteran Moschetto out for praise, calling him “very original,” and hopes to see him break out soon. “That’s one of those guys, he’s got to get some people behind him,” he says. “I hate this business, because I think he’s fucking great.”

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Maz Jobrani is "Brown & Friendly" at the Berklee Performance Center

Maz Jobrani is probably best known from his role as Gourishankar “Gary” Subramaniam on the ABC sitcom Knights of Prosperity and from the Axis of Evil tour with fellow comedians Ahmed Ahmed and Aron Kader. With his “Brown and Friendly Tour,” which comes to the Berklee Performance Center Saturday, he steps out on his own as a stand-up. His social commentary is anchored by his experiences as an Iranian-American, but his passion is more joyful and energetic than resentful or exclusionary.

I caught up with him by e-mail to talk about his various film and television projects, and the photo he sent out to his newsletter singing with a band.

What’s with the pictures of you singing? Are you pursuing music now, as well?

That’s me singing with the band Kiosk. They’re a group of Persians who have a Dire Straights sound to them. They’re more like world music. Really cool – check out Anyway, I’ve always wanted to be a rock star. Every time I see Bono singing to 50,000 fans I think, that looks fun. So the guys in Kiosk let me close out the show singing with them to 1,100 people. It’s not 50,000, but it’s a start.

Will the Axis of Evil Tour return, or has everyone moved on from it now?

I think we’ve all moved on. We had a good run and it helped us become better known around the world. It’s the natural progression for a comedian to start touring solo and to grow the act.

Do you think the tour helped change perceptions of Middle Easterners at all, the way you hoped?

Absolutely. I remember reading a blog after our special aired on Comedy Central and it was on a conservative Web site. The guy actually said to another guy, “I never knew these people laughed.” If you think about it you’d never seen a group of four Middle Easterners on a stage telling jokes in English and laughing. Usually we die in most of the things you see us in on TV or in film.

How did the tour name “Brown & Friendly” come to you?

Well, Iranians are actually white – we come from the Caucuses, so we’re really not “brown.” However, we, Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, and many other groups are seen these days in the West as being part of the same people. The best way to describe these people is “brown.” So I figured I’d accept this categorization of me, but add the word “friendly” at the end to counter the image we have in the media. Bascially saying that we’re not all bad; as a matter of fact, most of us are friendly and good.

You have a certain energy and movement onstage that reminds me a bit of Howie Mandel’s early days – was he an influence on your comedy at all?

It’s funny you should say that because he wasn’t that big an influence. I was a fan of his, but someone like Eddie Murphy was a bigger influence when I was a kid.

Then when I got into stand-up I think I looked at guys like Richard Pryor who were talking about personal experiences and commenting on society. I hadn’t heard the Howie Mandel comparison until after our Axis of Evil special came out. Someone pointed out that my energy and the use of my hands on stage reminded them of Howie Mandel. I watched it again and realized that they were right. Who knows, maybe he influenced me subliminally. I just think it’s me being really excited on stage and trying to channel my energy. If you watch my legs on that special they’re constantly bouncing back and forth like I’m boxing or something. I’ve even had people think I was on drugs during that taping and nothing could be further from the truth. I was just amped to be shooting that special in front of all those people. The stage and crowd get me excited.

Are there any influences fans would be surprised by?

I guess Eddie Murphy somewhat because my stand-up is nothing like his. When I first wanted to do stand-up he was huge and I was in high school. I tried to write some bits and they were all sex related – I’m guessing somewhat because Murphy was dirty and somewhat because I was a horny 17 year old. When it came time to perform those bits I chickened out. Years later when I got serious with stand-up I really didn’t do any dirty bits. I do swear from time to time, but not like Murphy used to.

Have your parents accepted your career yet? I know when last we spoke, you talked of the generation gap in context of show business, and it seemed like there was some interesting friction there.

They started accepting my career one they saw I could make a living doing it. Ultimately, they were just worried for their son. “How is he going to buy food being a clown? He should’ve been a lawyer.” At one point, my mom even suggested I become a mechanic as a back-up – “People need to fix their cars. You’ll be needed.” Now they’re huge fans. My mom comes over from time to time and grabs from my t-shirts I’ve made up with sayings from my show. “I need a small for my neighbor and two mediums for her son.” She’s basically giving away my whole stash.

Have you performed much in Iran? If so, how is it received?

Never performed in Iran. We did Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Cairo, Amman, and Kuwait with the Axis of Evil. That was really cool. It was amazing to do shows in English in the Middle East and see that everyone got everything. With the Internet they know more about America than Americans know about America. I didn’t make it to Iran though. I would love to, but I think under the current regime it wouldn’t work out too well. You might never hear from me again.

Now that you’re doing theaters and bigger rooms, are you able to leave behind some topics you weren’t really happy covering in the clubs and grow a bit?

Well, I’ve always tried to do material that meant something to me. If I can’t connect with it then I can’t do it. There was a time, though, really early when I would do bars. Those were the worst because people weren’t there to hear your jokes on the Iraq War or on the economy or anything that really mattered. They wanted tit jokes. So I was forced to write a few tit jokes. Thank god I don’t have to do those anymore. (By the way, in case you’re wondering what the jokes were, they were more statements that got the crowd to go wild with cheers – things like “Who likes tits!?” Crowd goes wild!).

How does humor fit into Iranian culture outside of the concept of stand-up comedy?

Iranians are big on humor. Every time you go to an Iranian party someone will have the latest jokes out of Iran. Our jokes tend to be provencial and make fun of other provences. It’s the equivalent of Polish jokes in America. Iranians love to laugh.

What became of the pilot we spoke of about an Iranian man living in LA?

I think you might be talking about the film I had written called “Jimmy Vestvood: Amerikan Hero.” Basically an Iranian Pink Panther. We’re trying to raise funds for that. As you know now a lot of people have funds these days so it’s been a bit of a challenge. I did sell a TV show to CBS, though, based on my stand-up last year. I wrote it with Spike Ferensten (Talk Show with Spike Ferensten and writer on Seinfeld) and Chuck Martin (writer on Arrested Development). Anyway, the script was bought, but it didn’t go further than that. I think it’s a tough sell to have a show about an Iranian on TV. The funny thing is that there’s shows about vampires on TV, but not about Middle Easterners. I guess you could conclude that vampires have a bigger demographic than us.

What is your character in Overnight?

Overnight is an independent film I shot last year. It’s about a few stories on an overnight flight from L.A. to New York. I liked it because I got to play a Middle Eastern man from the U.S. who’s on the plane with another Middle Eastern man. People keep looking at us as we walk onto the plane and my character is really bothered by this. My friend, the other Middle Easterner, isn’t as bothered. As the flight goes on some guy confronts me and asks me what I’m up to on the plane. By this point I’ve had it and freak out revealing to him and the other passengers that me and the other guy are actually a gay couple going home after getting married. It was a nice twist and a fun film to work on.

What else do you have coming up?

I’ve got a recurring part on a new ABC show called Better Off Ted. That comes out in mid-March. I continue to tour and will release the DVD from this tour later this year. We also hope to sell the special to Comedy Central or HBO. I continue to pitch TV shows based on my comedy to other networks. Maybe I’ll make it about a Middle Eastern vampire living in L.A. Maybe then, they’ll listen.

Monday, February 2, 2009

BNN Mondays: Top Stories with JR Strauss

We often present Boston New Nets' special guests on BNN Mondays, but today we present host JR Strauss giving the top stories of the week, including departed Speaker Sal DeMasi's job prospects and a break-in at ImprovBoston (curiously unrelated stories).

See more Boston News Net videos here.

My Beijing Brithday:Stand-Up in China

A few months ago, I put together a story for the Boston Globe about local comedian Joe Wong returning to his native China to perform stand-up comedy. I set it up and gave some context, and then Wong told the story of his trip in his own words.

So when I found a link in James Fallows’ blog for The Atlantic about a film called My Beijing Birthday, in which an American goes to China to study stand-up comedy in a class with children, I wondered how the two experiences might compare. The film is playing at the Harvard University Law School tonight and the Hult International Business School on Wednesday (click the Atlantic link for details).

I got in touch Howie Snyder, the writer and director of the documentary, and the American in question, through e-mail, to ask a few questions about the film. The New Yorker went to China in 1996 and studied for about a year and a half in a class with 8-year-olds, then revisited them years later to see what they’d become. The film follows his interaction with the kids, in the initial class and his 2008 return visit.

What made you decide to pursue stand-up comedy in Beijing?

Well, I first went to Beijing as a foreign exchange student in 1981. When I would stop in the street, crowds of Chinese people would surround me just to stare and listen to me speak Chinese. I thought then that it would be easy to sell tickets, and so the seed for being a performer was planted.

What was your previous experience with stand-up?

No other stand-up experience here in America, although I was always a funny guy.

I know there is a tradition of stand-up in China, and it's starting to grow more towards western ideas of it -- from the two-person, straight man/funny man teams to individuals with an individual point of view. What were your expectations of the art form in China, and what did you find that surprised you when you were there?

Well, I am sorry to say that the art form is not really going towards the Western idea, as it is pretty controlled by the government. Making political and sexual jokes are basically not allowed, so the art form has been losing steam over the past few years. Any comedy must poke fun at strange phenomena in society, as so limiting political and sexual jokes really takes away from the art form's true potential.

Please see this link for some of the recent history on stand-up in China.

Did you find their thoughts about wanting to be in show business were different than those same kinds of dreams that kids have in America?

I think that those Chinese kids in 1996 were a lot more innocent and naive than US kids. They just liked the art form. There wasn't a real sense that they wanted to become celebrities and live a Hollywood life like people in the US want to.

What did you expect to find when you went back after twelve years?

I expected that the kids would all be in college or continuing with their studies, and that they would be "good" young adults. By "good" I mean not in to drugs or alcohol like many kids in the US. I expected that one or two of them would still be engaged in some sort of performing arts, but that most of them would have moved on to something else. This is exactly what happened.

Did you stay in China after the film?

I still live in China. I have been working for Coca-Cola on their Olympic sponsorship, and will probably work for them again in the Spring.