Friday, May 29, 2009

Steven Wright in the Boston Globe, bonus interview questions

I am back in the Boston Globe today interviewing Steven Wright about his show tonight at the Wilbur Theatre Comedy Connection, the benefit he's playing June 14 at the Ahavath Torah Congregation, the synagogue of his friend and longtime opening act, Bob Lazarus, who died in January. You can read the interview here.

Here are a few bonus questions, most of which didn't make it into the final Q&A in the Globe.

Can we look forward to I Still Still Have a Pony in 23 years?

Did you put two “stills” in there? That’s good. I wasn’t sure what I would name the next one but now I think you’ve nailed it. Maybe I Had a Pony.

And make people wonder, what happened to the pony?

All these titles about the pony, and then the pony’s never mentioned.

“We don’t like to talk about what happened to the pony?” That’s probably too long for an album title.

That’s funny. “We don’t like talking about what happened to the pony,” that’s the title? That’s good.

Are you thinking of doing another album or special soon?

No, not soon. Just touring, building up material on the road and stuff.

Where do you try out new material these days? Is there anywhere you go to work out?

When I’m the road I can just try it during my show. I went to the Laugh Factory last week, that’s a club in Los Angeles, trying to figure out the Letterman material [his appearance airs June 5]. Sometimes I’ll go into a small club and sometimes I’ll do it during the show.

I know you would sometimes drop by the Comedy Studio or the old Connection here.

Yeah, yeah. I haven’t done that in a while. It’s too bad the Connection moved. That was a good room.

Do you get down to the clubs at all, even just to watch?

Occasionally, I might go to Giggles, because usually some of my friends are playing there. I’ve done some short sets in there, too. I like that place.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

David DiLorenzo on his and tonight's benefit

By his account, David DiLorenzo does one hundred different voice impressions (on the phone with him yesterday, he did an impressive Rodney Dangerfield, nailing some of the deeper rumblings of the beloved comic’s voice). He’s been doing radio for twenty-six years, and before and during that, playing as a comedian around New England. He feels like he’s seen some of the best this scene has to offer, which what led him to create, and to organize tonight’s benefit at the Hanover Theatre in Worcester featuring Ken Rogerson, Paul Nardizzi, Larry Norton, Nick Albanese, and DiLorenzo himself. A portion of the proceeds from the show will go to help the family of Bob Lazarus, a veteran Boston comic (and friend to just about everyone in Boston comedy) who died of leukemia in January.

How’s the response [for the show] been so far?

Oh, it’s been awesome. I know we’ve got about 900 people attending. We’ve sold almost 450 tickets just through the box office. The Pike radio station sold 84 of them on their Web site within three weeks back in March. They went on sale like March 15 and they were gone within three weeks.

How much of the proceeds are going to Bob Lazarus and to what particular fund?

Right, his daughter Carly is thirteen, in fact, she’s having her Bar Mitzvah this weekend, and unfortunately, Kathi, his wife, won’t be able to make the event. We wanted her to try to make it but she can’t. The thing is, it’s going to be a portion of the proceeds, and the reason I say that is because we really don’t know how much money we’re going to have at the end of the day.

I’d like to cut them a nice check for like five thousand dollars, and say, “Hey, here you go, here’s five thousand,” but what we’re doing, the way we’re working it with the Hanover is we’re getting a percentage of the door and so are they. So normally they charge five thousand just to rent the place out or for an event, they’ll say you can pay us five thousand and you get to keep the door. It’s my first time working an event at the Hanover, so I wasn’t sure what kind of turnout we’d end up with. And we kept the tickets really reasonably low at eighteen and fifteen, and then two dollars per ticket has to go toward the renovation, which I didn’t realize until I already set the prices. I would have set them at maybe seventeen and twenty.

Is there a particular percentage above profit or anything that’s going to the fund?

Yeah, we’d like to give them as much as twenty percent, if we can. We would love to do that. If we end up with ten or fifteen or twenty thousand dollars after it’s all said and done, I’d be glad to give them twenty percent of that. That’d be ideal for them. I’m still paying the comics, and I had to pay twenty-five hundred in advertising, so there are some costs involved.

Bob and I go back a long way, over twenty-five years ago. Moving around and traveling like I did for so many years, I just lost touch with Bob. I moved back from Florida maybe eight years ago – I was there about three years – and in that time, I’m trying to get settled in, I got a new apartment, bought a car, had a girlfriend, broke up, had another girlfriend, broke up, you know what I mean? Bob Lazarus, unfortunately, wasn’t on my radar at the time, and then the sad story was, about sometime mid-January, I think it was one of your e-mails, I think it was, you had mentioned Bob being ill and I was taken back by it, and I was like, man after all these I have not been in touch with Bob. I tried to send him off an e-mail, it was either your site or it may have been Barry Crimmins’, because Barry wrote something about it, too.

The sad thing was, there was an e-mail address – e-mail Bob if you want to send your best wishes. It was about three o’clock in the morning, I’d just gotten in from a gig, and I’m trying to write this long, twenty-minute e-mail, and I hit send, and it said, “you have to be a member of this site to send an e-mail.” I’m like, ah, brother. So I flipped back and the letter was completely gone. I was so upset. I said, I’ll write one tomorrow. I’m gonna go to sleep. And sure enough, within two days after that he passed away. So that really got my motor running, I was so upset, I said, I’ve got to talk to Kathy. So I waited about a month or so, it was sometime during February, I think. He died on his birthday of all things, January 4th. I called Kathy and I told her we’re going to do a show in Worcester and we’re going to try to promote it as much as we can, and get some folks in the seats and the comedians are going to help and they’re going to work for a reduced rate, obviously, and that’s where we are today. She was very appreciative.

This isn’t the only one we’re going to do. We’re going to try to do a couple of more in the future, for Karli and for other comedians too. I’ve spoken with guys like Dick Doherty and Don Gavin and Barry Crimmins and Mike McDonald. Kevin Knox has had cancer for a while, we’re going to try to do a fundraiser for him. Nick DiPaolo might be coming in for that. We may actually do that in Worcester again, maybe at the Hanover, maybe in October or so.

With some of the other benefits that are happening in and around Boston, are you looking to spread it out so people don’t get sort of benefit-fatigued?

I understand. If I could know more about some of the future events – I don’t know if Kathi knows about them or yourself, I don’t know if there’s a Bob Lazarus Foundation Web site or information I could get because a lot of these guys want to step up. And again, we could do maybe a smaller one for Bob in a place that holds maybe four or five hundred seats.

When did you start comedy in Boston?

I started in a place called Periwinkles in ’82 in Providence and then I played up in Boston from about ’85 on. I’m still there occasionally, at Dick Doherty’s places. I’ve worked in the Randolph room and I worked at Nick’s, and I used to work at the Connection at the Charles Playhouse. And during different sets, waiting for each time to go up, we used to go upstairs and watch Blue Man Group, back in 1987. Looking at these guys going, “Man, these guys are nuts.” They were great.

What do you think qualifies you to be a Boston comedy legend?

Oh, I’m not one myself.

No, I mean, what qualifies someone to be a Boston comedy legend.

Have you been to the site? I tried to put it in a paragraph or two about how it all started from what I can remember in the late 60s with people like Dick Doherty and in the 70s with Jay Leno and then of course, Steven Wright going on Carson in ’82. These are guys, Denis Leary, Lenny Clarke, these are guys who would put Boston on the map as far as comedy. And then it seems from their generation, it permeated into something else with guys like Tom Cotter and Nick DiPaolo, all the guys that came right before us – I started right around the same time as Cotter and those guys.

And of course, I’m not anywhere near the level some of these guys are. Al Ducharme, and of course Wendy Liebman. I used to book Wendy Liebman back in 1990 when she was just a middler, just feeling her oats. And then you’ve got Bob Marley and Joe Rogan – I used to book Joe in 1989 at bachelor parties in Providence, he and I would do it together. I was there, it seems like I had almost a bird’s eye view of these people coming into the comedy business and becoming legends. Anthony Clark, Kevin Meaney and I used to sit around at the Periwinkles and talk about shows and comedy and favorite comics and legends of the past.

What do you plan to do with the Boston Comedy Legends site?

Well, I want to incorporate guys like Dick Doherty and do a show with Dick Doherty and all of his people and promote the fact that he was one of the first. And then there’s guys like Don Gavin and Steve Sweeney and Kevin Knox of course and that whole Ding Ho crew. If we could just keep the word out that right here in New England, in my opinion, we’ve got some of the greatest comics who ever lived.

Is there a danger, do you think, in tossing the word legend around too casually and possibly using it to describe people who were great Boston comics but not necessarily legends?

I don’t know. Again, on that Web site as I said toward the end, there are people now who we may turn around someday and call them comedy legends. Like Mike Birbiglia or Jon Lincoln or Joey Wong, being on Letterman. He had a great set.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wednesday night shows at Giggles, Sweetwater, Burren

A lot going on tonight for a Wednesday. Tonight at Giggles, Artie Januario presents his once a month show with Kim Egan, Mike O'Neil, Jack Walsh, Julie Kitayama, Victor Ausilio,Dan Gill, Don Zollo, Joe Espi, EJ Murphy, Kris Norton, Dan Sulman, Tony V, and Frank Santorelli. Januario will also host a comedy contest at Giggles on Sunday.

Lamont Price also presents his semi-regular gig at the Sweetwater Cafe near the Theatre District. Doors at 8PM, show at 8:30PM. And Dave Rattigan is doing his free show at the Burren tonight at 10PM.

New video from Robby Roadsteamer

Robby Roadsteamer has not one but two new videos posted on his site -- Episode Four of Quiet Desperation, his YouTube sitcom about the local comedy and music scenes, and a video for his song "Swamps of Sadness."

Here in Episode Four, sessions for the new album are heating up:

And bonus relationship angst in "Swamps of Sadness":

Monday, May 25, 2009

BNN Mondays: Grilling with Ripps

I kept my promise to myself that I would stay out of my office most of the holiday today, so BNN Mondays is coming a bit late. But it's still really helpful --- Ripps McCoxen tells you how to grill like a man and threaten your meat.

For more vidoes, visit the Boston News Net site!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Rob Delaney draws a crowd

When Rob Delaney left Marblehead to go to New York University, he thought he might want to be an actor. But by the time he got out to Los Angeles after graduation, he’d realized, as he told me last year, that he “enjoyed saying things that I thought of myself more than things that came out of a script or somebody else’s brain.” Ever since, he’s been doing stand-up – he’s at the Calderwood Pavilion for two shows tonight – improv, and acting, and even singing the national anthem at the occasional Dodgers or Red Sox game. He also shot a short film with his old NYU buddies, Nate Pommer and Andy Samberg, which you can now see here.

I spoke with him by phone a week ago to see what he’s up to now, and mainly, he’s working on things he can’t talk about, except to say he has taped a pilot for TBS. There are other things he is sworn to secrecy about, but if you ask him all nice like tonight, he may give you a hint.

When you came up here last, in February and July, both shows were sold out or close to it?

Fortunately, yes.

Considering you’re from Boston but didn’t really start comedy here, how did they sell out? Have people seen you online, or do have roots here of a lot of family of friends and comics that knew about you?

Yeah. I was in Boston from age zero to eighteen and then I go back at least a couple of times each year, so I know a lot of people. Certainly, a good percentage of the audience is people I knew personally. And as a comedian who’s not wildly famous, I have to work very, very hard to sell tickets, so I promote myself online and through every available opportunity just to try to drum up interest. There was a healthy ratio of people who I didn’t know personally at the shows, not necessarily because I’m funny, but because I sweat to get butts in seats, as it were.

When you come up those couple of times a year, do you come up and perform usually, do you drop by the Comedy Studio and such, or do you just come up to visit family?

A visit to Boston without a trip to the Comedy Studio is something I try to never do. I love performing there. So every time I’m back for more than five minutes, I do a set. I won’t this time, because I’m literally going to be in Boston for about thirty-two hours. Then I go down to New York to do a bunch of shows.

Are you going to get a chance to come back to Fenway to sing the national anthem this year?

I don’t know yet. It’s not odd that I wouldn’t know by now because the schedules are always shifting and stuff. I also do it for the Dodgers out here, and they change on a dime. They’ll call and be like, can you do it this week?

How are people reacting to the Manny news down there?

It’s funny because it coincided beautifully with a big billboard campaign. There were signs that went up quite literally the day before that covered the sides of huge buildings in LA that said “Mannywood.” Now they have to be amended to say “Manny would… stick a needle in his arm.” Oh, I guess his dick, right, because I think it was a Viagra type thing, like an erection supplement, I believe he’s saying.

Personally, I was just happy that it happened in LA and not in Boston – I like the Dodgers – but because they’re the closest team, they have lots of former Red Sox, they allow me to voice my support for the gentleman that is Joe Torre.

So I have to ask you about one of your credits on IMDB for Wild Girls Gone? It says you play “Whipped Cream Ass Man?”

That’s very funny. That is a film that the original Upright Citizens Brigade members made about five years ago and I played several roles in the film, none of them were main characters though. So when they asked me what I wanted to be called, I just said “Whipped Cream Ass Man” would be fine. Because there is a scene where Amy Poehler squirted whipped cream all over my naked ass. And then a cop ate it off my ass. So that’s what I decided he should be called, “Whipped Cream Ass Man.”

Well, I’m sure anyone reading that description will run right out to the video store and grab that.

Yeah, they’ll wanna own that. My understanding is that’s in DVD purgatory. I only recently got paid for that, so I think that means that they actually are going to release it. And they recently had screenings of it in LA and New York. And that was fun because that film was wholly improvised, 100 percent. So it was pretty fun to do.

What is the general plot of it?

There was a fundamentalist Christian town in Florida that was declaring war on wild spring breakers. It sort of adhered to a sort of Footloose style story template.

Is the Web site the final destination for Nature of the Beast?

I think so, yeah. That had its festival run and won some awards, and now it’s on the Web site. The guy who wrote and directed that, Nate Pommer, is a super-talented guy, so that’ll probably be an extra feature on the DVD of his first feature film, is my guess. He and Andy Samberg and I all went to NYU together.

Do you think you’ll work together again as a trio?

It wasn’t the first time – we’ve all done each others’ shorts and stuff in college. And so, it could happen. We certainly all stay in touch. That day could come again.

Last time we spoke, I think you were working on a movie of your own you were pitching around.

Yeah, might have been – I wonder if it was a TV show. I still actively am trying to sell television shows. I just acted in a pilot for TBS, which we should actually be finding out this week or next if it gets picked up. I did not write that, however.

Any new commercials we should watch out for?

Commercials, let’s see. One thing that was popular out here, and I don’t know if anyone cared about it outside of the world of Hollywood, but you remember when Christian Bale had that big meltdown? I made a video of that, posing as a Warner Brothers PR executive. And it actually got hundreds of thousands of vies on YouTube, and Christian Bale himself saw it and enjoyed it. Vice presidents at Warner Brothers were contacting me about it, telling me that they fantasized about being able to say the things that I said. That was a fun one. It’s funny, because I’m sort of in the stage now where I’m on the cusp of all these things. A snapshot of me right now is doing lots of live dates around the country, because stand-up is – the other stuff is just fun, gravy. Stand-up is what I naturally enjoy. I mean, like the clichéd person who does stand-up and says it’s their favorite thing to do, I’m no different than that.

Did that get you any closer to anyone at Warner Brothers, to maybe grease the wheels next time you have a project you’re pitching there?

It’s funny. My guess is, probably. Because every time I go into ABC or NBC for auditions, people there are like, “Hey, Warner Brothers guy!” Yeah. It’s funny, because the people who wrote me from Warner Brothers are like, “I’m vice president of legal affairs, and I loved it!” I’m glad you loved it, but why don’t you send it to head of casting or show development, you know?

Do you have a group of people from Boston out in Los Angeles? Are those people part of the group of people you hang out with?

Yeah. I hang out with a lot of people from Chicago. The Chicago scene out here is insane. Boston? I’m trying to think. I’m like a workaholic/hermit and I’m married, so I hang out with my wife a lot. I have a garden, and we ran a half-marathon last weekend. I’m kind of one of those people, I don’t go to the clubs to hang out, I go to do a set and leave.

I did a show with Bill Burr recently, and we had fun. He’s a great guy and an amazing comic.

The Walsh Brothers are out there, and Brendan Small.

Yeah, I forget, the brilliant Walsh Brothers. They’re the best ever. They’ve been such a shot in the arm to Los Angeles. If you can somehow say, Rob Delaney loves the Walsh Brothers, that’s the quote for them.

When I did the show with Bill Burr the other night, he went up, and then the mic broke right after him. So I had to go up right after Bill Burr, who crushed, and do a set without a mic. So basically I just strolled around the place and told one joke to each table. So I just kind of was like a wandering joke minstrel asshole.

That’s a nice paradigm you’ve created.

When I do live stuff, I will very frequently leave the stage and go out and be among the people and touch them. I ate some lady’s pizza the other night in a club in Hollywood while I was doing my set. She didn’t like it, but the audience thought it was wonderful.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Christian Finnegan is having the... well, you know.

Acton native Christian Finnegan is best known for four-year stint lampooning pop culture on VH1's Best Week Ever. But his new special, Au Contraire!, shows who he really is as a stand-up comedian, which is to say, on the bubble between personal and observational comedy. He can talk about his father-in-law, in prision for attempted murder, or about his old purple gym shorts, or how awful he thinks Chihuahuas are as dogs, with the same measure of lightness.

Since he's coming to The Gas tonight at Great Scott with Anderson Comedy, Ken Reid, Chris Coxen, James Laurence, and Laura Burns, it was a good time to catch up with Finnegan. We spoke last week by phone.

How has the reaction to the special been?

You know, it’s been great. I don’t know if it wasn’t good if I would know. I haven’t gotten any hate mail yet, which is oddly a tiny bit disappointing. I thought I made a concerted effort to offend at least a few different groups of people. But to date, no one has burned me in effigy.

Who are you most disappointed at not hearing from?

Well, there are a couple of Catholic jokes in there. I was hoping to maybe get that William Donahue jerkwad on my case, that guy from the Catholic League. He is just the worst person in the world. But unfortunately, no attention from them yet. Chihuahua owners might possibly take to the streets. I do talk a lot about my wife’s father who is in jail for attempted murder, so I’m hoping it doesn’t get back to him.

That seemed like a bit of a calculated risk on your part.

Well, I’m lucky in a couple of ways. One, I have a few years before it’s an issue, before he’ll be back. And even then, he’s stuck in Texas, unless he violates the conditions of his parole. Secondly, I don’t address this in the special, but he’s also deaf. He would have to see a transcript.

So not quite as brave as it may seem at first glance.

Well, I don’t really get into the deafness thing because I find it’s too much, too much info. It’s a big enough sort of a conversation stopper, even in terms of a stand-up show, for me to talk about him being in jail for attempted murder. To also bring up that he’s a deaf-mute is just too… much information and it stops being a comedy show, and it starts being more just people asking me questions that I have to answer.

I know people are always curious about this sort of thing, but do you think of any sort of personal fallout you might have, just from the family, for saying things like this onstage, much less saying them on a nationally broadcast special?

I certainly got permission from my wife. And my wife is actually writing a book about her crazy life, she’s writing a book for Random House right now, a memoir, so she certainly is not shy about sharing the intimate details of her life. Neither of us are. I think that’s one of the reasons we get along so well, is we’re not shy about exposing the worms underneath the rock.

But I was sensitive about it at first, with regards to my wife’s mother, but she’s fine with it. She loves it. She’s come see me probably five times and had a great time. I don’t really talk about him personally. I’m not really discussing him as a human being, it’s more that one little personality quirk. [laughs]

It’s a weird fine line I guess, because it’s attempted murder and not…
You’re right. It would be a little stranger if he had succeeded, but at the end of the day, it’s the life I’m leading. And at a certain point, that’s what I want to talk about. I suppose that I could spend the rest of my life saying, “Okay, what’s funny about salt shakers?” and that would be fine. A lot of comedians do that. A lot of my comedy is observational, but not the entirety of it. The stuff that really gets me excited is the stuff that has some sort of personal aspect to it. Some of the best comedy involves someone potentially being offended or hurt in some way.

Are people surprised to find that your comedy isn’t really isn’t what it is on Best Week Ever? It’s safe to say that’s where most people know you from.

It’s certainly informed my comedy, maybe as a juvenile thing, but I kind of refuse to do pop culture material in my set because I don’t want to pigeonhole myself, to use the easy word. I don’t want to get locked into that too firmly. I enjoy that kind of stuff. I really like deconstructing pop culture more than I do, like, doing pop culture zingers. Of course, I learned how to write those doing Best Week Ever over, I think about four years. But it’s not really what fascinates me.

I’m working on a bit now that’s not on the DVD, that really deconstructs how uncool Fonzie really was, when you really watch enough Happy Days, just what a pathetic, sad figure he really is. That’s not the same as going, “Hey, what’s up with Lindsay Lohan’s vagina?” It’s a slightly different take on it.

But I don’t really enjoy doing topical humor onstage. First of all, it requires way too much context. When you see on Best Week Ever, there’s always a voiceover set-up. Here’s what happened, now here’s the joke. And I just find that sort of in-jokey, like, “Oh, we all know about Adam Lambert, don’t we?” Well, no. Not necessarily.

Do you think this special is a way for you to transition away from being known for Best Week Ever? IS that any part of the equation?

That would be great if that were to happen, but make no mistake, you’re lucky to be recognized for anything. There’s a lot of white noise, and if people like what you do – I don’t feel the need to disown myself from Best Week Ever. I actually think a lot of the stuff we did on Best Week Ever was really smart and funny. Even the stuff when we were talking about dumb things, I think they gave us a lot of leeway to make smart jokes about those dumb things.

And I got away with saying things on that show that were much more bizarre and idiosyncratic than I might be able to get away with on a Friday night late show in Dayton. There’s jokes we did on Best Week Ever that are among the just I am most proud of ever having written. They might not all be stand-up jokes, some jokes just don’t work in a stand-up context, in the same way that some jokes that work onstage wouldn’t necessarily work on a clip show.

But I don’t feel the need to bury that part of my quote unquote career, but it’s not necessarily all I want to do, and it’s not really a full representative of who I want to be as a live performer, that’s for sure. And so I do look at the DVD as a way to make people see me more as a live performer who has things to say that are not pop-culture related. That is important to me.

The special is an interesting mix because it’s storytelling, but not necessarily in a straight, narrative sense, and it’s observational material and not necessarily in that sense of, “Hey, isn’t breathing weird?”

Right. That’s kind of what I was alluding to before. I do a lot of observationalist material, but it generally starts from an idea, or it generally starts from an opinion that may or may not be funny on its face, but it doesn’t necessarily start with kind of random, “Hey, here’s a chair, what’s a joke I could say about a chair?” Well that’s not really interesting to me. There’s a line I say at the beginning of the special, where I say, “It’s a night of awkward personal revelations hypocritical assaults on your character,” which really does encompass probably seventy-five percent of the special, and even more so the DVD, which is a third longer.

And a lot of stuff that is on the DVD is definitely that awkward personal revelations stuff. There’s a long segment where I talk about the experience of buying my wife a sex toy. It’s not observational in the strictest sense, but it’s observational in the sense that it is a weird experience, going into a sex shop. I’m sort of rambling slightly. But you’re right, it’s not like, “I could do a joke about anything.” It all kind of comes from me.

A long time ago, I stopped trying to write jokes just to write jokes. What I’m trying to do now is to take things that I actually think and make them funny, as opposed to come up with things that are funny and pretend I really care about them. Which is what I feel like a lot of what I did in the first maybe ten years of doing stand-up, is, I would come up with a joke just kind of in conversation, or, “oh that’s a really funny angle,” and I’ll try to imbue it with a lot of passion that maybe wasn’t real.

Where did that come from? Did you have particular models for your comedy when you first started?

It takes a while to find your voice, as ridiculous a phrase as that is. I think it’s kind of like when you’re a painter – and I realize there’s never been a non-pretentious sentence that started with something like that, there’s no way to not sound like an asshole when you say, “But when you’re a painter” – but you want to become an artist. You want to become a cartoonist. You want to draw for a living. You start by learning how to draw. You draw the bowl of fruit, you draw the nude model, you learn how to represent what’s in your head, or what you’re able to see, and that’s the way it has to start.

Most comedians don’t come out of the womb fully formed with their own angle and their own persona and things like that. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with just being funny for a few years and getting laughs. But then the goal becomes to be funny in your own way. How can I be funny in a way that people will remember me? Because I see a lot of comedians go up, and they’re hilarious, and they kill every night, and people walk our of the theater or the comedy club and they’ll say, “Eh, that was fun. What a fun birthday party for Kim,” and they will never remember who that person was.

It’s tempting to kill all the time. It really is. And I think if you’ve been doing comedy for ten years and you’re headlining clubs, you know what you need to do in order to kill most of the time, barring some sort of drunken incident or something like that. But that’s not the goal, at least not to me. That’s not the end. The end, for me, is to kill in a way that only I could. And that’s not something that happens every night. There are moments where you really feel you tapped into it, these people understand what I’m trying to do, and sure, maybe you’re only really getting half the audience. The other half are enjoying themselves, but they’re just out because it’s Kim’s birthday or whatever. But half the people really get what you’re trying to do, and those are the people who are going to become your fans. Not just come out because they got free tickets.

How close are you to doing what you want to be doing? There’s that tendency, I guess, if you want to grow, that you’re always setting the goalposts back a little bit.

I feel like I’m maybe halfway there. But I’m completely open to the idea that what I want might radically change. Right now, I’m really getting into the idea of doing something more narrative, less observational. Either something narrative in terms of being autobiographical, or narrative in terms of having a thesis and setting out to prove it over an hour. Either going in a John Leguizamo way – although people don’t think of him as a comedian, which is bizarre, because that’s how he became famous, is basically doing one-man, autobiographic stand-up shows. Or going in a Bill Maher way where you really have [things] you want to address. But I like the idea of being more theatrical with what I want to do.

Don White's "MTV Love Song"

My friend Don White has posted a bunch of videos on his YouTube site, -- some great stuff about parenting, the Red Sox, and this, his "MTV Love Song," which has long been my favorite of his songs. White has a way of making family-friendly comedy pointed and personal, avoiding the same old cliches about family strife and put-upon dads to get to something much more satisfying. This song is a good example of that. He could have just written a song about a grumpy old guy watching TV and yelling at kids to get off of his lawn, but he didn't. There's a story here, with depth and subtlety.

And if you like this one, take a look at the others and link and embed freely. I know White is looking to spread these videos around a bit, and this is my effort to help that.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Discount Variety Interviews: The Grownup Noise and Ken Reid

It’s the third Thursday of May, which means Presents… Discount Variety is up at the CinemaSalem Café tonight (start time: 8:30). This month, we have The Grownup Noise, who can fairly be called the house band for Boston comedy for their involvement with the Walsh Brothers and ImprovBoston, and Ken Reid, who has forgotten more about pop culture than the folks at Best Week Ever can hope to know, plus Robby Roadsteamer’s Quiet Desperation videos. Here’s a closer look at this month’s line-up.


BIO: Called a “pop culture maven” by the Boston Globe, Boston native Ken Reid has been performing for over 10 years in various capacities. In 1995 he formed the seminal Boston Punk Rock group “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” at Boston’s infamous “Rat” club. Reid’s unique, and very personal story telling style has gained him a loyal fanbase in the area, and in April 2007 his first one man show “Ken Reid’s Cusack Attack” was a sold out affair at the Boston Center for the Arts. In addition Ken is a founding member of comedy troupe The Untrainables, who have been hosts of the “Great and Secret Comedy Show” at Improv Boston since March of 2007.

How long have you been playing in Boston?

I was in a band when I was in high school and we were active from about 1995 - 1999 in the Boston area. For Comedy I started doing comedy when I moved back to Boston from the UK in late 2003. So about 6 years for comedy.

What are your favorite places to play?

The Comedy Studio is usually the most consistently fun place to play. Some of the shows the Anderson Comedy kids run are fun, doing shows in non traditional venues like Rock Clubs is hit or miss, but when the shows are good, they are great. When I was doing music, i always love playing at the Rat.

Who are your favorite musicians, locally and nationally?

I'm fairly out of touch with what's current in the Boston music scene, I kind of stopped paying attention in the late 90s. But I think Mission of Burma and the Pixies are still playing on occasion aren't they? They are some of my all time favorites. Nationally nothing new ish has really set me on fire. I think the last new band I got into was the National. All time favorites include, Prince, The Sound (easily the most underrated band of the 80s), the Afghan Whigs, and I listen to a lot of soul music.

What is the best music show you've seen?

This is tough, when I was a teenager I was out seeing music shows a minimum of three nights a week and it's all kind of a blur, but some shows that really stand out:
Nick Cave at the Roxy was great.
Mike Watt at Avalon in 95 or so with a huge band that included Dave Grohl, Eddie Veddar, Evan Dando and a bunch more in a mid 90s alt rock supergroup.
Puffy Ami-Yumi at the Paradise put on such an amazing arena level show in a smaller venue, great stuff.
Guitar Wolf and the Cramps at Avalon in 95, amazing.
Lou Barlow and the New Folk Implosion upstairs the Middle East on Halloween 2002.
The Descendents, Bouncing Souls and the Swingin' Utters at the Middle East some time in the mid 90s.
New Order for two shows at Brixton Academy in London in 01.


BIO: Since 2005, The Grownup Noise has been celebrated for its playful and poignant brand of indie-folk. Tasteful use of dynamics, varying instruments; including a lead cellist and unusual covers, are just part of the Grownup Noise's ever-evolving live production. All this under the comfortable blanket of simple, quality songwriting. With a true love for song, The Grownup Noise delivers melody and lyrics while conducting subtle experiments on arrangement. As goes the band's motto, "melody, melody, melody, groove, groove, melody. And maybe try to say something funny". The result: pop music, hold the cheese.

How long have you been playing in Boston?

We've been fledgeling in Boston now for about 4 yrs.

What are your favorite places to play?

The old Paradise Lounge, Lizard Lounge, Johnny D's, Mid-East. Or wherever anyone will have us.

Who are your favorite comedians, locally and nationally?

Locally, The Walsh Bros. and many of the comedians on the old Great and Secret scene. Nationally: Katt Williams, Louis CK, Patton Oswalt.

What is the best comedy show you've seen?

Locally, several amazing and forgotten, drunken shows at the old Improv Boston's "Great and Secret show"

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

You don't mess with the Sean Sullivan

I have seen Sean Sullivan do stand-up and sketch comedy for years. I've always enjoyed what he has to say, and feel he's a funny person onstage and off. But just about every place I've seen him play has been friendly ground. So when he came onstage to host the Doug Stanhope show at the Hard Rock Cafe Friday and the crowd got a bit rowdy, I was pleasantly surprised to find how well he handles that. I learned that the normally congenial Sullivan is not someone you want to mess with from the audience as tore apart two people in the front row who wouldn't shut up once the show started.

Then I remembered someone had told me about this clip of Sullivan at the Sally O'Brien's open mic, in which a heckler kept pushing him while he was working on an audition set. So I thought I'd share it.

Let me praface this by saying hecklers are generally awful and ruin the show -- one guy kept yelling at Stanhope "keep going," breaking his concentration and causing Stanhope to yell back the question, why would you interrupt someone to yell at them to keep going? It disrupted the show, it didn't help the show, and Stanhope was abel to save it because he's quick on his feet. Heckling should not be encouraged at a comedy show any more than it should be encouraged at an art museum or the ballet. If you're considering it, ask yourself if you would scream at "The Scream," and if not, shut up.

But, for those times when it's necessary, some comics can deal with it swiftly, brutally, and without losing their wit. Sullivan is one of those. Enjoy.

Monday, May 18, 2009

BNN Mondays: Joan Stone's Ode to Choice, or Motherhood, or Trees, or Whatever

Since the abortion debate was raging over this past week, and BNN was participating in the Women in Comedy Festival, they chose to close the show this week with special guest singer/songwriter Joan Stone singing "Sycamore Tree," which is an ode. Possibly to several things. If folk fans look closely (or maybe not so closely), they may recognize the face behind Joan Stone.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Doug Stanhope is in it for the stories

If you see Doug Stanhope after his show at the Hard Rock tonight, you may want to go easy on the small talk. The Worcester native is a congenial but curmudgeonly sort, but the things that really interest him are the horror stories, the things you’ve survived and struggled and fought through, or just the dumb stuff you did that you’re amazed you lived through. For Stanhope, what doesn’t kill him makes him stronger onstage.

A case in point, several years ago in Montreal, Stanhope was on the bill for a show called Confessing It! Most of the comics had funny stories to tell, awkward situations, social ineptitude. All of it was relatable and real in some way. But then Stanhope took the stage and told a story about his ex-wife taking an abortion pill, sparing the audience none of the gruesome details. Somehow, he made that concept, which looks horrifying to me know as I type it, funny. And extremely human, extremely flawed. And though I will never find myself on the edges that Stanhope seeks out to dangle from drunkenly laughing, somehow, the story landed.

Stanhope has been through a lot – running for president with the Libertarians last year, getting chewed up and spit out on The Man Show, and countless more personal and disturbing things. And he’ll tell you about all the fresh ones tonight. I spoke with him by phone last week as he was waiting for a plane back to Arizona, where he lives now, from a gig in Seattle. He plays the Hard Rock tonight with Sean Sullivan and Dan Crohn (Crohn also booked the show).

Are you mainly touring these days or are you looking for other things?

There’s always something else in the fire. I’m writing a book but I can’t do that while I’m on the road. I’ll do that over the summer. Stand-up is always the main thing. Everything else is just a fluke, like everything else in my career. Everything that wasn’t stand-up was an accident.

What’s the book about?

Basically it’ll be about my relationship with mother. And the gruesome end.

What made you decide to write that?

Well, my manager pitched it as an idea and some literary types loved it. I don’t think it’s all that interesting.

That’ll make it a little harder for you to write it, won’t it?

Yeah. But I need to challenge myself. I’m way too comfortable right now. And that’s bad for comedy. A good, contented life is the last thing a fucking great comic needs. It destroys business. Nothing will make an economic downturn of your career like comfort. Don’t you hate when you’re on your corporate-sponsored tour of stadiums and they say they’re sending a Town Car but the send a van?

All problems the working man can relate to. The van vs limo quandary.

I find myself forcing myself into uncomfortable situations where I consciously think, well, maybe I can get some material out of it. This is a really stupid idea. I don’t want to be here and I don’t like these people, but I’m not going to get any material watching the fucking DVR marathon of Celebrity Rehab.

What sort of things have you done purely for that reason?

A threesome with Ginger Lynn. I don’t know if you heard about that.

No, I didn’t.

[laughs] Because I was going on Stern the next week and we were doing this porn star poker tournament for charity at a titty bar in Miami and me and her were the hosts. Me and my girlfriend had a threesome with her, we did it strictly for the material. [laughs] We went into the weekend going, we have to come out of this with some story for Stern. Because every time I go on Stern [he says] “What have you been doing?” And I Say, “I’ve been hanging around at home, and I talk to my neighbor who drinks [inaudible] beer and we talk about weed killer and the upcoming football season which is ten months away.

What happened with the Libertarian presidential campaign?

Oh, Bob Barr kind of queered me off the whole fucking idea. I’m still, at heart… It’s very difficult to maintain a passion for the Libertarian party when you know the whole core of it depends on human self-reliance and self-sufficiency, and then you go, well, no, people are way too fucking stupid for that. It requires some hope for humankind and that’s very difficult to have when you’ve actually met humankind. When you fly out and see them in natural habitats and environments. Ideally, I’m still a Libertarian at heart, but I think it would fucking lead to a Mad Max world, which I’m not against.

My problem with Libertarians is usually that you get those first ten planks and you think, okay, those are all good and reasonable ideas and things that, even if I don’t agree with them, ought to be in the argument for the sake of coming to a balanced conclusion. Then you get down to those next few planks, and someone has their own agenda because they’d like to be allowed to fuck bears or something. Well, maybe not that part of it, so much.

Even in the most basic ones you have people that are Libertarian hardcore because they are zealot Christians that don’t want their children exposed to things like evolution in school. Home schooled, and have guns, and have a fucking tank on their property. Big Brother’s listening. And then you have the ones that just want to fucking legalize drugs. Just those two factions – the pro-individual freedom and the pro-get the government out of my life – those two are extreme rivals.

Obama, all this shit over taxes and the economy, none of it bothers me. None of the concerns that I have are even addressed. Overpopulation obviously being one, and I’ve fucking talked about it, and I’ll continue to repackage jokes about it for as long as I’m alive. And drugs. Six hundred thousand non-violent drug offenders in prison is as shameful as slavery. They will look back at this, if there ever is any progress in society as ashamedly as they do slavery now. You’re fucking putting people in prison where rape is so common Jay Leno can make jokes about it on late night TV. He can do rape jokes if it’s prison rape. You’re going to put this guy in jail, you know what’s going to happen to him over there…

I think a lot of people still assume that your political aspirations were a publicity stunt for comedy. And I know you have said in the past that it wasn’t.

Even at my low rung in show business, I’m still more popular than the Libertarian party. So if it was a publicity stunt for anyone it would have been them.

If you hadn’t been put off by it, what do you think you could have accomplished by taking the run right up to the election?

The idea was, my career is basically campaigning for the Libertarian party, with some fucking fist-fuck jokes mixed in. So most of my ideals are Libertarian at heart and that’s what I talk about in my act. It’s not necessarily with the message “vote Libertarian,” but the ideals are the same. I thought it could be fun. I just wasn’t good at it. The bottom line is, if I had to take the fucking stand-up comedy out of it, I’m no orator. I’m a stuttering wreck. That’s why it’s okay for people to laugh at me. If I tried to do the same thing succinctly and on message, I would suck.

Do you regret having done it or do you think it was a good experience?

You learn from every bad experience and I learned that I suck and that I’m very limited in my abilities. I learn that in different ways every day, how much I suck. Just do stand-up, buddy. Don’t try to act. Have a beer, grab a Jaeger bomb, start telling fist-fuck jokes and try to have a point every now and again.

That’ll make great copy for trying to get people out to the show. Dan will be thrilled with that.

I stand behind my stand-up. But everything else, I wouldn’t suggest. If you see me on TV, try to avoid it. It’s going to be bad.

Do you still get people from The Man Show showing up at shows, thinking that’s what they’re going to get?

The Man Show, thank god, was so bad that it was never a draw. No one ever goes, “Hey, I came out because I saw you on The Man Show.” Some people liked me as a stand-up, saw The Man Show, and stopped coming to my stand-up because of that. I’m the only guy who ever got a TV show and became less popular.

When that was canceled, I remember you were t the Comedy Connection that night, and I believe you said something to the effect of, “Great, now I can have my soul back.” Are you actively avoiding television stuff because of that experience?

Not because of that… well, sure, a lot of it is something to do with that experience. We didn’t realize how fucked up television is. You have some cursory knowledge of how little say you have with the finished product, but when you do it, you’re just awestruck at how people that have no creativity just fucking destroy things. IF you have a funny idea and you have to pass it off to the producer and they turn it over to production, and the censors and Comedy Central, and the network would have notes and the lawyers would have notes, and then it comes back and they go, okay, you can do it, but you can’t do this, this, this, this, this, and this, and you go, well, those are all the punchlines. And now it’s two days before you’re filming and you go, I can’t do that. So you have to put some absolute piece of shit second alternative on the fucking air. I’m having a hard time looking at the camera saying this, this is not fucking funny. But you have no choice, it’s not your fucking bag. I’d much rather be a drunk up on a stage in a shitty fucking roadhouse saloon in Schenectady. Because the money doesn’t fucking matter to me. What, cigarette money and booze money. The rest is just fucking numbers. I need to enjoy my day.

Are you still doing shows with the Unbookables?

No, I’m not. It never goes anywhere. They have to be so fucking micromanaged. They’re just inherently a bunch of fuck-ups. And I can’t be of two minds. I can’t produce and road manage and be funny.

I remember seeing you in Montreal at Confessing It!, a lot of people came up and told funny and charmingly embarrassing stories, and you told a story about the abortion pill that seemed to be more to the spirit of actually confessing something than anybody else did. The reaction was some laughs and some people sitting their, mouths agape, horrified. Is that the kind of moment you look for onstage?

Yeah, actually, it is. And it’s something I look for from other comedians. I like to hear shit that you don’t hear about.

What is it that you find funny about those challenging or unpleasant experiences?

That’s the shit that’s most interesting. That’s the stuff where, if someone’s not talking about that, and when they walk away from the table you go, “You know that guy’s story? He was in Vietnam and he evidently killed a bunch of kids and was prosecuted.” Why did I talk to that guy for a fucking hour about football and the weather? Those are the stories you wish people would open up with. People should be talking about their most interesting thing first and then let it boil down to small talk at the end when they’re out of shit. “Where’s my bailout, that’s my question?” That should be the last thing when you have nothing else.

A Few Friday Shows

If you're heading out to see a comedy show tonight, you've got a lot of good options. There's the Doug Stanhope show at the Hard Rock (see above interview), there are several shows connected with the Women In Comedy Festival at ImprovBoston (see the interview below with the schedule). If you're on the north shore, Don Gavin is playing the Kowloon with Larry Lee Lewis featuring. If you're downtown, Juston McKinney was just added to tonight's show at Mottley's Comedy Club with Jon Lincoln and Chris Coxen. And Mike Donovan is at Tommy's Comedy Lounge with Tony Moschetto and Alicia Love.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Maria Ciampa talks the Women in Comedy Festival

Maria Ciampa and Michelle Barbera have met a lot of funny people in their years on the Boston comedy scene. Both have experience in Boston’s improv community, Ciampa as part of the Improv Asylum mainstage cast and Barbera as a producer/player with the Tribe and ImprovBoston. Both now also perform stand-up and make short films.

About a year ago, the pair started thinking about all of the people they knew in the Boston scene – the stand-ups, the sketch players, the filmmakers, storytellers, and writers – and specifically the women who were major contributors to the scene. And that’s when the Women in Comedy Festival, which kicks off tonight at ImprovBoston, was born. This is my conversation with Ciampa about the Festival, including the Funny Guys showcase (it’s a more inclusive women’s festival).

When did you and Michelle get the idea for the Festival?

I would say a little over a year ago. We work together on so many projects – she has her film production company. We’re making a movie and she and her husband put out really great films that have won a bunch of stuff with that 48 Hour. We worked together a lot on that, and we’ve worked together in improv for years, and she was like, we should do a bunch of shows that are produced by or feature women more. And I was like, yeah, yeah, let’s do it. Literally, that’s how it came about.

Has it been in planning for that entire year?

Yeah. For a few months when I was still working full time, there was less being done, but we have used the entire year to plan it, put it together, figure out what shows, what type of talent, how we want to market it, working on the grant – that’s a big piece of it. Michelle’s worked really hard on the Web site. We definitely used all that time.

How did you decide you wanted to approach it? What did you definitely want to have in the Festival?

We wanted it to represent not only the unique voice that women have in comedy, but all the different ways they contribute. So it might not be just stand-up. Like, a lot of people think comedy, they think stand-up. Especially in the comedy community in Boston, and the people I know, they’re involved in so much more than stand-up. There are people doing writing, just doing the writing, for a show like BNN [Boston News Net]. There are people doing video sketch, there are people producing short film, musical comedy, improv, storytelling, There’s so many different ways, we wanted to represent all the different ways we’re expressing ourselves.

How did you go about assembling the talent?

Since this is the first year, it was kind of a, let’s see how this goes. Let’s work with ImprovBoston, who didn’t really have advance notice that this would be in their production schedule. So we kind of had to work around the existing schedule. It was challenging for a festival, but luckily the people at ImprovBoston are easy to work with. So it wasn’t hugely challenging in the end. It became, what types of shows can we have and who fits these shows?

In the beginning I was thinking, okay, the first year, we’re just going to have Boston talent. And then we’ll grow from there. But I started getting all these e-mails. So what I did was to say, okay, I know I want Bethany and Erin to host something because I love what they’re doing with they’re dress-up show. Or I know I want the Steamy Bohemians in there. I know I want Selena [Coppock] in there because we’ve worked together and I know she’s funny and we’ve done festivals together. But then I started getting all these e-mails from women all over the place, like, oh I hear you’re doing a festival and can I get in it. And at first, I said this is the first year and it’s Boston only, but thank you so much and I’ll get in touch with you next year. But then it became, we had a little more freedom, so I was able to invite women from all over. There’s women from New York, there’s women from the Midwest, so it’s pretty cool.

And also a lot of the women who started in Boston are now in New York or Chicago. For example the sketch show, Somebody’s in the Doghouse. Leah’s either now in New York or Chicago and I know Cathleen Carr of Two Girls for Five Bucks, t hey started in Boston, now they’re in New York.

How did you decide to have the Funny Guys show?

Okay, so I’ve always been feminist and I’m comfortable with that, but the last thing I want to do is be is a rude feminist. Because no one likes anybody who’s rude. I think it’s important that we’re inclusive, right? So my first thought was, I don’t want to be non-inclusive. I don’t want to be like, fist in the air like, “We’re better! We’ll show you! We’re gonna fight!” That’s not what I’m all about and that’s not what this festival is about. So we were trying to figure out how we could include guys but still have it be mainly about the voice of women.

So I thought, what happens to me as a woman in comedy a lot of the time when I’m at a club? Even in the festival I did two months ago. You get the intro, “This next person coming to the stage is a woman and she’s gorgeous… and funny!” I know you’re trying to be nice, and that’s great. You are doing your best. But is it not 2009? Aren’t we all just comedians? It always surprises me. So I was like, what if, the same thing I think a lot, what if the tables were turned? What if guys actually had to deal with that? So I was like, “Let’s include the guys, you know? They’re good looking and they have nice hairy chests, bit can they make us laugh?” Or whatever.

So that’s what I want to do, and I was thinking about it. I’m so excited to host this, because I know I’m just going to be ridiculous about it. I’m definitely not going to harass them, but I want to take it to levels of ridiculousness. Pointing out physical things, or comparing their bodies to certain fruits. I don’t know what, but it’s going to be fun for me. But it’s all in good fun. It’s not something where I’m like, “I’m gonna get you back!” But that’s how it came about. It’s my chance to host and bring guys up in a way they might not be used to.

Are you already having to plan for the second year of this?

Yeah. This is my first experience producing a festival, so I didn’t really know what I was in for. And Michelle, my co-producer, she’s been wonderful. She’s worked so much with the Web site and with the line-up and with coordinating with everyone. Over the past two weeks, literally just as the Festival is coming up, she just gave birth. So I’m like, first, next year, don’t have another baby, Michelle, because I need you around. But that’s women. They’ll do that. They’ll go off and give birth.

I’m already planning a lot of good stuff for next year. I want to have even more diversity in the type of shows we have, and I want them to be a little bit clearer. So I want to have one show that’s just all storytelling. I talked to Karen Corday about maybe having a female-themed Mortified. I want to get some authors in and do book readings. I want to have a fully musical comedy show. And also, I plan on expanding it to different venues. And I’ve talked to a few different venues in the area. So while it will stay the Women in Comedy Festival and probably even the ImprovBoston Women in Comedy Festival, we’ll expand it to different venues and be able to get the word out more that way.

Who or what are you most excited about seeing?

That’s so hard. I’m actually really excited about the panel discussions. I mean, I love shows, and I’m always at shows, but we have a panel discussion at 3:45 on Saturday. I guess that’s a testament to what a dork I am. I’m just a comedy nerd. I’m like, “Let’s talk about it!” We’re going to be talking about the business side and the creative side. What’s your process? Taking ideas to sketch form or taking ideas to stand-up form. Working this booker and working this casting agent. Finding your voice. All that good stuff. I do a lot of comedy and I always find that the conversations I love the most are talking about doing comedy.

I’m looking forward to that. I’m really excited about the 8PM on Saturday, because we have our headliner, Kelly MacFarland, and I think she’s hilarious. I’m so happy that we got her to headline the Festival. But all of them. Even the funny films. On Thursday, the 10PM, there’s the funny films show.

What I’m really excited about this Festival is, it has a community outreach portion to it. We got a grant from the Cambridge Arts Council, and I know it’s not very exciting for people to read about, but this is something I’m proud of. Because not only is it, I love comedy and I love helping women’s voices get out there, but we’re also doing a free workshop with Cambridge high school girls, and a free workshop with the Women’s Center of Cambridge, and that’s going to be taught be ImprovBoston staff. And it’s great, because comedy is a way to communicate, it’s a way to just feel better, boost your self-esteem, all that, blah blah – but it’s true. And I’m glad we can use this vehicle of the Festival to bring that to young women at the Cambridge Women’s Center. Maybe it will make them happier for an hour.

Women In Comedy Schedule

8PM Comedy Kick Off
Stand up comedy with Bari Olevsky, IB sketch group "User Friendly", and storytelling with Jess Sutich (A Night of Oral Tradition)

10PM Funny Guys Stand Up Showcase
Hosted by Maria Ciampa, with Micah Sherman, MC Mr. Napkins, Shane Mauss (Late Night with Conan), Dana Jay Bein, Robby Roadsteamer, and Ken Reid.

6PM Fabulous Females Cocktail Party
At ImprovBoston Lobby. Join us for a festive fundraiser to benefit women in comedy.

8PM Bastards, Inc.
Featuring stand up comedy with Jess Sutich (A Night of Oral Tradition), Lindsay Gonzalez, Michelle Barbera (We're Making a Movie), and improv by Three Hole Punch and Bastards, Inc.
$10/$7 students and seniors

10PM Funny Films
Featuring a night of short films and video sketch written, produced and created by women. Hosted by Rheri and Jim Kenney.
$10/$7 students and seniors

8PM, Main Theater: Atreus
Aeschylus meets Dallas. The world's first soap opera is reimagined in the modern-day, high-stakes business world.
$16/$12 (students and seniors)

10PM, “Friday Night Variety Show" Hosted by: The Steamy Bohemians. Featuring: Carolyn Castiglia, Daniella Capolino, M. Dickson, Shereen Kassam, Jennifer Myszkowski, Sharon Spell, Carolyn Plummer
$20/$16 (students and seniors)

10 - 12:30 Writing Workshop for the Ladies with Marty Johnson
Show up and mention "Facebook" and get $15 off if there is still space!

1pm - 3:30 pm You've Got a Great Show Idea, Now What? with Two Girls For Five Bucks
Show up and mention "Facebook" and get $15 off if there is still space!

3:45 FREE Panel Discussion on the business and creative side of comedy. Catered by City Girl Cafe in Inman Square

6PM, Main Theater: Women of Family Show
An improvised comedy show for the whole family. Come see singing dancing and comedy all off the top of our improviser's heads.
$12/$10 (seniors)/ $7 (students and children)

8PM, Main Theater: The Women in Comedy Stand up Showcase
Featuring Headliner Kelly MacFarland (Comedy Central), hosted by Erin Judge (Comedy Central's Live at Gotham) and Bethany Van Delft (Boston Comedy Festival) with Maria Ciampa (North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival), Selena Coppock (North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival), Desiree Burch (Hysterical Festival), Robin Gelfenbien (Hysterical Festival)
$25/$20 (students and seniors)

9:30PM - “Boston News Network”, Boston’s premier weekly fake news show features the funniest women in Boston: Kristina Smarz, Megan Golterman, and more.
$10/$7 (students and seniors)

10PM - “Improv and Sketch Showcase”, featuring ImprovBoston Mainstage, Two Girls For Five Bucks, sketch comedy featuring Cathleen Carr and Daiva Dupree (Ars Nova), Somebody’s In The Doghouse, sketch comedy featuring Marty Johnson and Leah Gotsik (The Second City at Sea)
$25/$20 (students and seniors)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Robby Roadsteamer creates a comedy monster

Robby Roadsteamer has created a franchise in Boston with his Greater Boston Alternative Comedy shows, gathering his favorite comedians and a band or two and putting on shows at venues like the Paradise and the Middle East (see my interview with Roadsteamer from the first show in December). Tonight, he brings the Greater Boston Alternative Mayday! Mayday! Comedy Show to the Middle East Upstairs with Joe Wong, Mehran, Erin Judge, Ken Reid, Chris Coxen, Anderson Comedy, and Sean Sullivan.

The shows have fostered a sense of community, which Roadsteamer immediately looked to showcase in a new YouTube-based sitcom called Quiet Desperation (see the first three episodes below). I caught up with Roadsteamer last week to talk about the shows and the Boston comedy monster he’s creating.

How have the Greater Boston Alternative shows been going?

Personally, for me, they’ve been a blast, just because it’s definitely an audience that doesn’t normally go to a comedy club. I, with the exception of shows at the Comedy Studio, have been burned out by conventional comedy shows. It’s nice to have a crowd that’s just open to anything. A lot of times, crowds at comedy clubs are, “make me laugh,” there has to be much more give onstage to win them over before you can actually enjoy doing your set.

These last couple of shows have been people who don’t normally go to comedy shows. A lot of them usually go to music shows and like that. There’s a much looser [feel to] the audience. You can tell it’s going to be a good show. And the comedians, I’ve seen some unique performances at these things, because they just open up a little bit. They don’t have to be delivering every ten to twenty seconds. They can take their time telling stories and developing other things onstage.

How are you pulling those audiences into the shows?

I’m pullign them a lot from basically the music side of the tracks. At WBCN, I built up a fanbase of people from all walks of my creative life. I usually do a lot Facebook blasts and things like that. But I know these people are all… it’s very hard to get people to shows these days. Everybody always flyers and stuff, but really, even shows I’ve seen a lot of flyers for, I can still name everybody in the audience at a lot of these shows.

People’s time is very valuable apparently now these days. You’ve got to fight for them to not go home and update their status and all that. The only way to get to those people is to go on their little thing and be like, “Hey, I know you’re on Facebook right now, why don’t you go out to a show? I know that comedy shows sometimes suck, I know sometimes you have to be quiet for two hours, but there’s a bar right in the room and everybody’s going to have fun and it’s all a bunch of people that you know.” It’s turned into a thing where, yeah, people see great comedians, but it’s also a social group, too. It’s people who normally are awkward, people who are kind of withdrawn, I mean, myself indictable.

I’m having a lot of fun with these shows, and I know these shows are gaining a lot of momentum. We’re, after this, doing a three-night stand in Provincetown this summer at the Arthouse Theatre. They’re bringing the whole show down there. And I actually just opened for Jon Lejoie last week at the Wilbur Theatre –

How was that?

Oh, I absolutely crushed. I was not nervous and I realized I feed better off of, when I know there’s a lot of people in the room. It made me step it up. Bill, the owner of the Connection came up afterwards, he wanted me to bring the Greater Boston Alternative Show there for September. So we’re negotiating that now.

I’m really starting to enjoy the vibe, because the first time I did it at the Paradise, I don’t know, I think a lot of people were wondering what it was all about. I think comedians are starting to realize that, yeah, it’s not about the term “alternative comedy,” it’s just about the idea that there can be a different sort of platform for people to go to a show and not expect a typical comedy show.

Do you have an overall plan of what you’d like to see happening as you do more and more of these shows?

There’s already some comedians from this sort of vein starting to get breaks here and there. Maz Jobrani for Mehran, had him open up at the Berklee Performance Center. And that’s because one of the talent scouts came to the Paradise show. And in return for that, Mehran opened up for him in Washington D.C. and crushed in front of 1600 people, and they want to bring him on tour. And it’s like, what I’d like to see is comedians I’ve seen rough it out in the trenches of the Emerald Isle and all these crappy open mic nights have their chance to shine and have their breaks, because I feel they’ve got so much to offer, but they need the right opportunities.

This goes beyond just doing the comedy shows for me. It’s like that show I sent you this morning, Quiet Desperation. I’m using the same pocket of comedians to show how they would be in an outside of the box TV show that pretty much lampoons the whole Spinal Tap meets the D.I.Y. scene and stuff like that. I want it to be across the board, because these people, I don’t just talk about comedy with. We’re all sort of intertwined with other things, too. It could be philosophies, the way we enjoy life. It’s so weird how, accidentally, all these comedians turned out to be really close friends. I could tell you stories on everybody who does these shows. Like, how I met them and what I’ve shared with them. And it’s weird that I also happen to find them amazingly brilliant onstage.

I just actually last week closed the deal, I guess MTV’s putting together another Beavis and Butthead type of show, and it’s going to be based on YouTube videos and stuff like that, and one of their people approached my publishing company and they’re paying us a thousand dollars per episode, I mean, it’s one right now, but if people like the videos, they’ll purchase for other episodes for permission to use all the YouTube videos on each episodes.

Going back to Quiet Desperation, is that just made for friends and people in the scene? It seems like a lot of stuff would fly over people’s heads if they’re not into the local comedy or music scenes.

My opinion is this, I think you show it to anybody in terms of the type of character Tom Dustin is, the type of character Mehran [is]. Yeah, we’re using local locations and stuff, but I don’t expect somebody to gut laugh when they hear somebody performing at Great Scott. And I don’t expect people to gut laugh when they see Erin Judge is reporting for the Boston Globe, but somebody performing at a sports bar in front of five people after I’ve just explained how much that sucks? There’s not, I fell, a lot of inside.

It’s the type of show, it’s like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Arrested Development. I think on its own as a YouTube video, I don’t think it holds its own, because those types of shows, you need to watch them. That’s going to be our only handicap. I mean, I know it’s not going to be a five to eight million hit video because people just want stuff on YouTube to make fun of, the retarded kid who can’t sing Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” the right way.

With a video like this, I feel like if it were budgeted it would be perfect for something like MTV. You’re looking at ten to twenty fake bands of all different genres doing really close to the bone reality comedy songs in each of those genres in that Spinal Tap meets D.I.Y. mode. How many people are struggling musicians trying to pretend they’re bigger than they are in this country? How many people eon the comedy side really have these dreams and visions, too? It’s a lampooning of how a lot of us are living this life of, “Oh god, I really don’t care about the break, but I need it!”

I feel the jokes and the humor, if you give it a real, unbiased watching, I feel the talent is top of the line, the delivery’s top of the line, you don’t feel stupid for watching it. I think the acting is very convincing. And I think more and more, now that we’re getting episodes out and telling the story a little bit more fluidly, there have been a few bites and breaks. The Phoenix is going to host all the newer episodes, including the ones we’ve already got printed up.

Quiet Desperation Episode one

Quiet Desperation Episode Two

Quiet Desperation Episode Three

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Bostonist at AltCom: videos and reviews

This past weekend's AltCom seemed to me a great success. I attended almost every show, and there were a couple of packed houses, most notably for the Steamy Bohemians and Jerkus Circus at the Burren and at the Somerville Theatre for the early show headlined by Janeane Garofalo.

The Bostonist was there, too, and got some video of the performances. If you didn't go, here's a bit of what you missed:

Jamie Kilstein at the Somerville Theatre.

Leo Allen at the Somerville Theatre.

Rob Riggle at the Somerville Theatre, plus interview.

Eugene Mirman defines alternative comedy, plus interview.

And here's the Bostonist's review of Garofalo show.

On WMFO 91.5: Joe Wong and Janeane Garofalo

Last month, Joe Wong made his television debut on the Late Show with David Letterman. A lot has happened for Wong since then. He's working on management and new opportunities, and he's been praised by Louis C.K. Friday, he'll be at the Comedy Studio for a special free early show at 6 p.m. to tape a full set.

Tonight, he'll be on Daniella Capolino's show on FM talking about his recent run. The show starts at 5PM, and you can listen on the radio at 91.5 or online at

In case you missed it, here's the Letterman set:

Also, last week, Derek Gerry and Brian Joyce interviewed Janeane Garofalo on Hear It Wow, which broadcasts every Wednesday from 7PM to 9PM. Garofalo played to a full venue Friday, and gave the most energetic performance I have seen from her. She covered everything from politics to pills to her dogs, ending with a great love story about winter flu (it would be tough to communicate how charming the story was, despite the inherent grossness of the effects of winter flu).

Gerry has posted the interview in pieces on the Hear It Wow blog, here. It's as thorough an interview with her as you will hear or read anywhere. Garofalo was enjoying herself, and stretched a bit over an hour before having to leave to catch a comedy show.

I call in to Gerry's show every Wednesday, as well, to talk about what's happening in the local comedy scene. So if you haven't tuned in yet, and you like the Garofalo interview, let that be your introduction. WMFO is very Boston comedy friendly (Billy Bob Neck also hosts a show Monday mornings there from 10-noon), Billy Bob Neck's Hour of Bein' Good, which I realize is actually two hours, but I digress).

BNN Mondays: Manny is innocent!

Many in Boston were no doubt upset to hear of Manny Ramirez's positive drug test last week, and the possible implication that he may have been using illegal substances while he was with the Red Sox. Well, those fans can rest easy now, because Boston News Net's Sporticus has the most inside of inside information clearing Manny. Sporticus reports this week from inside Manny's bloodstream. And while he did find a lot of unusual stuff, he didn't find any human chorionic gonadotropin. I'd explain what that is, but there's no time.

See more clips at

Friday, May 8, 2009

Jimmy Tingle on public transportation, literally

In this video, Jimmy Tingle takes one of the bits from his new CD, Humor for Humanity: Jimmy Tingle for President-The Funniest Campaign in History, on the road. And on the T. And all over the place.

Also, Tingle's run at the Regent Theatre continues tomorrow, part of his "Laughter Stimulus Plan." And since it's Mother's Day weekend, he's offering a free tickets for mothers if you call 781-646-4849 or buy them in person at the box office, if you mention the Tingle e-mail list (you can sign up for that on his site). Show starts at 8PM Saturday.

Rob Riggle on comedy, the Marines, and AltCom

It’s a unique resume – Rob Riggle: comedian, actor, Marine. But somehow, Riggle manages to juggle all three, with a family to boot. Riggle left The Daily Show in December, and he’s still busy booking film work and touring as a stand-up comedian. That’s in addition to the announcement that he will soon earn the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Marine Reserves.

I spoke with Riggle by phone last week as he was arriving in Atlanta for a film shoot, for a piece that appeared in the Sunday Boston Globe. But I wound up with a lot of interesting interview material that didn’t fit, so I give it to you here. Riggle is on tonight’s 10PN show at the Somerville Theatre with the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, Ian Moore, and Eugene Mirman.

Are you fairly busy with film work now that you’ve left The Daily Show?

I’m kind of doing a lot of things, actually. I’m doing some film work, which I’m very happy to get. I’ve been out doing stand-up around the country a lot. Still do improv, whenever I get a chance. At the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles or New York, I always pop in and go back to my roots and do improv. It always feels good to do that. I shot a couple of episodes of Gary Unmarried for CBS which will be airing in May, May 6th and the 13th.

Is that character Mitch going to be recurring?

Possibly. Yeah, possibly. I think there’s a strong possibility. We’re trying to figure that out, as well, because I also have a development deal with CBS and we’re in the process of developing a show for myself. So we’ll see what happens there.

Is that why you left The Daily Show?

Honestly, I could have stayed on The Daily Show for a long, long time. I could have stayed on there many more years. I loved it there. I love John Oliver, I love Jon Stewart, and all the correspondents and the writers. It was a really, really good place, and I still have a really wonderful relationship with everybody there. It’s just that I was living apart from my family for the two and a half years that I was on the show. I was commuting. And it just was too much. I needed to be home with my family.

You were balancing that and balancing a career in the Marine Corps Reserve. How does that fit into everything?

Well, that is a good question. It’s exhausting. I have to get in a certain amount of days every year for the Reserves every year. So I spend a lot of vacation doing Marine Corps drill.

What does that entail for you at this point?

It can be anything. It could be me going to train other Marines or I could, myself, go to training. I spent a year going to Command and Staff College, which most officers, you have to go to. It’s a requisite school. Or I could go work at a public affairs office in New York or in Los Angeles.

How much time is that?

I think it comes down to 38 days, I owe them.

Thirty-eight days each year?

Yeah. Thirty-eight days a year, minimum. I can give them more. I usually come in anywhere between 38 and 45 days.

Where did comedy come in – before or after the Marine Corps?

I was a theater and film major at the University of Kansas. And I was voted most humorous in my senior class in high school. I’ve always had a passion for comedy. I’ve always been a student of it. I love it. It’s always been there. But when you graduate as a theater and film major, you’re pretty much consigning yourself to being a waiter for ten years out of college. I also flew planes when I was an undergrad. I had my pilot’s license when I was at KU. So I got a guaranteed aviation contract with the Marine Corps. So I thought being Top Gun might be a little better than being a waiter. That’s how I ended up going down the Marines path.

What year was that?

That would have been ’92, when I graduated. I got down that road, and then I realized, if I didn’t try comedy, I would regret it the rest of my life. And I couldn’t live with that. So I just gave up flying for the Marines and asked to be reassigned to fill my ground contract instead of my aviation contract, and once that duty was up, I was going to go to Chicago and study at Second City. I was going to try comedy, come heck or highwater, whether I failed or succeeded. At least I’d know, you know.

Who did you have to tell in the Marines to day, I want to leave the Marines and try comedy? And what was that conversation like?

Well, I didn’t quite put it like that. I don’t think that would have been well received. I was a couple of months away from getting my wings and I realized had I gotten my wings, I would have been committed to a life of aviation, probably. And I couldn’t do it. So I requested to leave flight school and be reassigned on the ground side, and they did. Which, it shortened my commitment. I still had to do three more years, and I did. And while I did those three years, I went to night school and I got a graduate degree in public administration.

Where did you go for that?

Westchester University. Tried to make good use of my time, anyway. And then, that’s where I got interested in politics and city government and municipalities. But that’s a whole other story. Anyway. But then when I was getting out, after I’d done my ground tour, they said, what would it take for you to stay in? And I said, not much, because I’m going to go do comedy. Which they… couldn’t believe. I said, look, if you sent me to New York City or Los Angeles, I would extend on active duty. And the next morning, I had orders for New York City.

So I extended on active duty for another three years and I went to Manhattan, and I worked in an office in Manhattan, the Marine Corps Public Affairs Office, right there in Manhattan. It was basically an eight to five job, like everybody else. And then at night I would leave from the office and go straight down to do comedy anywhere in New York City that would let me. I found a home in the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. I learned improv and studied and watched them. I just loved what they were doing, and I spent the next seven years studying there before I caught the breaks.

So it was ’92 when you first left the Marines for the Reserves?

No, that’s when I took my commission, was ’92. I left flight school in ’95. then I did six more years, active duty, and left active duty in 2000. I went in the reserves in 2000, but then I was called back in 2001 and 2002 in Afghanistan. I was reactivated there. And then when I for back from there in 2002, in the fall of 2002, I picked up my comedy career and carried on.

When was it that you landed The Daily Show?

Well, I got Saturday Night Live first. I got that in 2004. After Saturday Night Live I went out to California because I had a deal with NBC, a development and holding deal. And then the year after that, in 2006, I got The Daily Show.

When were you in Liberia and Kosovo?

I was in Liberia in 1996. During the Atlanta Olympics, basically. I remember watching some of the Olympics from the embassy weight room there in Liberia. Then I was in Kosovo in 1999. I was pulled from my New York duties and sent over there.

Where was it you got the Combat Action Ribbon?

That would have been in Kosovo.

Was there a specific action that that was for?

There were a couple actually. A lot of people on the MEU, that Marine Expeditionary Unit, there were many different days when we were engaged, shot at. There were many different times. I don’t know if it was one specific or whatever, I just know that it was a couple different incidents.

Once you got back into the world of comedy where people are making fun of foreign policy decisions and talking about this sort of thing from a fairly removed point of view, how did you move in that world? What were your thoughts?

You know, it’s tricky. It was a little bit of push and pull. I thought I had a pretty good perspective on it, as far as understanding both sides. I could understand arguments made for both cases. I think that’s why it’s such a difficult issue for the country, because a reasonable person, I think, can see what happened, what led us to where we were, and why things we did were right or wrong. There’s arguments to be made on both sides.

Did you feel trapped in the middle? The assumption is that The Daily Show is a very liberal place, I don’t know if you would agree with that to begin with. And the assumption is that the Marines, everyone is very conservative. Neither of those assumptions might be correct.

I think what you just said is very accurate. I think neither one of those assumptions would be one hundred percent correct. I think that’s probably a fair assumption. I think anyone who thinks the Marines are hardcore conservative, I think that would be inaccurate. And I think anyone who thinks The Daily Show is hardcore leftwing or something, I think that would be inaccurate as well.

Did one side ask about the other? Did you get a lot of curiosity from The Daily Show folks about the Marines and from friends in the Marines about The Daily Show?

Yeah, there’s always a healthy curiosity, but there was never any challenge, I never felt like anybody was angry. I never felt like I was under threat or anything like that.

That’s not necessarily what I was asking. I was just wondering if there was a level of curiosity on both sides.

Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Definitely. And it led to a lot of very interesting conversations.

I think you could see that in – well, saying “your character” on The Daily Show, I’m not sure if that would be a characterization…

Yeah. It would be. [laughs] I don’t’ go steamrolling through life like I did on The Daily Show.

In comedy, it’s so tough to make assumptions, because some people’s character, every once in a while I’ll ask somebody about a stand-up routine and say, what was the real story there, and they’ll say, what do you mean? I told the story, that was the story.

I think it’s different, too, because when I do my stand-up, my stories are, I’d say, 95 percent true. I may embellish a little for comedic purposes, but the stories themselves actually happened. But when I’m doing a character and I’m on the Daily Show and I’m being bombastic or whatever, that’s not generally how Rob Riggle would go through life or how he would talk to somebody.

Do you feel that carries a bit more weight, because you’ve actually been to these places and had a bit more intimate an experience?

Perhaps. I couldn’t say, because I’d have to leave that to other people’s interpretation of them. But perhaps. I know when I went over to Iraq for The Daily Show, it definitely helped me having served overseas. It really helped me understand what was going on better. I just had the feeling, I felt like I had my finger on the pulse maybe a little bit better than some other folks that might have gone over there, they might have just let things blow by.

Did you get that assignment because of that previous experience?

I got the assignment because I requested it. I asked for it. I went in, sat down, and talked to Jon and said I want to do this, and Jon said, absolutely. And I said okay. That was it.

Did it exist before, or did you say, I want to go to Iraq?

That’s how it started. I found a field producer who was willing to go, and I pitched it to him and he said yes, and we both went in and sat down with Jon and said this is what we want to do. And he said, are you really, really sure? We said yeah, and he said all right.

By the way, congratulations on the promotion. I saw that at the end of The Daily Show.

That was very nice of them. I had no idea that they were going to do that. It was very unexpected and very nice.

When did that actually happen?

I was selected for promotion. I am a Lieutenant Colonel selectee, which means they come out with the list of everybody who’s going to be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in the Reserves. And now, they go by number, your ranking, whatever your number is, and you get promoted, each month, they promote x amount of people, throughout the year. I have a very low number, which means I probably should be promoted in either May or June.

I’ll try to find a way to say that in ten words or less when I write this up.

He’s a Lieutenant Colonel Select who will probably pin on the rank in May or June.

Okay. That’s much more concise than the words that were flowing through my head to try to describe it. SO when you come to Boston, are you going to be doing mostly sketch or stand-up?

I’m under the impression that I will be coming there to do stand-up. That’s what I’ll be there to do. However, the Upright Citizens Brigade will be there, and I’m really good friends with all those guys. I’ve spent the last ten years playing with those guys and hanging out with them, so if I get the chance, I would love to do improv with them. We’ll see what they’re doing.

Yes, it’s actually the same show that you’re on at the Somerville Theatre with Eugene Mirman and Ian Moore.

Eugene is so funny. I’m looking forward to just watching his show.

He had a show come through here, Wes and Eugene’s Cabinet of Wonders with John Wesley Harding a little while ago which was a pretty fantastic show.

I could imagine. I could imagine. Eugene is just uber-talented.

The thing people don’t see of him, he used to work with Tony V all the time up here, and it was off the cuff all the time, and I don’t think fans are used to seeing him just going up onstage with absolutely nothing and just seeing what comes out of his head. It’s a pretty special moment.

That’s an awesome skill to have.

I wonder if there are skills you could apply to both the Marines and improv, or if that’s stretching thing.

I don’t know. The ability to think on your feet may be the only crossover. Other than that, they might be pretty much mutually exclusively.

The situations in which you would have to think on your feet, probably much different.

Yes, absolutely.

Remembering where somebody has designated a table, versus what to do if a grenade rolls anywhere near you. Different skills.

A little bit higher stakes, maybe.

Depending on your fear of public humiliation.