Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ken Rogerson: The Roast That Was Nearly A Benefit Show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 19, 2010

Erin Judge on

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

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

Click here to read.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tony Moschetto in jail, Danvers

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

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Boston Comedy Festival finals wrap up

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

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

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

Orlando Baxter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jim Norton on Comics Come Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does it differ from their show?

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

Any more books in the works?

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

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

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

Jimmy Dunn on TV, Comics Come Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Robert Klein on his influences and playing Fenway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any responses on yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 8, 2010

Brian Kiley talks about the new Conan

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

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

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

You can find Self-Portrait on iTunes here.

Myq Kaplan on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson tonight

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

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

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bob Seibel celebrates 30 years in comedy tonight at Cheers

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

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

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Video: Kevin Meaney interview at the Hard Rock Boston

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

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

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

Friday, November 5, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are Newton and Precious Saltwater?

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

Is that like the white trash chitlin circuit?

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

How did they wind up in Boston?

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

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

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

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

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

What was the inspiration for the characters?

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

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

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

And when did this all start?

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

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

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

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Boston Comedy Interview: Barry Crimmins

Barry Crimmins
“I’m whatever threatens you.” – Barry Crimmins.

If there’s one line Crimmins has ever uttered that sums up his attitude toward political satire and his career, that is it. The line was provided in answer to a bunch of Crimmins’ old friends from Upstate New York who, upon finding out he had done a benefit for AIDS victims, asked if he were “queer.”

Crimmins doesn’t back down. But he did take a three-and-a-half year break from the stage to write his blog, a break he had intended to make his retirement from regular live performing. But he is back Friday and Saturday at Mottley’s. Boston was the town where Crimmins went through a personal comedy renaissance at the Ding Ho, and he, in turn, helped create a comedy renaissance for Boston, setting standards as a booker and a performer.

He’ll have his friend, author and comedian Dennis Perrin, and Erin Judge with him on the bill. You can also hear him on WFNX Friday morning around 8AM. I spoke with Crimmins by phone earlier this week.

Why come out of retirement now after three and a half years?

Because I foresaw what was going to happen in this election and I knew saps would come out and pay money now to hear me. I knew it would be a good time to fleece the rubes.

Is that generally what you think stand-up has become?

Rube fleecing? Well, if I want to work locally, that’s certainly what it is, considering where I reside. There’s an element of that, I suppose, but in a nice way. You want them to be fleeced by someone good who is going to leave them with a good, positive message. Come back, when I say.

This is going to be fun. All joking aside, I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone. [Read: sarcasm] Make sure everybody come up and talk to me.

Was there anything in particular about Mottley’s that made you make that the first club you’re going to play?

They asked me when they started out if I ever came back if I would do a thing at their joint, so I said sure. And then I checked around, and there was a good word on them taking care of comics. And so I want to support that. I want to support how they are doing things there. It’s not quite a co-op but it’s getting that way. They take care of the comics, and I think people develop better when they’re taken care of, when they’re treated with a kind of respect. In this business, respect has everything to do with handing you some money. Everything else is just lip service. What those lips are servicing and where they’re servicing it, I don’t know. But the preface “auto” might be involved.

There’s a lot I know you don’t like about the club scene and stand-up comedy in general –

And you know, I think that’s an excellent preface. It makes me seem so warm and engaging. So thank you.

But I wanted to ask, is there anything positive you see or anything to build on?

Well, of course. It’s fine. It’s the old painter’s colic thing. There used to be lead in paint, and a guy would paint for years and then all of a sudden open a can up and start puking, because the cumulative effect of the lead had caught up with him or her, but they were men who were painters in those days, basically, and they would just start puking. There’s a certain toxicity to being around an industry full of people desperate to make it. One too many cans of desperation get opened near you, you might start puking. But I think they have very good ventilation at Mottley’s and there should be no problem.

How did you pick who was going to be on the show with you, Dennis Perrin and Erin Judge?

I engaged the New York State Lottery to run the whole thing for me. I have an accounting firm that can talk to you. Perrin, I’m just calling his bluff. “I’m doing comedy! I know comedy! Comedy comedy comedy!” And I know he does, but it’s fun calling your friend’s bluff. So that’s what that is. And then Erin, as soon as she was available, start a baseball team, if you can get Stan Musial on it, you’re gonna get Stan Musial. If Stan Musial was available. I think that’s probably the first time she’s been compared to Stan Musial.

Most probably, yes.

I also like the fact that you probably have to go out and probably figure out how to spell his name.

How are you preparing for your first shows back?

I’m just going to let it go. It’s not… You get me three days after an election, obviously people expect me to have something to say about that. That’s going to be new. You know, I think I still sort of know how to stand out there, and I have a general idea where we’re going. And then we see what we can do. What I’m going to try to do is organize a series of humorous things that will build to the point where everybody thinks it was a good idea for me to be the center of attention. And then leave to tremendous applause and acclaim.

That’s how I’m preparing for it. That’s the result I’m working for. Now, occasionally, you may have to bargain down a little bit. “Well, it didn’t take that many stitches…” But who knows. The sky’s the limit. I know with Perrin and judge there, I’m just the icing on the cake.

I know when we’ve spoken before, you’ve been somewhat wary of people bringing up the Ding Ho and bringing up the past –

The Ding Ho was great and I don’t want to denounce it or whatever, but it’s just sort of this permanent Little League reunion I’m supposed to be at. Or the permanent reuonion of my really good high school team. I love the people that were on that tea, I love how we did, how thing worked out, how a lot of people from that team went on to be very successful pro players. And people who work in the front office and so on. Other elements of the game, coaching, et cetera. The Ding’s great. But I just don’t think about it very much anymore. It’s a long time ago. And I’m a lot more interested in what’s going on now.

And when I think about the Ding, theoretically, I know a lot more now and there’s stuff I would have done differently. It worked out well, but to me, I know some of the mistakes that were made some things that probably could have been done differently and I also know about some stuff that was really frustrating that nothing could have been done about. I don’t know how many other people have something that happens that early on that they always are asked to return to. I suppose it’s true of performers and athletes. It’s very understandable. And I really appreciate that people remember and love the Ding Ho. But it doesn’t have a lot to do with what I’m doing now. It provided a big foot through the door, and then I went through the door, and I’ve done a lot of other things since then.

I think from my point of view, writing about comedy, I can see it’s an era that people care about, it’s an era that probably some people are tired of hearing about, but then on the other hand, there are probably an awful lot of comics out there now, and audience members, who really don’t know anything about it.

Right. And that’s okay. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of people at this show – well, I hope there’s going to be a lot of people at these shows – who don’t know much or care much about the Ding Ho. What they’re going to care about it whether or not I’m funny and if I have anything to say that’s edifying. And that’s good. That’s as it should be.

Here’s the thing about the Ding Ho. Great for everybody and everyone else and however much they want to talk about it. But man, I have gotten more than my share of credit for the Ding Ho and I’m a little uncomfortable sitting around taking any more bows for it. Thanks. It was a long time ago. I was bluffing. I pulled it off. When I started that place I was basically homeless. It was a total, like, dance my way out of a corner operation, and it worked. I had a good idea of what I thought would be fair for comics because I was a comic, and that’s basically what went on at the Ding.

In that sense, a place like Mottley’s, there’s a certain tuning fork that goes off when hear about it. They are trying to do something like that, so that’s good. I mean, anyone who would come to see me because of the Ding Ho – Ronald Reagan isn’t president anymore. I’ve got other things to say.

Do you think that sort of spirit of a club is possible these days in the current club environment?

I don’t know. I don’t know about that. That’s up to people who are going to be in these clubs and really make them what they are. I’ll just pass through, more or less. There’s never going to be a situation where I’m out in the clubs all the time anymore. I’ll show up and have something to say sometimes. Really, you’d be better talking to Steven Wright or somebody else who walks into clubs all the time. I think the Ding Ho was necessary. I don’t know that it was ever possible.

You left the club scene a while back anyway, correct?

Basically, I got out of comedy clubs in 1988. I did a tour with Jackson Browne, and it was just really hard to return to Yukheads after that. I played these really big, really smart crowds, and I think this is changing quite a bit these days, because I think a lot of young, hip stuff has happened and clubs are better to some extent. But there was a large period of time when the comedy club crowd and the professional wrestling audience was really hard to distinguish. I don’t think that’s so true now. I think now it’s much harder to distinguish the professional wrestling crowd from the American voter. Except in Connecticut, where we’ll give them some credit.

Here’s what I’m tired of in the American political system, and that is the “either/or-ness.” Either/or makes it seem like you have this great choice, but really, it’s this narrow choice of two things in a world full of possibilities. And I guess I wish there were a more parliamentary type of government where we included a broader spectrum. And I think that since McCarthyism has been around, there’s been no real viable left in the United States except during Nam. And we benefited from that. Because at that time, the 60s and 70s, we got civil rights, gay rights, a lot of human rights type stuff, environmentalism really sort of took a big step forward. So I think we benefitted a lot from that one brief period when there was a more viable left in this country.

But there’s all these experts telling Obama now that, oh, he hasn’t been moderate enough, and he compromised with these people forever, he paid off the big fat cats with the money that we needed to bail out everybody. This election was really about people who lost their jobs, who were running out of unemployment, who are scared of foreclosure, and they don’t have any rich relatives to bail them out. Or at least that will bail them out. And they’re facing that, or they’re feeling that, or they’re seeing that happen to their friends. And we get Christine O’Donnell in detail.

If and until the electoral politics care more about the real situation, in places like Detroit where there’s literally missionaries from other countries right now, until it considers how many people are ruined, until this country acknowledges that in this late-stage capitalism, we are facing a situation where, the problem with our system is, it runs on screwing people over, and they’re running out of people to screw over. Which is why you can go and see entire cities and towns, states that are just wiped out. And unlike the last depression, the infrastructure to get back to work isn’t necessarily remaining. Because it’s been slow motion in a lot of places. You’re from Upstate New York – how long have they been dismantling this area?

Here I get to the essence, and here’s the real secret to why I’m coming back. We need real hope, not fake hope. We don’t need sloganeering hope. We need real hope, and I think where there’s art, there’s hope. And I would like to be part of a movement of people that promotes the idea of a Renewed Deal. I’ve been talking about this for a long time but I think it’s more important than ever. A Renewed Deal where we begin to take back a lot of what’s sort of decaying and rotten and abandoned in this country and make it something useful again.

So you build arts centers and you build training centers. You can take an old warehouse, and in it, you can start recycling computers, you could build a little theater in there. You could build art studios. You could do a bunch of stuff. And the government should be helping out on that. And then people come and do stuff, and then the next thing you know, some restaurants open in the neighborhood. Other things happen. You have life again on Main Street.

The reason I want to do this is, I don’t want to perform in strip malls anymore. I want to perform in downtown. And I want to give other people the chance to perform in downtown and I want to create centers everywhere around the country where people can get together and talk to one another about what’s real without being influenced by a bunch of sloganeering attack ads from television. Because the big winner n the political ad war this year was TiVo. Things are already bad enough. Who wants the hear the rest of that crap? Even if a lot of it’s true, it’s just so sinister and foreboding. And in the end, they basically are taking checks from the same people. In many cases, anyway.

And these Tea Party people, they’re just frustrated and inarticulate and getting taken along for a ride. They’re window dressing. What really spoke in this election wasn’t the people, it was gigantic amounts of money. Which there still are in this country, it’s just more and more concentrated. We’re still one of the most wealthy places in the world. It’s just that all the money is concentrated among fewer and fewer people.

So when you perform and when you write, is there an educational and informational element to it?

Even if there is, please don’t tell them. Get used to the mediciny taste! It’s not so bad!

The first thing I do, things just kind of come to me. Then I have to figure out what else they’re near, what else they’re like. Did somebody else say this? What’s the story? It has to get past that committee where it’s sort of like, okay, it’s relatively original. And then the final thing is, am I picking on something that’s… Really, I haven’t been onstage since Sarah Palin showed up. I will have something to say about her. And I couldn’t think less of her. But picking on her, there’s not going to be anybody at my show who’s like, “Well, I kinda like Sarah Palin.” I don’t really need to pile on. Maybe I find a couple of things. But it’s sort of like hammering televangelists in a barroom. Well, everybody’s already drinking.

I may challenge the audience the audience a bit, or I have a little bit of a different opinion or I have a bit of a different idea. I’m probably more than ever asking more questions than providing very serious and specific answers. And I think it’s important to ask a lot of questions these days, because by doing that, you’re defining the boundaries of the discussion rather than having it limited to, “Hey, did you hear Rush Limbaugh’s an asshole!” No kidding.

Do you think to some extent these easy targets are set up as such to bait people?

Because it limits the discussion. Exactly. If we’re sitting around all day talking about Christine O’Donnell or, wow, Ann Coulter’s a jerk, or Rush Limbaugh said something I couldn’t believe, and Fox News seems really not to be fair and balanced – There’s people out there who spend their whole lives trying to prove to other people that Fox News isn’t fair and balanced. What I suggest to anyone who thinks Fox News is fair and balanced is to turn on Fox News at any moment during the day and see how fair and balanced they are. If you think that what they’re telling you is fair and balanced, because they keep saying “fair and balanced,” you probably also buy a lot of “new and improved” products. “Wow, this pantyhose grips better than it ever has!” You know, you believe in everything.

That makes the work of a satirist that much harder, when you have to go for something that perhaps the audience might not be that familiar with.

Not really. If you want to take people somewhere… It’s my job to sort of take them somewhere. And so if I have to be a bit of a tour guide and explain where we’re going first, that’s just a chance to say a few more humorous things and provide some context and then there we go. I don’t see it as a big deal at all. The biggest problem is people who are all revved up and want me to help them prove that Glenn Beck’s a schmuck. Okay. Yeah, I know that. And he’s dangerous. Well, yes, on a certain level, he’s quite dangerous, on another level, he becomes more dangerous the more we base our lives around him. Glenn Beck wants us to talk about him.

When you’re looking at harder issues and you’re looking at things like, as you said, missionaries coming to Detroit, that’s not a particularly easy thing to make light of or to find laughs in.

Of course it isn’t because most people don’t live in Detroit, so they’ll just think it’s just Detroit. The point is, everywhere’s turning into Detroit. And that’s the problem. Every closed factory is just another little piece of Detroit. Or Camden. Or Derry. Or Buffalo. You name it, all over the country.

With that many problems that run that deep, and your job is to go out and make people laugh at it.

But not frivolously. My job is to maybe smuggle* some content to them while they’re being entertained. My job is also to not take myself too ridiculously serious. Like this thing, how overblown can we get? Mottley’s is a little place, I hope we fill it up. My first concern is, I’ll tell you what, the reason I’m off doing these shows is because I have to make a buck, because when I left, I had producers, I had editors, who had work for me. And within a year of me leaving stand-up, all those people got laid off. And they became freelancers. Well, guess who gets the gig first? And I don’t blame ‘em for it.

And then you had the Huffington Post turn the entire Internet into a volunteer writing zone. Where they talk about, paying writers isn’t in our financial model. Well who’s your financial model, Kunta Kinte? Then I have to see Arianna Huffington on TV speaking for the workers.

I just wrote this thing about, when I really got into comedy in earnest it was when I realized I probably wasn’t going to get a job in radio. Because when I went to get a job in radio, they had just been through a 65-year hiring spree for white guys. So I had to literally pay for the sins of the fathers, the great white fathers. And I wasn’t really upset about it, I met this musician, Root Boy Slim, who said, “Be a minstrel, that’s what black guys always had to do.” And there I am. I’m a minstrel with absolutely no musical talent.

But I try to do what Root Boy Slim suggested and that was win people over and earn my living one audience at a time. So I’m looking forward to doing these shows. It should be a lot of fun and a lot of laughs. Really a lot of laughs. I know Perrin is going to be hilarious. Erin Judge, I’ve only seen her on TV and the Internet, but she’s just really funny. Mottley’s clearly has a really good vibe to it. And a lot of old friends are going to be showing up. It seems like a real good combination of things happening. The only one who can really screw it up is me. But I have great faith in myself.

*Correction - Due to a transcript error, this original read "struggle," which may also have been appropriate in spirit, but was not what was said.  

Half-price tickets to the Boston Comedy Festival Finals with Robert Klein

Robert Klein
On November 13, Robert Klein comes back to Boston to recieve the Boston Comedy Festival's Lifetime Achievement Award. Klein has had nine one-hour HBO specials, and he's still going strong. Klein is as influential as any comic, perhaps more quietly so than Richard Pryor or George Carlin, but responsible for inspiring a legion of comics to take the mic.

Klein is at the Wilbur Theatre on the 13 with the Boston Comedy Festival Finals. readers can get half-price tickets by going to this link and entering the word "COMEDY."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Boston Comedy Interview: Author and comedian Dennis Perrin

Dennis Perrin, author and comedian
Dennis Perrin has an uneasy relationship with stand-up comedy. He came to it on a winding path, starting his writing career with the Army after high school. He was actually gung ho to join, he says, an “apolitical liberal” and “raised among rednecks” in Indiana. His drill sergeants tried to get him to go to officer’s school, but the Army also introduced him to drugs, which helped to ease the friction of the Army’s particular cultural cliques.
“I was a freelancer,” he says. “I didn’t belong to any tribe.”

Perrin is still a freelancer, and still not a member of any particular tribe. He found comedy as a writer and a performer, writing for Ray Combs, Sr., and writing a marvelously detailed book about Saturday Night Live’s subversive genius, Michael O’Donoghue called Mr. Mike: The Man Who Made Comedy Dangerous. He is left-leaning, but his polemic, Savage Mules: The Democrats and Endless War, and his blog are not exactly kind to Democrats and liberals.

He is back into performing again, working on something he just calls "The Project," which will involve stand-up, the blog, and a new book. He'll be appearing with Barry Crimmins Friday and Saturday at Mottley’s doing a guest set on Crimmins’ first live show in three and a half years. I caught up with him by phone earlier this week.

What made you decide to come back to performing live?

I was watching more and more stand-up for some reason. I had tuned it out for years, because I just didn’t like what was happening. The rise of Dane Cook and Larry the Cable Guy. It was just like, you know, I’m tuning this out. There’s got to be more edifying cultural expression. There wasn’t much, but I figured I wasn’t going to find it in stand-up.

And also, over the years, I did do occasional stand-up bits for local anti-war or progressive political fundraisers. And I would do specific political material – register to vote, things like that. I did a bunch of those. But it wasn’t like an ongoing thing. They would say, hey, we’re having this fundraiser, can you do ten minutes or fifteen minutes, and I said sure. And then I would write a set just for that one appearance and that would be it. I’d never use the material again. And that was more memorized. I memorized everything. I wrote it out, memorized and rehearsed it. So it was more by wrote.

But I was watching more and more of the stand-up and I was just feeling comedic again. I just was. I’ve always been this way, I’ve gone in and out of it throughout my life. Especially at certain key moments where I could have been locked in for good or for a long time. So I think I just wanted to do comedy on my terms, and so that’s why I drifted in and out of it.

The drift I was getting this time was very strong, and that’s when I made the connection between not just doing political or satirical material, which is my forte, it’s what I’m good at, but also bringing in the personal, autobiographical aspect that ties into that, as well, because I have been in a lot of interesting situations. Instead of my just observing commercials on TV or politicians on the Web or something, I looked to integrate my own personal experiences in this culture as comedy. And that, to me, was different. And there was an autobiographical element to it, because now I’m 51. So, you know, I have a lit of material to work with and I’ve done a lot of different things.

The clincher was, and this is the honest to god truth, I watched the Judd Apatow movie Funny People, and while the second half of that movie turned into dumb romantic comedy with Adam Sandler as the odd man out and Seth Rogen as his one true love, the first part of it, while they were showing the stand-up and all the young stand-ups and everything, weirdly enough it just energized me. I said, if this is what stand-up is, I’ll have no problem getting back into it.

Now, that was arrogance of my age and my experience, but also just not being in the loop comedically, directly. Of course, that was dramatizing the LA comedy scene, which I have not yet participated in, but I’m going to start in January.

But I know New York really well. I lived there for almost 18 years. I really became an adult in New York, I became a writer in New York. I used to do stand-up in New York, and improvisation back in the 80s. I thought, I’ll just go back to New York. That’s where I’m comfortable. And what really sped it along was, I was looking for open mics on this site called BadSlava. There are several open mics every night, seven night a week.

I came across one, at the Village Lantern on Bleecker Street, emceed by Ray Combs, Jr. Ray Combs the senior, the old man Ray Combs, I used to write for back in the 80s when he was on the short list to guest host The Tonight Show. I co-wrote his Tonight Show set that got him on the couch with Johnny Carson his first time out, a very select group of comics have done that. Ray was one of them. And that put him on the map, that he later squandered his career by chasing the easy money by becoming the host of Family Feud.

I had bailed at that point. I had moved back to New York and began working with FAIR, the media watch group, and began doing public speaking about politics. I was as far removed from the game show world as possible, but I knew Ray really well, and I used to babysit his kids. Well, here’s his son. I wrote to him and said, you’re not the Ray, Jr.? He wrote back and said, yeah, I remember you, you used to babysit us. He said, you used to smoke weed on the back porch and come in and watch Warner Brothers cartoons with us and explain all the references. I said, that’s true. I used to do that. I still do that.

So Ray Jr is like 31, and it turns out he’s one of the top emcees in the city. So that really sped the process for me. When I got to New York, we met up. And he looks just like his father. But he’s a better comedian than his father. Much more honest. He’s really quick. Ray could be a star if he wanted to be. But because his father committed suicide and went through the show biz ringer as horribly as anyone did. I mean, it ended with him killing himself. That’s how bad it was. Ray Jr. is hesitant. Although he’s moving back to LA, apparently in June or something, late spring/early summer.

I got to see him up close and it was like, oh my god, you’re so much better than your dad. I wrote for your dad. So that energized me. But doing the stages in New York, I began noticing a certain type of comic that was very prevalent. Sort of the young hipster, ultra-ironic, but also foulmouthed comic. In other words, they’re so detached from politics and everyday concerns or serious concerns because, you know, it’s like, political, man. Who wants to be political. While being incredibly coarse. Fuck, shit, cunt, bitch. Incredibly misogynistic, a lot of fag baiting. I was really alarmed. I couldn’t believe it. This is New York City!

When I moved to New York in 1982, there were still alternative performance spaces. They didn’t just do comedy, there was also performance art. They may have it still, I don’t know, but where it is, I have no clue.

I know on your blog, you’ve been disdainful of a lot of what you’ve found. Do you think there’s a place for what you want to do?

Well, if not, I’ll make a place for it. I’ll just clear the table in the corner of the room and stand on top of it and see what happens. I’ve been told that in LA I’ll have more room to do what I want to do, but I’ll believe that when I see it. I don’t know. I can’t believe that it’s any better, or worse. But we’ll see. I don’t know.

I think there is, in a way, and it’s interesting, because I’ve gotten a variety of reactions, not just from audiences but from other comic in New York, to the material I’m doing now. And I’m really anxious to see how it’s going to go over in Boston. I’ve killed in New York and I’ve bombed in New York, with the same material. And I know that’s common. To comedians, I know that’s a very common thing. But the difference is, my material is so different from everybody else’s. I will say that. I really do stand out. And plus I’m older. I’ve got some grey in my hair and I don’t hide it.

What makes you stand out, material-wise?

When I do autobiographical material, I try to tie it into a cultural-political context. Which is very rare. When comics talk about themselves, they talk about their masturbation habits, their dating habits, just standard bullshit. One of the bits that I’m thinking about doing this weekend, which I’ve done several times in New York to varying… [laughs] levels of comprehension and reaction, and I’ve written about it briefly, is when I dropped acid with these black Muslims when I was in the Army. Which is a true story.

It sounds like Mad Libs.

But it’s true. I won’t go into specifics, but it’s autobiographical, but it’s also cultural. It’s a comment on a weird situation that I experienced that has a lot of comic elements to it. And not jokey ones, either. There are jokes that come out of the premise that are natural, but I’m not turning it into a joke. It’s just the humor is there. Ideally. It’s also about white people who think they’re past racism or think that they don’t have racist conditioning. In that situation, I revealed how incredibly saturated in racist conditioning I was. Because I was the only white person in the room.

The comedians looked at me with incomprehension. What kind of material is this? Even Ray told me, your stuff is so different. It stands out, but sometimes, it’s so different that people don’t know how to react to it. Because a lot of people go to comedy clubs or go to see a comedy performance, they have a precondition for what they expect to see. If nothing else, I am not pandering to that precondition.

In a sense, if you have to create your own space, does it even necessarily matter where you do it?

No. No it doesn’t. Because I’m also thinking of maybe expanding to poetry spaces or maybe performance spaces with it, as well. I might also expand it into a podcast. That’s another thing on the docket for 2011.

How do you see all of these things working together? Or are you not even at that point yet?

Ideally, at some point, hopefully sometime next year, I hope to have the first volume of my book written next year. I think once the book comes together, they’ll all come together. I think the book is the lynchpin. The performances can be seen – if they’re taped, they go on YouTube. But they’re ephemeral. I know people say that reading, nobody reads, and the publishing industry is imploding daily.

We know all this. But still, as avant-garde as the written word is becoming – the written word outside of cyberspace, I mean, actual “on pulp,” outside of any kind of electronic book – that’s the new avant-garde. Written word on paper. It’s true. As avant-garde as that currently is, I still think, in the end, that is going to be the anchor for the whole thing. So I’m betting the farm on an increasingly archaic artform. Which is really the story of my life.

A good friend of mine told me, “Dennis, you always go for the hardest angle.”

You’re on the blunted edge of technology.

Yeah. It’s just like, what’s the most difficult path I can take? But it’s not premeditated, though. I just go where I think – I lack a real strategic vision in a lot of ways. I have people helping me in that regard. I can’t do it myself. I just go where my mind takes me.

Josh Gondelman on Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, and celebrity meltdowns

Josh Gondelman
Josh Gondelman has a funny, thoughful piece on celebrity meltdowns on his blog, Going Going Gondelman, called "Mug Shots and Pot Shots."

Why do we make fun of celebrities who blow up, melt down, or otherwise damage themselves? There are obvious answers. What does that say about us? That's a little less comfortable to contemplate.

Boston comedians in Washington

Comedy Against Evil at the DC Arts Center. Jeff Kreisler, center.
Benari Poulten, front right. Brian Joyce, far right.
Everywhere I go, there are Boston comedians. I was on Washington over the weekend to cover the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, and found Boston comedians Benari Poulten and Brian Joyce performing at Jeff Kreisler's sold out Comedy Against Evil show at the D.C. Arts Center.

Joyce was in town covering the Rally for AOL's TV Squad -- you can see his video "man on the street" interviews here. I was there for the same reason, covering from the print side. Search my name and "Rally" on to find my stories. Here's one on who attended the Rally.

Also, I will be on WMFO tonight with Joyce and Derek Gerry to give my usual 8PM comedy update on The Whole Truth.