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Comedy Stray Notes
November 29, 2020
• At the outset of 2020, I had one New Year’s resolution. Make 12 sketches. I’m proud to say I have achieved that goal (1. “Winter Symphony” 2. “What A Honeymoon Cruise Is Really Like” 3. “There’s A Twist You Won’t See Coming In This” 4. “Quarantine Comedy Club Audition” 5. “Joke Police” 6. “Lord of the Sighs” 7. “Potluck: The Film” 8. “The Untold History of Southwest’s Hold Music” 9. “At Home With A Guy From Anonymous” 10. “100 Movies To See Before You Poop” 11. “A Comedian Goes To Sleep” and 12. “When Your Wife Leaves The Apartment” if you’re an OCD completist like myself). It’s the first time I’ve ever set a concrete resolution and actually followed through on it. Some of the sketches are A+’s in my book (#’s 12, 6, 9 and 2 are the best), a few are solid B’s (#’s 5, 3, 10, 4) and the rest are average C’s which I blame myself for (#’s 1, 8, 11, 7).
However, I think the most recent one is the best by far no question (this is definitely recency bias and I felt this way about all of them; well, except for #’s 7, 8 and 11).
Coming in at a scant 3:04 and using copyrighted music from Ty Dolla $ign (which makes it so you cannot watch this short sketch in Cuba, Syria and North Korea- this is all real), “When Your Wife Leaves The Apartment” was quite the wild ride to make for something I shot in my apartment.
First of all, I shot the sketch and it didn’t land. The premise was softer in the first cut and there was no real joke to it. I cut the piece and knew something was off. That day, I forced myself to rewrite the sketch (something I’ve never done before out of pure laziness). Two weeks later, it was ready. I brought in one of my favorite comics Ronnie Fleming to act alongside my favorite actress Anna Paone (the true connective tissue to these twelve sketches is that Anna is in all of them strutting her stuff) and I executed 40+ shots for this short piece trying to make it more visual than the previous, dialogue-heavy sketches. I think it works. I don’t want to spoil too much since you’ve already read so much about it and I haven’t quite told you what this thing is about BUT it’s about what you do when the person you’re with all day leaves and you’re free for a short period of time. Let’s leave it at that. Link is in the comments.
• The hour special is rapidly evolving. Yeah, jokes are cool but is there a hook to what makes your hour different and memorable? There have just been so many specials at this point and giving yours a unique point of view makes all the difference. My pal Bret Raybould is one of the best comics in the country but he decided to make his hour have a hook so unforgettable that it makes you laugh just thinking about it. That hook? It’s in the title of the special which is “Bret Raybould Retires From Comedy” (for context, Bret is under 30). Raybould gets onstage dressed in a tuxedo ready to treat this like the most important gig of his lifetime. He does. There isn’t any time to waste on this hour as Raybould moves from airtight material on weddings (“If the groom planned the wedding, the invite would be a text two hours before the wedding” is one of my all-time favorite jokes) to getting pulled over by a cop who ends up being a fan of his work. Then, 40 minutes in, Raybould switches things up and leans into why he’s retiring. Once again, no spoilers here. You can just watch this incredibly funny special yourself and be surprised all on your own. The link is in the comments and I promise you’ll enjoy Bret’s swan song.
• Had a fairly light week when it came to watching movies, shows and pods. Here’s what I saw with a few impressive short films thrown in for good measure:
“Hillbilly Elegy” (2020): I’m a sucker for Oscar bait with big performances that receive bad reviews. What did Ron Howard see in this screenplay that critics and the general public didn’t? I had to know for myself (I have been rejected from numerous Ron Howard screenwriting competitions so I was extra curious). The story that drew Howard in is one about Yale law student JD Vance (played by a guy that looks like my cousin- this guy’s name is Gabriel Basso) who had a troubled past growing up in the South with a reckless nurse/drug addict mother (Amy Adams, mostly yelling) and opinionated soulful grandmother Mawmaw (Glenn Close- when they show the real-life grandma at the end, it was amazing to see how close Close was to her look). It’s not quite as bad a movie as they say. Yes, Anna and I did yell at the screen “ONE MORE DRAFT, ONE MORE DRAFT” whenever the movie traded in cliches or obvious lines that Anna predicted before they were said but there are a few excellently done scenes like a reveal that the mother is still using in a hotel. Or a domestic drama over Easter eggs. A scene shot in a baseball card shop that brought me right back to what it felt like to be ten in 1998. I wish there were more of these moments but the reality of the film is that mostly every scene is kind of the same thing over and over where the characters yell at each other before apologizing (In one of these fights, a calculator is thrown. Nice product placement, Texas Instruments). Plus, the protagonist is the least interesting character in the film. It’s a little better than the critical consensus lets on but this is NO TRUE OSCAR FILM EVEN IF IT GETS NOMS OR WINS (Streaming on Netflix).
“My Next Guest Needs No Introduction” with Dave Chappelle: After eluding the spotlight for over a decade, it seems like Chappelle is more a part of the culture than he ever was before. Whether it was the impromptu special he released this summer, his Mark Twain Award, his SNL post-election hosting gig or his feud with Netflix over not getting paid for their streaming of “Chappelle’s Show,” we’ve all gotten a lot of Dave content this year. Most recently (for me at least), I caught him on David Letterman’s casual talk show “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction” shot in Chappelle’s Ohio hometown, Yellow Springs. The two of them chat about “Half Baked” (Letterman watched it to prepare for the interview in the interview’s most essential moment), tour the town, praise Dave’s truth telling and finally get to larger social issues. Chappelle makes an incredible statement about police brutality saying, and I’m paraphrasing, “I don’t want retroactive justice. I want real change to happen while these events are happening.” It’s a different side of Dave, one that he alludes to in his SNL monologue when he said, “You don’t listen to me when I’m not telling jokes” (another paraphrase). He’s softer, more thoughtful and more generous than he is when performing. Yes, he makes mistakes (misogynistic and transphobic jokes on major platforms don’t really mesh with his humanist real-life POV) but he’s also got a lot of good to say that’s important (Streaming on Netflix).
“You Made It Weird” with Kumail Nanjiani: I remember listening to the first episode of this podcast years ago with Kumail as its guest. There wasn’t quite a structure yet (not that there really is one now) and Holmes wasn’t as assured a host as he is now where he’s covered so much conversational ground that he seeks out the more unconventional directions a one-on-one can go. In this episode, Pete asks what we all want to know- how does one make the leap from being sort of in shape to becoming totally ripped? Kumail lets us in on the secret- he embraces the pain. Damn. Sucks that that’s part of the process. He also shares that a lot of actors take a deep breath before they begin saying their lines which deflates the tension from their performances (I MIGHT be misremembering this; I don’t get paid to do this so my notes are hasty) and added that one of the worst parts of the pandemic was he had gotten used to not waiting for restaurants which was taken away from him (this might be another misremembering; he may have said this about going to other countries and not being treated with the preferential treatment he gets in the States). You heard all of this right. He’s kind of a pretentious actor type now. Still, I walked away from the episode liking Kumail a little more; he’s embracing that he’s a privileged A-Lister rather than shying away from it which is an interesting arc for a guy that was doing almost exclusively stand up ten years ago. This type of A-List knowledge is valuable for everyone that wants to get to that level (most, if not all of us- we’re delusional!). In fact, the most valuable knowledge he dumped was that doing stand up for corporate tech events (he’s often asked to do so for “Silicon Valley”) always fails. Do a Q and A with the founder instead so the employees can be funny with you as opposed to bombing in front of them. Noted for when we all become A-Listers.
I promised short film recommendations. Here are two.
“The Follow Up” by Ben Berman: My friend Adrienne Hall recommended I check out this five-minute short about the struggle one has following up a hit project and how to deal with it. Told entirely on a computer screen, it’s a perfect and timely portrait of how one deals with writer’s block in 2020. The link is just a few scrolls away.
“Nighty Night” by Matt Porter: A bit longer, clocking in at 13 minutes, this short is a two-hander featuring winning performances from Zach Cherry and Chris Gethard as a sleep study aide and patient respectively. It’s a humorous slice of life simply about how it can be incredibly difficult to fall asleep. I smiled quite a bit while watching; this one is smartly made and deceptively chock full of plot. I can’t help but recommend this for a lunch break or an outdoor stroll when you’ve run out of content to watch or want something new. The link is even closer than the one above.
• Last week, I wrote about how great Mike Birbiglia’s podcast is. I Tweeted at him about this and he quote Tweeted me back. So, if you read last week, know you’re in good company. Birbiglia has read it as well. Yes, I mentioned this just to brag. However, if you need proof that this actually happened, the Tweet is linked below. I am this annoying.
• Special shout out to friend John Labarbera for his amazing Thanksgiving Arizona Department of Transportation messages to drivers that made me laugh out loud. My favorite of his is linked below (worth the click).
• As for me this week, I am booked up doing Comedy Therapy sessions every single day. If this interests you (the hour can be anything you want- you can run bits, we can talk about your sketches, body of work, career plans or future projects, whatever you like), let me know. I’d be happy to schedule a session with you.
OK. You pretty much made it to the links. Thank you for reading! Here’s a quick deal. If you subscribe to my channel on YouTube (you’ll find it with the first link), I will a.) subscribe back and b.) watch and c.) comment on one of your videos (as long as said video is under 15 minutes). Not a bad deal.
That’s all. Enjoy the rest of your time online today
01.) When Your Wife Leaves The Apartment starring Anna Paone and Ronnie Fleming:
02.) Bret Raybould Retires From Comedy:
03.) “You Made It Weird” with Kumail Nanjiani: http://youmadeitweird.nerdistind.libsynpro.com/kumail-nanjiani-returns-0
04.) The Follow-Up:
05.) Nighty Night:
06.) Mike Birbiglia Tweet:
07.) John LaBarbera’s Department of Transportation Thanksgiving Message: https://www.facebook.com/AZDOT/photos/a.137665612971817/4688352854569714/