Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Louis C.K. finds a perfect fit at FX

When HBO canceled Lucky Louie almost four years ago, Louis C.K. thought he’d never have a better job again. He’d had near complete artistic freedom to create the show, and a good relationship with the network. He didn’t have to make the kind of sitcom he dreads, with one of the three or four basic formulas networks are still clinging to.

Lucky Louie was profane and realistic to C.K.’s own experiences, and he got to hire a bunch of friends that would never quite fit into a traditional sitcom, like Danvers native Nick Di Paolo. With staples like Friends, Everybody Love Raymond, and Frasier recently retired, there was talk that Lucky Louie might be the shot in the arm the format needed.

Ask C.K., and he’ll tell you he just wanted to do a good show, inspired by classics like All in the Family and The Honeymooners. “To me it’s like, sitcoms had been perfected to this point where they weren’t shot in front of an audience any more, they were putting this little kind of perfectly timed laughs between these kind of Harvard graduate written jokes, and it just didn’t feel like fun anymore,” he said in a conference call with media last week.

“So I wanted to go back to kind of a messy, ruckus, a more like—I’m not a good speaker,” he adds. “You know, you talk, they laugh and the next person talks. Like they’re feeling more like a performed stage show, which is what sitcoms originally were.”

It didn’t work out. Not every critic hated it, but those who did were particularly insistent. Robert Bianco of USA Today called it “smarmy” and accused C.K. of just trying to shock his audience. Matthew Gilbert at the Boston Globe saw that HBO and C.K. were trying to “usher an antique sitcom format into today’s risqué standards,” but also called it “lousy series.” TV Guide, Variety, Entertainment Weekly – many were unimpressed.

There were accolades – from the Chicago Tribune which called it “subversively hilarious” and the New York Times, which called it “nifty, light, and kind.” The ratings weren’t bad, but it wasn’t enough. HBO pulled the plug and C.K. went on a stand-up binge – lucky for comedy fans – recording three specials in three years, the last of which, Hilarious, made its Sundance debut in January.

Four years later, C.K. is in a position he never thought he’d be in again.

Tonight, C.K.’s new show Louie debuts with back to back episodes at 11PM (EST). He has even more creative control than he did before, even though there may be a few more restrictions on specific words. And the show itself is infinitely better, finally capturing what makes C.K. one of the funniest stand-up comedians in the world right now.

“I remember after Lucky Louie was over that the main thought I had was, ‘I’ll never see that kind of creative freedom again.’ But this is nuts, because they literally don’t know what I’m doing. They have no idea what I’m shooting, what I’m writing.”

He’s not kidding. Where Lucky Louie was shot on a soundstage in LA, C.K. films Louie himself with his own team in New York. There are no script meetings with the network, no writer’s room, and not even an official cast. C.K. writes the show himself and shoots it around New York with his own crew, and then shows the finished product to FX.

“It feels more like an independent film the way that we run it, and it kind of comes together,” he says. “We shoot pieces without knowing what episode they’re going to belong to. The network is completely MIA. They don’t do anything until they watch the episodes when they’re finished being edited. So it’s just us making a show. So I think that’s the biggest difference. Besides that I’m doing a single camera show now instead of multi-cam.”

C.K. says he knows he’s earning that freedom on an episode by episode basis. “If I turn in two bad episodes in a row, they’ll come visit me and they’ll want to read the scripts and they’ll want to visit the set,” he says. “They have that right, contractually, but they’ve laid off so far because they’re happy with what they’re getting this way, which is that they leave me alone.”

Many will point out the similarities to Seinfeld, at least in format. Each episode shows C.K. in New York, dating or hanging out with friends, interspersed with footage of C.K. at New York City comedy clubs like the Comedy Cellar or sometimes Caroline’s.

But the similarities mostly end there. “We’re as different as night and day as far as what we talk about,” says C.K. Louie’s point of view comes from a single dad working as a comedian and trying to raise two young girls, a reality that Seinfeld’s show about nothing wouldn’t have addressed.

And there is no typical set-up and resolution in a half-hour format. Every particular idea is given its own space, and if it’s something that can be addressed in just a few minutes, then it begins and ends there.

“In the same way that stand-up gives you the freedom to choose how long you talk about something or just drop in one word about something, it’s kind of like a collage, an eclectic kind of a form. This show, I wanted it to feel like that. I wanted it to feel almost like a stand up set,” says C.K. “It’s sort of herky-jerky different, different lengths of pieces, different … on things, different reasons and tones for talking about things or showing things.”

There will be plenty of Boston-centric cameos from people like Robert Kelly, who plays C.K.’s brother. But each character will come and go a bit more naturally in the series, and there is no set cast.

“It feels like when you cast a show up front, when you do a series, you’re making a series of bets that you kind of have to stick by,” says C.K. “You hire eight people, or whatever it is in a cast, and you just have to really hope they stay compelling and interesting, and if they don’t, you still have to service all those people. That’s actually how you talk about it in the sitcom writers’ rooms, is we have to service these characters, even if we don’t like them.”

You’ll see Kelly and Di Paolo in recurring roles, but not every week. Di Paolo will be playing himself.

“I only hired Bobby to play my brother for one episode just because I felt like having him for that one episode, but he was really good and compelling and pathetic, so he’s in two more, I think,” says C.K. “Nick is in three total. Nick DiPaolo and I were roommates back when we were both struggling stand ups in the early 90s. He’s still a struggling stand up, and that’s only because he’s a miserable guy. He’s never happy in success, either. But anyway, Nick and I have a very easy rapport.”

A less recognizable Boston name is Kimberly Barlow, who plays an ex-girlfriend from home with whom Louie reconnects on Facebook. C.K. says he looked at about 300 actresses from New York, but couldn’t find anyone who felt like a Boston girl from back home.

“We actually went to Boston and had a very cheap casting session there on like VHS tape,” he says. “Kim was so authentic and so real, and I think we pretty much blew her mind by flying her to New York and giving her this huge part in the show. She stepped up, though, and she was awesome. I often get comments about her, that she seemed really real, and she was. So she was my favorite Boston rescue.”

C.K. says his freedom also extends to subject matter, a very important point to him. “I feel like there’s no story I can’t tell,” he says. “The tricky thing about my situation is that if you write a script and they flag something as, you can’t do this, you at least save time. Because they don’t see anything until it’s been shot and cut, I run the risk of shooting things that they will then not approve, because they do have a Standards and Practice department. But the woman who runs it is an extremely intelligent woman, and she’s great. I kind of know what her limits are.”

The result is a show the feels like Louis C.K., sounds like Louis C.K., and looks like Louis C.K. in all of his awkward, thoughtful, rough, and profane glory. “It’s not perfect, my show,” he says. “I think that’s the trade off. It’s not slick and perfected, but it’s really from the gut. Stand-up is like that. You say er, um, a lot, and you don’t cut it out. You get caught picking your nose on stage, but when you hit, you really hit. So I’m hoping that’s what the show is able to do.”

Preview: Louie Episode One - Pilot


Louis C.K. has finally found a television vehicle that reflects who he is a stand-up comedian in Louie. It is at times profane, uncomfortable, thoughtful, and hilarious. There are laughs of all kinds. There are little smiles when he tells his kids everyone is having French toast despite the fact that their mother doesn’t make them eat it. There’s nervous laughter when he tries to kiss a first date at the door on the way out. And the biggest laughs when the show finds Louie onstage doing stand-up

The show focuses on C.K. as a stand-up comedian trying to raise two young daughters in New York City, a scenario straight out of his personal life. “That’s the only thing I’m comfortable with in life anymore,” he says onstage during the opening stand-up bit. “I know how to raise a couple of kids.”

There are two parts to the pilot episode – a field trip to the botanical garden that never actually happens, and an extremely awkward date – both framed by footage of Louie onstage at the Comedy Cellar, one of C.K.’s haunts in New York City.

“I volunteer not because I’m a good person, but because you have to,” says Louie about his kids’ public school. “Because nobody works there.”

Cut to the bus ride. The driver doesn’t know how to get to the gardens or what to do when the bus breaks down when he literally hits an underpass. Louie is legitimately shocked by the lack of diligence, and equally unsure of himself when he’s thrust into a leadership role to fix it.

“Hey man, what do you have to do to be a bus driver? Nothing? How can you be so god damn irresponsible when you’re transporting peoples’ children?”

The outrage is real, and justified, but it’s not coming from some high-handed lecture or morality play. Louie is afraid because they’ve broken down in Harlem, and his immediate solution is horribly inappropriate, relieving him of the high moral ground. That makes the point that much more effectively.

The second segment – the show doesn’t weave all of its plot points into a nice little sitcom basket – shows Louie going on one of the most awkward dates ever committed to film. He does everything wrong from the start, dressing up too much, not planning a romantic evening, and smiling uncontrollably when his date looks at him. None of it is really his fault – he just can’t help himself.

This is one of the best points about the show. In a traditional sitcom, Louie would wind up at home in front of the TV or talking about the date with friends. Here, the woman is taken away by the most literal and absurd form of deus ex machina you’re likely ever to see on television. Then we see what the real Louis C.K. would have done after a date like that – write some sharp, original stand-up comedy about it.

There is a sensibility to the pilot unlike anything else on television (see Louis C.K. finds a perfect fit at FX for his thoughts on this). Before he broke into TV, and before it was an easy and popular thing to do, C.K. was making short films. The pilot has that same roving feel as a stand-up set. It can go anywhere, alternate between gritty reality and flat out odd, and begin and end whenever the subject demands it.

This is clearly a better show than Lucky Louie, C.K.’s attempt at twisting the traditional sitcom format on HBO, and it deserves a much longer look than the single season C.K. got from that. Lucky Louie is dead, long live the real Louie.

Preview: Louie Episode Two -- Poker/Divorce

Episode two: Poker/Divorce
11:30PM EST FX

If you weren’t already convinced that Louie was going to be a fascinating watch, this should be the clincher. The cold opening is a bunch of guys sitting around a table playing poker. Stop there, this could be scene from any one of a thousand sitcoms over the last half century.

But then you see who’s at the table – Louie, Jim Norton, Eddie Brill, Nick Di Paolo, Hannibal Buress, and Rick Crom. This isn’t your usual cast of sitcom characters, and they’re talking like they would if you walked in on them at the Comedy Cellar. They are busting each other’s chops, insulting each other’s mothers in vulgar and inventive ways.

Then the conversation turns to the one gay comic at the table, Rick Crom It starts as a free for all about gay sex, punchlines flying, and Di Paolo protesting he doesn’t want to hear the specifics. But then it turns into a poignant discussion about the word faggot, and the associations it conjures for gay men.

At one point, the room gets quiet, and Crom talks about the medieval connotations of gay men being burned, but not on a stake, which would be too good for them. They were thrown into the kindling below instead to burn. There’s a long and troubling history associated with the word, and, Crom reveals, for some gay men, the word brings that up every time.

Again, C.K. avoids trying to take the high moral ground. Everything devolves into jokes again quickly, with everyone participating. And Crom leaning over to smooch Di Paolo’s head. The end result isn’t a judgment, it’s a bunch of guys bringing up a serious topic, showing their differences, and getting along. If only people behaved like that more often in real life.

And that’s all before the opening credits, which aren’t really opening credits, because they happen nearly eight minutes into the show. Nothing is taken for granted in this show. Everything falls where it feels right.

The second half of the show deals with life after divorce, set up by Louie onstage riffing on the topic. That’s followed by a short montage about the day of the divorce, with Robert Kelly playing Louie’s brother. Kelly gets some great mileage out of hammering the negative into Louie, telling him he’ll die alone under a thin blanker, actually asking him to picture it. (Kelly was only supposed to be in one episode, but C.K. says he’ll be back).

Louie then flashes back again, to his high school sweetheart, Tammy Wickilinis. Feeling a bit alone, he digs her up on Facebook, and decides to meet her face to face. Obviously, things have changes, and Tammy isn’t the cute little Tammy she once was. But C.K. avoids the obvious here, as well, and what could have been either a cliché or complete sap turns into something hysterical and sweet.

The laughter continues over the closing credits back at the poker table, and you can tell its genuine for everyone in the scene, just as Louie is genuine all around.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The BC Q&A: Musician Bryan Beller, Dethklok touring bassist

I like to cover music on occasion in this space, so it’s a happy accident when there’s some crossover between non-comical music, like that played by Kira Small and her husband, bassist Bryan Beller. The pair are playing a gig tonight in Braintree at Emerald Hall.

Fans of Dethklok, the band from the animated heavy metal show Metalocalypse on Adult Swim, know Beller as the bass player charged with holding down William Murderface’s low end on tour. And the big Boston connection here is Berklee – it’s where Beller was educated and met Kira.

It’s also where Metalocalypse creator Brendon Small studied before he found a new direction at The Comedy Studio, although Beller and Small would meet elsewhere.

Beller has gone from playing metal in larger venues to somewhat smaller venues playing as a duo with Kira. I caught up with him by e-mail to talk a bit about Dethklok and his current tour.

How long have you and Kira played together?

We actually first met at Berklee College Of Music in 1990, and we played together there briefly - she sang in my Senior Recital, and I played bass on her senior demo tape project (with Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums, if you can believe that!). But we didn't start playing together as a duo until April of 2009, so really our duo thing is just a little over a year old.

Is it much of an adjustment, personally and musically?

Not really! I've been performing with Mike Keneally in the duo format for over ten years, so it was just a matter of fitting that bass+rhythm role into Kira's original material. And since it's soul/R&B, it's actually much easier, and lots of fun. You know, I haven't always just played metal and wacky stuff. I played old R&B stuff in cover bands like everybody else. I just haven't had much of a chance to do that stuff, and it's great to be able to just sit back and groove and let Kira carry the show.

Do you plan to record together?

We've talked about it. No official plans yet, but I think at some point if we keep doing this, it's just going to make sense to do something like that.

How is it to play coffeehouses and house concerts after playing metal in theaters and clubs?

It's really great, actually. It's all about balance. You go on the road in the bus on the Big Metal Tour and it's great because everything's taken care of for you and the situation's pretty cushy, but after a couple of months it starts to get all weird and slightly dehumanizing.

I actually start to crave the more DIY, drive-yourself-in-a-minivan vibe after a certain point. Plus you get to make much more intimate connections with fans and friends on a smaller scale tour. But a few months of that - which is hard on you physically - makes me miss the bus all over again. Ideally I'd get to go back and forth forever.

How did you and Brendon meet?

Keneally introduced us. They met on MySpace, if you can believe that.
Keneally was a fan of Brendon's old show Home Movies, and Brendon had been following Keneally and me for a long time - he'd actually seen us play in Boston with Dweezil Zappa back in 1994 at The Paradise! - so somehow they stumbled into each other online and were already fans of each other's work.

Then Brendon came to a duo show Keneally and I were doing back in 2006, and I met him there. He was telling us how he had just sold this new show about a death metal cartoon band to Cartoon Network, and it sounded really funny to me in theory. Next thing I knew there were billboards all over the Sunset Strip, the show's a hit, the record's a hit, and now he needs a touring band. So, of course, he gets Keneally and me, the most metal guys in the world, to round out the live band.

Are you recording with Dethklok now, as well?

Brendon pretty much does all of the recording himself except for the drums, because he's got Gene Hoglan for that. So no, I'm not recording with them now, but I did track bass on one tune from The Dethalbum II, The Gears.

Brendon's moving pretty fast, dealing with TV show deadlines and all that, so most of the time it's just easier to do it all himself at lightning speed.

Were people disappointed to come to the shows and find you weren't William Murderface?

I sure hope not, because I'm not supposed to be him. I'm just supposed to make him sound good. Those who follow the show know that's a pretty tall order in the first place.

Really, in the end of the day, at the live shows, we're just the pit band for Dethklok. We're there to make them sound good. I hope they're happy with us.

Are you a fan of comedy and stand-up? Did you go to comedy shows when you were studying here?

Yes, I'm a fan of comedy, but really only a casual fan. Never been to a live stand-up show in my life. I certainly wouldn't call myself an aficionado or anything like that. That said, I'm a big Craig Ferguson fan. Is that just hopelessly mainstream? Oh well. I can say that, after getting to know Brendon, I have a much better appreciation for the amount of testicular fortitude it takes to stand in front of a crowd of people and tell jokes.

What are you up to once you are finished touring with Kira?

Some remote recording projects. I've been having a lot of fun doing bass tracks for folks from around the world writing interesting stuff and wanting my musical voice on it, which is nice.

I have some instructional clinics here and there - one's even at the Armed Forces School Of Music in Norfolk, VA (you're talking to an honest-to-goodness U.S. Dept. Of Defense Contractor, I'll have you know). I'm still doing some writing for Bass Player Magazine, where I'm a Contributing Editor.

Then it's right back out with Kira for two more touring runs, one in the upper midwest and one down south in the Carolinas. Then this fall I'm headed out to the west coast for some stuff with Keneally and my own band. Every month is different, and I really don't know what's coming until about 6 weeks in advance. It's pretty damned invigorating.

Mike Birbiglia new book, Connection date

Mike Birbiglia is coming back to Boston to play the Comedy Connection Wilbur Theatre on October 13 on his Painfully True Stories Tour. He'll be promoting his new book, Sleepwalk With Me and Other Painfully True Stories. Tickets went on sale today, and the ticket price includes an autographed copy of the book, which will hit bookstores on October 12.

Click here to buy tickets.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Brian Gordon's "Saturday Evening Preposterous" at the Pig's Eye in Salem

It's no surprise that someone predisposed to comedy might also dabble in other forms of art. What is surprising is how good Brian Gordon is at his chosen second (or third or fourth) form -- collage. Gordon doesn't get up onstage as much as he used to (he now uses the principles of stand-up to help people with autism), so if you want to see the way his mind works, you'll have to make it out to In A Pig's Eye Restaurant in Salem, which is showing Gordon's exhibit, "The Saturday Evening Preposterous," through the end of June.

Here is Gordon's artist's statement, along with a couple of pieces from the show.

It sprang from the burn out I was experiencing making other art. I thought collage would be a great way to free my mind and let my instincts take over with no fear of there being a right or wrong to what I was doing. At first the pieces were small enough to fit the purpose of being art to be folded within one of my hand-made envelopes (ask me about this if you dare!). Soon after I found that the pieces were getting bigger and bigger. 300 vintage magazines and photographs later what you have here are the 11 pieces you see scattered around the Pig’s Eye.

In life I believe who we are is based on the way that each of us associates detail in the world. One person may turn up the volume when a Pink Floyd song comes on the radio in the car. I on the other hand immediately change the station and hope the few notes I have heard don’t cause 20 minutes of slight, irreversible depression. I can’t wait for the day that I develop a fondness for Pink Floyd…and raw celery (it is my food nemesis!).

In my opinion, growth as a human occurs when we expand our process of associating detail in the world.

I have taken images from magazines (Life, the Saturday Evening Post, Look, and National Geographic ), children's books, and countless other materials that span the early 1900s right up through the 1980s to create a series of pieces dedicated to expanding one's process of associating detail.

Why not try to make sense of things that do not seem to conventionally belong together, right? What you get is: "The Saturday Evening Preposterous."

The rules for creating this work were consistent and simple:

1. All images must be cut straight from vintage materials
2. Instinct is the guide
3. Do the work.
4. Have fun.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Video: A peek at FX's Louie

Louis C.K.'s new show, Louie, premieres on FX on June 29, and the network has released a couple of new promos for the show. I've seen the rough pilot, and this show is much more in tune with C.K.'s outlook and captures his humor much better than did his HBO show Lucky Louie, as Jon Stewart notes below on C.K.'s Daily Show appearance.

Video promos taken down as per agreement with FX.

Louie, A New FX Original Comedy, Premieres Tuesday, June 29
at 11PM ET/PT only on FX. These videos will be removed from the site on July 9, as per agreement with FX.

For good measure, C.K.'s hilarious appearance on The Daily Show last night:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Louis C.K.
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Video: Chris Coxen comes home from England

If you've noticed a lack of character in the Boston scene for the past few months, that's because Chris Coxen has been gone, bringing Barry Tattle, Rips McCoxen, and his stable of unstables to England. Coxen reports that his characters went over well there, and he was fairly smitten with the scene.

He'll be at The Comedy Studio Friday and Saturday, and back at his usual Wednesday night gig at Mottley's Comedy Club.

I caught up with Coxen at his welcome home party. But since Coxen would never use such a pedestrian phrase, he called it his "Jazzy Persons Convention." He talks about England, and what would make him leave his Boston home for the U.K.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The BC Q&A: Christopher Titus

The first time I saw Christopher Titus perform, I was cover comedy for The Buffalo News, and he was performing at the Funny Bone near SUNY Buffalo, my alma mater. He put on a dark show with long moments where the audience didn’t know how to react, like relating how he broke his mother’s suicide to his father over the phone.

That show would become his one-man show, Norman Rockwell Is Bleeding, which would then become his Fox sitcom, Titus. What I didn’t know was that I had caught Titus at a turning point, where he decided what he wanted to do with his comedy after more than a decade in the clubs.

Titus comes to the Comedy Connection Wilbur Theatre with a full plate. He’s working on a new sitcom for Fox, an update of Titus based on his last Comedy Central special, Love Is Evol. He’s also trying to turn his rejected Comedy Central pilot, Special Unit, into a movie. And he’s got a new live show, Neverlution,, which he’s workshopping for the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal next month.

I spoke with him by phone.

I always expect to hear that you’ve been kidnapped or your wife has shot at you when we speak.

That’s the next special.

Are you at a happy point in your life? I know that in Love Is Evol, you talked about actually being happy.

Yeah, I am, actually. The new one is called Neverlution, The new one is about how we’ve lost our country, how we just gave it away and how we’re raising a whole generation of kids who aren’t going to take it back for us. I’m getting that ready for the Montreal Comedy Festival, which is… I’ve got to have it perfect and ready by July 12.

So one-man shows are still something you’re interested in doing even with everything else you’ve got going on?

It’s such a misnomer, though. People always tell me, Titus, you do such a one-man show style, but I always kind of look at it as, I just do comedy for an hour and fifteen minutes with a them. I saw Lily Tomlin years ago do Signs of Intelligent Life and it was thematic and it was really funny.

The guy I’m working with now, he got Eddie Izzard going at Westbeth Entertainment. He kind of picked me up. He said, “You really do that show in a club?” And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s how I make sure it’s funny.” In a theater, people are willing to let it be quiet and not funny for a while. But if I work in a club where it has to be funny every eighteen seconds, then I get to the theater and I take those moments, and it’s hilariously funny, it just makes it that much better.

I remember seeing you years ago in Buffalo when you were working on the show that would become Norman Rockwell is Bleeding –

Oh, god, when I was really angry.

I remember you were asking the club owner, who was also a comic, for advice on putting that in club setting.

Yeah, Paul. I think his name was Paul. That was one of the first early weeks of me really just going with my new style. I remember that. I found out if you’re just really funny… I think it would be hard to take from a theater to a club, to work on a theater piece that had a lot of good moments in it but not a lot of funny in it, and then try to take that to a comedy club, you’d be dead.

You’d wind up doing highlights, and it would…

It would kill it. I agree.

Wow. You know me all the way back to Buffalo. Wow.

You were in LA then, right, and touring with that in clubs?

Yeah, but if I remember correctly with Buffalo, I had been doing comedy for twelve years, and I got to this really weird place where I really hated my act because I hadn’t found anything, and when I went to Buffalo, I just changed my act. I just started doing edgier, I started performing angrily, and performing like who I really am inside, I guess, and really kind of pushing it. It was working, so I pushed it so far that at one point, I started to walk people out of the room, and then I pulled it back to where it felt comfortable, and that’s where I am now.

So that period was a turning point for you, you’d say?

Definitely. I was going to quit comedy. I was really going to quit comedy. It just didn’t work.

I had gotten kind of a backward impression of that, where you had been doing that kind of show with those moments where you were digging yourself a hole, especially talking about your mother’s suicide, and trying to reel them back in after that, and you were trying to make it work more in a club.

This was before I got the show, right?

We talked afterwards and you were working on something.

This was ’97 or ’98?


So if we go back to then, yeah, it really got clear that I didn’t want to do bullshit comedy anymore. I didn’t want to do ten minutes on masturbation, ten minutes about porn, ten minutes about commercials, ten minutes about how stupid my girlfriend or wife is. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do something different in a club. Paul was a comic, he was totally okay with it.

The show you did there was almost exactly Norman Rockwell is Bleeding, I think.

Yeah, I had just got it in shape. In ’98, we put it up in a theater – that was in the summer, wasn’t it? We put it up in a theater like a month later, we put it in a theater in September, and that’s when I got the deal for Titus.

Most of the shows of yours I’ve seen have been intensely personal, and if this is a broader political show, how does it relate back to you?

It’s weird. If you saw The End of the World, it was very topical, and about [raising my kids after 9/11]. This one is about the social structure that we’ve actually currently built in our society right now. I was trying to figure out what this show is about.

It’s not about the politics, it’s about us. I have a whole bit about, it’s not illegal immigration’s fault, it’s our fault for going to Home Depot and picking up six of those guys to build an unpermitted bathroom in a house we can’t afford. That’s the problem. And it’s all about personal responsibility and taking the country back. Dealing with congress and the senate the way they need to be dealt with. I have some weird ideas in this show.

Will we be seeing that show at the Wilbur?

Yeah. I’ve gotta get it right, so I’m really working on it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

BC News Bits: Ken Reid, Nick Di Paolo, Jimmy Dunn, and the Friars Club

Ken Reid is one of the "Daily8" featured comics on RooftopComedy.com today. The video featured is "I Miss Paying Rent," taped live at Mottley's Comedy Club, about his racist but understanding former landlord.
Danvers native Nick Di Paolo has redesigned his Web site at www.nickdip.com. It's a vast improvement over his old site, much easier to navigate and easier on the eyes. Here's a quick announcement from Di Paolo about the new design.

Jimmy Dunn made a name for himself in local advertising with his spots for Olympia Sports, which featured a rotating cast of local comedians. He's now expanded a bit to produce an ad for Seacoast Harley co-starring Joey Carroll and Jim McCue. Here's the ad:

Three teams with ties to Boston will be competing in the Friars Club Improv and Sketch Competition on June 25th at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City. Code Duello (Neil Reynolds and Matt Tucker doing their best Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton)will compete in the improv portion, with Improv Asylum's Vanity Project serving as first alternate. Somebody's in the Doghouse will compete in the sketch portion.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Chance Langton on the Bob & Tom Show 6/8

The Bob and Tom Show has always been a great show for comedians, and it has hosted its share of comedians with Boston roots in the past. And since there is no station carrying it in the Boston area, you'll have to check the show out online to hear Chance Langton when he's on Tuesday.

Chance's act is pretty radio-friendly, and you can listen for yourself on his Web site. If you go to the Bob & Tom site and don't recognize the photo of the guy nest to his name (above left), that's probably because you've seen him in the past fifteen years. He hasn't changed too much, just a little less hair, which is a slightly different color (above, right).

Friday, June 4, 2010

The BC Q&A: Jimmy Tingle, Harvard grad

Jimmy Tingle has held a bevy of titles in this town. The Cambridge native was a bartender at the old Ding Ho, where he eventually earned the title of stand-up comedian. He was a street performer who used to play his harmonica out in Harvard Square. He once did the “Andy Rooney spot” on 60 Minutes II. For five years, he was a theater owner and manager, running a space in Davis Square that hosted comedy, music, plays, and sometimes a talk show, which he hosted. You can also add faux presidential candidate, from the title of his last one-man show.

For the past year, Tingle dropped all of his other titles and picked up the title of student, earning his masters in public administration from the Kennedy School in Harvard. Tonight at Bull Run in Shirley, Tingle returns to performing again. He’ll likely be the same Jimmy audiences here have seen over the years, delivering his politically and socially minded material in his distinct, polished cadence and Boston accent. But he’s hoping to approach his comedy a bit differently, in accordance with his new degree.

I spoke with Tingle by phone from his Cambridge home earlier this week.

So what made you decide to go back to school?

Let’s see, why did I go back to school? I just wanted to do something different. Nick, I just felt like I wanted to get a tune-up. I just wanted to challenge myself with something else besides performing.

How did you settle on Harvard and public administration?

Well that’s where I live, I live in Cambridge. I’ve lived in the shadow of the Kennedy School my whole life. I’ve been studying, I’ve been familiar with the topic over the years. As you know, my act deals with a lot of this stuff all the time and keeping up with what’s going on in the world, and I just said, you know what? This would be a great place to go.

I kept running into people that went there. Friends of mine, colleagues. And I just thought it would be a really good thing to do. Intellectually, career-wise, on a personal level. That’s really what I wanted to do. I wanted to figure out new ways to think about the same subjects. New ways maybe to use my entertainment skills for something beyond entertainment. I had a lot of ideas. Once the theater closed I just wanted to do something different.

How did you mix with the student population there?

Oh, great. You know what? I had a ball. I just love the students. The people are great. They’re just smart. Down to earth. Really very committed to improving society in their various fields. The student population is so diverse. It’s everybody from military, and Navy SEALS and helicopter pilots to Green Beret types, special forces and national security types all the way to people who run non-profits in Afghanistan and Iraq and U.N. workers. You’ve got people from all over the world, you’ve got Israelis and Palestinians mixing for the first time sometimes. It was just beautiful. It was just a fantastic experience.

Was there anything that surprised you about it?

What surprised me the most was how important and how unique and how influential popular culture is in the world of – or can be – in the world of academia. When you step out of what you do, you realize the significance of what you do. That’s what my take away was. I said, wow, what I do is really different. Not everybody does this. Not everybody can do it. And it’s really unique and it’s really special. And I can do a lot of good with it.

Did you get recognized in class frequently? Were people surprised to look over and see you sitting next to them?

You know what? I thought I’d be going to like another country. I felt like no one’s going to know me. I get in there, many of the teachers had been to shows. All of the deans had been to the shows. I couldn’t believe it. They all knew me.

Was that awkward? “Hey! I’m a big fan! By the way, you got a D on your paper.”

No, but the staff, a lot of the people who worked there, you know, from the police department to security to the clerical workers, I just knew a lot of people. Harvard employs, you know, twenty-five thousand people. Well, I don’t know the exact number, but I think it’s one of the largest employers in the area. I know it’s one of the largest, I don’t know if it’s the largest. A lot of these people are local.

So many of these people have been to the shows over the years. Especially the professors and the deans and people like that had come to the shows. I was really surprised. Not so much the students, although some students had, the Americans had. So that was really surprising to me. Because I really wasn’t going there as a comedian, nor did I want to. I was never “on” during class. I was never trying to be funny. I was just there to listen and to learn and literally to try to get through the material, just like any other college course.

How long were you there?

It was a one-year program. So I started in July, we had started summer school in July of ’09, and we finished May 27 of 2010.

So what now that you have this? What’s the next step?

I don’t know, Nick. I’m really going to focus on these performances. I’m going to focus on using comedy, hopefully, for more than just entertainment value. I’m not sure how, but that’s kind of what I’m working on now.

Is there anything immediate that you can think of that your studying will change about your performance?

I think it’s opened me up to a better discipline of reading, writing. It’s broadened my perspective on how the world works. It broadens your perspective of how the country works, how the world works. Just the diversity of opinions and the diversity of mindsets. You get exposed to people from other countries who are there at the Kennedy School trying to improve water purification in Africa or bring electricity to parts of Asia, to reduce poverty in Latin America. And the challenges that they face are huge. We have our own challenges, but they’re not those types of challenges.

You have people who are there from Israel and Palestine. Their challenges are literally life and death, and their politics matter and change of policies matter to people in profound ways. The same with the African countries. It puts America and the world into perspective in a very real way that you don’t get from just newspapers. Although, just being familiar with all these different scenarios over the years by reading newspapers and paying attention to the news, then you start to put human faces on these situations. And that’s something you don’t get from newspapers – the human connection.

Is it going to be an adjustment going back to performing after having spent the last year mostly on studying and schoolwork?

I don’t think it’s going to be a big adjustment at all. It’s like getting a tune-up. It’s an intellectual tune-up. You know? Maybe not a comedic tune-up. But an intellectual one. And it’s a rest. A rest from performing. It’s a break from being onstage, it’s a break from saying what you think. I loved being in the audience. I loved being in the audience and being intellectually engaged and intellectually stimulated by people who are not trying to entertain me. It’s not entertainment. And I love that.

I just want to be exposed to more ideas. The biggest thing’s going to be how to maintain this intellectual stimulation and not just retreat back into the old patterns. I just need new challenged. Really, I went to school for a new challenge. I just had been performing for more than thirty years, I had run the theater, I had done national television, and I just said, I think I can do more. I think I can learn more. That’s really why I went back to school.

One of the challenges I think would be incorporating that intellectual vigor into something that can still appeal to a broad audience. I’d assume you don’t want to go up and cite case studies and things.

Yes I do, Nick. I want to cite some case studies. [Pause] No. I’m kidding. But you know what I do. It’s fascinating to me how well-received what I do is at Harvard. That was really surprising to me. In a good way. They really enjoyed my sense of humor when I did perform. I just did a couple of things. Or even the commencement speech, for example. It was just really well received. It’s unique. And it put what I do in perspective with the rest of society, and literally, the world.

What you do can reach people more immediately than what someone who’s studying in the same program as you are might.

Absolutely. I mean, the commencement address that I did at Harvard, they’d never seen anything like that.

Being more of a blue collar guy, was there a culture shock at Harvard?

Not for me, Nick. I was myself. And I think there was a great appreciation for people for who they are. I mean, a blue collar guy in America is the top one-tenth of one percent in the history of the world in terms of living standards. So you’re there with people from Rwanda who were there during the massacres. You’re there with people from the Congo who are fighting diseases that we eradicated a hundred years ago. So it’s not like you’re disadvantaged at all if you’re an American. In my opinion.

You’re dealing with people who grew up in South Africa where it was against the law to go to school if they were black, or in Latin America where there were the wars from the 70s and the 80s and the 90s, and people from Mexico who are politically connected who are literally under death threats from drug dealers. So to put the human face on all these different trends and all these different issues was just a very eye-opening experience.

I would think all of this would fuel speculation that you might try for a political campaign that’s a bit more serious than your last run for president.

If I were to run, it would be more serious than my last one. [laughs]

That’s kind of a cagey answer.

Yeah. [laughs]

Okay, maybe I should be more direct. Are you considering actually running for an office?

I’m not. I’m not. But when I went there, you can’t go there without that being one consideration. You know, after doing comedy for almost thirty years, I start to think, is this what I want to do for the rest of my life. And I think the Kennedy School, going there and being exposed to hardcore policy, hardcore political people, hardcore policy wonks, that’s what they do. Many of the people in there will be future senators, congressmen, mayors, presidents of countries.

President Calderon of Mexico came to do our class day speech. He was a Kennedy School student. We was a graduate of the Kennedy School. Bill O’Reilly on Fox News is a graduate of the Kennedy School. The head of the United Nations now, the secretary general of the United Nations is a Kennedy School graduate. That’s what they do. So you can’t be there without considering a career in politics. I didn’t go there because I said, I want to switch careers and go into politics. That’s something I might want to go into someday. I don’t know. I still don’t know. But I’m not getting signatures right now for a public office.

What about the question, is this what I want to do for the rest of my life? Did it confirm for you that you want to keep doing comedy?

I think that I want to bring it up a notch or two. I want to go to a different level with it. I definitely want to bring it to a more significant level, a level that is more challenging to me, personally. I need to stretch intellectually, continue to grow intellectually, creatively, professionally. That’s really what I want to do.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Comedy Studio - The Comic in Residence Interview

Every month, The Comedy Studio hosts a new "Comic in Residence," a comedian who plays the venue every day for a month. It's a program developed by Studio owner Rick Jenkins to help comedians develop their craft by getting onstage as much as possible.

Starting this month, we'll be interviewing the Studio's Comic in Residence at the beginning of each month, finding out how long they've been doing comedy and what they plan to do at the Studio. This month it's Tim Vargulish, a smart up and coming comic from Rhode Island and a regular on the Boston scene for the past couple of years.

When did you start doing comedy?

I started doing comedy four years ago.

How often have you played the Studio?

I've consistently played the studio about 1-2 times for the last two years.

What other clubs do you play?

I also play at Mottley's and Catch a Rising Star.

What local comedians have influenced you?

I'm not sure if any local comedians have influenced me. When I first started out I was influenced by David Cross and Patton Oswalt. There are tons of amazing local comedians that I look up to, Shane Mauss, Joe Wong, Sean Sullivan, Josh Gondelman, sorry but there's just way too many to name.

What's the average number of gigs you've played in a month before this?

Around twelve a month, give or take.

How will you approach your time -- work on new stuff, refine older stuff, or a mix of both?

On Sundays and Wednesdays I want to work on new material. Thursdays I want to work on a mix of new and old stuff. Fridays and Saturdays I want to use to just really perfect a seven-minute set.

What do you expect to have gotten out of the experience when the month is over?

I'm just hoping to have a great experience, performing every night with tons of incredibly funny people and improving my material as much as possible.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The BC Q&A: Wendy Liebman

Wendy Liebman can tell you the exact day she started her comedy career in Boston. A Long Island native, Liebman came to Boston to go to Wellesley College as a psychology major. She wound up getting hooked on comedy, joining a scene that included comedians like Anthony Clark, Dot Dwyer, and Brian Kiley, looking up to veterans like Don Gavin and Jonathan Katz.

Liebman credits Boston with showing her who she is as a comedian. “I think I would be a different kind of comedian if I started in New York,” she says. “The audience teaches you, and their sensibility is what I heard. And I think it made me a better comedian. I think I would be more sarcastic if I had learned from New York, and less just amused. So I’m grateful to Boston.”

Thursday evening, she’ll play a benefit at the Regent Theatre in Arlington. This is the third year she has organized the show for Community Works, an umbrella organization supporting social justice causes run by Fran Froehlich and Kip Tiernan, veteran activists Liebman met while working at Radcliffe. It’s a rare chance to see Liebman, who used to do an annual Valentine’s Day show at the Comedy Connection’s old Faneuil Hall location. I spoke with her by phone from her home in Los Angeles.

It seems these days you only get back into town when you’re doing benefits. Are you looking for other places to play here?

I actually did a fantastic gig at the Boston Convention Center for the Yankee Dental Convention, and there were like, I want to say, two thousand dentists there. At our show, but something like thirty thousand dentists from New England. And I’m like, I hope no one has an emergency, a dental emergency tonight.

It’s hard to conceive of that many dentists existing all at once, much less in the same place.

I know, and if only they would have put laughing gas into the showroom, that would have been phenomenal. But anyway, I did get to work there, it was at the Boston Convention Center, which wasn’t there when I lived there.

How much has changed here since the last time you got to explore and walk around?


Either, comedy-wise or the city itself.

Well, the city itself, the whole Big Dig thing was not completed when I left Boston, and now it is. Isn’t it?

Yes. Now they’re just repairing it.

Well, that will go on, right?

Yeah. There’s pretty much ongoing work and construction here if you’re in that trade.

It’s like my act, it’s a work in progress. Comedy-wise, what I wish had been there when I was there the Comedy Studio in Harvard Square, which just sounds like such a phenomenal place for people to work on their act. I guess when I was there, there was not that room to do it.

What was the year you started here?

I started in 1984, October twenty-fifth, to be exact. Yeah. So a long time. More than half my life ago.

Do you keep in touch with any comics from Boston? Are you close to anybody here?

I just did a show in LA at something called The Fake Gallery. Not sure if you’re familiar with it, but Paul Kozlowski, who was originally in a comedy group with Bob Goldthwait and Tom Kenny, originally from Upstate New York – Paul moved to Boston and started doing stand-up there, and now he’s moved out here. He started something called The Fake Gallery, which is an art gallery, he’s an artist. It’s decorated with all his art and it’s also a comedy room. And I guess it’s close to The Comedy Studio, in that you can just go there and be random. And it was almost all Boston night. It was Brian Kiley, who’s now writing on Conan – he’s a good friend – and Fran Solomita, Ed Driscoll, and myself. So almost all Boston comedy night.

And then every once in a while I’ll run into Tony V, like on the streets of Las Vegas and we’ll catch up on the sidewalk. And I keep in touch with Julie Barr over Facebook.

Are there a lot of comedians you met in Boston you run into in LA?

I started doing open mics with a guy named Mike Martineau, and I see him every other week, I’d say, at either Starbucks or my supermarket. We live that close to each other. And I don’t know if you remember Brian Frazer, he went to Emerson and started doing comedy. He’s written a book called Hyper-chondriac and it’s just phenomenal. Anyway, he and his wife are both writers, comedy writers. I run into them as well. And Brian, Mike Martineau, and myself started doing the open mics together.

Boston has a reputation for brash, no-bullshit comics, but I feel like there are a few more traditions than that, you being in one of them, a sort of quick one-or-two-liner comedy. You have Brian Kiley, Don Gavin – who’s probably the source of a lot of it – and people like Myq Kaplan now, who’s a bit younger.

Jonathan Katz also comes to mind. He’s a good friend. Brian Kiley and Don Gavin, and also Kevin Meaney and Bill Braudis. Those were the comedians that I watched – Kevin, Brian, Jonathan, Don, and Bill Braudis. Those were the comedians I watched, because I loved their sense of timing and they’re wordplay, and they had tag lines. It’s almost like, those were the voices that I heard and I wanted to emulate.

What got you involved with Community Works?

When I worked at Radcliffe after college, I worked at the Bunting Institute, which is a fellowship program for women, and there were two women there who were community activists, Kip Tiernan and Fran Froehlich. I’m sure you’ve heard of Kip because she started Rosie’s Place. And both of these women are like modern day Mother Theresas. I think they were even once nuns. I would do anything for these women. And when I worked at the Bunting, I started talking about me doing a benefit, and it came to fruition three years ago. So this is the third year.

I do about twenty benefits a year in LA, and I’ll travel every once in a while. But this is my benefit, this is the one I organized. And this is the umbrella organization to many social organizations in the Massachusetts area. It’s a hard time economically for everyone, myself included, and I think the trickle-down effect must be horrendous. I feel like it’s not a huge commitment, it’s twenty-five dollars, and yet it goes so far, I think. I always feel like when I give, I get more back.

There are so many organizations involved with Community Works, I think it’s hard for people to wrap their heads around a benefit for it.

Well, they don’t like to be compared to United Way, but that’s how I explain it to people, because I think people get that. I know Kip and Fran, and just having them at the helm, I just feel safe that all the money that is raised goes to bona fide, above the board, helpful organizations.

Do you think you’d ever revive your Valentine’s Day show here?

I would love to. I just haven’t been invited. I guess since they moved to the Wilbur Theatre, it’s a different configuration. I would probably have to bring in a co-headliner because it’s such a big venue.

Anything else you’re up to?

Well, I’m turning 50 in February, and my plan is, although I’d better get started, my plan is to have a party but also record a DVD that night, to perform for my friends, and record a DVD. Because I don’t have a DVD. Even at my worst shows, or what I consider my worst shows, people want to buy something. So that’s my plan.