Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Boston Comedy Interview: Jimmy Tingle on the top news stories of 2010

Jimmy Tingle at the Regent Theatre
If you want to catch up on the news stories of 2010, you could do worse than going to see Jimmy Tingle’s shows this week and next week at the Regent Theatre in Arlington. Tingle has been delivering his social and political commentary around Boston since the days of the Ding Ho in the 80s, when he transformed himself from a bartender and street performer into a satirist.

We have covered his activities over the summer, graduating with a masters in public administration from the Kennedy School at Harvard. But Tingle is back to performing and stand-up comedy, and will soon be promoting his new documentary, Jimmy Tingle’s American Dream, for which he interviewed, among others, Howard Zinn, Robert Altman, Barry Crimmins, and Sean Hannity.

Tingle is at the Regent tonight, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and January 2. You can also donate part of your ticket price to charity by tacking on an extra five bucks, which Tingle will match and donate to any one of a list of charities you can find on his site here.

I had a lengthy conversation with Tingle earlier this week on some of the bigger news stories, and his own plans for the coming new year.

How are the shows going at the Regent so far?

Good. I just did one last night. They’re going well. It’s good to be back there. The audiences are great. It’s a lot of fun. We had a lot of fun last night. I’m looking forward to tonight and the rest of this week and then New Year’s Eve. It’s good to just be performing again.

How long had it been? I know you’ve done some stuff over the summer.

Yeah. I did some stuff in Wellfleet over the summer. I’ve been out there. But when I spent the year at school I really didn’t do any public gigs for a year or ten months. A certain thing here and there, a private gig.

Do you feel like there’s been any rust?

No. I wouldn’t say so. I’ve been going to the Hong Kong [The Comedy Studio] a lot. That’s just doing ten minutes. There’s sometimes rust there because you’re just breaking out new stuff all the time, trying to anyway. So that’s probably the bumpiest ones that I have. But when I do these hour or ninety-minute shows or whatever, the bumpiest bits are sandwiched in between other stuff so it doesn’t seem as rusty.

We talked about this over the summer after your graduation. You felt it would affect your comedy to have gotten the degree. How do you find that now that you’ve gone back to gigging and you’ve got a few under your belt?

I think it’s really helped, actually, to get away from something and go back to it. It helps with the writing. Because you’re in school, you’re on deadline, and one thing about comics, most of us are not on deadlines. Unless you’re doing a radio show or a TV show where you’re on deadline that week. But if you’re a freelancer, you have to discipline yourself. I’ve always worked better when there’s a compelling reason to write or to come up with stuff. So I think that the school experience helped with the discipline more than if I hadn’t done it. And also broadened the perspective, so the commentary may become a little more knowledge-based, I think.

Are you writing more now than you did before, do you think?

I don’t know. I think I probably am.

Do you feel there’s more new stuff in this show than there would have been without it?

Oh yeah. Definitely.

I wanted to get your thoughts on a few of the major news stories of the year.

Sure. One of the things is, as we speak, the Senate is debating the START Treaty. A lot of the Republicans, they’re opposing the START Treaty. I heard one of them, I think it was Lindsey Graham, say the holidays is not the time to negotiate the STARTY Treaty. Yes, you don’t want to confuse reducing the threat of nuclear war with the birth of Christ.

They always say, there’s a window of opportunity for bipartisanship, and as soon as Obama starts climbing through the window, they go, “There’s a black guy coming though the window! Shut it!”

What was your take on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? Are you surprised that that went through?

I’m not surprised that it went through because in my opinion it’s the right thing to do. But also, it benefits the Republican party, even the moderate Republicans, it benefits them because there’s millions and millions of gay people in the country, and a lot of them are Republicans. The Log Cabin Republicans, for example, support it.

So I’m not surprised that it went through. I think that as time goes on, a lot of the people will probably ashamed of their vote that voted against it. I think ten years from now, we’ll look back after everything settles down and settles in and it shakes out and it’s no big deal, I think the people that voted against it will feel a sense of regret. It’s like voting against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It did seem like there was a sudden change in the amount of people who came out supporting the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the past few months. And I don’t know if there was actually a sea change, or if nobody had bothered to talk to these people before.

No, I think the culture has changed. The culture is different than it was fifteen years ago when it first came in. It just has. Dick Cheney supports gay marriage because his daughter’s gay. Ted Olson supports gay marriage. I’m not sure what his motivation is but he’s a pretty heavy-duty Bush supporter, I think he was the Solicitor General under Bush, lost his wife in 9/11 on the plane in Pennsylvania. It’s just a sea change in the country, a cultural change. And it’s reflected with the moderate Republicans. And also it helps them, it helps them with their own constituents, many of whom are gay.

But of course, they always have a caveat. I’ll support it as long as it doesn’t interfere with military preparedness. How is it… “We have to take the hill.” “Yes, Captain, but first, one question – will you marry me?” “Of course I’ll marry you! Burt first, let’s take the hill!”

“It’s the perfect setting.”

Exactly. So you have that, and that’s progress. And I think they’ll probably get the START Treaty through, that’s going to be progress.

What do you think of the nature of bipartisanship in Congress right now? It seems to be one of the nastier times. One side says, we’re just digging in for what we believe in, and the other side will say they’re not compromising.

I think things are going to change after the New Year. We’ll see what happens. Let me just say that.

Do you have a sense of what you think will happen?

Here’s an example – the earmarks. The brouhaha over the earmarks. The people who are opposing the earmarks, let’s just say the economy is not doing as well as everybody hopes it’s going to do. So then you take all of these federal projects out of all these congressional districts around the country. That’s less jobs. It’s less employment. It’s less business activity. It’s not going to be good for people. Yes, you technically save eight billion dollars, but you also lose a lot of economic activity in a lot of congressional districts around the country.

And it might look good on paper to say “no earmarks,” but I think the residual effect of that is, there’s less work, there’s less employment, there’s less growth, there’s less infrastructure repairing and new construction. And I think after a year or two of that if you go to your constituents and say, we’ve reduced the deficit by eight billion dollars, but the bridge or the tunnel or the highway still needs to be repaired, I don’t think that’s a recipe for re-election. I don’t think it’s something that’s going to encourage people to say, yes, we want two more years of this austerity measure in our congressional district.

So I think what may very well happen is that the novelty of less government in congressional districts around the country is going to wear off quickly when the people – the people, not the members of Congress but the people in those districts – have to actually feel the results of having less economic activity in their districts.

There’s also the back and forth about Obama himself. The left feels that he’s compromised too much and the right is trying to say he has not compromised on anything, that he’s too far to the left.

The right’s not going to say anything positive about him at all. That’s their whole strategy, to demonize, demonize, demonize. That’s been their strategy since he got in.

Does that make legitimate criticism of Obama more difficult?

It just makes it harder to discern what is legitimate criticism and what isn’t. If everything with the guy is wrong, then what’s really wrong is not going to be apparent because they don’t like anything. How can you not like the fact that General Motors is on the rebound after the infusing of government money and restructuring. And they paid back most of the money. A major American company is up and running as a result of that particular investment or bailout or whatever you want to call it.

You know what it is? It seems there’s a lack of authenticity and a lack of honesty. And that’s the biggest thing about the bipartisanship. People aren’t intellectually honest. If you have to side with your “quote” side or your team regardless of the weight of the argument, but because your team either put forth that argument or is opposed to that argument because it was put forth or opposed by the other side, then there’s an intellectual dishonesty there.

It does seem that all of that is positioning for the next election. The talk about actually solving problems seems to be secondary to, how do we get elected next time. And that’s probably nor something that’s a huge change from the way it’s always been. But it feels worse now for some reason.

Yeah. I think everybody would say that. From what I’ve read and heard and from what people have said, I think that’s true. But you’re also dealing with 65 new members of Congress coming in for the first time. Many of these people have never held public office. It could be a breath of fresh air. Who knows? So that’s a wild card, as well.

Do you have any official opinion on the Tea Party?

Let’s see what they do. I like the fact that people get involved and get active in their neighborhood and their government, and that they’re active and people are engaged in the political process. I think it’s healthy. I think it’s been a healthy thing, basically, for the country to have more political engagement. We’ll see.

Sometimes I wonder, is it really deficit reduction or is it really stopping Obama, and deficit reduction is another excuse to stop Obama. And also to deny the continued funding of social programs. One of the things about the deficit is, they say the deficit is the number one thing, and you say, do we have money for the hospitals, do we have money for the schools, do we have money for education, do we have money for this and that program, no no no no no because that’ll increase the deficit. That’ll increase the debt. So it can be used as a weapon to squash social programs and social spending that some people don’t like.

What would you say is a legitimate criticism of Obama? Is there anything out there that he deserves to be criticized for?

I think it’s really effective when he’s aggressive, and he think he should have engaged on Fox Television. In the early days, he made a decision not to go on Fox, and I think it was a mistake not to go on Fox. Because he can sit down with Bill O’Reilly one on one, just like he sat down with other people, and he knows the nuances of the policy way better, in my estimation, than any of these commentators who are going to grill him on a policy. I think he would do himself well to dispel their arguments to their face on television. And I think that takes the wind out f their sails. And by not going on there, they have the open field. They can do whatever they want.

And I feel the same way about talk radio. The Democrats… you have to engage your critics. And I think direct engagement earns their respect and I think it also allows your supporters to see you defend your positions. And I think it’s a mistake for the Democrats not to engage on talk radio and not to engage on Fox, given the opportunity to do so. It’s one thing if they don’t invite you. But if they invite you and as a matter of principle because you don’t like what they stand for you don’t go on, I think you’re ceding the territory. And I don’t think it serves a good purpose because it’s just the drumbeat of the message.

If he went on Sean Hannity and talked about being a Marxist, being a socialist, he could just lay out the agenda and explain why it’s not socialism. And Fox could play that a thousand times, and it would sink in that what he’s proposing is not socialism, when you bail out Wall Street. But by not doing it, you cede the territory and it’s wide open. On a whole host of issues, to go on there and sell health care on Fox, or the bailouts, to make your arguments just like you make your arguments on the other stations.

It’s part of a bigger problem of messaging. When he went to the Republican retreat in, I don’t know if it was his first six months, but he was great. They asked him questions and he was able to engage every single question. And he did himself a great service. They never invited him back, but he was dynamite. Because he’s very smart and he’s articulate and he’ sincere and he’s authentic in what he’s trying to do, and he can lay out the argument for the other side to hear. The reason I support Obama and the Democrats is because on most of the issues, they’re right. In my estimation.

So you feel their faults have mainly been strategic ones.

I think the health care thing, the idea that you have to buy insurance, I think is what freaked people out. Because in Massachusetts, it was less of a shock because we went through a debate in the state about it. The legislature, Romney, it was bipartisan. It was a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature that came up with this Massachusetts system where you’re going to cover everybody in the state and everybody has to buy it. But it was debated, it was laid out.

When Obama got there, they were imposing it from the top down on states that had no such debate. So people freaked out because a lot of people don’t have insurance because they can’t afford it. Or they were happy with what they had. It scared people. And not getting a public option led to the next phase of this thing where you have to buy insurance.

But I think he was bending over backwards to accommodate insurance companies and the business community and stay true to free enterprise and not be portrayed as complicit in the “quote” government take-over of health care. And in doing so, he still got slammed on the issue. It didn’t stop them from saying [it was] the government take-over of health care. But they didn’t have the government take over health care that he was paying the price for. He’s paying the price for socialized medicine without the socialized medicine.

Everything seems to be pushing towards presidential electoral politics, as well. What are your feelings on what 2012 might bring?

I don’t think Obama will be challenged as a Democrat, and I think he’s going to be able to, at the end of the year, say listen, we passed health care, we ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, we got a START Treaty, we extended the unemployment benefits. So there’s some positive things that he’s done. I don’t think he’s going to be challenged from the left in the party.

And the Republicans, who knows who they’ll put up. I don’t think Sarah Palin is a favorite in the party. She quit halfway through her first term and she does not have the backing of the Republican establishment from what I can see. But she’ll be a factor because they’ve figured out a way to message without actually doing interviews with a lot of people. It’s a form of entertainment. On her reality show, when she said, I’d much rather be up here and out in the wilderness being free than some stuffy old political office in Washington. And you know what, Sarah? Millions of people agree with you. Half of them are in the Republican party.

What about locally? We had an election here that bucked the trend for the rest of the country. What do you think happened there?

The people of Massachusetts, I think most of them like the state of Massachusetts, and although there’s big problems in certain areas of one-party rule, there’s definitely an issue with that, I think most of the people in Massachusetts are Democrats for a reason. And they support the principles of the Democratic party that are more politically progressive than the principles of the Republican party. I think that has a lot to do with it. And also they outnumber the Republicans two to one or three to one.

And we faired well relative to the rest of the country and the economy because of the universities up here. It’s not good when the economy is bad for universities but at least they’re not shutting down and moving. That sustains us through economic hard times, unlike a lot of other places that don’t have that advantage. So our unemployment was less. We actually had more job creation, we’re in the top five states in the country, I believe, since 2008, I think. So we had some things going for us here.

And what will you be up to in 2011?

My film, Jimmy Tingle’s American Dream, is done and I look forward to getting that out there in 2011. It’s a documentary, about 70 minutes long. We’re putting it in film festivals. We’re trying to generate some interest. I’m psyched to get it out this year, and I’m psyched to get around the country and around the world with the film.

What would you say is the synopsis of the film for those who aren’t familiar?

It’s basically the American Dream, what does it mean, seen through my eyes as a comic and an entrepreneur and a business owner who had a theatre. And interviews with other people and their interpretation of the American Dream, focusing on, what is the American Dream, what are the components of it, and what do we stand for as a country, what do we stand for as a people. Obviously there’s humor involved, there are performances involved. And a lot of interviews with a lot of great people.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gary Gulman tops the bill at Steve Macone's Holiday Show and Toy Drive

Gary Gulman at the Burren's
Slightly Better Christmas
Spectacular Wednesday
The usual Wednesday night comedy contest at the Burren is being pre-empted this week for some special guests and a toy drive to benefit the Somerville-based Toys for Local Children. Macone is calling it his "Slightly Better Christmas Spectacular," because "the toys will be helping children have a slightly better Christmas and people can expect, at the very least, the show to be slightly better."

Gary Gulman is dropping in, supporting his new album, All I Want for Chunukah Is Christmas. Also on the bill, Matt D, Rob Crean, Tim Vargulish, Shawn Donovan, Maria Ciampa, Kate Ghiloni, Matt Kona, and Chris Fleming. Josh Gondelman and Zach Sherwin (aka MC Mr Napkins) may also drop by, depending on if they can get to Davis Square from the Wu-Tang show at the Wilbur in time.

Macone says a few more comedians may wind up stopping by last minute. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Say goodbye to Cheers and Tommy's

The Comedy Club at Cheers has its
last show Saturday with
Steve Sweeney.
If you’re planning on going out to see Steve Sweeney at Cheers Saturday night, you will be witnessing the final evening of comedy at the venue. Jim McCue, co-founder and producer of The Boston Comedy Festival, announced earlier this week on his site and his Facebook page that changes at Cheers itself spelled an end to the club, which opened late last year.

McCue was informed that the Sam’s CafĂ© portion of the Faneuil Hall location, where the comedy events were being held, was being closed down and sold. The comedy club had taken a summer hiatus and come back in the fall. McCue did not book for January when he got the news.

“I think if it was meant to be it would have worked out,” says McCue. “We are working on a few new projects and we will now be able to focus more energy on them. It really was fun and helped especially during the festival to have that venue up and running.”

McCue has no immediate plans to open a new club. “Not unless a remarkable opportunity opened it self up to us,” he says. “I will be doing a monthly show at the Ioka Theater in Exeter NH, but that is a simple thing to book.”

Less surprisingly, Tommy’s Comedy Lounge will likely not return. The club also took a summer hiatus after the July death of Frank Ahearn, who ran the club with John Tobin. “I’d love to bring it back, but at this point, probably not,” says Tobin, who also books Nick’s Comedy Stop next door. “Nick’s is proving to be pretty successful for us right now. It’s not where we want it to be yet, but we’re changing the culture.”

There have been talks about bringing it back, but Tobin says the club has no more than “a faint pulse.” He cited Ahearn’s death, the workload at Nick’s, and the scheduling conflicts Tommy’s often had with Blue Man Group, which is run out of the Charles Playhouse. Blue Man has its own theater, but it’s in the same building, which Tobin said affected how Tommy’s operated.

“The short time we were at Tommy’s, I think it was a little over a year, our start time changed three or four times,” he says. “They had us starting shows at 7:30. It’s just too early. There was just no continuity.”

Summer Villains want a zoo for Christmas

I Want A Zoo for Christma
If you're looking for some good-natured musical Christmas cheer, take a look at Summer Villains' "I Want A Zoo for Christmas." The Villains cut a Christmas album with another Boston band, Three Day Threshold, called Christmas + Holiday Songs Volume 1, which you can download from this site. Also on that site is the video in Quicktime for "I Want A Zoo for Christmas," just in case you're reading this in on iPad and you can't use Flash to see the video below.

The video is really well done, and, if you're wondering, suitable for all ages. And if you want to see them perform it live, come out to the Tavern at the End of the World tonight for the Summer Villains Christmas party. I will be there doing a quick guest spot playing my own Christmas song (which is not particularly funny).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It's A Red Peters Christmas!

It's A Red Peters' Christmas!
Red Peters wants to make you laugh for the holidays. He’s in the midst of his “18 Days of Christmas,” releasing a Christmas song every day up until Christmas Eve on his Facebook page. There are even more songs on, where you can hear “Red Peters’ Song Snatch” and his podcasts. And it’s all leading up to the “Red Peters Comedy Music Hour Christmas Special” on December 23 and 24 on Sirius satellite radio, where Peters has his own show on Howard 101.

Peters’ track record with off-color comedy music comes from his work as a commercial music producer – he does a lot of work for big name companies, which is why he works under a pseudonym. He says it was normal to start making fun of the music or substituting profane or vulgar lyrics as soon as a client left a commercial session.

Fifty years ago, songs like those Peters favors were sold as “party records” under the counter along with albums from stand-ups like Belle Barth and Red Foxx. Things loosened up a bit as decades passed, but it was really the advent of satellite radio that allowed Peters to broadcast songs like “Holly Shit, It’s Christmas” and “When I Jerk Off I Think of You.” But Peters is always looking for more avenues like Facebook. “That’s just another way to get them out, because not everyone has Sirius,” he says.

So if you like your holiday cheer a little naughty or blue or profane, Peters is your man. I spoke with the Boston-based musician and host last week about his plans for the holidays.

Do you already have the Christmas specials mapped out or are you still collecting?

I’m still collecting but I have a pretty good idea. I have two shows, two one-hour shows. And I did receive a new song today from a guy. I had a few new ones last week. But really this week I have to shut the door.

You have years of stuff to choose from, you probably have some favorites, as well. What’s the mix of classics to new stuff?

There’s not really a lot of classic stuff. I’ve been doing this for five years – this is my sixth Christmas on Sirius. So if you want to call six years ago classic…

But you’ve been collecting these kinds of songs for longer than you’ve been doing the Sirius show.

More or less. But I was mostly motivated by getting the gig at Sirius. There was really no place to play these six years ago. A lot of them have profanity or extreme… concepts. You know? [laughs]

So what qualifies a song for a Red Peters Christmas special?

I’d say one of the main features is, you have to be able to hear the words. I was listening to this group that sent me some stuff yesterday or the day before called The Dirty Santas. They almost sound like Van Halen, except the words are kind of difficult to hear, although the songs are produced really well. People have to be able to hear the concept right off. I don’t have the luxury of playing them over and over again so people can hear them. So the concept should just pretty much hit you over the head right away. You should be able to hear what it’s all about right off.

Any favorites you want to mention?

Well, of course, all my songs. I like “The Herpes-Infected Elf,” that’s pretty funny, by this kid named Pooch. I like the classic big ones like “Eff Christmas” by Eric Idle. That’s an excellent one. And Nerf Herder, “I Got A Boner for Christmas.” Tiny Tim, of course, “Santa Has the AIDS This Year.” Ever hear that one?

No, I haven’t, actually.

Have you ever seen that kid Jon LaJoie? I like his Christmas song, “Cold Blooded Christmas.” Good story. Pretty funny. He shoots Santa Claus. Somebody comes into his house, he hears a noise, and he blasts him with a shotgun, and he realizes, jeez, you know, I just killed Santa Claus. So he chops him up and burns him in a furnace or something. Then he gets a call the next day from his aunt saying, “Have you seen Uncle Bob? He was dressed up as Santa, he was coming over to your house.”

They are varying degrees of sanity or extreme concept or foul language or silly. Some of them are extreme, some of them are just clever. There’s one that really not that bad, I think they might say “shit” or something, by these guys from Seattle called The Billionaires Club. It’s a song called “Happy Holidays from the Taggarts.” One of the guys in this troupe, his name is Ryan Taggart, and they’re just clever young guys. They do a nice job. And it’s just a song about a cop who has too much eggnog on Christmas eve and he’s called to help somebody, and he accidentally shoots somebody. But it’s meant to be a goofy story.

How about your own songs?

I have “Holy Shit, It’s Christmas.” Last year it went to number 12 in iTunes comedy, and it’s creeping up the charts again. By Christmas, I hope to be in the top ten of comedy. “Holy Shit, It’s Christmas” seems to be one of my most popular songs. My three most popular songs are “How’s Your Whole Family,” which is mild, you know? “When I Jerk Off, I Think of You” – not you personally. That one’s almost up there with “How’s Your Whole Family,” then “Holy Shit, It’s Christmas” does fantastic every year.

Do you mostly go out and find these yourself or do a lot of these come to you?

I’m always looking. I’m always looking for tunes. And people send them to me, too. I interviewed The Billionaires Club because they had another song I played a few years ago called “White Man in America,” which was a pretty funny song. The Christmas songs, I’d say half of them were sent to me and half I find. I clear the “Santa Claus Has the AIDS” by Tiny Tim, I got a license for that. His estate wasn’t even taking advantage of it because it was just some goofy song he sang in his hotel room or something, and it was just out there.

That seemed somewhat out of character for him.

He had a lot of sexual hang-ups. I don’t know if you’ve ever really studied Tiny Tim, but he was impotent, and of course, he was an oddball. His perspective about life, what was real, was way off the charts. He was mental.

How did the song with Margaret Cho come about?

About eight or nine months ago, I just one day, on Facebook, got an e-mail from Margaret. She said that she really enjoys my songs, and coincidentally, her two favorite songs were “How’s Your Whole Family” and “When I Jerk Off I Think of You.” I had played her on my show. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen here live, she’s filthy. In a funny way. She’s a riot. I’ve played some of her bits on my show at different times.

I’ve known her work and I’ve appreciated her work for years. I don’t know if she knew that or not. So we began corresponding back and forth and we were just talking about music because she’s been getting into music lately, and she sings a few songs in her act. I was tempted to say, hey, we should to a duet or collaborate sometime, but I didn’t want to seem too pushy. Sure enough, shortly thereafter, she asked me if I wanted to collaborate with her or do a duet with her sometime. So I said yeah, of course, I’d love to.

I knew she was going to be in P-Town, she goes down there for a few weeks every summer and she performs there. I asked her if she wanted to do “The Christmas Gift,” which is a song that was written by a guy named Dick Shreve. He was a pretty well-known jazz musician during the 50s and 60s in LA. He, like me, as you know, I’m a music producer, besides doing the Red Peters stuff. He did mostly legitimate stuff, but then he started doing this blue, off-color stuff. And he did “The Christmas Gift,” which was a Christmas blow job, and he did “Everybody’s Fucking But Me.”

So I played her the song, I said, do you want to do a duet with me for this, and she said yeah, she loved it. So I got together with Ed Grenga, my co-writer and producer, and we recorded all of the music for “Have A Wonderful Hawaiian Christmas” and the music to “The Christmas Gift,” we put the vocals on both, and all summer, we were building the songs, doing the music for them and adding the background vocals, The Alan Pinchloaf Singers.

We tried to do it when [Cho] was down in P-Town but she got sick and she lost her voice, so she couldn’t do anything. So we had to cancel it the day before the session. The only time we could do it before Christmas would be to record it October 27 or 28. She was in town the 28th to do the Wilbur Theatre. So she flew in a day early. She travels in a tour bus, so the bus picked her up at Logan and took her over to Q Division in Davis Square. All the band record over there.

We met over there out of nowhere. I had never met her before. We had spoken over the phone a bunch of times and e-mailed a lot, texted a lot. We spent two hours or so recording, we did a bunch of different takes. She was a sport, you know what I mean? She had no problem singing about anything.

I’m assuming this is going to be on one or both of the Christmas specials.

Yes, as a matter of fact, it’s the first song of the first special. And then “Holy Shit” is the first song on the second special.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Brian Gordon on The Life of Brians exhibit at CinemaSalem

In June, I wrote about Brian Gordon's art exhibition at In A Pig's Eye in Salem. Gordon, who used to be a regular on the Boston comedy scene, has turned his talents to art and to helping kids with autism. And there is a connection between the two, as he points out in this interview. I caught up with Gordon while he was hanging his latest exhibition, The Life of Brians, which will be on display at CinemaSalem through December. The title refers to the fact that Gordon is sharing the exhibit with his fellow artist, and fellow Brian, Brian Donnelly.

You can see the work now, and you can also join the Brians for the official opening/bad sweater party at CinemaSalem on December 16.

Here's Brian explaining some of the pieces and the show.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ken Rogerson: The Roast That Was Nearly A Benefit Show

Rogerson onstage at Giggles with his bike.
For a half an hour at Giggles last Monday night, the biggest comedians in Boston busted Ken Rogerson’s balls. Not to be outdone, Rogerson then busted his own. Literally.

Let me back up. This is a story of a random act of kindness in the local comedy community, a galvanizing moment you don’t often see publicly. Rogerson had no transportation to gigs. And probably more importantly, he has always wanted a Harley. He rode them as a kid, and on the set of Rescue Me a few years ago.

So Mike Clarke, brother of Lenny and and a few other comedians hatched a plot to pitch in and buy the Harley for Rogerson and surprise him with it.

All told, forty-two people, most of them comedians, chipped in about $100 apiece to buy the bike. They then rolled it into Giggles Monday night and filled the club with Rogerson’s friends, including Steven Wright, Lenny Clarke, Tony V., Mike McDonald, Steve Sweeney, Don Gavin, Jimmy Dunn, Jim McCue, Joe Yannetty, Robbie Printz, Dave Russo, Johnny Pizzi, and Brad Mastrangelo.

Rogerson was told he would be playing a charity gig, making $300. He was legitimately shocked when he walked in and saw the room filled with his friends and a Harley on the stage. Rogerson is not often speechless, but he was, at least for a few minutes, when Lenny, dressed in a hat he swiped from the corpse of Carnac the Magnificent, led him up to his bike and old him what was going on. You can see that on the videos.

You can also see that the evening quickly turned into an impromptu roast. As Wright was talking about Rogerson, you can hear Gavin shout, “Did he die?” Mike McDonald said this was the kind of gift anyone would want to receive, and wondered why the hell it went to Rogerson. McCue had one of the best lines of the night when, pushed into speaking, he took the stage and said, “This is the strangest way to tell someone they have cancer.”

Once everyone had a turn taking shots at Rogerson, everyone gathered for a group photo, and filed out to watch Rogerson start up his new toy. Rogerson was beaming out in the Giggles parking lot, posing for photos, feeling the bike roar. He then let out the clutch and the bike lurched, and a surprised Rogerson sped about ten feet into Sweeney’s Lexus, the only thing between Rogerson and busy Route 1 traffic.

Some of Boston's best pay tribute to Rogerson.
Rogerson crumpled to the ground, holding his head, and stayed still for a long moment. As I said when I wrote a short bit about this for the Globe, most of the comedians waited until it was clear Rogerson was more embarrassed than actually hurt before laughing. Most of them. Rogerson escaped with a few scratches, as did Pizzi, who had to leap out of the way. Sweeney’s Lexus was also unharmed, which made him wonder why they didn’t get Rogerson one of those instead of a bike.

Just as Rogeson lets out the clutch, he ages 30
years. This photo is not retouched in any way.
Afterwards, when Rogerson asked if Pizzi was okay, Pizzi asked if he were insured yet. “Because I’m suing,” he said.

“Johnny, everything I own is at George’s, stop by and pick something out,” said Rogerson. “It’s all in one room.”

Everything was a surprise to Rogerson. The bike itself, his friends, and how light the clutch was. It was hard to keep everyone quiet, but Rogerson said he didn’t suspect a thing. “I had no clue,” he said. “I have no words. Who expects this? And who expects to crash it the first thirty seconds? They had to tell the story about the ‘Rescue Me’ tour. It’s my second time crashing, and my third time on a bike in forty years. I’m embarrassed as hell.”
Rogerson, McDonald, and Sweeney after the crash.

Rogerson was happy Pizzi was okay, and that Sweeney’s car was fine. And he was clearly touched by his friends’ generosity. He’s sure he’ll get over the embarrassment quickly. “It’s not like it’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “You’ve heard the stories from the 80s.”

Friday, November 19, 2010

Erin Judge on

Erin Judge is on a roll. She had a great set opening the Barry Crimmins comeback shows earlier this month, and now her humor piece, "The New York Times' most popular stories ever: 'Thomas Friedman: I Kinda Wanna Make Out With China' and other classics," is in the prime, above-the-fold real estate on right now.

My favorites -- number ten, "A Thing Happened at Harvard," and number fifteen, "15.Nicholas D. Kristof: Disadvantaged Individual From Developing Nation Overcomes Staggering Adversity to Become a Much Better Person Than Any of You."

Click here to read.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tony Moschetto in jail, Danvers

Tony Moschetto is playing the Onion Town Grill in Danvers Saturday. If he gets out of jail in time. Here's the lesson -- never steal Jimmy Dunn's drink.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Boston Comedy Festival finals wrap up

Darryl Lenox
The Boston Comedy Festival wrapped up Saturday at the Wilbur with an efficient night of comedy and a strong line-up, basically split into two moving parts – the competition finals, with eight contestants, and two awards, given to Boston Comedian of the Year Joe Wong and the Lifetime Achievement Award going to Robert Klein. There were only two other comedians on the bill, Darryl Lenox and host Jim McCue. And where this event has sometimes dragged in the past, it felt winnowed down to a trim formula this year.

Lenox opened the show before running to do his own headline spot at Cheers. It’s a shame there was so much going on Saturday night – Comics Come Home at the Agganis, Jim Gaffigan at the Wang, Juston McKinney at Nick’s, the Festival finals, Todd Barry at the Hard Rock, and a strong local line-up at Mottley’s. Lennox probably got lost in the shuffle, especially opening on a show against his own show, and he deserves better. If the chance comes around to see him headline again, take it.

Matt D.
It was a pretty strong crop of finalists this year, as well, probably the strongest in recent memory. It was equally split between out-of-towners (Saleem Muhammad, Nate Bargatze, Nick Cobb, and Will Sylvince) and Boston comics (Mehran, Matt D. Lamont Price, and Orlando Baxter). There was no one on the bill for the finals that felt tacked on or not polished enough to have made it onto the show.

Orlando Baxter

The Boston contingent was especially strong, including Baxter, who has improved by leaps and bounds since I last saw him (and it had been a while). I was wondering, before the show, how Matt D. would fit in. He’s a deadpan absurdist, rattling off joke after well-constructed joke. But a lot of the comics had big energy and big personalities. It would be easy for him to get lost in that, but that didn’t happen. Matt D. had a great set dense with one and two line jokes.

In a Boston Comedy Festival first, there was a tie for first place between Nate Bargatze and Saleem. Will Sylvince came second, and Nick Cobb came in third. Which means the Boston comics trailed the field. There was a certain amount of parity among this group, but that doesn’t make the results any less puzzling.

Nate Bargatze and Saleem Muhammad
Contests are always subjective, and it’s impossible to know the mind and tastes of the judges. And the fact there was a tie for first may mean the tally for each comic may have been roughly the same. I’d be surprised if there were more than two or three points difference from the top to the bottom of the bill. And when it comes right down to it, how does two or three points translate into a meaningful comment on someone’s comic talent or ability? That may also be why only Bargatze and Saleem were actually announced at the show – I asked afterwards about the rest of the order.

Joe Wong
The second half of the show was loose and entertaining. Wong had a great set, accepting his plaque for Boston Comedian of the Year. He talked about playing the Festival in 2003, and meeting Eddie Brill, who books the comics for David Letterman in 2005. Wong noted that Brill told him when they first met that Wong was on his way to the Letterman show. Wong addressed the comedians from the competition, saying, “So if Eddie Brill has not told you this yet…”

Robert Klein was fantastic. His resume is long, stretching over more than forty years, and Klein had a little fun with his introduction for his Lifetime Achievement Award. Standing next to McCue and listening to a list of his accomplishments, Klein began to hunch over and tremble, aging as McCue spoke.

Klein accepts his award
 In the past, the Lifetime Achievement winners have often bantered for a few minutes, done a little shtick, accepted the award and left. Klein, however, is still an active, working comic, and he wasn’t going to let an audience of roughly 600 people get away without some stand-up. Klein accepted his award, and then McCue seemed a bit surprised when Klein took the mic and started doing material. McCue stood in the background, waiting for Klein to wrap up, and when Klein noticed, he asked him if he had anything more to say. McCue slunk off while Klein launched into what would be a 25 minute set.

Klein started to wax nostalgic about coming to Boston with The Apple Tree in 1966, previewing the show before its Broadway run. Not all of the memories were good – Klein stayed at the Avery Hotel, which he called a piece of shit, while the big stars stayed at the Ritz. He was all over the map, material-wise, delivering a loose, casual set. He talked about having to “shtup” Joan Rivers in a movie, and how she tried to sell him bracelets during the scene. Industrious woman.

Klein backstage
Maybe the best part of a show like this is what happens backstage. Klein has always had an affinity for comics, and when the show was over, he was huddled up with the younger crowd, letting them pick his brain a bit. The comics seemed to soak up the advice, thrilled to have a brief audience with a legend, all the better for just having seen that legend crush in front of the same audience they had just played.
Price cracked up at the after party, talking about Klein backstage, busting chops over the price of a scotch at the Wilbur. And no matter how the contest ended, he said, being on that bill was the prize.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jim Norton on Comics Come Home

In a world where George Carlin could
be a priest, Jim Norton could
be an altar boy.
Jim Norton has played clubs, theaters, arenas, horse shows, pre-school openings, community pot lucks, and Bar Mitzvahs in Boston over the past decade plus. He’s headlined and been part of package tours and special events. He has attacked Boston from just about every angle possible for a comic from New York. So maybe that’s why it feels appropriate that he’s on the bill Saturday for Comics Come Home at Agganis Arena, hosted by Denis Leary. He’s not coming home, but close enough.

Big Norton fans can still find him on Opie and Anthony, and also his own Sirius/XM show, The Jim Norton Show on Rawdog Radio, or pick up his two books, Happy Endings and I Hate Your Guts. He says he’s heading back to Boston next year, probably in February. If that’s not enough, he says, “People can follow me on Twitter if they’d like to be updated about the mediocrity that is my life.” This will be his second Comics Come Home.

I asked Jim a few questions by e-mail this week.

Is Comics Come Home a different crowd than you usually see when you come to Boston?

These crowds aren’t animals. The crowds that normally come to see me consist of mental patients and girls who hate their fathers.

How did you get together with Leary to get on the show?

Denis and I would visit the same glory hole and eventually got to talking.

Will your own radio affect your appearance on Opie and Anthony?

Not at all, Opie & Anthony are so sick of my face, they’re happy when I do anything else.

How does it differ from their show?

Their show is entertaining; mine has been compared to a beheading.

Any more books in the works?

I am working on an expose about all of the attractive women I’ve gotten to fuck for free. I’m currently stuck on page two.

A lot has already been said about Greg Giraldo, but is there anything you want to say that you haven’t had the opportunity to put in print?

Greg’s death was shitty, especially considering there are so many entertainers that are still alive that shouldn’t be.

Jimmy Dunn on TV, Comics Come Home

Jimmy Dunn will play Comics
Come Home Saturday
Jimmy Dunn has been doing stand-up comedy in Boston for more than fifteen years. He’s appeared on countless stages, and, as an avid sports fan, has written a book (Funnyball: Observations from a Summer at the Ballpark) and hosted his own NESN show, called Fan Attic, on which he watched old game footage.

But these days, most people who recognize Dunn remember him from commercials he wrote, produced, and acted in for Olympia Sports. I wrote about these spots for the Globe a couple of years ago, and Dunn is still producing them.

“I've become the ‘time to make the donuts’ guy,” he says. “Just got made at subway an hour ago. Especially if I have my Sox hat on!”

Commercials have become a bigger part of what Dunn does, and he has expanded to other clients, still drafting Boston comedian friends to co-star with him. “My newest client is Seacoast Harley-Davidson,” says the New Hampshire resident. “Working on a really cool campaign for them for the spring, doing some cool Internet stuff for another really high profile client that I can't name yet. Lots of projects over the winter that should drop in the spring.”

Saturday, Dunn will play one of his biggest audiences yet when he makes his debut appearance at Comics Come Home at Agganis Arena. Host Denis Leary picks the comics for the bill, and Dunn had an inside track. “The Clarke boys, Mike and Lenny have been lobbying for me,” Dunn says.

The show is a benefit for the Cam Neely Foundation for Cancer Care. Dunn is, of course, a fan of Neely, a former Bruins player and currently president of the Bruins organization. Dunn has met him a few times, and Neely once appeared on Fan Attic. Still, Dunn will be looking for an autograph. “Really cool guy,” says Dunn, “and yes, I'll have a stick with me!”

For more on Comics Come Home, read Jim Sullivan's piece in last week's Globe here.

Comics Come Home, November 13, 7:30PM at Agganis Arena. With Denis Leary, Adam Ferrara, Jim Norton, Lenny Clarke, Joe Yannetty, Pete Correale, Thomas Dale, Jimmy Dunn, and Steven Wright.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Robert Klein on his influences and playing Fenway

Robert Klein gets the Boston
Comedy Festival's Lifetime
Achievement Award
Robert Klein has played a lot of gigs in Boston. His history in the city stretches back to 1966 when he came to Boston as an actor in the company of The Apple Tree, with Mike Nichols directing. In his book The Last Laugh: The World of Stand-Up Comics, Phil Berger wrote that Klein wrote his first stand-up here in his off time at the Avery Hotel, and performed the material once he got back to New York.

Not every gig has been at a club or a theater. When I spoke with Klein, who will receive the Boston Comedy Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award Saturday at the Wilbur Theatre, for the Boston Globe in 2007, he talked about a gig at Fenway Park. Klein’s a baseball fan, Fenway is a historic park.

“Remember the dismal end of last season, when the Yankees won those four in a row, I think?” he remembered. “Just awful. Some rich guy bought out Fenway Park, the Sox were on the road, a party for his mother, a birthday party for 200 people. And my dressing room was one of the boxes with lots of pictures of Johnny Pesky. And it was incredible. And one of the pavilions out near right field, they had the beautiful hors dourves set up, and I think Jim Rice came out to sign a few autographs, and I performed. Can you imagine? A completely empty Fenway Park. What an interesting gig. Her name was on the scoreboard, ‘Happy birthday, Mertle,’ whatever her name was.”

That interview was for an appearance at the Comedy Connection around the time Klein had released a collection of his HBO specials, which then numbered eight (he added his ninth last year, putting him behind only George Carlin). I wrote about Klein’s legacy and influence, which I believe is sometimes overlooked.

Klein said he wasn’t a terribly promotional guy – the prospect made him tired. And he didn’t want to dwell on the idea that he gets somewhat overlooked when people mention influential comedians like Richard Pryor and George Carlin, even though Klein is responsible for inspiring probably as many comedians as either of those two giants in the 70s and 80s. Nor did he sell himself short as a comedian – he knows how good he is, and knew he was doing something original.

“I thought what I did was different,” he said. “I knew it was. I mean, not so revolutionary that I wasn’t influenced by things that went before me, but I’ll be articulate. What if Lenny Bruce had gone to college and wasn’t so jazzy? What if Jonathan Winters was Jewish? A lot of images in my mind. I idolized both of them. Because they theatricalized – I made up a word – everything. They weren’t sitting on a stool, they weren’t just holding a mic – they made theater.”

He also wrote a great autobiography, called The Amorous Busboy of Decatur Avenue, which I reviewed for the Globe in 2005. It covers Klein’s youth, stopping before he started to become famous, bucking the trend of the name-dropping, tell-all book. It’s definitely worth picking up for comedy fans, or Klein fans in general.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Boston Comedy Interview: Greg Fitzsimmons, Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons out today

Greg Fitzsimmons new memoior,
out today.
Greg Fitzsimmons did not grow up in Boston. He grew up on Tarrytown, outside of New York. But the stories he tells in his new book out today, Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons: Tales of Redemption From An Irish Mailbox, could just as easily have taken place in Charlestown or any number of Boston suburbs, Irish kids causing trouble, terrorizing the neighborhood.

He tells the standard childhood stories – riding a loveseat on wheels into traffic, hanging off a fourth story railing by your knees, having your brother and sister pose as your parents to bail you out of a DUI (this one comes with a picture of Greg and co shortly afterwards, Greg celebrating with a beer). Who hasn’t done that?

If the stories do sound familiar, or you have one to top his, Fitzsimmons has created a Web site,, for you to share. A few submissions have rolled in already.

Fitzsimmons’ Boston connection didn’t come until college, when he attended Boston University, and began to pursue the career in comedy of which he had always dreamed. Here he found a lot of like-minded comic hopefuls in a scene packed with talent like Louis CK, David Cross, and Joe Rogan, and veterans like Don Gavin and Ken Rogerson.

That, and most of Fitzsimmons’ life up to the present are chronicled in the book, using disciplinary and otherwise unflattering letters sent to his mothers to mark time, and disposition.

Fitzsimmons won’t get to Boston until January 29 when he hits the Wilbur, so the book will have to hold you until then. I spoke with him by e-mail about the book and his Boston experiences.

I guess my first question should be, given some of the pictures of you dangling from fourth story ledges and drinking outside of a police station after a DUI, how are you still alive?

Alcohol, for the Irish, is like spinach to Popeye (although I have a hunch that since he was a sailor dating a bulimic, he was also a drunk).

Did you change the names of the non-famous folks in the books to protect the innocent?

There was no innocence, but I wanted to make sure there were also no lawsuits. No need to drag others into my own personal parade of embarrassing confessions.

Were there any particular documents you remembered that you really wanted to include in the book?

There were at least three police reports in the local paper about a bike being stolen form my next-door neighbor. I only found one, but in each case it is very possible that I was the thief.

Any responses on yet?

They are just starting to come in. I am having a contest where people upload a video of them describing the best letter that was ever sent to their parents. Each week I give away a signed book.

You drew a pretty balanced picture of your family life as a kid, showing the laughter and some of the more emotionally and physicals trying moments. Did you put much time into editing that for tone?

I’ve been to a lot of therapy and have been talking about my family onstage for two decades now, so the tone was the easy part. The difficult part was knowing that some relatives would see this as a betrayal of the Irish code of never talking about human emotion.

There’s some good insight into the Boston club scene in the 1980s here. Had you been aware of the boom from a few years earlier when you came to Boston?

No. I always wanted to be a comedian, but other than Steven Wright I had no idea what a rich and individual scene I was lucky enough to start out in. To this day I think some of the best comics I’ve seen in my life are the guys who I admired coming up. Don Gavin, Kenny Rogerson, Mike Donovan etc etc etc.

Were there one or two comedians in particular you patterned yourself after when you started here?

I think we all sounded like Gavin to some extent. There is a cool sarcastic delivery and the punch lines are thrown away so it never seems like you are trying to make the crowd laugh.

David Cross, Greg Fitzsimmons, and Louis CK.
You mention a lot of your peers who have made names for themselves - Joe Rogan, Louis CK, David Cross. Was there a feeling that these people were going to be something special one day? Did anyone stand out?

Cross has always been a genius and totally original. He had a vision for the kind of comedy he wanted to do from day one. I wasn’t sure if Louie would survive but I knew if he did he would be awesome. Rogan and I drove to gigs together for years and he was always aggressive and confident unlike anyone I’d ever seen.

You mention Kevin Knox and Greg Giraldo at the end of the book - how well did you know them? Did you know them from Boston?

Knoxy was a friend and a hero to a lot of us coming up at that time. We played a lot of golf together and went on a lot of road trips. Going to an IHOP with Kevin was like Willy Wonka taking you through the Chocolate Factory. Every interaction he had with anyone was fun and insane. I always felt lucky to be hanging around him.

Giraldo was a guy I came up with in the NY scene after I left Boston. There is a bond formed between guys you go through this hellish period with. He was a real peer and we supported each other right to the end.
I shot 3 TV pilots with Greg in the last two years. Wish one of them had been picked up.

Any particular memories from the clubs you return to? You mention The Vault and Stitches in the book.

I don’t know if I thought about the irony in working at the Vault at the time. It was literally the vault of a bank where you told jokes for no money. After the show you had to stack chairs and clear tables. The way things are going in the financial world; Dick Doherty might be able to start a national chain of these clubs.

Do you still have friends here that come out to the shows? Anyone you’re looking forward to seeing when you’re back here at the Wilbur?

I have a lot of friends from college (BU) who I keep in touch with when I’m on town. Hope to see Rich Ceisler and John Tobin and a list about three pages long. I’m coming in early to try to make the rounds.

Dane Cook I Did My Best: Greatest Hits arrives November 22

Dane Cook's Greatest Hits
November 22
Arlington native Dane Cook will release his two-disc set I Did My Best: Greatest Hits on Comedy Central Records November 22. The album will include tracks from his previous albums, Harmful If Swallowed, Retaliation, Rough Around the Edges, and ISolated INcident, plus some previously unreleased material, "hidden" on Disc Two.

Hard to hide when the number of tracks comes up on display when you insert the disc. There are 14 tracks listed on CD jacket, and 19 tracks on the disc. The extra five tracks appear to come from the same performance in Alaska, covering hot air balloons, the drawbacks of a mechanical leg, and strange masturbation habits.

Official Track Listing:
Disc One
1. Struck By A Vehicle
2. Car Accident
3. Car Alarm
4. B&E
5. Bathroom
6. Not So Kool-Aid
7. The Friend Nobody Likes
8. Pedophiles
9. Creepy Guy @ Work
10. Role Play
11. My 1 Regret
12. Robe
13. My Son Optimus Prime
14. Operation - Monopoly
15. Benson's Animal Farm
16. The BK Lounge
17. Haters
18. I Did My Best

Disc Two
1. The Nothing Fight
2. Tw*t Swatters
3. The Truth About Lying
4. A Condom?
5. W.W.Y.D.I.??
6. Someone S#!T On The Coats
7. Umm, Helllllo?
8. Heist/Monkey
9. Would You Rather...
10. Video Game Strip Club
11. Speak 'n' Spell
12. Let's Do This, I'm A Cashew
13. Where's the Handle?
14. The Atheist

Monday, November 8, 2010

Brian Kiley talks about the new Conan

Brian Kiley's new album,
Self Portrait
Boston comedian Brian Kiley has been with Conan O'Brien through a lot of changes, from Late Night to The Tonight Show and now, to Conan, which premieres tonight on TBS. I spoke with him about the new show for You can read the piece here.

Kiley writes jokes for Conan's monologues, and somehow manages to write enough brilliant jokes for himself to fill a full headlining set. That's what you get on Kiley's new album, Self-Portrait. Barry Crimmins gives it 38 stars. Which, I am told, is a very excellent rating. A sample -- ""My dad fought in World War Two. And he never talks about it, of course. He's Japanese. He's a sore loser, my dad."

Kiley has been based on the west coast since The Tonight Show staff relocated from New York, so he doesn't make it back out to Boston too often. But when he does, I will certainly alert you here.

You can find Self-Portrait on iTunes here.

Myq Kaplan on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson tonight

Myq Kaplan, everybody.
Myq Kaplan will be performing on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson tonight (Tom Selleck is the other guest). And if you don't have a DVR but do have insomnia, you can stay up and watch David Cross on Carson Daly.

Some other notable TV appearances by Boston comedians this week: Mike Birbiglia in on Carson Daly Tuesday, and Greg Fitzsimmons will be promoting his new book, Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons: Tales of Redemption From An Irish Mailbox, on Letterman Friday. Jim Norton will be on Chelsea Lateley on Thursday, a couple of days before he hits Boston Saturday for Comics Come Home.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bob Seibel celebrates 30 years in comedy tonight at Cheers

Bob Seibel
Bob Seibel doesn't have the name recognition of some of his peers in Boston comedy like Lenny Clarke or Steve Sweeney. But he has been around just as long, and he's twice as crazy. If he hands you his business card, notice it reads "buffoon." 

His friends will get together to roast him at Cheers tonight at 7PM and celebrate his 30 years in comedy, as part of the Boston Comedy Festival. His hometown paper, The Daily Item in Lynn, ran this story about his earlier this week.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Video: Kevin Meaney interview at the Hard Rock Boston

Kevin Meaney
Kevin Meaney performed two shows last night at Boston's Hard Rock Cafe (with Shaun Bedgood, Joey Carroll, and Jim McCue) to open the Boston Comedy Festival. Meaney, of course, is no stranger to Boston audiences, having worked here in the 80s. He did stand-up, and a little singing, befitting the work he's been doing the past few years in musical theater in shows like Hairspray.

He also touched on some old favorites -- impressions of celebrity's dogs and his mother's intonation "We're going to lose the house." But he also did material about coming out and his resulting divorce, a chapter of Meaney's life with which Boston audiences may not be familiar.

I caught him here after the second show, during which a woman in the front row kept up a fairly constant assault of cheerful parrticipation that made Meaney's job that much harder.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Erin Judge on Barry Crimmins, Vanity Fair, and The Dress Up Show

Erin Judge at Mottley's
tonight with Barry Crimmins
In a post on his Vanity Fair blog touting the Barry Crimmins shows tonight and tomorrow with Dennis Perrin and Erin Judge, James Wolcott said of Judge that she “has red hair, the sure sign of a provocateur.” Wolcott is only hinting at what Boston comedy audiences have known for years about Judge, who started her comedy career in Boston before moving to New York.

It’s a fitting show for Judge, who has a strong political viewpoint reflected in her material. This will be her first time getting to see Crimmins, a master satirist going back to the beginning of his career in Boston in the 80s, working live.

“I've never worked with him, but I've seen plenty of clips, and I've read his blog and his writing,” she says. “I think our political views are very in sync. I'm so excited to see his longer performances this weekend.”

Crimmins and Perrin will both be talking politics, three days after mid-term elections. Judge plans to join the fray. “I'm definitely planning to be political,” she says. “Watch out, Tories! Actually, I do have some political stuff I'm excited to bring out. About, you know, American politics.”

She’ll also be at Mottley’s again next week in a much different context, The Dress Up Show she co-hosts with Bethany Van Delft. The show is going well enough that Judge and Van Deft are looking to expand. “We haven't quite found the perfect venue in New York City yet,” says Judge. “We're working hard to figure that out for the new year.”

And yes, Judge was excited to see her name on the Vanity Fair site. “I never thought I'd get into Vanity Fair without first dating an heiress, or at least hitting one with my car.”

The Boston Comedy Interview: Paul Day and Jessie Baade, The Saltwaters

Jessie Baade and Paul Day as
Newton and Precious Saltwater,
tonight at Great Scott in Allston.
How do you get to the Grand Ole Opry? Through Allston, apparently. Or at least that’s the trajectory that Newton and Precious Saltwater are attempting. The Saltwaters are the fictional couple, played by Paul Day and Jessie Baade, at the heart of the Dr. Otis Birch Branch (Kind Of) Radio Show, playing Great Scott in Allston tonight as part of the Boston Comedy Festival, presented by Anderson Comedy (who present a show every Friday at Great Scott). It's part of the "Fringe" of the Festival -- as far as I can tell, it is actually the entire Fringe.

The Saltwaters were a traveling husband and wife music and comedy team, until their RV broke down at a Stop and Shop near their daughter’s school – MIT. Now they are more or less a stationary husband and wife music and comedy team, trying to create a variety show with Boston’s comedians and musicians, a world with which they are completely at odds.

I spoke with Paul and Jess about the characters and the show through the miracle of Skype earlier this week. And then they interviewed me for their podcast, which you can find on their blog here.

Who are Newton and Precious Saltwater?

Jess: They’re a married couple who are from Aspic, Texas. And their whole goal in life is to play the Grand Ole Opry. Is it to play or host, Paul?
Paul: Host.
Jess: Host the Grand Ole Opry.
Paul: Anybody can play the Grand Ole Opry.
Jess: They want to host. Oh, anybody.
Paul: Anybody. Literally anybody.
Jess: Then we should. But, how did you put it in the press release?
Paul: We nearly achieve competency?
Jess: But you also have, “but success eludes them.” They play Motel 6’s and VFW halls, and basically, success eludes them.
Paul: We’re the king and queen of the Motel 6 circuit.
Jess: Motel 6 lobby circuit.
Paul: That’s right. Very important distinction.
Jess: The desk areas.

Is that like the white trash chitlin circuit?

Paul: Pretty much.
Jess: When there’s not like, pastries, there’s us.
Paul: When it comes to chitlin, it’s more the white trash instant chitlin service.

How did they wind up in Boston?

Jess: Our daughter, Chastitty Bono Saltwater, also known as “Titty,” and the way I’ve been spelling her name on the press release is “Chastitty” Bono. Mostly because I’m paranoid about being sued. Chastity Bono Saltwater. They saw Sonny and Cher had a child, and they were using it on their television show so successfully that they went out and adopted one themselves as kind of a career boost. And then they made a living of putting her in beauty pageants. And they’re very disappointed that she ended up being smart –
Paul: And going to MIT.
Jess: She goes to MIT. A molecular biologist. Which really doesn’t exist, but…
Paul: Yeah, so our RV broke down when we were kind of in the neighborhood. So we’ve been pretty much kind of squatting in her apartment, and no matter how often she changes the locks, she can’t really get rid of us.
Jess: So she does our show with us to kind of tolerate us. Anything to get rid of us. And every once in a while Chastitty will lock us out or try something, and then they move back into their RV in the Stop and Shop parking lot until something horrible happens to it.

And the Saltwaters think they’re doing a radio show, correct?

Paul: Yes.
Jess: Yeah. They found a manager named Tom, found him busking. We had two places. Either the All Asia or the Middle East. They’re busking in front of it, they’re not in it, and this guy decides he’s discovered them and he’s going to make them the Grand Ole Opry stars they deserve [to be] basically by putting them in coffee shops in Allston, and indoors.
Paul: With a lot of people they just don’t understand.
Jess: He books their shows for them. And there are always these people, like the Donkey Brothers, who are going to be on this show, who are their match as sullen hipsters. The Donkey Brothers is another singing couple, another duo, Chris and Rob. And their back story, they’re the hipsters who just think that everything is disdained. Everything is beneath them. And they’re actually booked on this show with the Saltwaters this time.
Paul: So they’ll be singing songs about boners, and we’ll be not quite understanding what they’re doing onstage.
Jess: And they feel required to interview them after each act. And somebody like, Andrew Mayer’s going to be on it, and I’ve got a feeling we’ll be a little frightening to him. And Freddy Nacho’s on it, and his entire act is basically Spanish. So they have to interview him on that. And then we have Raj Sivaraman, which, they don’t even know where he’s from.
Paul: Which was hilarious the last show. I think that a lot of the fun I have, I think, comes from the interview segment where you’re dealing with these people. What I think is most interesting is this culture clash that happens onstage, and just comparing and contrasting these various cultures that really should not belong together.
Jess: And the booking genius that is their manager puts them onstage with us. The thing with the acts that are on it is, we pick acts that are very good on the cuff, so that when we do the interview segment, it’s almost entirely improv. So we have some scripted stuff, and then we have the acts doing their acts, and we have our music, and we have the back story set up. But then we actually have these people who can keep up with us on an interview, too.
Paul: I think really what we’re striving for in some ways is to actually be doing reality. Our own little fucked up version of reality. We don’t want to be winky-noddy.
Jess: We believe everything.
Paul: Yeah, exactly. It’s like the old adage in Hollywood, show people something they’ve never seen before. They certainly have not seen Newton and Precious doing kind of a loungy, country-western version of “I Wanna Be Sedated.”
Jess: We do “I Wanna Be Sedated” as a singalong.

How well do the guests know what’s going to happen? Do they know the characters? Do you do much rehearsal?

Jess: No. Except the Donkeys a little bit, because there’s music involved. The Donkeys have to have the lyric sheet, because we’re doing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and they’re going to help us with the closer on that.
Paul: “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” on kazoo.
Jess: Kazoo and keytar. Also we have Nick D’Amico as our keytarist, who is our band. Who really resents being there with us. Somewhere, there’s blackmail. He’s not happy, so we make him do “Devil Went Down To Georgia” on the keytar with us. Key-tar, not gee-tar.

What was the inspiration for the characters?

Paul: As I remember it, Jessie has done an amazing job with Billy Bob on The Hour of Being Good. I’m not trying to suck up here, cuz fuck Jessie –
Jess: Ha!
Paul: It was basically doing something that was along the same lines, but not political. So we just kind of started talking about it, what could we do? And the answer evolved into Newton and Precious.
Jess: It’s suspended reality characters. It’s not improv, it’s characters that you know so well as actors that you can react in their skin. So when we’re doing it, it’s not just improv, it’s, we know these characters, where they come from. You see a lot of similar characters in Chris Guest movies. That’s the same form of improv they do for those.
Pau: Exactly. It’s short form, or shorter form, and not as plotted, but we do try to work a plot in, a little bit.
Jess: You kind of have a sketch. You have a skeleton. And also really important that you know the back story. And Paul and I have really good timing together, there’s a really good chemistry –
Paul: Because Jess and I have really good timing.
Jess: Ha! Fuck you.
Paul: We have really good chemistry.
Jess: Yeah. Right.
[Paul laughs]
Jess: It’s like a real marriage. It’s a real marriage but without sex, too.

When did Newton and Precious first come into existence and start not having sex?

Jess: We had a theory at one point that Newton’s actually gay, too. He just doesn’t know it.
Paul: And Precious actually ran off to Las Vegas to become a female impersonator but was found too unbelievable.
Jess: As a woman. They didn’t believe her as a woman.

And when did this all start?

Jess: We did it for a couple of Wednesdays at ImprovBoston in December last year, and what we wanted to do was have a running story with them, so every week, something happened, and the next week it happened, so you had this surreal story every week that’s tacked on.
Paul: And it was brilliant because it kind of happened that every week we would lose somebody.
Jess: Yeah, Castitty wasn’t there one week because she had locked us out completely. She kept hiding from us.
Paul: And the last show was just me onstage with everybody gone.
Jess: Because Tom and I had run off to Vegas, Newton and Tom had run off to Vegas so she could be a female impersonator. What really happened was, it was Christmas, and I had to leave town.

If you had to describe for people in a couple of sentences what they’re going to see Friday, what would you say?

Paul: Lobsters dancing Swan Lake in Hello, Kitty costumes?
Jess: Holy water.
Paul: I think what they’re walking into is a new reality. A different reality. Bringing something that hasn’t been seen together. The best sell, I think, is the woman who came to the Mottley’s show. She had no fucking idea what she was walking into. She won tickets. She walked in, she had no idea what she was walking into, left, and found us on Facebook that night, I think. She was thrilled. She was like, where are you guys playing? What do you guys do?
Jess: We work on a lot of different levels, so you’re getting the music end of it, you’re getting the comedy, you’re getting improv with it, you’re getting a back story with it, you’re getting guests and variety with it. So it’s this whole mess. It’s not just a single thing. It’s not just, oh, you’re going to see a variety show, you’re going to see something that has improv, but you’re also going to see something that has structure to it, too. So I don’t know, what’s a simple way of putting that? It’s not a regular variety show.
Paul: You said it pretty well, it’s like a live Chris Guest movie.
Jess: Ali G meets Andy Griffith.