Monday, July 26, 2010

The BC Q&A: Myq Kaplan

Former Boston comic Myq Kaplan will appear again tonight on NBC's Last Comic Standing, one of seven finalists. Kaplan is a smart writer, and he generally writes short material, giving him an edge in a competition where your success depends on two or two-and-a-half minute sets. And he's been on the rise for the past few years, appearing on The Tonight Show and Comedy Central, and opening for two sold out shows for Bo Burnham's Comedy Central special taping earlier this year.

I caught up with him by phone last Tuesday, the afternoon after last week's Last Comic Standing aired. [Ed note -- more of this interview will appear later today once I have transcribed it].

So what’s your schedule like these days with Last Comic Standing?

They fly us out the day before. The day before, they have a rehearsal, a walk through and stuff. They fly us out on Saturday, and we do that stuff on Sunday, then do the show on Monday, and then Tuesday’s the travel day back.

Are you still getting to play out elsewhere during the week?

Mostly I go back home to New York and do shows there, in the meantime.

I’d assume some of your time now is spent trying to drum up votes.

Yeah. Some of it is. I mean, I have fan pages and mailing lists and my family has friends that they call. Everybody, friends and family, is on board. Every week that there is a vote I try to make sure that everybody who might want to help knows.

Did you have a plan going in for that kind of thing?

I didn’t have a specific plan, other than doing what I’ve been doing, which is amassing as many fans in real life and on the computer as possible. And telling them about it. And then obviously trying to get as much of me out there so that people who don’t know me might find me.

How much of your set do we see in the final project? I’ve heard a lot of comics complain in the past that they’ve been heavily edited – you put five minutes down to two minutes, sometimes things don’t come out.

I’ve been happy with the way I have been portrayed. Some of the sets are edited, but in the finals, but starting with the ten finalists, everything is done live to tape. We tape an hour show, and the set that you see, like the set that you saw last night was the set that I did.

It was sort of unusual, I didn’t think of you as having to change much of anything for TV, but obviously you had to reword the gay joke a bit.

I had to do that for The Tonight Show, so I’ve had that as a TV clean version of the joke that I’m happy with.

You’re very particular about the wording of your jokes. Do you think it takes away from the impact to do that kind of joke on TV?

I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t happy with it. There are some jokes that I have that I could change to be TV friendly that I think would lessen the impact. This is one that I don’t feel does that. In preparing for The Tonight Show I went around to a lot of – I practiced the set a lot with that wording just to make sure that it did feel right to me and got the response that I wanted it to. It passed that test to me. Audiences have been responding to it. There’s no way to test an audience with both lines, obviously, because once they’ve heard one, the other won’t have the same hold. But as far as I can tell, they both work, and I’m fine with them being interchangeable.

I feel like you’re particularly well suited for a competition like this. You have a lot of material you can parse and it’s shorter, and you can put together a two-minute set or a two-and-a-half-minute set more easily than some comics.

I feel similarly, not thinking about anybody else or comparing myself to anybody, but certainly I’ve historically written – I have a lot of shorter jokes. I’m not a lengthy storyteller in general. I enjoy storytelling. I have some jokes that are longer. Should I do three jokes that are one minute each, four jokes that are less than a minute each, or some combination thereof? I feel I do, because of that, have more options than some others.

Had you run across any of the final seven before the show? Are you familiar with any of these people?

Let me think. I did now know Filipe at all. I did know Rachel Feinstein. She lives in New York and we’ve done many shows together and are friendly. I would say she is the one I know the best. I didn’t know Jonathan Thymius. I didn’t know Mike D, even though he’s from New York. I knew who he was, I’d seen some of his stuff on TV and online. But we only met at Last Comic Standing. Tommy, same thing. I was familiar with his work but we didn’t meet until the auditions. Then there’s me, I knew me pretty well. And Roy Wood, Jr. I did know. We both did the Norfolk Great American Comedy Festival together two or three years ago.

It’s strange sometimes watching the show when you know the host or the judges know the comic that they’re commenting on. You know that they’re all sort of in the New York scene together or another scene, and you can tell that the judges know them well, and to have to give some feedback on someone they might have played a gig with before. It must be awkward.

The whole prospect is awkward in general. I think the judges do the best that they can in not making anybody feel bad, being as fair as possible, and elevating the best comedy, as far as they know and can tell. But the circumstances, they’re not natural for comedy. Comedy in its most obvious genuine form isn’t a competition. That makes for an awkward dynamic to begin with. But I think the judges have done as good a job as possible of being as honest and kind and complimentary and constructive and funny, for the most part, when possible.

But certainly somebody like Laurie Kilmartin, she came up I think with Greg Giraldo. So seeing that sort of dynamic, where they’re essentially peers, but due to these circumstances, they are not peers, in this context, that is odd.

There are a lot of comics who don’t like the show, and some portion of those comics are now posting links to vote for you after the show. That’s a strange mix, as well.

Oh sure. There are a lot of things that people have historically disliked about the show. I think the largest, most visible, was in the second season when Dan Naturman was clearly, it seems, chosen by the judges but rejected by the producers or somebody else. Which, to the show’s credit, they did air all of that. They didn’t hide it, they didn’t keep it secret. But it was what it was.

It’s not just a pure show based on merit. Obviously not every comedian is going after it. The best comedians in the country or the world, your Chris Rocks, your Seinfelds, your Brian Regans, are obviously not competing because it’s not necessary for them. So some people are like, “This isn’t finding the best comedians.” Then they’ll say it’s finding the best unknown comedians. The some people will say, “These people aren’t unknown, they have TV credits.”

An American Idol singer can never have sung in public and be great. But a person who has never performed comedy in public is, I think, much less likely to be great. So that’s more of a concern for non-comedian. The comedians understand that the people who stand in line have less of a chance of getting in. Which I think is an issue – some people are not clued in to that.

It’s very hard to explain to somebody who hasn’t followed comedy or done comedy how much of the job is just doing it. They’ll often compare it to music, like you said with American Idol. They think you can just emerge from a room after writing all of this stuff and just be consistently funny from day one.

Oh, yeah. I didn’t know anything about comedy before I did it. I watched some of it when it was on whenever I started out. Especially when the show does seem to be made in the vein of an American Idol style contest. So people outside of comedy will be like, oh, this is finding the unknown comic they way Idol does singers, finding a nobody and turning them into a somebody. But as far as comedians, I think in the past, because of that Dan Naturman situation, people grew suspicious that the show might be fixed or cast in a way that seemed unfair.

But I think they’re pretty up front, at least at the end of the shows, they do put a disclaimer across the screen that says choices are made by the judges in conjunction with NBC and the producers of the show.

It feels to me that they have the people they really want to be on there, and at these auditions, you really would have to blow them out of the water to dislodge what they wanted from the beginning.

I honestly don’t know the process that they go through. If I was chosen beforehand, I wasn’t informed about it. Back at the initial auditions, there was no guarantee. I could have done different jokes that might not have hit them as strongly. There were plenty of people they told they were funny but they didn’t think were right for the show, or right for the show now. They chose, eventually, a couple of hundred people to be in the nighttime showcases. And that was pretty much merit-based. If you did really well – obviously there’s some arbitrary nature to it, why does one good person get a spot and another person does not.

But I don’t think they said, let’s get these two hundred people, and watch them and from them, let’s get these forty people. I think you had to do well in the showcase to move on. It’s possible they might have been rooting for some people to do well. But I think something can always go wrong. The crowd could not react the way they want, they could have a lousy spot on the show. Anything could happen.

Jonathan Katz on the Commons today for the Americans with Disabilities Act

There will be a rally today on Boston Common today to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Jonathan Katz will speak, and the keynote speaker is John Hockenberry. Other entertainment includes the Matt Savage Trio and the Tommy Filiault Band. There will also be a march leaving the Common at 11:15. Go to the New England ADA Center Web site for more details.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The BC Q&A: Marc Maron

What the Fuck? That’s the name of Marc Maron’s podcast. If you know Maron’s comedy, you know how perfectly that fits him. It captures his penchant for questioning things. For bluntness. For a hint (or more) of anger.

Maron is known for his edge, but these days, onstage and on the Web, you get a lot more than that from him. Onstage, you get a guy feeling his mortality, even when he’s talking about something as seemingly trivial as setting up his cell phone.

On WTF, as the podcast is known, you get a fascinating conversationalist, someone who brings out the best in a variety of comics – Patton Oswalt, Carlos Mencia, Robin Williams, Dane Cook, Jeffrey Ross. There are also personal stories – Maron kicking cigarettes or overcoming his fear of singing and playing guitar in public.

Friday night, he comes back to Boston, the town he credits with teaching him how to do comedy, to play The Gas at Great Scott, hosted by Anderson Comedy. It’s a small, intimate venue, a great place to see someone like Maron, and likely to sell out.

I spoke with Maron by phone last week.

How’s your nicotine withdrawal?

It feels better. The nicotine withdrawal is okay. I think I’ve gone through the physical part. But my brain still wants it, wants it badly sometimes. But it doesn’t seem to be destroying my life as much. The craving does not seem to be dictating my mood as precisely as it was near the beginning.

I heard that on the podcast…

Yeah. It’s definitely a battle. I definitely need something. I don’t know what it’s going to be. I assume it’s not going to be Jesus. It’s probably going to be ice cream.

When you include something like that in the podcast, are you also writing something about that for the stage or do you manage to keep the two separate?

No, certain things have been bleeding over. Not so much that thing, because I’ve talked about addiction a lot over the years, in one form or another. So that stuff’s sort of in place. But more of the experiential stuff, some of the stories. They seem to be making it onto the stage in a slightly different form that would play for a comedy audience as opposed to a conversation I’m having with an individual in my garage. Or an individual on a Stairmaster, in a car, on a plane. Whoever I’m talking directly to on the podcast. So yeah, it’s bleeding over because I have to generate so much stuff that I started to figure, why not? This stuff is funny. I’m starting to use it. It’s starting to cross over a bit.

When you first thought of doing the podcast – what has gotten most of the attention are some of the interviews you’ve done – did you want it to be more of an interview-based podcast, or a variety show?

It was always the way it was, from the beginning. We didn’t know what we were going to do. Brendan and I just knew we wanted to do something. After we got fired from Air America, we still had our security card, so we’d go in after hours and hijack the studio, and we always had guests and conversations and stuff. It’s sort of honored its original form, for the most part.

I like talking to people, and that’s sort of new for me. I don’t seem to be as cynical as I used to be. It’s been very rewarding to talk to my peers and to talk to comics and keep it sort of variety based, and have enough of my voice at the beginning, and maybe do some mindfuck stuff with characters. But it was always intended to be a conversation show. I imagine I will end up doing some on my own, as time goes on. Obviously we do the road versions, too, which are slightly different. But I’m not really beholden to any particular format, other than my own mind.

Is it difficult as someone who has spent most of their life as one person talking to an audience, going from that to a conversation?

No. Not for me. I’ve kind of shifted a little bit in terms of how I engage with stuff. I feel like I’m getting back to where I was when I was a kid or in high school. I like listening to funny people. I like good stories. I like having conversations with people. I’ve always liked that. It’s really just engaging it and doing it publically.

What do you attribute the lessening of the cynicism to?

Age and the realization that life is short, and what am I really angry at, and what are my real frustrations? These are just choices. Cynicism and anger are just easier than liking things or experiencing joy. It does seem a little riskier, and they don’t come as easy to me.

I’ve heard Patton Oswalt mention that as well. Going into a comedy club and seeing twelve people just sort of scream about their problems and self-righteous political material seems sort of easy, whereas it’s really hard to make something funny that you really love. And that’s where something sort of more magical happens.

I guess. I don’t know what comedy club he’s going to, to see that many people talking about politics or screaming about anything. But I understand what he’s saying.

I was paraphrasing very, very roughly, I don’t want to put words in his mouth.

You know, what I think Patton may be talking about… My frustrations about life, what becomes more interesting is how you overcome them as opposed to just presenting what you’re mad about. And self-righteousness after a certain age is very annoying. To hear self-righteousness, certainly strident self-righteousness, it just becomes a posture. It’s fraudulent.

So I think once you reach a certain age, presenting a problem or a frustration or anger, and then talking about how you’re moving through it or your experiences, is more helpful and more funny, and actually makes people feel better than just bonding in the anger itself.

I was trying to figure out, at one point, why I’m a fan of people like Patton Oswalt and like yourself, why I favor certain comedians over others. And you would look at a comedian who would do seemingly the same topic, and why one makes me want to leave the room or stab my eyes. And it seems to me it’s a matter of what the stakes are for that person.

Well, I think, how much of their humanity is being made available. That is the emotional risk of it. It’s how much of that person, how much of their heart is involved. It’s like watching Pryor. Everyone talks about Pryor, but the reason Pryor was so exceptional was you felt a real visceral sense that he was taking emotional risks. That his vulnerability was genuine. And I think that’s at the heart of great comedy.

But then you wonder if someone who has never took the same risks in their personal life can ever achieve that sort of greatness onstage, as well.

I’m sure they can. It’s just a different kind of performer. There are plenty of clowns. There are plenty of people who are spectacles. I think people love spectacle. So I think success is not judged or decided by how much people put their vulnerability or sensitivity into something. People like train wrecks. People like things blowing up. It’s just a school of thought. It’s a different way of engaging the craft. It’s just a preference, really. And I think in comedy, people who are too sensitive and too vulnerable are more likely to crash and burn than become great successes.

Do you think you’re more open to different comedians and types of comedy for doing this podcast and talking to such a wide variety of people?

I was always pretty open. I never drew lines between alternative and mainstream. And there’s the hack line, which is, it is what it is, but my anger about that type of stuff is not what it used to be. I usually resented people who did something similar to me more than I resented people that were hacks. You know what I mean? There was a jealousy involved. But as time goes on, I’ve become… I don’t know if it’s lenient. I don’t take it all as seriously.

Because a lot of times, people draw these alternative comedy lines, which are ridiculous. A lot of alternative comedy stinks. And a lot of alternative comics are not professional. And when I have someone like a John Caparulo on my show, that guy’s a real comedian. Al Madrigal is a great comedian. These are guys that don’t get a lot of attention in the alt comedy world. But they’re real deal comics, and they take more chances than most alternative acts. So I don’t draw those kinds of lines.

Like when I had Dane Cook on, he wanted to come on, and I felt like I was a little edgy with him, because I didn’t know what I was going to talk to him about. I have nothing personal against him. But I just don’t find him that interesting. I think he’s got a lot of charisma and stuff. But I’m glad we had the conversation.

So I don’t really have that much hostility towards anybody. I just don’t player hate like I used to.

That was a great conversation you had with Dane Cook, and part of the reason was because it wasn’t an in your face, why do you do this type of thing. But it also wasn’t softballing it, either. You made clear what you think, and it was great because you just addressed the issue. There was no blowing it up into something it wasn’t. It was, this is the way I see it, this is the way you see, let’s move on.

Well, I’m glad it came off like that. Some people responded to that in a different way. I was happy to talk to him. But it was really one of those times where I was like, I really don’t know what I’m going to talk to this guy about. I didn’t feel the contempt that a lot of people feel for him. I feel contempt in a way for what he represents culturally, but as a person, and in comedy…

And even with all of this stuff, I don’t keep tabs on who steals what and what’s going on. And that gets me into a little bit of trouble sometimes with people who do. Like with the Carlos stuff, I had to go back and do some homework to make that right. But most of the time, I find that all comics are interesting because we have a lot of time on our hands, we’re very sensitive people, most of us are pretty smart, we’ve taken a tremendous risk with our life, and we have a lot of time where we think about things.

And I just find that the podcast, more than anything else, is just really a way to engage in conversations about life, and I think they’re relatable to everybody, with guys that are fairly philosophical and have a lot of time to process and think about life.

I get comments from a lot of comedians who maybe don’t listen to a lot of podcasts, but your podcast keeps coming up as, “You’ve got to hear this Robin Williams interview,” “You’ve got to hear this Carlos Mencia interview.”

So you get a lot of comments that people don’t listen to many podcasts but they dig mine?

Yeah, yours is the one that comes up. People who have never mentioned a podcast to me will say, you have to listen to this interview or that interview.

I’m happy to hear that. And a lot of my listeners are not comedy people. I mean, that’s the interesting thing. I get a lot of e-mails from people who are just sort of like, my podcast somehow makes them feel less alone, and now they’re being introduced to all these comics. And the primary reason I engage… The Robin interview, I did that, very specifically, because I just couldn’t tolerate kids condescending Robin Williams and his career. To dismiss that guy as a hack and a thief is ludicrous and shallow. And something stuck in my craw about it. So whether I like him or not as a comic is not the issue.

But the bottom line is, I don’t care what kind of comedian you are, whether you’re alternative or whether you think you’re a genius or what, if you’re twenty-two years old and you’re dismissing that guy, a guy who did exactly what you want to do, who started out genuinely as a comic and at twenty-seven got a big break and managed a career for thirty some odd, forty years, and you’re gonna dismiss him that quickly? It aggravated me.

So my intention with that interview was to seek Robin out and let him be a person. Let him speak as a comic.

What did he think when you got in touch with him about it?

Well, I knew him enough. He knows my shit, he knows me. We’ve had conversations before at clubs. He was sort of into it. But it took a while to get there. I went to his house. It was eleven in the morning. There was no audience, it was just him and I, sitting in a room.

And as you heard, he was very candid. He was very human. And we spoke like two comics. And I think that people were able to get a different sense of him. He didn’t really have the energy to… He didn’t jump around much. He was very candid and very honest about all of this stuff. And I felt very happy with that. I was very grateful that we had that conversation.

I think there’s a brilliant mind back there that most people who’ve interviewed him on TV and things, don’t try to access.

He’s a very sensitive guy. And he’s very quiet. And he’s almost shy in a way.

What were your impressions of your time here? A lot of people treasured their time here, and a lot of people also left kind of bitter about it.

I don’t know. I had just started. I was out in L.A. for a year or two at the Comedy Store. I hit the wall on drugs, I went back to Boston where I had gone to college, got a job at a coffee place in Harvard Square and started doing open mics and doing Catch a Rising Star. And then I came in second in the Comedy Riot in 1988, I think. And that started my comedy career. I started working one-nighters for Barry Katz and driving all over the New England area to do comedy.

So my recollections of it are, it was a hard time in the sense that it’s where I started and that’s where I learned to do comedy. Back then you’d do two-man shows, you and the headliner, you usually drive the guy or meet him in the middle of nowhere. Go to Leominster or fucking… Melody, Rhode Island. You didn’t know where the fuck you were going to go. Taunton. I went all over the place. So in a sense, it really taught me how to be a comic.

So I had no bitterness about it. And I was one of the few of my group, that group being Dave Cross and a couple other cats when I was living over there, I worked at Nick’s, I did Mike Clarke rooms. I worked for Barry Katz. I didn’t work at the Connection, because they were douchebags to me. That’s where I learned how to do stand-up. I worked at Johnny D’s. I worked with Gavin, Rogerson, and McDonald. All those guys. Sweeney. I knew all those guys when I was starting out. Credico was around. I was like this kid… Joe Yannetty started at the same I did. We used to do Play It Again Sams in the basement. Jonathan Groff, Joe Yannetty.

I’ve got no resentment towards it. I don’t find myself going up to Boston hardly ever. But it’s not because of any bitterness. I mean, I learned to do comedy there. It’s an important part of my life. I have nothing but… I don’t know if they’d be fond memories, but that’s where I learned how to do it.

People tend to associate different comics who were here with a particular club, as well. You were a Catch guy or you were a Nick’s guy.

I don’t know. A lot of cities take ownership of me. I was back in Boston for a few years, and then after I won the contest, I moved to New York and I was coming up to Boston to do paid work. And I wasn’t getting on in New York so I moved to San Francisco where I really creatively came into myself a little more. San Francisco considers me their own. Boston kind of considers me their own. And New York. I’ve lived in a lot of places for a few years at a time. So my recollection of what those clubs were like, those clubs don’t even exist anymore. I used to do Nick’s downtown, I did Nick’s in Saugus. I did Nick’s, that one in Worcester.

I did Catch a Rising Star, but that guy was out of his fucking mind and made it very difficult for all of us. We’d go to Catch on Sundays and Mondays, and yeah, they’d let us drink for free, and then we’d do the open mics and get mistreated by that Robin guy. And eventually he’d throw you a week, but that’s no way to build your life. I remember everybody drank for free at Catch. That’s why everybody was hanging out there. And trying to get some fucking food.

So was I associated with a specific club? I don’t know. I used to work Stitches, too. I’d just go wherever I could and get onstage.

Getting back to the podcast, you have a few non-comedians on the show, as well, like Sam Lypsite and James Wolcott. Are you looking to expand the non-comedy interview portion of the show?

Absolutely. I want to do whatever I want to do. If I can find somebody interesting I want to talk to, I don’t care if they’re a plumber. I’d like to expand that. It takes a lot of work, and it’s just a matter of setting stuff up and getting to places and doing more road shows. Doing more stuff out in different environments. Adding some textures. I definitely want to expand the interview base.

Is there anyone in particular you’d love to have on?

No. Not really. I recently got an e-mail from Judd Apatow. He wants to come on. I’m looking forward to that. He used to do interviews with comics when he was a kid. And he said he’s got some of those. So I thought it might be fun if we could se what he has and maybe talk about his love of comedy when he was younger. I’m looking forward to it. I hope we can make it happen.

Is this something that you could see yourself doing continuously?

Yes, yes. Because I think it’ll evolve and remain interesting. I really like radio. I like audio. Because you have a lot of freedom with it, and it’s a very intimate medium, and the tone of it is very personal, and that’s something I like to do. I like not knowing where the conversations are going to go.

Frank Ahearn benefit raffle at Zuma's today

Longtime Comedy Connection booker and Tommy’s Comedy Lounge co-owner Frank Ahearn passed away earlier this month after a massive stroke in December. But a raffle planned to help Ahearn with his medical expenses is still going on, to help his family defer the costs of his care.

Ahearn was on COBRA benefits at the time of his death, and the money is much needed. Stop by Zuma Tex Mex Grill in Faneuil Hall any time today and you can buy raffle tickets to support the cause.

First Prize: Two tickets to the Red Sox at Fenway on 8/3, a $200 gift card to the Palm, and a night at the Westin.

Second Prize: A week in a condo in Ogunquit.

Third Prize: Two tickets to the Red Sox at Fenway on 8/3.

Other prizes: Zuma gift card, cases of assorted wines, Kingfish gift certificate.

The raffle will take place at Zuma at 8PM tonight. You can buy tickets any time up until 8PM.

Beth Lapides in 100% Happy 88% of the Time tonight at Oberon

Beth Lapides brings her one-woman, multi-media show, 100% Happy 88% of the Time, to Club Oberon tonight. Here's a quick look at what the show is all about.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Walsh Brothers Keep It Movin' on

Best Week Ever is no longer on TV, and The Walsh Brothers are now in LA making their fortune. But by a happy coincidence, they both came back to me today when I found, and there was a link to one of my favorite Walsh Brothers videos, Keep It Movin'. The author of the post is Noah Garfinkel, who remembers the video from his time in Boston.

The video is simple -- just a couple of guys dressed like cops telling people to "Keep it movin'." But I think about it every time a cop does a slow roll past a crowd of people, or even, as happened last week, someone in front of me at Market Basket decides to block my way out the door while somehow blocking me from getting around them.

Click here to take a look.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Keenan wins at Plymouth Rock, praised by Wright

Boston comic Paul Keenan bested a field of about thirty comics at the Plymouth Rock Comedy Festival Comedic Contest last weekend (Chris Tabb took second, Aaron David Ward third). That's a fine feather in your cap. I'd say Keenan got one better accolade, though.

When wrote about Keenan, they included this quote from one of the masters, Steven Wright, "Hilarious. I tried to remember a joke he did so I could tell him I liked it, but then he'd do another one that was funnier and I forgot the first joke I wanted to mention to him. Then it happened again and again."

Lucky you, if you want to see what Wright found so funny, you'll have your chance tonight at the Kowloon on Route 1 in Saugus. Keenan is on the bill with headliner Jimmy Dunn (the cab driver in the Olympia Sports commercials, for the uninitiated).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dump on Joe Wong Night, Five New Jokes at the Burren tonight

Joe Wong has been getting a lot of praise lately, appearing on Letterman, Ellen, and at the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner. So it’s about time he took a few lumps. Dave Rattigan plans to put Joe through the ringer tonight at the Burren with “Dump on Joe Wong Night,” where a few comedians who know Joe well will give him a kind of mini-roast.

“Comics are all asked to preface their material with an insult of Joe,” says Rattigan.

Who says the comedy scene isn’t sane and loving?

The night will also feature the 5 New Jokes contest with Joe, Matt D., Chrissy Kelleher, Jim Bowes, and Jim McQuaid. Every comic has to do five new jokes they wrote that week to qualify (Rattigan is always at the clubs and books a few rooms, so he’ll probably be able to tell a comic’s new material from something more road-tested). Rattigan hosts the show.

The Burren is in Davis Square. Show starts at 10PM.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Preview: Louie Episode Four - So Old/ Playdate

Louie Episode Four
So Old/Playdate

Louie finally gets lucky tonight, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. He lodges a common complaint onstage, that he’s feeling old and has lost his sex drive. But then he’s approached by an attractive 26-year-old blonde who is attracted to the fact that he’s old and he’s given up. And that he smells a bit. Maybe like failure.

The concept is funny, short, and over when it needs to be. No need to drag it through the whole episode.

Second scene is Louie at a PTA meeting, something it might be hard for fans of his stand-up to imagine. The parents all argue about how the kids should be spending their time (Dancing? Sleeping?). “This place is stuck in the 70s,” says one parent. “Who still teaches math anymore?”

Louie brings up the fact that school sucks, and that’s how it’s supposed to be, to dead silence. It’s a concept apparently no one has considered, but one that bonds him to fellow single parent Pamela, played by Pamela Adlon. Louie and Pamela immediately set up a playdate for the kids, and wind up drinking wine and talking about life and parenting, often with the kids nowhere in site.

The conversation would be a real downer if Louie and Pamela weren’t both enjoying the opportunity to finally talk to another adult who wasn’t spazzing over some new age topic.

Adlon, who also played Louie’s wife on Lucky Louie, is an consulting producer of the series, and it’s obvious she and C.K. work well together. Their scenes together make you wonder what could have been if Lucky Louie had gone to a second season. Their repairing is a happy occasion.

Interspersed in all of this are short segments of Louie with his therapist, a deadpan rude and absurd David Patrick Kelly (yes, the same David Patrick Kelly who once taunted, “Warriors come out and play-ee-ay!”).

Like many of the people from whom Louie seeks advice, he is not only no help, he makes things worse. Maybe Louie is depressed because he’s fat. Has he ever thought about death and gotten an erection? No, but thanks for mentioning that you have.

There is no big moment in episode four like the poker game in episode two or the fight with Nick Di Paolo in episode three, but the playdate comes close. But really, there doesn’t need to be. The laughs are there, and having one “big moment” per episode would start to drift into formula, something episode four helps to break up a bit with a few more segments in different settings.

Looking forward to episode five, and hoping to get that to preview for you again.

When you see the episode, leave your comments below. I am enjoying the series thoroughly so far, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, July 12, 2010's Boston Daily Deal: Cheap ImprovBoston tickets

Today's Boston Daily Deal at is half off tickets to ImprovBoston shows. Limit five per person, and tickets aren't valid for the traditional Halloween show Gore Fest or the Boston Improv Fest. As of this posting, you've got a little less than 19 hours to click on the deal and get your tickets.

Here's the link.

The Comic in Residence Interview: Matt D

The Comedy Studio’s Comic in Residence program is made for comics like Matt Donaher, known to comedy audiences as Matt D. He’s been doing comedy for less than two years, and is already one of the scene’s sharpest up and coming comics. His deadpan and penchant for one or two line jokes has earned comparisons to Steven Wright, and a friend of mine, Derek Gerry of The Whole Truth on WMFO, has compared him to Woody Allen.

He’ll be playing at the Studio Tuesday through Sunday, every night through the month of June.

When did you start doing comedy?

I started doing comedy in February of 2009.

How often have you played the Studio?

I get to play the Studio about twice a month.

What other clubs do you play?

Mottley's Comedy Club, The Funny Bone, Catch a Rising Star...I end up playing less clubs and more high school graduations and art space type deals.

What local comedians have influenced you?

Myq Kaplan without a doubt. Steven Wright is also a favorite of mine, as well as Jonathan Katz. Sometimes it's hard for me to separate 'people I really enjoy' and 'influences,' but those are the guys I listen to from Boston and say, "I want to be like that someday."

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

I am usually out every night, thankfully there are enough places to do that in New England.

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

Work on new stuff and trying to solidify a seven minute set, so a mix of both. I'm glad you had that option ready.

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

I'm not sure what I expect, what I hope to get is five more minutes of jokes, and be strong enough to kick the show off to a good start every night. I do expect to have a lot of fun though.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Video: Billy Bob Neck, World Cup edition

You can learn a lot from Billy Bob Neck. Before you tune into to the World Cup Final this afternoon, you may want see what Mr. Neck has to say. It may save your soul.

By the way, Mr. Neck is now answering your questions in a regular video segment. Ask anything you want. You will probably get the same abuse.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The BC Q&A: PowerPoint comedian Tim Lee

Stand-up comedy using PowerPoint presentations? If that sounds terribly dry to you, check out Tim Lee’s YouTube videos. The Los Angeles-based comic, who plays Mottley’s Comedy Club tonight and tomorrow, quit his day job as a biologist after years of study and graduating magna cum laude from UC San Diego to become a comedian. And the PowerPoint presentations work better than they have a right to, thanks to Lee’s sharp sense of humor.

I spoke with Lee by e-mail about science, comedy, and where the two intersect.

How did you book Mottley's?

Dwight Slade, a very funny comic from Oregon, recommended I get in touch with them. I had been wanting to do a show in Boston for a while. My father went to MIT and always spoke highly of the town. He's excited that I'll be performing there.

When you were a kid, did you want to be a scientist or a comedian? Or something completely different?

When I was a child I wanted to be a test pilot. Flying through the sky in a machine no one else had ever flown; It seemed so daring and adventurous. Once I figured out those people don't live very long I decided that science seemed a lot more attractive. I could design the technology and let other people test it out. It's better to be the researcher than the guinea pig.

What drew you to biology?

I grew up playing in a river that runs through a forest. As a child I could see all the life fight for existence in that tiny slice of the world. The lizards and the insects, the cougars and the deer, the frogs and the fish all did battle. They were enemies and yet they needed each other to exist. That left a lasting impression on me. It's a perfect metaphor for the entertainment business. It's also what drew me to biology.

Have you always found science funny?

My father, an engineer, would frequently explain scientific concepts to me with funny analogies. That helped me to understand concepts without being intimidated by them. That's probably where I was first introduced to the funny side of science.

At what point did your career path change? Was there something specific that made it change?

The change came from dissatisfaction with what I was doing. I made the mistake of agreeing to do a research project in which I had no interest. My advisor convinced me it was the right thing to do for my career. I went with it. That was a HUGE mistake that cost me years of my life. Every day became a battle with boredom and I was taking a beating. I keep that in mind before I start any project now. Esther Dyson has a quote that I hold dear “Always make new mistakes”.

What draws you to comedy?

Believe it or not I think I discovered the power of comedy when I was a college exchange student in Indonesia. My research at that time involved living with a hunting and gathering tribe in the lowland rainforests of Sumatra. Needless to say there were cultural and communication barriers that were hard to get past. Everything was an issue. They were extremely confused as to why my ass was a different color than the rest of my body. Try explaining that in a language where there is no word for tan.

At first no one in the tribe liked me. The one thing I could do that would make them like me just a little was to make jokes. They thought my self deprecating humor was hysterical. It was my only weapon to get into their hearts.

Do you find any similarities between comedy and science?

Oh yeah, they are opposite sides of the same coin. Straight logic is science, twisted logic is comedy.

Any influences for combining science and comedy?

There's a lot out there from my college professors to Mark Twain but I think Norm Goldblatt deserves a special shout out. He's a physicist that has been doing science humor for decades. He has a knack for finding the funny in science and I always enjoy watching him perform.

How did you start with the PowerPoint presentations?

I did my first PowerPoint jokes during talks I would give as a graduate student. As an undergraduate I always enjoyed it when my professors would throw a gag slide into their lectures, so when I started giving talks I decided to do the same. Some people loved the jokes, others hated them. I didn't know at the time that would be the case with every joke. There is no joke that everyone likes. As a comedian you just have to get used to it.

Do you still have a day job in science?

No, I haven't had a day job in a few years now. I decided to go for it in comedy and that meant getting rid of the safety net. I wanted to push myself. I guess that's the test pilot thing coming back.

How do you overcome the limitations of doing PowerPoint presentations in your stand-up? Seems like it would be tough to work on that tight five at an open mic.

When I started at the comedy open mics I did straight stand up for a over a year before I brought the PowerPoint back into it. That happened when I found a sports bar with a comedy night. They had a better AV setup than any of the clubs. My friend Drennon Davis was using PowerPoint at that venue to do twisted children's cartoons. I tried the PowerPoint science jokes there and the audience loved it. I figured if it went over well at a sports bar it would probably go over well other places.

How do you prep an audience for science-themed comedy? Is there any assumed knowledge on their part?

Most people will watch a video on line before coming to the show. If they like the video they come to the show. If they don't, they go to another show. It's simple but it works.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Video: Julianne Moore on her 30 Rock Boston accent

Julianne Moore was on The Daily Show last night, mainly to talk about her new film, The Kids Are All Right. But the conversation turned to 30 Rock, on which she played Jack Donaghy's love interest from Boston, and how she learned her Boston accent for the role. Jon Stewart noted that Denis Leary had been on earlier, and had admitted he does a fake Boston accent, even though he's from Boston.

Surprisingly, Moore revealed she used to work at a bar in Kenmore Square on top of the Howard Johnson hotel. If it's the HoJo that's still there, it isn't technically in Kenmore Square, it's on Boylston Street. Currently, the Tiki Lounge at the hotel's Hong Kong Cafe hosts an open mic called Grandma's Basement.Could it be the same place?

Here's the clip. Boston/30 Rock stuff starts around 3:45.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Julianne Moore
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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Frank Ahearn RIP

Times like this, the comedy community seems small. By now, many have heard of the passing of Frank Ahearn, longtime Comedy Connection booker and Tommy’s Comedy Lounge co-owner (with partner John Tobin).

Ahearn had a massive stroke in December, but seemed to be recovering this spring, when two benefits were held for him at Tommy’s. Those two shows were packed with local comedians appreciative of Ahearn’s influence on their careers. Gary Gulman headlined one. Tess Rafferty came back from Los Angeles.

Tony V., Steve Sweeney, Harrison Stebbins, Joe Wong, Joe List, Dave Russo, Jimmy Tingle – all of them and more came out to perform. And the crowd was filled with comedians that could have made up another two or three high impact bills.

Ahearn took a turn for the worst, though, and was given his last rites Thursday. He passed Monday morning at South Shore Hospital. Longtime associate Paula Murphy sent the news. She ended with this, “We'd all like to think he had a tee time with Knoxie,” a reference to Kevin Knox, who died in November after a long battle with cancer. The two were good friends.

There will be plenty of tributes in the coming days, but if you catch this in time, tune into WTKK at 6PM tonight to hear former Comedy Connection waitress Michelle McPhee give hers.

This is a photo of Frank Ahearn in Las Vegas that Murphy sent out earlier today. That’s him right up front in the blue shirt, with Knoxie right behind him.

Preview: Episode Three - Dr.Ben/Nick

Louie Episode Three
Dr. Ben/Nick

Nothing in Louie’s life can be easy, not even a simple doctor’s appointment. Tonight’s episode opens with Louie talking about his body, and his advice on how to have the body you want. “You just have to want a shitty body,” he says.

Louie’s doctor is played by Ricky Gervais, a master of humiliation, and he’s in fine form giving Louie a physical. Even a routine check-up can be nerve wracking, undressing in front of strangers or, worse, a guy you know who happens to be a doctor with an overdeveloped sick sense of humor. The last place you want to encounter slapstick comedy is during a rectal exam.

I’ve probably given too much away already, even for an episode preview. But I could probably describe exactly what happens and it wouldn’t dull the impact of Gervais’s performance.

This episode is again split into two parts, the second of which centers around a political argument between Louie and Nick Di Paolo. If you know both comics, you know their views are sharply opposed, but you also know they’re great friends.

You get to see both onstage, both doing politically themed comedy. Louie has a wonderful riff on the term “Indian Giver,” after which Di Paolo rips on Obama and white guilt. Sitting around after the show, the argument boils over, and a physical fight erupts. Watching two comedians fight is pitiful experience, and after an accident, they wind up in the emergency room.

Similar to episode two, this episode shows how volcanic friendships can be, with conflicts over real world subjects, and how personal bonds will trump those every time. Louie and Di Paolo wind up cracking each other up and taking aim at the people around them in the emergency waiting room.

Their walk home feels just as genuine as the poker game scene from episode two, which also starred Di Paolo. That’s because there’s real history there, and that’s what’s showing up onscreen. Louie and Di Paolo both have Boston roots, and they’ve played the same rooms for the same people, and shared their ups and downs together. You could never in a million years find that kind of chemistry through random casting.

There’s a one-two punch developing with Louie. Two segments, one that’s way over the top, awkward, and hilarious, and one that’s equally funny, but more real. You never know which one you’re going to get first. But you can always count on the funny.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The BC Q&A: Kelly MacFarland

Kelly MacFarland is back in Boston after having won Best of Fest at the Rooftop Comedy Festival in Aspen. She'll be gigging around town this summer, headlining at ImprovBoston tomorrow night with Maria Ciampa and Dana Jay Bein and playing The Comedy Studio next week, but if you don't see her for a while after that, she'd probably hunkering down over her new netbook to finish her first book, a compilation of personal essays she's hoping to finish this summer. We spoke briefly by phone earlier this week.

Are you sort of huddled in these days working on the book, or do you still get out to play frequently?

No, I’m still out playing a lot. I was actually just in Aspen at the Rooftop Comedy Festival a couple of weeks ago.

Yes, congratulations.

Thanks! I was voted Best of the Fest, which was awesome. So I’m still out working. But I’m trying to take the summer to really focus on the book. I’m definitely out playing, I’m recording my CD at the end of August at Mottley’s, on August 27 and 28. I’m really excited about that. And I’m doing a couple of things for the Plymouth Rock Comedy Festival next week. I’m still out there and working. And I’m slotted to do a couple of USO tours in the fall.

How is the book coming?

The book’s coming okay. It’s a little bit of a process, but it’s going well.

What is your premise for the book?

It’s a collection of short stories based on my stand-up and my life.

Are they non-fiction stories?

They are based… Well, yeah, they’re nonfiction. Mostly. Yeah, you can say they’re nonfiction. I’m not really making a lot up.

With “mostly” in parenthesis then?

Yes. All facts will be true. I’m trying to think, the last one I just wrote, it’s all true. So it really happened.

What made you decide to go that route?

I was approached by literary agents last winter, and I’m a storyteller, that’s kind of my thing, and I just thought it would be really cool to see it all in print. And they did too, so we decided to work together.

Have you done anything like that before?

No. Not at all. Hopefully this will be the first of many books.

Was it a daunting process?

Yes. It’s daunting because I’m used to being so verbal, so it’s hard to put it down on paper. And I’m also very critical of my own work. I’m like that with my stand-up, too. So I end up rewriting and rewriting and rewriting, which apparently is a big no-no in the book writing world.

No, quite the opposite.


Well, you’re not supposed to keep rewriting until you’ve finished it.

That’s what I’ve been doing.

You’ve got to get a first draft before you start editing, and then you edit it mercilessly.

Right. I kind of start it, and then go back and decide that I don’t like any of it. And then I end up rewriting before finishing it. I’ve been told, just get it all out on paper, then go back and edit.

Do you have a publisher yet?

Nope. I’m working with my agent. We haven’t even gone to proposal yet. Hopefully that will be sooner rather than later, but that really depends on me. I’ve got to kind of buckle down. I just ordered a new netbook to see if maybe that would help. It’s like a new toy. You know when a girl buys a new pair of earrings to make herself look pretty? I’m buying a new netbook to see if I can make my writing look better.

It might work if it allows you to go someplace where you can concentrate.

That’s it exactly. I want to be able to write any time I feel the urge. You buy a new pair of sneakers thinking it will motivate you to run. Well I’m buying a new netbook to see if it will motivate me to write. Something new and shiny.

Are there any particular stories people would recognize from your stand-up that you’re working on?

Maybe. I don’t really want to say yet, just because everything’s so still in the works. But there’ll be some themes. If people like my stand-up then they’ll like the book, for sure.