Friday, April 15, 2011

Boston Comedy Interview: Sam Brown On the Whitest Kids U'Know Final Seaon

Sam Brown from Whitest
Kids U'Know
Tonight on IFC, The Whitest Kids U’Know begins its fifth and final season as a TV sketch group entity. They will remain a loose group working together, but there are too many outside projects and concerns tugging at the five individual members to keep it going. As Sandwich native Sam Brown told me, it’s hard to keep a sketch show fresh, and it’s time to move on. The Kids did manage to sneak a full-length movie into the show, called The Civil War On Drugs, a portion of which will end each episode. They’ll be screening that on its own Monday in LA at the Steve Allen Theater.

Brown’s comedy career started in Sandwich at the local cable access channel, where he was part of a show called TV Galactica. He met the other Kids in college in New York, where the troupe started and went through various permutations before settling with Brown, Trevor Moore, Zach Cregger, Darren Trumeter, and Timmy Williams. For a little more about them, read my profile here or see my video interview with Brown after the Kids’ 2009 show at Great Scott.

I spoke with Brown by e-mail about the new season and what’s next.  

How did you decide this will be the final season of Whitest Kids?

It was a lot of stuff. My whole thing is when writing sketch you are constantly coming up with funny ideas that get shot down because there's an SNL sketch you never saw that’s like it, or a Kids in the Hall sketch, or a State sketch, etc. I think this is something that happens to anyone writing a lot of sketch. Well after doing five seasons and over a hundred sketches a season I started to notice I was having more and more sketches shot down because we already did a sketch like that.  I think we were successful at keeping it fresh up till now so it’s good that we didn't push it too far.

Is the group staying together to work on other project, like feature films or touring?

Think of it like what Jackass did where they stopped doing a show on MTV. They still went on and did their own TV shows that involved each other and every few years they would get together and do a movie.  

How hard has it been to keep doing the show given everyone’s individual schedules?

It’s tough and its only getting tougher. Now Trevor has his Fox show [Breaking In], we all live in three different cities and Timmy has kid on the way.  Scheduling is the reason we haven't toured more.

Will you be screening The Civil War On Drugs as a complete film anywhere else besides LA?

Hopefully we will. I'm really happy with how it came out and my ideal outcome is that ten years down the line the Civil War on Drugs is seen as its own thing. 

Was Civil War written to be broken up at the end of a series of episodes, or was it meant to be a feature film?

The Civil War on Drugs was an idea we came up with a long time ago for a movie. Way before we had a TV show even.  At the time a lot of people told us that it would be hard to get a studio to pay for you to make a civil war pot comedy.  That’s one of the things that made the it the perfect story to make into a movie within the show. We're making the movie that people told us we couldn't. For that I think it was important to write it all as a movie and worry about cutting it up into segments later. I've watched it as segments though and think it’s successful as both. We'll see though. Maybe we're just stubborn. 

Did you approach this season any differently since it’s the last?

A little. I mean we weren't 100% sure that it would be the last season while we were in production but we were conscious of the fact that it could be. I think the only real difference it made was when writing the Civil War on Drugs. We knew we wanted it to end the season, so when we got to the ending it made a difference that it wasn't only the end of the movie but possibly the end of the series. As that, I think it works.

Have you been performing frequently on your own as a stand-up?

I actually had to make a new years resolution to start doing stand-up again. I had been doing it for about five years now but when I moved to LA a year ago, I got lazy and didn't end up really doing it out here at all until recently. It's been good though, I didn't realize how much I missed it.

Has the transition to stand-up been difficult? Some people seem to think you can use some of the same disciplines as sketch, but some see them as completely different.

Stand up is a lot scarier for me because in a sketch group you have other people to laugh at the jokes before you perform it live. You don't know exactly how they'll do but you definitely have a sense.  With stand up you don't really have any idea how your jokes will work till you tell them in front of an audience for the first time.  There's been times where I've said something I thought would be great and it'd flop and there have been times when I've told a joke that I was certain would fail and it would get a huge laugh. That's also part of stand ups charm to me. You never know.  All that being said, there have been times where I've flopped at both and at least at sketch I've had four other people commiserate with.

What other shows are you producing?

Trevor and I are in the early stages of writing something for a network.  So early that I think it'd be jumping the gun if we started to talk about it.

Are there any videos floating around from TV Galactica?

I think there is an outside chance that at the Sandwich Cable Access Television station there is a 3/4" tape cassette that they no longer have the decks for, collecting dust in a dark corner. My mom is friends with the manager there so I was able to give it a quick look but no luck.  I bet one day if I get famous the tape will surface. That's what I'm working towards.

Any plans to perform in Boston, either as a group or just yourself, doing stand-up?

I'm sure when we do a tour we'll play Boston.  That’s where all my friends and family are.  Plus that show at Great Scott's was one the more memorable ones on the last tour. Now that I’m thinking about it, it was after that show we went to the Middlesex Lounge where my brother works and about fifteen minutes before the bar was closing they set up the mic and Timmy and I did an impromptu stand-up show. There was hardly anyone there and I could barely stand I was so drunk but I got some jokes off and made some people laugh. That was what eventually started a series of monthly stand-up shows I did there with Boston comedian Rob Crean. Maybe next time I'm going home we'll set up another one of those.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Colin Quinn - Not A Boston Comic

Colin Quinn is not a Boston comedian, but I have seen him listed as such more than once. For the records, he is Brooklyn born and raised, but he says it’s a common mistake to associate him with the Hub. During a recent interview for about his new one-man show, Long Story Short (tonight, HBO 10PM), I asked him why he thought that was. Is it just his Irish connections or something else?

“The Irish and the loud,” he said. “It’s because I’m Irish and I have self esteem, which only Boston Irish have.”

Long Story Short has enjoyed a successful run on Broadway (with an assist from Quinn’s longtime friend, director Jerry Seinfeld), and Quinn will be putting the show up again in the Hamptons in June. There might be other engagements after that, Quinn isn’t sure. If it’s a hit on HBO, Quinn would like to bring back his critically acclaimed one-man show from 1998, An Irish Wake, and possibly try to film that, too.

“I’d like to put it up for a few weeks, anyway,” said Quinn. “Maybe I’ll put it up in Boston. That’s where it belongs, anyway.”

Which probably won’t help him clear up the Boston myth. To debunk that once and for all, watch the Boston comedy documentary When Stand Up Stood Out. Quinn always wanted to make Boston a “go-to” town. He figured there would be a decent Irish, working class base to which he could play. He was wrong.

He came in the 80s, and the film talks about a New York/Boston rivalry that extended to the comedy world. Quinn said he faced a sea of hostility, and Joe Yannetty had to use all his good will as a Boston native to get Quinn out without being attacked.

Things have improved for Quinn in Boston. He sometimes appears at the annual Comics Come Home show and he used to play the Comedy Connection when it was still in Faneuil Hall. If he brings An Irish Wake to town, my guess is that it would play The Wilbur.

Boston Comedy Q&A: Kate Clinton

Kate Clinton is in Boston
tonight for Fenway Health
Kate Clinton celebrated thirty years in stand-up comedy on March 21. Since then, she has established herself not only as a stand-up comedian but as an author and columnist with The Progressive magazine, and overall as a satirist and astute observer of modern politics. She was out from that first performance, and a lot has changed in the LGBT community in thirty years, something we spoke about in our conversation a couple of days after her anniversary.

Clinton is currently on her Glee Party Tour, and though there is no stop currently listed for Boston, she will be in town for fundraising events for the Fenway on April 9 and May 7. She’ll also renew her longstanding relationship with Provincetown and the Crown and Anchor when she begins another summer run there on May 28.

Clinton, a former English teacher in Syracuse, NY, is always personable and witty, a fun interview. We explored a lot in this conversation, from her stand-up origins to teachers’ unions, and she graciously indulged my tangents (some of which have been expurgated for the sake of space and sanity here).

So did you do anything to celebrate thirty years on Monday?

Yes, I was in Charleston, North Carolina and I bored friends with the long story of how I got my start. And then I took a nap… No. I can’t believe it. It seems so quick on the one hand and then if I add up all of the hours spent circling Newark, it’s really kind of a long career. But the actual performing and doing what I love to do is exciting.

It seems like you just celebrated twenty-five years, and then five years went by so quickly.

I know. I think I was recovering from the twenty-fifth anniversary tour. My people were like, are you going to do a thirtieth? And I was like, no. They were like, [gives a relieved sigh].

Do you remember your first official gig? What was March 21, 1981?

It was in Syracuse, New York. I had been talking about wanting to try stand-up comedy, and my best friend got sick of it and just booked me in a club. We hung up a poster. It was a bar called Ms. Adventure. [laughs] It had a picture of me and we cut it up to put my head on the poster. We jammed in about 180 of my closest friends. And I did probably 45 minutes.

That’s a lot for your first gig.

I know. I know.

How much of it was funny?

Oh, well… It was a very codependent crowd, laughing. And then a friend of mine actually heckled me. I said, “What are you doing?” She was from New York and she had black turtlenecks aplenty, and she said, “Well, you’re supposed to heckle in a comedy club.” And I said, “Stop it.” It was like, total high school English teacher still. And she shut right up. I was like, “Stop it.” I was like, “Rita, what are you doing?” She was like, “You’re supposed to heckle.” “Cut it out.”

You don’t often get to call your heckler by name. You don’t get to say, “Rita, what are you doing?”

I’ll call them all Rita. I don’t really get that many hecklers. I think I still kind of throw an old school, high school English teacher vibe. The next day I remember I was flat out on the couch, just flat out, and my partner at the time said, she looked at me and she said, “I don’t know if you’ve thought of this but you really have to do it more than once.” It had never occurred to me. I had said I wanted to try it. And in that moment, she became my manager. She was always ahead of me.

Are you glad you’re no longer in teaching?

I do think I’m part of the cadre, the wide cadre of teachers who have destroyed state budgets everywhere with their $24,000 salaries. The way teachers are getting roughed up makes me insane. I loved my students, but it truly was the hardest job I’ve ever done. When people say to me, “Wow, you’re doing two shows today!” I’m like, I used to do five day. So no, I’m fine. It’s the hardest job.

So what do you make of collective bargaining in Wisconsin and the teachers’ unions?

You know, I think it’s really, as Rachel Maddow has been blasting away, night after night, it’s really not budget balancing. It’s punishing unions who did not support the person who won. I just think it’s a scandal.

They’re saying that teachers’ unions al support Democrats and it becomes a feedback loop, that they do favors for each other.

Do the Republicans have to have all of those people? They’ve got their own things, can’t we have one?

So what’s the biggest change since you started, and what’s still the same?

For my thirtieth anniversary, I am going to put out at the end of the year like a “best of,” a highlights reel. I have nine other CDs, so I’ve been listening to all my CDs. The three early albums, the tape, and then the CD. In 1981, or ’82 when I did the first album, I was not talking about gay marriage. It wasn’t even on the horizon. There’s that. There’s the whole issue of gays serving openly in the military, was not even on the horizon and we have it now. We had Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and then we had it repealed.

So I just think one of the biggest changes that I can see is, a couple of things. First of all, I came up through a very lesbian circuit, but now, it’s definitely a very LGBT circuit. I think that during the Clinton, because he was able to say “gay and lesbian” without spitting up, a lot of people came out. So I think there’s been there’s been much more visibility and people coming out at an earlier and earlier age. I just read this study that debunked the whole thing about women in college having same-sex experiences, and they’re really not doing it much. Well, because they’re all doing it in middle school. It’s astounding.

I was at a conference in January called the Creating Change Conference, and I think there were 2,700 activists from all over the country and different countries. And probably fifty percent of them were under thirty-five. And have jobs in the gay movement. That’s astounding. I hear young people talking about career moves, like, I’m leaving my job with my national organization for my statewide organization, but I hope to go with a national organization. Wow. We used to just do this at night. They have real jobs. So that’s amazing.

When you first started, were you out onstage?

Oh, god, yes. A lot of my friends just thought it was a sophisticated career death wish. And I called myself a “feminist humorist.” Isn’t that adorable? And it ran together, it was a typo, so I called myself a “fumorist.” Then those morning drive time shock jocks had to talk to me. Like, “Hey, little lady, ‘feminist humorist?’ Isn’t that an oxymoron?” They all said that. And I was like, “Yes, you’re half right.”

Do you think LGBT comedy is its own genre?

You know, I think it probably certainly was in the first twenty years. But I do think it’s a genre in the mainstream now. Before you had to do so much explaining to get to the jokes, with like footnotes. But now people know gay people, they know gay issues. It’s not like they were ignorant, definitely I don’t think homophobic, just homo-ignorant. So I think it can be part of the mainstream. It’s on LOGO, it’s on Sirius Radio. There are venues for it. And I do think that it’s certainly more a part of the mainstream than when I started.

When I started, I remember I was out of the closet in L.A. and I did a lot of lesbian material, and club owners said to my afterwards, “You can’t be doing that gay stuff.” And then I went back to the same club probably ten years later and the guy said to me, “I think I’m going to do more gay stuff.”

Well, were they talking about comedy?



Or they wanted to watch. I’m not sure.

That could be an even bigger change. So when did you first start playing Provincetown? I know it’s been eight years or it will be eight years at the Crown and Anchor.

I think I started in maybe the late 80s, in ’86, ’87. I did a couple of years at the Pilgrim House. Then a number of years at the Post Office Cabaret. Then back to the Pilgrim House, which had been rebuilt after a fire, I did a number of years there. And then the last have been at the Crown and Anchor.

So you were there pretty early in your career.

Oh, yes. And I was there for longer and longer periods of time. I think the first time I performed there it was a weekend, then let’s do two weeks, and then let’s do a month, and then one summer I was moving back to Upstate New York and I thought, why? So I found an apartment to rent. Now I’m so blessed I have a house that I think I bought in 1990. I feel bad for friends who come and perform in Provincetown for the summer and it’s completely away from their home. I’m very lucky.

How important has Provincetown been in your career? It’s something you’ve been doing for so long.

Well, you know it’s just an opportunity for me to write every day and try it out at night. So by the end of a summer there, I have a lot of material. It’s good for a workshop, creating stuff. The danger is that there’s just so much to talk about, just about Provincetown, you can write great material about Provincetown that is nearly useless in, you know, Northern California.

I would think also for someone like you who writes about current events and the news so much, being in one place to digest that would be a big help as well.

Right. Right. I was on a cross-country flight to a show, and that night a woman said, “I can’t believe you didn’t say anything about Terry Schiavo. Well, it had happened while I was flying. I think the challenge also is, when I listen to my CD, to have universal enough material, that stands the test of time.

I think people may think political humor is just so reactive that you naturally hae a chunk on something that happened that day, just because of your reaction. I’m assuming in some cases that’s true, but this is hard stuff to make light of a lot of time.

I know. I went to Charleston and did a show last weekend and I looked at my show and thought, well, they should be crying. It really is the challenge of what comedians do, is to transform that thing. And that’s exhausting sometimes. And I also think it’s great to be known for doing really topical stuff, but I like a comedian who can sort of contextualize things or try to make it into a bigger picture. Like there’s this part and parcel, some of these people who cannot accept having a black president. You can say it all you want, but the old white guy is really nervous. That’s what’s happening. So to be able to take that information and put it into a bigger picture, is less a daily and perhaps more like a monthly thing.

How long does it take you to digest something? Say something happened today, how long is it before you have a good couple of minutes on it that you’re comfortable with?

That’s a great question. My career has changed a bit in that I’m doing a lot more conferences and dinners and different types of shows. A lot of times I’m slicing up a routine to be the emcee. That’d change things a little bit. I would say after maybe two or three times I can place it. Like maybe something at the front of the show will be very topical and maybe of that day, but maybe after two or three performances, it will be in the scabrously irreligious part of the show. [laughs]

Does something ever happen in the news, and you see that it’s incredibly sad, and you know you have to write about it because you feel some obligation to find some way to make this funny?

Well, like Japan. I have found if you take that to… You can’t do Gilbert Gottfrief type of thing where you lose your job in the Afflac commercial. I think it really is more about if you can personalize it. For example, in Charleston, I was whining about the weather, and then, it’s not a hilarious joke, but I can mention, I just don’t feel I can complain anymore after Japan.

Lady HAHA Clip 1 from Kate Clinton on Vimeo.

The Gilbert Gottfried question, I think that brings up the fact that a lot of the best comedy is uncomfortable. And I think some comedians use that as their rule of thumb, if they feel uncomfortable about something they need to react to it and say something. And I think sometimes that’s the context for something like what Gottfried said. But not everything that’s uncomfortable is edgy or worthwhile saying.

Right. And I do think if you come from a baseline of compassion, you can do it. But if you’re really mocking, you just pounding on somebody, I think you’re in dangerous territory.

But there are a lot of comics who border on nihilistic that I enjoy.

I bet you do. [laughs] “Who’s that one guy laughing?” “It’s Nick!” I’ve been talking about race and racism much more in my show. It’s time for white people to talk about racism. It’s past time, actually. It’s not black people’s job. It’s our job.

So I do this whole thing, and then at the end, I say, sometimes I like to go up to old white guys in mesh caps, maybe they’re looking out at something, and I look out with them for a while, then I just kind of say, “Embrace your extinction.”


In the high school teacher way that I can do. And people gasp.

What are the Fenway Health dates you’re doing? Are those open to the public?

They’re fundraising dinners for the Fenway. They’re open to the public. The first one is the Men’s Dinner, and then a month later there’s the Women’s Dinner and I do both. I used to just do the women’s dinner, but now, apparently, I’ve amused men as well. I guess I do a little [material] but it’s mostly just introducing people and fundraising.

It turns out I’m a great auctioneer because I’m so horrible at it. I can say, “This is worth six thousand dollars, give it to me right now and we won’t have to go through this.” And I never can remember the last bid. They know now they have to have someone next to me, because I’ll go, “It’s forty thousand,” and somebody will look stricken and have a heart attack because they bid four thousand. So it’s not a full on show, it’s more like fundraising and chastising.

How does the writing versus the performance aspect of what you do split up these days? Has one become any more important than the other?

When I’m circling Newark, I go, I wish I were at my desk. Then when I’m at my desk I think, “Oh, god,” trying to write. But I think one thing feed the other. Sometimes an idea in a Tweet or a little blog becomes part of the show.

What do the next thirty years look like?

Two words. George Burns. I’ll just keep going. See how long I can ride this thing.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Jimmy Dunn's "Drunken Fan" Wishes You A Happy Home Opener

The Drunken Fan wishes you a happy home opener. The Red Sox may be in the toilet so far this season, but Jimmy Dunn is doing all right. He’s gotten a lot of attention for being the cabbie on the Olympia Sports commercials. Now he has The Drunken Fan from his own company, Jimmy Dunn Creative. Dunn, who plays the Kowloon next week, says he has big plans for the Drunken Fan, including a beer sponsor and a clothing line. Next week, he’s hoping to launch an iPhone app, the “Eck App,” for Dennis Eckersley.

Jimmy Dunn: April 15 at 8:30PM, and April 16 at 7:30PM and 9:45PM. $20. With Martin Montana and Will Noonan. Kowloon Komedy, at Kowloon Restaurant, 948 Broadway (Route 1), Saugus. 781.484.6002

The Magic Room: Jerkus Circus Welcomes Rob Potylo and Barry Crimmins

The Jerkus Circus Bootlegger's Ball
at The Magic Room Saturday
The Jerkus Circus moves to yet another home Saturday with their Bootlegger’s Ball show at The Magic Room Gallery in Brighton. The Circus has a more permanent home in Worcester at Ralph’s Diner but has bounced around several locations close to Boston, including the Lizard Lounge, Oberon, and even the Burren for one show.

According to Niki Luparelli, the blonde half of Circus’s host and creator The Steamy Bohemians, the Magic Room’s speakeasy environment is a perfect fit for the Ball. “The Jerkus Circus is always looking for a couch to crash on,” says Luparelli. “Niki fell in love with the room after doing one of Rob Potylo's Quiet Desperation shows there, and Lainey has seen a lot of pictures on Facebook, so we've been dying to try out our brand of semi-nudity and weirdos there.”

The bill includes Rob Potylo, reportedly doing his last solo set, Barry Crimmins, Dr. Finnegan’s 10 in 1 Circus Sideshow, burlesque with BettySioux Tailor and Mary Widow, and 1920s tap sensation Kristen Minsky.

The Steamies are particularly happy with the late addition of Crimmins, political satirist and one of the main architects of the 80s Boston scene. Crimmins is coming to town to attend meetings about saving Boston’s Peace Abbey, which is facing foreclosure.

“When Lainey heard he'd be in town this weekend she begged him to be on the show in a scheme to help her win Niki's heart back after a mayonnaise fight that went awry,” says Luparelli. “We are honored to have Barry's subversive wit grace the stage of Bootlegger's Ball. And now Lainey and Niki will probably make out at some point during the show.”

Truly something for everyone.

Jerkus Circus -- Bootlegger's Ball: 9PM. $20. With Rob Potylo and special guest Barry Crimmins. The Magic Room, 155North Beacon St., Brighton. 617.775.4009

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Comedy Studio's Comic In Residence Interview - Dave McDonough

Dave McDonough is the April
Comic In Residence
Every month, The Comedy Studio picks a comedian to be the “Comic In Residence,” playing every show on the schedule. For April, the Studio has chosen a bit of a ringer in Dave McDonough, who starts his run tonight. McDonough won the Boston Comedy Festival’s competition in 2009 and has opened for Doug Stanhope and others. He’s got a deadpan style that has drawn natural comparisons to Steven Wright, but McDonough has more of a scatological bent.

The Marshfield native has always loved watching stand-up, and it came natural for him to transition from class clown to comedian. He says he likes to listen to Bill Burr, Louis CK, Rodney Dangerfield, and Don Rickles, a mix of edgier local comics and classic comedy idols. “Pretty much any comic who says whatever they want,” he says. “I like edgy comics. Not that you can’t be clean and funny it's just that I think it's more fun to be a jerk sometimes.”

I gave McDonough the usual Comic In Residence Questionnaire.

When did you start doing comedy?

I did my first show in 2000 then I quit until 2004. I quit because it was much harder than I thought it would be. I didn't realize how much work you had to put into it. I came back because I couldn't stop thinking about it and I thought I might be good if I put the time in. Also I lived far from the city at the time and that also dissuaded me a little.

How often have you played the Studio?

I play the studio fairly often, probably every other month or so.

What other clubs do you play?

I also play at Mottley's, Dicks Beantown Comedy Vault, and Nick’s Comedy Stop. My favorite club to perform at is the Studio because of the room itself and the audience and I'm not just kissing ass.

What local comedians have influenced you?

Tony Moschetto and Gary Gulman. I saw Gary before he did Last Comic Standing and you could just tell he was going to be big. He really made it look easy just a really good writer. And Tony was really dry and kind of out there, extremely clever and approachable. Watching him made me realize that being really dry and appearing like you don't care can sometimes draw the biggest laughs.

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

I'm pretty lazy, so the most I've ever done before this is probably between fifteen and twenty.

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

I plan on trying a lot of different sets, some new stuff, some clean stuff and some dirty stuff.

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

My timing and work ethic are two things I need to work on. If I develop some new jokes or tags then I'll be happy but I'm really just trying to get down what I have to a point where I can't screw it up.

Do you plan to make comedy a job, or is it something you do as a hobby?

I don't do stand up for a hobby, I take it very seriously so hopefully within the next few yrs I'll be doing it full time.