Saturday, March 26, 2011

Music: The Grownup Noise CD Release at the Middle East Downstairs

The Grownup Noise celebrate the release
of This Time With Feeling
For almost ten years, guitarist and songwriter Paul Hansen has been playing comedy shows, providing a musical backdrop for sketch and stand-up. He started at ImprovBoston, and got drawn in by The Walsh Brothers’ old Thursday night Great and Secret Shows, one of the most creative and influential scenes in recent Boston comedy history. Hansen calls it “an inclusive and inspired community.”

Of course, that was never Hansen’s main gig. He plays in a band called The Grownup Noise, which will celebrate the release of its second album, This Time With Feeling, tonight at the Middle East Downstairs with Kingsley Flood, Spouse, and Joe Fletcher & The Wrong Reasons. The whole band has joined in on the fun at times. Hansen and bass player Adam Sankowski played Chris Coxen’s farewell show in February. The whole band used to rock out behind The Walsh Brothers for their tribute to the Fung Wah.

Hansen finds there is a certain camaraderie between the music and comedy scenes in Boston. “I think there's a lot of mutual respect between the two,” he says. “Comedians respect musicians because they think they get laid all the time, and musicians respect comedians because it's so impressive to take on a crowd without the protection of an instrument or band."

The Grownup Noise made its mark in 2008 with its eponymous debut album, a dreamy mix of progressive indie pop, folk, and rock. It’s a sound that’s hard to easily categorize, even for Hansen. "You know we feel that might be our biggest weakness, or strength," he says. "We see ourselves as somewhere in a gray area, between Indie and Americana/Folk. I like to think we're the missing link between the two, but yeah it's been difficult to figure out how to promote ourselves."

The line-up has changed slightly, with a revolving drummer’s chair, but the core remains Hansen, Sankowski, and cello player/singer Katie Franich. They’ve gone the DIY route, driving themselves across the country and back on tours they booked themselves. That experience has made its way into the music. “We've gained some confidence, as well as some scars from touring the country several times," says Hansen, "so I think we're bringing a lot more life into this record."

Feeling picks up where the first album left off in terms of the quality and power of the songwriting. Many of the songs, like “Carnival” and “Just So You Know,” have been staples of the band’s live shows for the past few years, but they’ve added a few twists in the studio. “We definitely enjoy adding little things to the recordings that we can't necessarily get away with live," says Hansen. "For example, the mellotron and Wurlitzer are beautiful instruments, but can be a real pain in the ass to deal with in a live setting. Vintage instruments have a lot of ghosts inside of them."

Hansen is an evocative lyricist, but his songs don’t always follow a linear narrative logic. You get the feeling there are stories behind everything, but you are often left to your own imagination to fill in the blanks. “I'd say about half of the songs come from specific experiences and half come from me trying to get outside of myself and just explore a sentiment or imagery,” he says.

The Grownup Noise is a band on the rise, and they’re excited to be headlining the Middle East Downstairs, one of the premiere rock and roll rooms in Boston, and one with a lot of history. So where do they go from here? “That's a damn good question,” says Hansen. “I guess continue to write and hope that someday a hip Indie label will swoop in and help a brother out. That's if we can convince them were not too folky…"

The Grownup Noise CD Release Party: 8PM, $10. With Kingsley Flood, Spouse, and Joe Fletcher & The Wrong Reasons. The Middle East Downstairs, 472 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, Ma. 866.777.8932

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Back Page: Shawn Donovan On His New CD, Few Mourn

Shawn Donovan's comedy CD,
Few Mourn
Shawn Donovan doesn’t have much faith in his friends. That’s why he named his self-produced CD Few Mourn and made the cover look like a cheesy tribute for a fallen friend you didn’t know that well on Facebook. It’s a shame – he looks so young.

But that also sums up Donovan’s comic point of view. He would be pessimistic, if it were worth the energy. Over the past year or so, he has been hitting a stride, telling more personal stories onstage that sometimes roam a little. You can catch him tonight out in Lowell at the new Back Page Jazz & Comedy Club on a show with Brian Brinegar. And you can find the CD on

I spoke with Donovan by e-mail this week.

So how many people do you think will actually attend your funeral?

No idea. Probably a few enemies coming by just to make sure I'm really dead.

Will any of them be from the audience from this show?

In reality, I don't even want a funeral. I feel the same way about funerals as I do about weddings. What's the point? It seems like a big to do when only a handful of people actually care. I don't want to be buried anyway. I take up enough space as it is now, no need to continue taking up space for eternity. I rent now, so maybe it'll be my only chance to be a landowner. Still, I'd prefer my body to be left to rot in the ocean. Can this blog act as my last will and testament?

More than anyone, Doug Stanhope seems to have been a huge influence on you. Is that something you're aware of as you're writing and performing? Is there anything specific you've learned from listening to him?

Doug's great and obviously a favorite of mine. I've always been drawn to ranty comics like him, Bill Hicks, Marc Maron, Bill Burr, Chris Rock. Ranty social satire is my favorite kind of comedy - don't know why, just a personal preference I guess. In terms writing and performing, something either happens to me that I find funny or I read something that pisses me off then I take it to the stage. I do nearly all my writing on stage. I don't know how effective of a process it is, but that's what I do.

How did you go about producing the CD? Who handled the technical end?

My friend Rob Hughes handled the recording, production and technical aspects of the album. He's a musician in a band called Fishing the Sky. Yup, that's a plug. I think he did a great job. He's recorded bands in studio before, but it was his first time recording a live comedy event like this. I think he did a great job.

How did you decide on Grandma's Basement to tape?

Ha...probably because they're the only ones who would have me. Benny was really on board with me recording an album and it was something I had been thinking about and working towards. That room is small enough where I could actually fill it and if I totally ate my cock, it wouldn't have mattered. It's not like I'd have to answer to anyone afterwards. Total no pressure environment. A perfect setting for a coward like me.

How hard is it to promote a self-released CD like this for a comedian? Musicians can send out to radio, but outside of satellite radio, comedians don't really have that option.

It's nearly impossible. CD Baby is a great resource though. They handled the distribution and provide a lot of resource for independent artists, it's really a great site. I'm the worst at self promotion though. I have no idea what to do. I plug it at shows I do and comics and friends of mine have been really great about passing it around. I think the only hope for something like this is word of mouth. Maybe it'll slowly gain momentum and something good will come of it. Probably not. That's just a pipe dream.

How has it sold?

Sales have exceeded my expectations. I hate myself and have very little self esteem, so the fact that one copy sold is great. I don't know an exact number. I keep getting sales reports every month from the online distributors and I've sold a few download cards after shows. I've made a profit and I consider that a victory at least for me. The consumer is probably losing out.

The CD is under comedy, and also "moods: mood: brooding" on CDBaby. How big do you think the "moods: mood: brooding" crowd is? You seem to be in there with mostly metal and synth bands.

Comedy has such a small market anyway. Is Bauhaus still a band? Maybe I can tour with them.

How is the Back Page as a venue? How did you find out about that?

The Back Page is a cool, little jazz/comedy venue that just opened in Lowell. They're running a comedy open mic on Tuesdays and I believe they just started doing weekend comedy stuff. Nick David, who's a bluesman in the band Mr. Nick and the Dirty Tricks - yup that's a plug - runs the comedy shows. He also runs the comedy open mic up at the Shaskeen in Manchester NH. I met him there and he's had me on a few shows that he's booked. How 'bout it!

The standard overly general closing question -- what'd I miss?

I feel like this is an opportunity for me to make a joke. I got nothing.

Brian Brinegar: 9PM. With Shawn Donovan, Kevin Cotter, Nick Lavallee, Alana Eisner, and Kate Nee. The Back Page, 15 Kearney Sq Lowell, MA. 978.455.4418

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Berklee: Igudesman and Joo Make A Little Nightmare Music

Igudesman and Joo at the Berklee
Performance Center Saturday
Aleksey Igudesman and Hyung-ki Joo are classically trained virtuoso musicians, knowledgeable and versatile. They have worked with big name musicians across genres – violinist Iguedesman with Bobby McFerrin and film composer Hans Zimmer, Joo with Billy Joel, for whom he arranged his classical compositions. They have serious credentials, but the show they are bringing to Boston for the first time Saturday at the Berklee Performance Center is anything but.

A Little Nightmare Music is a two-man revue of sorts, showing off Igudesman’s and Joo’s skills as players, but also a silly stew of classical music, broad physical comedy, parody, and pop culture references. It’s a mash-up of Rachmaninov, Mozart, “I Will Survive,” “All By Myself,” and the Beatles. They pair have been performing together since they were 14, and put together their first stage show in 2004. Their YouTube fans number in the millions, and they have sold out their New York City show.

I interviewed them by e-mail while they were busy touring and getting ready to invade the States.

How did you choose Boston for your US debut?

JOO: We throw darts randomly at the map of the world. No, seriously, Boston has been a dream for us to play for a long time. Aleksey's bow is made by a wonderful Boston bowmaker called Roland Benoit, whom he will meet for the first time. And we are both fans and friends of the Boston based great pianist Gabriella Montera, who will hopefully also attend the performance.

The US in general is a place we have always wanted to perform as so much of our inspiration has come from American sitcoms and comedians! The audience in the US s also extremely open minded, appreciative and very warm, a rather fabulous combination!

How receptive are classical music fans to the humor?

JOO: We have been very blessed, with good critics from the press and positive response from the public and especially from great musicians. Whether this will stay this way, we will see! The public is understandably enthusiastic: the regular concert breaks out of its routine and goes off into a new fresher direction, with humour and music that we hope to be fun and original, but yet of high quality.

From the professional side, we have had wonderful feedback so far, even from great artists such as Julian Rachlin, Janine Jansen, Mischa Maisky, Emanuel Ax and Gidon Kremer, all of whom we have had the great pleasure of performing with and including in various humorous ways in our performances.

Do you have to show a certain level of knowledge and virtuosity to get the classical audiences to respond, do you think? To show that you take it seriously before you can have fun with it?

IGUDESMAN : We believe its important to show that one can play before the fun begins. But classical music has many faces. It can be serious, it can be funny, it can be highly emotional, or simply light and entertaining. Opera is a mix of many things. Perhaps what we do is like an own kind of "piccola opera buffa moderna." We sing, we play, we speak, we even dance at times.

Interestingly enough, when working on a "humorous" program, the preparation is even more serious than a "regular" concert. This has many reasons. The "timing" of a humour is just as vital as the timing of the music, so one is constantly working on more than one level. There is also the theatrical and the visual aspect. Then again one has to feel so comfortable in the music, that the humour has space to feel natural and vica versa, so virtuosity is required on many levels. And this has to be practiced and rehearsed separately and together. So it is double the work, but often also double the fun!

Do you remember the first piece the two of you performed together?

JOO: The first piece we ever played together was when we were both 14 years old. It was a piece written by Aleksey called "Bastard Sonata," which by now is published on Universal Edition. It involves a short improvisation section, where, in the first performance, Aleksey lost half of the hair on his bow and forgot to come in after that.

How about the first piece into which you injected humor?

IGUDESMAN: We tend to try to find humor in music, rather than inject it, most of the time. If one were to pick up a historical account of how music was performed in the last three centuries, one may be astounded as one would see that the performance of classical music of the past has no resemblance whatsoever with today's performance. This is not to say that the way in which classical music was performed and received at those times is ideal but one thing is certain: there was a lot more spontaneity and fun in those times and less of a barrier between the performers and the public. But we digress - the first piece with humor was probably also Alekseys "Bastard Sonata."

Is there much speaking in the show? Does it overcome language barriers in that way?

IGUDESMAN & JOO: Our show is an international show and uses little language. Whatever language might be used, it is secondary to the presentation. It is not important to understand the humor of a sketch, however, we do our very best to adapt those bits of language into the local language, wherever and whenever possible and we have managed to perform the show in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian and even Korean and even used bits and sentences in Japanese, Malaysian, Mandarin and Cantonese! What is wonderful for us is the way the different parts of the world react to different parts of the show. Humor is the same everywhere, but every culture has its own "preferences" Some nations laugh more about the slapstick, where as others prefer the musical or the linguistic jokes.

You’ve played for a wide variety of audiences – what pop culture touchstones have transcended cultures, have you found? Has it ever surprised you that a reference to a specific song, say “I Will Survive,” worked with a specific audience?

IGUDESMAN : "I Will Survive" has become a very significant song for us. We have managed to transcend cultures in that song, simply because the harmonic structure is such a common one. And that is not saying its bad. Just the opposite. A lot of great music is based on the same chord structure. And at one point in the song, we combine Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Bach, Vivaldi, "Autumn Leaves," "Killing Me Softly," and many other songs of composers that are based on those chords. For us, it signifies that it all comes from the same roots and that pop, jazz, ethnic and classical music are much closer linked than one thinks. In our eyes, this song also stands for the survival of classical music in particular and music in general. And why does Aleksey sing it with a Russian accent, you may well ask. You may ask that.

Who are your influences musically, and comically?

IGUDESMAN : Already back at the Yehudi Menuhin School in England, where we met at the age of 12, we were always listening and watching great comedians, parallel to great performers. We were influenced by people who were both, wonderful musicians and had a great sense of humour, such as Victor Borge, Dudley Moore or even Glenn Gould, who did some sketches for Canadian TV, which many people don’t know. Even the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin himself, who Aleksey was lucky enough to have lessons with, spread the word of being open to all things around and not just "classical music" itself.

We have always been very close to the theater, the cinema and acting. As a teenager Aleksey went through a phase of reading the entire works of Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Anton Chekhov. We have both done many projects on and off stage, written music for the stage and the screen and acted in shows and plays.

It is difficult to say which composers influenced us the most, but the Russian neoclassical movement has always been a big inspiration to both of us. Aleksey listened to anything he could get his hands on by Prokofiev and Hyung-ki, has always been a big admirer of Stravinsky - he even won the Stravinsky piano competition at a very young age. But we have also been influenced by various types of non-classical music, like Frank Zappa, Queen, The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Billy Joel, who Hyung-ki has worked closely with for many years.

You also work for other people, like Hans Zimmer or Billy Joel. Do you have to approach that sort of work for hire with a different mindset from what you do for yourselves?

JOO: Primarily we are passionate musicians (besides being absolute loonies, that is). All music we play or write is done with complete and utter dedication, whether it is with or for Hans Zimmer, Billy Joel, or the girl next door who has asks us to sing a lullaby to her baby. And all creative work requires our full dedication which we always give. We try to have an open mind for all work, breath deeply into our chakras, stand on one foot and chant old Hebrew songs, but then again, we do that before every show anyway!

Have you seen that you’ve opened up classical music to people who otherwise hadn’t responded to it? Have you gotten feedback from fans to that effect?

IGUDESMAN & JOO: We have a lot of feedback from fans and people who didn't give a damn about classical music and now are into Rachmaninov and Mozart! Needless to say we are overjoyed about that! From a young age on, we felt that the whole business and ceremony surrounding classical music was way too serious for its own good and found that people were afraid to go to concerts. Some of our aim is to dispel this fear by making classical music more accessible to the public.

We would like to say that our audience is mostly female and between the ages of 18 and 38, but that would simply not be true. It truly is as varied as advertised, which is, in actual fact, a beautiful thing. Any age, race, sex, species can enjoy our show. You can be musically educated or not, a lover of classical music or of heavy metal.

Igudesman and Joo: A Little Nightmare Music: 8PM, $37-$67. Berklee Performance Center, 136 Massachusetts Ave, Ma. 617.747.2261

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mottley's: Ken Reid on Firsts of Fury and The Comedy Studio

Ken Reid's Firsts of Fury
Ken Reid debut's his new show Firsts of Fury tomorrow at Mottley's Comedy Club. He'll be talking about firsts in his life, continuing his trend of storytelling comedy, joined by Mehran, Lamont Price, Jenny Zigrino, and musician Mark Lind. If all goes well, you'll see this show regularly at Mottley's. And more of Ken Reid is a good thing.

I spoke with Reid last night in this interview, a tribute to Mystery Science Theater 3000. We talked about Firsts, Reid hosting at The Comedy Studio, and dipped into the Bag of Pop Culture to test Reid's considerable knowledge.

I learned a lot. My own first -- this is where I learned that I look like a Walt Kelly drawing in profile.

Ken Reid's Firsts of Fury: 8PM, $12. Ken Reid hosts a night of comics talking about their "firsts," with Mehran, Lamont Price, Jenny Zigrino, and Mark Lind. Mottley's Comedy Club, 61 Chatham Street, Boston, Ma 02109. 877-615-2844

Monday, March 21, 2011

It’s Tony V Week

Tony V on Showtime, YouTube
Let’s go ahead and call this Tony V Week. If you have Showtime 2, you can see the Boston veteran in World’s Greatest Dad putting his social worker skills from another life to work as a school psychologist. Director Bobcat Goldthwait and Tony V are old friends, and you can read a bit about the movie from both of them in my interviews with them from the Boston Comedy archives. Archived Interviews: Bobcat | Tony

Someone also posted this video of Tony from early in his career, when he was the gorilla in the American Tourister luggage ads in the late eighties/early nineties. It’s an interview for Evening Magazine in Philadelphia, and shows Tony hamming it up as the gorilla in the Commons. If you want to see him live this week, head out to Lenzi’s in Dracut Wednesday. He’ll be headlining a benefit for Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Check the Facebook page for details.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Wilbur: Jim Norton is Despicable

Jim Norton plays two shows at
The Wilbur tonight
Jim Norton recorded his new CD, Despicable, in Boston. The New Jersey native is comfortable here. Boston has long been one of Norton’s go-to cities, a place where he started drawing theater crowds early in his career. Boston crowds appreciate his darker side, whether he’s talking about his dalliances with transsexuals or describing Britney Spears’ genitalia. They’ve known Norton long enough not to be shocked.

Despicable is a good snapshot of who Norton is as a comedian, taking on gay bashers and race issues, with a great piece on "bombing etiquette" for anyone who tries to be funny in their everyday life. You also get a glimpse into Norton's personal life in the liner notes, with photos of his IDs and a newspaper clipping of a story about young Jim trying to beat the local record on Asteroids.

Norton is back in Boston tonight at The Wilbur. The early show is sold out, but as of Friday morning, there may be seats for the later show. You can also hear him frequently on the Opie and Anthony show on Sirius Radio. "Having more fun on SiriusXM than I EVER did on regular radio," he says. "It’s an amazing platform."

I caught up with Norton via e-mail while he was taping a segment for The Tonight Show to air next week.

What are you taping for Leno? When will that air?

I taped a spring break piece in Florida which airs this Tuesday. I was the creepy older guy on the beach. Unintentionally.

How difficult is it to translate your humor to network TV? I feel like, rather than just chopping language, censors would have problems with the concepts of a lot of your material.

Depends on the show. Leno is great because of all the late night shows, they let me do the edgiest material by far. I’ve gotten away with lines on that show that I NEVER could have done on other shows.

Was Despicable one take of the same show, or a mix of a couple of different shows?

It was taken from a couple of different shows. It’s currently the number two comedy CD in the country. (In sales. As far as content, it’s probably somewhere in the low 70s).

What made you record at the Connection?

I truly love Boston crowds. They’re very cranky white people, but they listen to the material. Probably my favorite city to perform in.

Are those real IDs on the sleeve?

They really are, yes. My new passport photo is in there, too (it’s the one where I’m kind of biting my lip, looking not unlike a rapist.

Kind of dickish for the writer on the Asteroids piece you included inside to note you weren’t playing on the “more deadly deluxe” machine.

Yes, it was. ‘Deluxe Asteroids” sucked. It was only deadlier because no one wanted to play it long enough to get good.

That’s quite a gallery of thank-yous in the liner notes – Sean Hannity, Louis CK, Kevin Smith, Marc Maron, Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne, Bob Levy. Do these people ever inhabit the same space, or are they all separate worlds in a way?

They’re all people who have helped me along the way, and they’re all uniquely mentally ill.

You had a great conversation with Maron on WTF about sexuality – what kind of feedback do you get from fans about that material? Do people think you’re making it up for the act?

People generally love it because they know it’s coming from an honest place. (Except for the tranny stories of course, I MADE THEM ALL UP). (no i didn’t)

Do you find your fans fall mostly in any one place on the political spectrum? It seems you have definite opinions, but you’re rarely explicitly political, and you say things that people on the left and on the right might be uncomfortable with.

I think they come from both sides. I embrace certain aspects of both ideologies, but don’t really respect either. As a comic, I never worry about offending the beliefs of the audience. If you can’t laugh at an opinion just because you don’t agree with it, then fuck you.

Any word on appearing on season two of Louie?

Louie has requested a few cock pics from me and I have sent. Waiting to hear back…

Jim Norton: 7:30PM and 10PM. $20-$33. The Wilbur Theatre, 246 Tremont St., Boston. 866.448.7849

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day from the Dropkick Murphys and Lenny Clarke

The Dropkick Murphys are at the House of Blues supporting their new album, Going Out In Style, and Lenny Clarke is at Giggles tonight with Tony V supporting his new hair color. The Murphys tapped Clarke and his plunger, as well as Micky Ward from The Fighter, Bobby Orr, Milan Lucic, and Shawn Thornton from the Bruins, Kevin Youkilis of the Red Sox, and NESN's Heidi Watney for the video of the title track from the album. Clarke will be at Giggles tomorrow and Saturday, as well.

Check out the video:

Lenny Clarke:Thursday at 8PM with Tony V, Dave Russo, Graig Murphy, and Mark Riley. Friday and Saturday at 7:15PM and 9:30PM. With Artie Januario and Todd Kane. Giggles Comedy Club, at Prince's Pizzeria, 517 Broadway (Route 1), Saugus, Ma. 781.233.9950

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Jimmy Tingle In Lynn, Jimmy Tingle's American Dream

Jimmy Tingle play the Lynn Community
Coffee House Friday
Having moved to Lynn in 2006, I like to promote shows going on in my own backyard. Friday, Jimmy Tingle will be kicking off the Lynn Community Coffee House at St. Stephen’s Church on Common Street. There is a heavy community angle to the show, which will also feature works from local artists and a silent auction to benefit ECCO, an organization that helps to create jobs for Lynn youth.

Jocelyn Almy-Testa, one of the organizers of the event, hopes will help the city develop more of an arts and entertainment scene. “I think events like this, and also other things going on in the city, like The Lynn Auditorium programming, events being held at LynnArts, Walnut Street, and Arts After Hours, are all contributing to an environment in which people see Lynn as a place to go to have meaningful experiences, and quality entertainment options,” she says. “It helps commerce, helps our quality of life, gives people a chance to enjoy themselves, and overall brings the community together in a positive way.”

Tingle ran Jimmy Tingle’s Off-Broadway Theater for five years in Somerville, and he knows what a good venue or show can do for the local economy. “It helps the performers, it helps the local community, it helps the church, it helps all the people who benefit from the church, and it helps the local economy in a big way,” he says. “For every one dollar that is spent on an entertainment ticket, three dollars is spent in the surrounding neighborhood.”

Don White, one of the other organizers of the event, will host the show.

Tingle’s documentary, Jimmy Tingle’s American Dream, just won best documentary at the Independent Film Quarterly Film and New Media Festival last month. He’s looking to tour more festivals with the film this year. Here’s a quick preview:

Monday, March 14, 2011

WICF Interviews - Kristen Schaal, Morgan Murphy, and Jen Kirkman

This year's Women In Comedy Festival was another success. The high point came Saturday at the headliner show with Kurt and Kristen, Morgan Murphy, and Jen Kirkman at the Brattle Theatre, all of whom participated in a panel discussion Saturday afternoon, with Rachel Dratch and Myq Kaplan. I spoke with Kristen Schaal, Murphy, and Kirkman backstage after the panel, a few hours before their shows.

Kristen Schaal and Morgan Murphy:

Jen Kirkman:

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

WICF Spotlight: Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting at ImprovBoston

Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting at
ImprovBoston tonight
One of my favorite finds from last year’s Women In Comedy Festival was the sketch duo Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting. They were strange, aggressively offensive, and most importantly, funny. They are part of the Festival again this year, at ImprovBoston tonight. I spoke with Leah Ruddick and Katie Hartman by e-mail – not sure who answered what question.

How did you get involved with the Women In Comedy Festival?

Our very good friends (and hilarious stand-ups) Selena Coppock and Carolyn Castiglia participated in the festival it’s inaugural year and spoke very highly of it. We had never performed in Boston before, so we applied, got in and tried not to murder each other on the 5 hour bus ride.

What were your thoughts on last year’s edition?

We had a great time performing last year! It’s always fun to perform outside of NYC and the Boston audience didn’t throw anything at us! What a pleasure! It was also kind of awesome literally running smack into Maria Bamford in the tiny bathroom at ImprovBoston.

Have you performed at other festivals that include other comic artforms – stand-up, sketch, improv, and storytelling?

Yes! We’ve traveled all over for various festivals including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, Ladies Are Funny Festival in Austin, SketchFest NYC, Los Angeles Comedy Festival, Capital Fringe in DC and AYE Arts and Music Festival in Cincinnati. Randomly. we also performed at the National Roller Derby Tournament, which is perhaps the highlight of our career. The only disappointment was that nobody body checked us.

How did the two of you come together as Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting?

We met doing theatre at Sarah Lawrence College, where we acted in a lot of very earnest girl dramas together. Then we realized it was more fun to make fun of that kind of theater than to actually do it. We started doing sketch comedy in a larger group as soon as we graduated and through that we formed the duo that is Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting.

How did you come up with the name?

It was the name of our prayer circle. Just kidding. Kind of. ”Skinny Bitch Meeting” was an inside joke with a few friends and Jesus found his way in there somehow, as He tends to do. Obviously our mothers are thrilled with the name (no they aren’t) and obviously we are masters in marketing (no we’re not), ‘cause newspapers LOVE to print the words “bitch” and “Jesus” next to each other. BRILLIANT.

How would you describe what SBJM does?

We’re a little weird, absurd, dark and dirty. We tend towards more theatrical, character-based stuff because that’s what our background is, and generally that’s the kind of thing that makes us laugh. Some other ways to describe what we do? “Mama’s Crack fix” and “Fun Ass”.

Who are you looking forward to seeing at the Festival?

Oh, everyone! We love anything Kurt and Kristen does. Leibya Rogers is a genius with tofu nipples. Amy Albert as Delilah Dix makes our private parts feel gross in the best way possible. Doppleganger is hands down one of the best improv troupes in NYC. Ben Lerman is a uke wizard! Leah Dubie rocks it every time! We could go on.

Why should people come to see your show?

Because if they don’t we will hunt them down and eat their children. If they don’t have children then we will seduce their wives. If they aren’t married to women we’ll leave them alone.

Women In Comedy Festival - Full Tilt Comedy: Sketch: 10PM, $20. Mainstage. With Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting, OBV, and Harry Roasts America. ImprovBoston, 40 Prospect Street, Cambridge, Ma, 02139. 617-576-1253

Friday, March 11, 2011

WICF Spotlight: Stripped Stories at ImprovBoston

Giulia Rozzi, co-host of Stripped Stories
Stripped Stories fits the Women In Comedy Festival’s schedule perfectly – it uses a variety of comic formats, including storytelling, music, and even an interactive game. It deals with a basic issue, looking at the serious and silly sides of sex. And its co-host, Giulia Rozzi, is a Boston native.

“We are a show produced, created and hosted by two women,” says Rozzi. “We have a nice mix of male and females on our show as well as a mix of male and female fans, so I think we've done a great job of creating a female operated show that celebrates both genders and all sexual orientations. We are a show that is empowering to women and men.”

Rozzi and her co-host Margot Leitman have been performing Stripped Stories in New York City, where they are based, and sometimes taking the show on the road. It’s an interactive show, and it’s hard to think of a topic more universal.

“We enable audience members to laugh at their own sexual misadventures via the brave guests who bare their souls on stage,” says Rozzi. “We open every show telling the audience that ‘this is a safe zone’ meaning what's shared at the show stays at the show. Some people may assume because the show is about sex that means it's just a bunch of vulgar sex stories, and sure sometimes the stories get dirty, but it's also vulnerable, sentimental, and of course hilarious.”

And now, abruptly, two questions:

Who are you looking forward to seeing at the Festival?

We're excited to see/meet new comics and familiar faces.

Why should people come to see your show?

It's fun, inspiring, touching, interactive, entertaining , positive, and very different from your typical comedy show. (Also, people have been known to find romance at our show, so you never know...)

Women In Comedy Festival - Stripped Stories: 11:3oPM, $16. Mainstage. Starring Giulia Rozzi and Margot Leitman, with Kurt Braunohler. ImprovBoston, 40 Prospect Street, Cambridge, Ma, 02139. 617-576-1253

WICF: Rachel Dratch Performs at ImprovBoston

Rachel Dratch performs at
ImprovBoston tonight
The Women In Comedy Festival announced earlier this week that Saturday Night Live and Second City alum Rachel Dratch, a Lexington native, will be performing on tonight’s 7PM show at ImprovBoston, and also speaking on a panel tomorrow. The Festival had been trying to get Dratch on the schedule before they announced the full slate of headliners, but it wound up coming a little late.

“Rachel Dratch has been on our short-list of dream headliners since day one,” says WICF co-founder Michelle Barbera, “and we'd tried getting in touch with her in various ways to no avail. I ended up going on IMDB Pro (yes, there's a reason for IMDB Pro's existence, I now know) and found her agency. I have to give huge props to her agency, and especially to John and Scott, for taking my call in the first place, and for working with me over many months to see what was possible because they believed in our mission. When we finally got the call to confirm that Rachel was in, I felt like a seven-year-old at her Star-Wars-themed surprise birthday party. Times ten. I was very excited.”

Barbera notes it’s a rare chance to see Dratch in an intimate, 100-seat setting, and to see her on tomorrow’s panel at the Brattle with headliners Jen Kirkman, Morgan Murphy, Kristen Schaal, and Kurt Braunohler. “For audience members and performers alike to see Rachel Dratch perform and speak, live, right here in Boston, brings home a sense of reality about the possibilities for women in comedy to become household names and have a cultural impact,” she says.0” I don't think anyone who gets to see Rachel at WICF will ever forget the experience, and we believe that she, along with our other headliners and performers, will inspire so many others to really go for a great career in comedy.”

The Wilbur: Catching Up with Maz Jobrani

Maz Jobrani plays
the Wilbur tonight
It is an extraordinary time in the Middle East, with the political landscape changing sometimes by the minute as people rise up against their governments. That should be fertile ground for a comic like Maz Jobrani, who is at the Wilbur tonight. Jobrani is Persian and was born in Iran, and his cultural background figured heavily into his act on the “Axis of Evil” tour.

But you’ll have to forgive him if he is still processing the daily headlines. “It takes some time to write material about current events and try it out on new audiences,” he told me by e-mail. “I just had a baby daughter a month and a half ago, so I haven't had a chance to get on stage when I'm in LA much, which is when I usually work out new material. So I've had to try my material about all that's going on in the Middle East when I'm on the road. I have a few jokes about Egypt and Ghaddafi. Not sure if they're fine tuned yet.”

Jobrani has always discussed Middle Eastern culture in his act, especially as it applies to his own Persian heritage. You can get a taste of taste of that from his Brown and Friendly special, released in 2009. Jobrani humanizes a region that seems often to be homogenized in the popular imagination. “I do point out that they're different countries and not to be lumped together,” he says. “I think some people do believe that the whole region is just one country controlled by Al Queda.”

Jobrani is also the star of a new film called David, about the obstacles facing an eleven year old Muslim boy growing up in Brooklyn. The film is currently making the rounds at festivals, and Jobrani is hoping it gets a wider theatrical release. It’s a more dramatic role for him. “I play David's dad who's a pretty serious guy,” he says. “There are a few moments of comedy in the film, but they're not provided by my character.”

His character is very religious, in contrast to Jobrani’s own upbringing. “My family wasn't religious,” he says. “However, my dad could be pretty serious and strict at times. I'd say that came from being traditional. Having experienced some of those characteristics from my dad did help me play David's dad in the movie.”

Jobrani was originally brought onto the project as an actor, but wound up with a producing credit. “I think the filmmaker Joel Fendelman and the producers Julian Schwartz and Patrick Daly, who was also a writer on the project, felt that I could probably help bring some attention to the film just through my contacts and the fanbase I have created through stand-up, says Jobrani. “So I've been trying to be involved as a producer in that way. I was also involved in suggesting some ideas for my character that the writers were good enough to change so you could say I was involved as a producer in that way too.”

Jobrani is also trying to raise money for his own film project, Jimmy Vestvood: Amerikan Hero. “If anyone's got any rich uncles who're looking to finance a film please get in touch,” he says. You can check out the details on the Facebook site and the official site.

Maz Jobrani: 7:30PM. $30-$40. Mehran opens. The Wilbur Theatre, 246 Tremont St., Boston. 866.448.7849

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Giggles: Catching Up with Matty Blake, One Of the “Hunks of Comedy”

Matty Blake is at Giggles tonight
with the "Hunks of Comedy"
Tonight and tomorrow at Giggles, former Boston comic Matty Blake will be part of the “Hunks of Comedy” show along with Graig Murphy, Martin Montana, and Mark Riley. Not that he knew that’s what he was signing up for when he took the gig. The name is the brainchild of club owner Mike Clarke, and according to Blake, is an attempt to satisfy the “tipsy gals’ night out” crowd.

“I honestly didn't know the show was themed as such, until he told me this past Sunday,” Blake told me by e-mail. “He asked me to headline this date weeks and weeks ago. When he told me what it was called I did not believe him. I immediately looked it up on the site. Oh, my, he was not kidding.”

Could this be the start of a new touring package for Blake and company? “If they'll have me, I will come,” he says. “Although I think Gulman is the true hunk of comedy. Gary Gulman's hair alone could do a full set that would have ladies swooning.”

For the record, Blake is dubious of the name. “I'm embarrassed to be part of a show called ‘Hunks Of Comedy,’” he says. “Because by being in it, people will think I'm as good looking as these other comics. And it's not even close. I'm way better looking.”

Blake has plenty on his plate these days. He was on the first season of the Onion SportsDome on Comedy Central, and could be back if it’s picked up for a second season. He’ll be hosting a new show on the History Channel called What’s In Your Pockets? and will be working with CBS Sports to do daily sports-related comedy bits for their Web site, starting in two weeks. For HBO fans, he’s got a guest spot on the hit Boardwalk Empire in the can for season two. “That was a blast!” he reports. “Buscemi is the man.”

The Hunks of Comedy: Tonight at 8:30PM, tomorrow at 7:15PM and 9:30PM. With Matty Blake, Martin Montana, and Graig Murphy. Giggles Comedy Club, at Prince's Pizzeria, 517 Broadway (Route 1), Saugus, Ma. 781.233.9950

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

WICF Spotlight: Somebody’s In the Doghouse

Somebody's In the Doghouse plays
the WICF tonight at ImprovBoston
Marty Johnson is a veteran of the Women In Comedy Festival. She was part of the Festival last year with her duo Sombody’s In the Doghouse, along with Leah Gotcsik, and was happy to see the Festival make strides in its second year last year.

“Every year is bigger and better than the last,” she says. “I think people in other cities really got wind of what was happening after last year -- they had some amazing groups come in from LA and New York, among other places. I could tell because as this year ramped up, friends from other cities were getting in touch to get the skinny, and ask about applying. Word is clearly getting around that this is a great, worthwhile festival.”

Somebody’s In the Doghouse does sketch and video, which makes it a good fit for a festival that includes comic formats ranging from stand-up to improv to musical comedy. “To me it makes a lot of sense to bring the different types together,” says Johnson. “There’s a lot of overlap anyway. Some of my favorite stand-ups could also be described as storytellers, with some sketch and improv thrown in – like the Walsh Brothers, for example.”

Johnson and Gotscik met as performers at Improv Asylum and started doing shows together shortly thereafter at the North End theatre. How would Johnson describe the group? “We are a two-person comedy group that writes character-driven sketches that are topical, sharp, and a little screwball,” she says. “Then we perform the SH*T out of them. We also sing a fair amount. Doghouse isn't just sketch comedy though. We've written and starred in an independent pilot about a shopping network, called Today's Special, which went to the NY Television Festival. And our video shorts have been featured in the L.A. Comedy Shorts, the Austin Film Festival and other festivals. Leah and I also performed on a cruise ship with The Second City at Sea and wrote a more narrative-driven show about that experience.”

And what of the name, Somebody’s In the Doghouse? “We had started performing without a name, and after one of our late shows we were driving home with another comedy friend, Sara,” says Johnson. :She called her husband on the way and was outraged to find he had eaten the last frozen pizza in their house. The theme song was born. The name also fit because we often write about things that really bother us or we feel deserve to be brutally mocked.”

And now, abruptly, two questions:

Who are you looking forward to seeing at the Festival?

Oh man, so much stuff. Just a few of the many I’m psyched to see are Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting, the Laura on Laura Comeback Tour, hometown hero Cathleen Carr, Citizen Rothstein, Doppelganger, of course the headliners Morgan Murphy, Jen Kirkman and Kurt & Kristen. I’m going to become a show-seeing zombie.

Why should people come to see your show?

If they like sketch comedy, they will love us!

Women In Comedy Festival - For Your Entertainment: Improv,Sketch, & Musical Acts of Glory: 8PM, $12. Mainstage. With LivePod Shuffle, Somebody's in the Doghouse, and Delilah Dix: Showin' My Business. ImprovBoston, 40 Prospect Street, Cambridge, Ma, 02139. 617-576-1253

WICF Spotlight: Ready, Set… Wife! at ImprovBoston

Ready, Set... Wife makes its live
debut at the WICF tonight at IB
Tonight’s Ready, Set…Wife! show will be a treat for audiences at ImprovBoston, and also for the two performers on the show, Cathleen Carr and Robyn Okrant. Outside of the Women In Comedy Festival, RSW is a collaboration that doesn’t often include live performance, since Carr lives in New York City and Okrant in Chicago. “We mainly blog,” says Carr. “We have a weekly podcast where we interview great, talented, creative women -- from comediennes, to actresses, to authors -- and we create our own online video content. WICF is the first time we're performing live onstage together.”

The pair have known each other for years, and have been looking for some way to put their talents together, and finally found it when Okrant was visiting New York promoting her book, Living Oprah. Both are married, and found fertile ground in the subject. “Doing an online project seemed perfect,” says Carr, “and we decided to base it in our own reality -- we're both modern wives who are completely clueless about how to juggle our independent feminist sides with the traditional roles expected of a married woman.”

There are obstacles to being married and pursuing a career in comedy. There’s a social element, hanging out with other comics and making connections that might mean stage time or other opportunities. “I like to go home now after shows,” says Carr. “I’m a nester and sometimes I worry that by not going out as much and making the scene, I will miss out on networking time. That is why I really dig social media and networking because I can engage with other comedians anytime, anywhere. I think as everyone gets older, people don't care as much about folks being married. Listen, at the end of the day, even comedians don't want to die alone.”

Carr and Okrant are putting together a tour for RSW, and tonight’s show will be a trial run of that. So what will the show look like? “Well, there will be a bit of everything,” says Carr, “from an original digital short, to some standup/sketch, to a fabulous panel of celebrity comedians who will solve all marital issues (the audience and our own) live onstage.”

For those who may be wondering, Carr's other project, Two Girls For Five Bucks, with Daiva Dupree, is alive and well and still performing in New York City.

And now, abruptly, one question:

Why should someone come to see your show?

It will be the best Women's Studies class of your life.

Women In Comedy Festival - Ready, Set... Wife: A Frank and Funny Discussion on Marriage with Robyn Okrant abd Cathleen Carr: 7PM, $10. Mainstage, ImprovBoston, 40 Prospect Street, Cambridge, Ma, 02139. 617-576-1253

The Boston Comedy Interview: MC Mr Napkins

Zach Sherwin's MC Mr. Napkins
The Album
Boston fans of MC Mr. Napkins, a.k.a. Zach Sherwin, have seemingly been waiting forever for his debut album. Sherwin already had enough hip-hop comedy in his repertoire to fill an album or two when he left Boston for Los Angeles in 2009. It finally happened when MC Mr. Napkins - The Album came out in November on Comedy Central Records. You can see the first couple of videos from the album over at Napkins' page on

Sherwin was back in Boston playing his CD release party on New Year's Day, and he's at the Women In Comedy Festival tonight at ImprovBoston. I spoke with him by phone while he was on the road last week.

How has the first year in Los Angeles been? Is it basically what you expected?

Yeah, it was a fascinating year, man. A lot of really good stuff happened. First of all, it was so exciting to switch things up from Boston. I love Boston so much, and I’ve actually been really fortunate and gotten to go back a lot. This year especially. But I’d just been there for, like, twelve years, so to make such a huge move and be all the way across the country, it was great to do something that dramatic. So on just a very basic level, that was really good.

And in terms of career advancement, it was really an exciting year. I started setting up roots in the L.A. comedy community. My album finally came out. I had my first TV appearance. I did this talking head thing on E!, the E! Entertainment Network, not the club drug. I made a couple of music videos, the first legit productions I had made. I got accepted to the college conference. So it was a really cool year. A lot of really cool stuff happened.

How did you get involved with the Women In Comedy Festival?

You now, I’ve been doing all these shows on the East Coast and I’m around Boston a lot, a d I was hanging out backstage at IB with Michelle Barbera, and she was like, hey, if you’re going to be around during this time, you should come do the festival. And as it turns out, I have three college gigs on my books that weekend. I’m actually going to be doing a college show and then zipping off for my set on the Thursday night at the fest, which is going to be really fun.

That sounds like a whirlwind schedule.

Yeah, it’s going to be fun. And can I say this? Micah Sherman and I wrote a really funny song we’re going to be debuting at the Festival and I’m really excited to perform it.

What’s the gist of it?

It is a parody. This is our second parody of a 1990s hit urban music song. Our first one is a “Regulators” parody. This one is a parody of “This Is How We Do It” by Montel Jordan.

Is this something you’ve recorded or done a video for yet, or is it brand new?

At this point it’s just me and Micah. It’s been really fun. I’ve never collaborated with anybody like this. But Micah and I would just write a draft and then send it via e-mail to the other one, and the other guy would make a pass at revising it and send it back. We probably have five or six drafts back and forth over the space of a couple of weeks. It was really fun and I’m really excited to see how it goes. At this point it’s just going to be a live thing that we’ll get to three or four times over the course of the many shows that will be happening during that time.

Are you going to have time to visit your old haunts or see any of your friends while you’re here?

I don’t know, and I’m actually going to pop down to New York during part of it. Some of my best friends in the world – I should say, some of my best non-comedy friends in the world are people who reside in Massachusetts. And of course I suspend the requirements of living and normal lifing to see those people when I get a chance to see them. The great thing about it is, since I’ve been doing so much comedy in the past few years, my closest friends are other comedians, and hanging out at shows is a legit way to get to see those people. So coming back to Boston, it’s like the epicenter of my comfort bubble. It’s so warm and fuzzy to be back there. I look forward to it for weeks and weeks.

How was the Passim release show?

It was phenomenal. It was great. A bunch of comics did sets. People didn’t do other things so they could be there for that show and traveled from far and wide. I hope it becomes a yearly tradition. It’s always packed, and it’s a super-supportive crowd. That place is great. They have a terrific sound system.

For those unfamiliar with the story, why did it take so long for the album to finally get released? I know it had been mostly done before you even left for Los Angeles.

It was in production forever. I remember telling you about it when I found out about the deal, and that would have been summer of 2009. The release date was November 2010. Why did it take so long? I don’t know that there’s any one answer to that question. There were a few reasons. One is that, as opposed to just an album where a stand-up goes onstage with a mic, does three or four shows and then kind of supervises the editing but it’s mostly done by a sound editor, this was like a studio album. There was a lot of back-and-forth with my DJ. Even though it was already all recorded by the time I left for Las Angeles.

I actually did record it in the last days of my Boston residency. Even though we knew it would exist as of the summer of 2009, there was still a lot of work that needed to be done. So probably five months to get all the recording set up. There was a lot of pre-production that needed to be done with the music. And then recording was only about a week. From there, my DJ needed time to mix it all down. Working on my album was not his full-time job. Scheduling was crazy with that. There were a lot of parties – there was me and my DJ and my management and Comedy Central. I don’t know. But I would say it was only about a year from the announcement to knowing when the release date was. Boy was that not a concise answer.

You had some hurdles to clear with getting permission for music and such, right?

That was occurring at the same time all this stuff was going on. Starting early in 2009, my DJ and I started figuring out what the nuts and bolts of our arrangement were going to be. That took forever. We had a very lengthy process where we were all lawyered up and we were back-and-forthing percentage points and all that. It was complicated. I’m glad we did it, because now when things come up it’s very easy for us to figure out how it should fit.

How does that relationship work as far as writing? How much of what we hear onstage is you and how much is your DJ?

The beats are a hundred percent my DJ. Not a hundred percent… When I was in Boston, I would come in with ideas for melodies and he would craft beats in a tailor-made way to fit the melodies. But I haven’t replaced him with someone in California that I’m working with exclusively or anything. So while we’re doing it remotely, he’ll just send me batches of beats and I’ll pick out the ones that I like and write to them. And then I’ll do little crude arrangements of them in Garage Band and send them back to him and he’ll make a higher-quality version of it tailored to my arrangement. And then I’ll go on with that.

Is there anything on the album that people who knew you from Boston might now be quite so familiar with?

There’s stuff that I almost never perform. I’m thinking of stuff like “Flora Fauna.” And there’s two songs that I wrote after I had gotten to Los Angeles that I certainly performed in Boston numerous times. “Geography Trivia” and “F-Bomb” are both things that I wrote early in 2010. Those are live tracks. We didn’t record them in a studio, we just taped a live show in a great little comedy theatre in Santa Monica that I like to perform at. I definitely don’t have the material to record a second album or anything, but I’ve got a good start going.

Will we hear any of those news songs at the Women In Comedy Festival?

Absolutely. I hate performing old songs for people who have seen them before. It is so uncomfortable for me. I’m hoping to have a ton of new material.

In Los Angeles, are you feeling any pressure to perform traditional stand-up and not do the music as much?

Great question. I have been writing more traditional stand-up. For the E! celebrity zinger show that I did, that was just writing very straightforward… they gave me a list of fifty celebrity moments they wanted me to write one-liners about. There was zero hip-hop chops involved in doing that. Which was really fun to find out that I could do. It was fun to do that for the first time and get it on TV. That’s a cool way for that to go.

I don’t know that there’s any pressure to write more traditional stand-up, but I’m doing all these college shows, and they’re an hour long. And it’s just not acceptable from a performer or audience standpoint to just get up onstage and spew out an hour of hip-hop where I finish the song, say “thank you,” and then say, “DJ, drop the beat.” So I’ve been working on writing more jokes or stories or even just things to say between songs. And that’s been really great. I love having that hour playground of a college show where there aren’t really industry eyes on you. Those are really safe havens for me to play around with telling stories and doing crowd work. I don’t feel comfortable doing that in the comparatively exposure-[driven] world of Los Angeles. Writing stand-up is super gratifying, and knowing that I have the raps to go to, it’s just being able to do another thing, which I think as a performer you always want to welcome in.

How comfortable are you with that? It sounds like a process you enjoy. Is it something you think you could fill a whole show with if you needed to?

How long a show? Like an hour?

Well, do you think you’ll ever get to a point where you’ll do a full headlining set without using a song?

God, that would be really cool just to be able to do. A lot of my material is about rap. At least at this point, it’s sort of like a bridge phase where I’m telling stories about things that have to do with rap stuff. Well, that’s actually not overwhelmingly true. I’m starting to expand the subjects a little bit. I just did a show in Los Angeles where I was like, “Okay, hit the beat,” and the apparatus that they had that was going to be playing my beat totally shit the bed. I had to just go and tell jokes, and to my pleasant surprise, I did eight or nine minutes of just stand-up and it went great.

It wasn’t like a “prove yourself” comedy club crowd, it was a friendly hipster audience. But it was awesome and super-exhilarating. The people who run the show were looking kind of panicked because they know I’m a musical act, and I was like “It’s okay, it’s okay.” And I just did a stand-up set and it was fun. It went well. And afterwards I thought, wow, that just happened.

To answer your question, I would love to have that much stand-up material. In a show where I’m doing raps and stand-up, it’s great to have more material that you can use in an hour. If I had an hour of stand-up, I would have so much material to have at my beck and call. I hope it does happen. It would be cool to start doing that.

Obviously, the focus is on the music. That’s what you’re known for, so you wouldn’t want to diverge from that too much, I would think.

No, but on the other hand, I’ve been starting to take a long view. I’m not going to be able to be an informed, young comedy rapper for twenty more years or twenty-five more years. And even if I could, I don’t know that I’ll want to be. I love hip-hop music. It’s the artform I was into before I was into comedy. But it seems advisable to develop more tools in my toolbelt, like being able to write for TV, and being able to write scripts, and just branching out a little bit. I at least want to try to be able to do that stuff before I decide that it’s not for me. So yeah, I’m not going to stop writing hip-hop songs, it’s the thing that I do, and the reason I’m doing this. Doing jokes is a new thing, and that variety and novelty are great. It’s really refreshing artistically and creatively. To succeed telling a story that has no hip-hop to it, it’s just exhilarating. I’m familiar with having good sets with songs, so to have more stand-up is very rewarding.

Do you get vastly different audiences in Los Angeles than you would at, say, The Comdy Studio here?

I think the Comedy Studio audiences are pretty unique and special. There is one venue out in LA that I think is kind of comparable, the West Side Comedy Theatre. It’s like a cross between The Comedy Studio and ImprovBoston. It is an improv theatre. It’s smart and friendly and community-oriented. They give me a lot of stage time. It feels like my home, my comfort zone in LA.

I think the audiences at the Comedy Store or the Laugh Factory or the Hollywoon Improv – they’re good. They’re comedy club audiences. They pay a lot and they have to buy drinks and they want you to do a good show. And then I have this cool little hipster room going in Echo Park where there’s always people there to see comedy, there’s always a bunch of people who don’t know there’s going to be comedy in the middle of Sunday night dinner and drinks at this place. And they’re also really cool. So I don’t think the crowds are awful or way less receptive to performance or all jaded by the industry. The people I’m performing are aren’t.

What’s next for you when you get back to LA?

When I get back to LA, I’m working on a bunch of videos that I’ll be putting up on the Internet. I’m doing some really cool collaborations with some friends who live in Los Angeles who are doing cool stuff. I’m really excited to keep the tour stuff going as much as possible. I’ll be doing more live dates around the country. I love traveling. It’s so invigorating. It gets me in a good place creatively. I’m hoping to do more stuff like the talking heads thing I did. It was so fun and such a cool, different thing to do. And I write every day, man. I’m just trying to get as much music and material out there as possible. That engine is cooking, too.

Women In Comedy Festival - Musical Comedy Royalty: 10PM, $12. Mainstage. With MC Mr. Napkins, The Micah Myq Club, and The Princess of Parodies - Traci Kanaan. ImprovBoston, 40 Prospect Street, Cambridge, Ma, 02139. 617-576-1253

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Music: Nick Young at the All-Asia Bar

Nick Young plays the
All-Asia tonight
This is a particularly busy week for comedy, but if you feel like taking a break in between the Women In Comedy Festival Shows and Maz Jobrani tomorrow, head over to the All-Asia in Cambridge to see Nick Young as part of the CNC Indie Music Marathon. Young hails from Rochester, NY, my old stomping grounds. He also writes and performs my favorite kind of music – Americana/ New Sincerity/Whatever the Hell You Call It. Formerly the frontman for Rochester’s Burning Daylight, Young just released his first solo album, Truth Is. If you’re fond of pedal steel guitars and twang, and post-Replacements Paul Westerberg, pick it up. For a little more about Young, head over to North Country Music Report to read an interview (conducted by a fellow with whom I briefly shared a high school).

Also on the bill, Elison Jackson, Tavonna Miller, Voda, and Smashy the Blues. 6PM. All-Asia Bar, 334 Mass Ave., Cambridge.

A preview, Young performing his "Strength In Numbers"

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

WICF Spotlight: Mad Men and Milkshakes – Storytelling

Jess Sutich hosts Mad Men and
Milkshakes: Storytelling tonight as
part of the WICF
There are a lot of stand-up festivals popping up all over the country. But the Women In Comedy Festival is unique in many regards. First, in the quality of its organization – it has progressed amazingly quickly leading up to this year’s third installment. Second, in its focus on women. And third, in the variety of genres it presents.

That’s where Jess Sutich comes in. Sutich hosts a regular storytelling show at ImprovBoston called A Night of Oral (Tradition), which happens again next month on April 7. Tonight, she is part of opening night festivities hosting the storytelling show, Mad Men and Milkshakes.

Some festivals give a nod to storytelling with a show or two, but the WICF features a storytelling show almost every night, tonight through Sunday. Sutich knows the better players in the storytelling scene, and she’s impressed with the names on this year’s schedule. “There are such great acts here this year that it can only lead to increased exposure and hopefully even more storytelling festival submissions for next year,” she says.

As a storyteller, Sutich is happy to see so many other storytellers on the bill, but also sees a benefit for the pure stand-up acts. “It's nice to see that variety on the stage and it allows comedians to see other things going on in the comedy and performance world,” she says. “Storytelling is infectious also. When you hear someone tell a story it reminds you of stories that you have so it's great to be a part of a festival and lure all of these great performers in, you know get them to drink the Kool-Aid.”

The line between stand-up and storytelling is a bit blurred. Sutich has experience with several different comic formats, all of which share at least some similarities. “I think that to some extent all forms of comedy can inform each other,” she says. “I started as an improvisor and I bring that skill to my stand-up as much as I bring my stand-up to storytelling and vice-versa. I think that a lot of comedians get started with comedy because they can just tell really funny stories. You can have a stand-up style where you include more stories and real life events but storytelling gives you more of a relaxed timeline. Instead of having to go through a bunch of different jokes you are really there to get people involved in one particular moment.”

According to Sutich, audiences at A Night of Oral (tradition) have been laid-back and open to hearing something different. Storytelling is in a bit of a boom period now, with shows like The Moth expanding in New York, LA, and around the country, and This American Life becoming a staple on NPR. “Storytelling is growing in the performance community, in large part due to the influence that The Moth has had,” she says. “I feel like I can actually feel the audience leaning forward to listen when people tell their stories. Also, although A Night of Oral (tradition) is definitely comedic, a wide range of topics have been brought to stage and the audience is really game for it. They aren't afraid to let it get real.”

And now, abruptly, two questions:

Who are you looking forward to seeing?

I feel like I should use this question to hit on people. I am definitely looking forward to Giulia Rozzi and Margot Leitman's Stripped Stories on Friday, and Sara Benincasa's Family Hour With Auntie Sara on Sunday. Those are both great shows. On Thursday at Mottley's I am going to check out the Dress-Up show. I have seen Ophira Eisenberg host The Moth in New York so it will be fun to see her do stand-up AND in fancy clothes. I am excited that Rachel Dratch will be on of course, and after seeing Flight of the Conchords I was really excited that Kristen Schaal would be here. Beyond that there are just a lot of awesome comedians that I love seeing perform so I will get out to see as much as I can! I hope all of the people I have mentioned read this and consider this a formal pick-up line.

Why should people come to see your show?

People should come to see my show because it's great. If you are into schadenfreude I overshare a lot about my life and it really can make you feel a lot better about the decisions you are making, if you have a great story and you want to see what it's all about while you build your nerve to take the stage it's good for that too. The people who are on the show at the festival and each month are always delightful and funny. My show will make you laugh while you drink beer and when you go home you will feel strangely closer to other human beings. I suggest that everyone try it at least once.

Women In Comedy Festival - Mad Men and Milkshakes: Storytelling: 9PM, $10. Mainstage, Hosted by Jess Sutich with Mad Men and Satan Drank My Milk: Tales of Co-Habitational Hell.ImprovBoston, 40 Prospect Street, Cambridge, Ma, 02139. 617-576-1253

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Wilbur Giving Away Last Pair of Tickets to Shaq’s All-Star Comedy Jam

The Wilbur is giving away tickets to
Saturday's show via Twitter
Both shows for Shaq’s All-Star Comedy Jam this Saturday have been sold out for weeks, but the Wilbur has been holding one last pair of tickets to the 10PM show to give away. Starting at noon today, you can enter to win the tickets by going to The Wilbur’s Twitter site and Tweeting “Hey @The_Wilbur get me in the #SHAQALLSTARCOMEDYJAM.” The winner will be picked at random on Friday by 5PM.

The Wilbur hasn’t released the line-up for the shows, which will apparently be a surprise. The last Shaq Jam in October included DeRay Davis, Aries Spears, Corey Holcomb, and Michael Blackson. Three television specials have also been produced under the All-Star banner, including last year’s Shaquille O’Neal Presents: All-Star Comedy Jam – Live From Dallas, which included Mo’Nique, Mike Epps, George Wilborn, Paul Mooney, Blackson, and Holcomb.

The trailer for Live From Dallas:

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WICF Spotlight: Beards & Broads Tonight at ImprovBoston

Matt Kona - the "beard"
in "Beards & Broads"
The Women In Comedy Festival kicks off tonight with shows at ImprovBoston and Mottley’s Comedy Club, the beginning of a five-day schedule that includes Jen Kirkman, Kurt and Kristen, and Morgan Murphy at the Brattle and, newly added, Rachael Dratch performing on Friday’s 7PM show at ImprovBoston. Performers are coming from all around the country for stand-up, sketch, storytelling, improv, and musical comedy. I will be spotlighting a few of the shows as the week goes on, including tonight’s Beards & Broads stand-up show.

Not everyone on the bill is a woman. The “Beard” in “Beards & Broads” is Matt Kona, a person of alternate genitalia by the standards of the WICF. It’s an inclusive Festival, which means men were encouraged to submit for acceptance. This will be Kona’s first comedy festival. He says he’s excited to see the shows, the panels, and the workshops, and to hang out with the out-of-towners. “It’s a good vibe, all around,” he says.

Though Kona is hosting, he didn’t put together tonight’s show. “I was kind of amused/flattered when not only was I chosen to be the host, but my facial hair was a part of the name for the night,” he says. “Either that or it's because all the women on the show are married to secretly gay men. I'm pretty sure that's what ‘beard’ means in some circles.”

How does it feel to be one of a handful of men on the bill? “It's cool,” he says. “Last year Josh Gondelman was the only non-female, and he's back this year in addition to a lot of hilarious comics that are blowing up in the scene at the moment like Kyle Ploof, Matt D., Gary Petersen, Rob Crean, Tim Vargulish and more. So it's good company to be in.”

Kona went to last year’s WICF, and says it was a learning experience. “[I] had a blast and met a lot of great people, both those involved in running the shows and performing,” he says. “I definitely benefited from Jackie Kashian's road comedy workshop and the intimate Free Open Mic/Workshop that Maria Bamford put on in particular. I was there at 8AM to make sure I was one of the nine people to get a spot, along with Jenny Zigrino and Matt Donaher who were also braving the cold to be a part of it.”

And now, abruptly, two questions:

Who are you looking forward to seeing, both on your own show and at the festival in general?

I'm excited to see Jessica Brodkin, she's from D.C. and is the only out of town comic on the Beards and Broads show. I've only seen video of her so I'm looking forward to seeing her live and to talk to her about the burgeoning scene down there. I hope to make it over to The Dress Up show the next night (the 10th) at Mottley's. It's a monthly show run by Bethany Van Delft and Erin Judge, and it's consistently great and fun to see people get decked out for comedy. I'm glad that it's a part of the WICF and I'm sure it will be mutually beneficial to the festival audiences, performers and the show going forward in the months. I'm really looking forward "Kurt and Friends" and Kelly MacFarlane at IB 8pm on 3/11 as well as Giulia Rozzi (who killed it earlier this year at Mottley's) doing her famous Stripped Stories show with Margot Leitman later that night on the 11th at 11:30pm at IB. The big show at The Brattle Theater of course goes without saying. People should buy tickets for that now because it will set out soon.

Why should people see your show?

There are a multitude of reasons for people should see my show. For one, it's opening night and that means there will be an undercurrent of excitement that will simply not be there on "night after premiere night." It's fun to see people waltzing around with their newly printed festival lanyards pretending they’re back stage passes for a heavy metal shows and it's the best time to buy a festival t-shirt before they run out of it in your size. Also because the ImprovBoston main stage is a great room, and I may or may not open my set by reaching into a bag of tongue in cheek over the top sexist jokes/phrases to say and then attempt to dig myself out of and win back the audience. Will I be able to pull it off? Will I pussy out? Only one way to find out…

Women In Comedy Festival - Beards & Broads: Stand-up: 8PM, $10. Mainstage. Hosted by Matt Kona with Kristin Seltman, Theresa Condito, Shea Spillane, Tari Fanderclai, Niraj Shah, Erika Kreutzinger, and Jessica Brodkin ImprovBoston, 40 Prospect Street, Cambridge, Ma, 02139. 617-576-1253

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