Discover more from Matt Levy's Comedy Stray Notes
Comedy Stray Notes
On winning a writing competition, Season Two of "Ted Lasso," and a very fun late night set.
• Back in June, I started a pilot/spec writing class with comedy legend Brent Forrester who wrote for “The Office,” “The Simpsons” and many other classic tv shows. The six-week course was invaluable; I learned a number of tips that are applicable not to just specs and pilots but to every kind of writing. So, when the class ended and they offered a “Reader’s Service” where students can submit their teleplays for review, I jumped at the chance and submitted my “Mythic Quest” spec script.
Two weeks ago, I received an email. It started with “Congratulations” so I thought for sure it was a spam message that had somehow made its way into my inbox. Upon further inspection, I found out the email was legit. My spec somehow came in first place out of 50 scripts. Full disclosure, this is coming from a guy who gets a lot of screenplay submission email responses that start out with “We regret to inform you” or “Unfortunately, this year” so this was a pretty big deal for me.
Anyhow, today, I got to bask in the fruits of my labor and participate in a Zoom where the class watched Brent interview me about “Mythic Quest” and then punch up two jokes in my script like he would in a writer’s room.
For the first joke, he found a pun I completely missed the first time around since I referenced a “widow’s peak” and then in a later line used the word “peek.” He called this a “sock barrel” which Vanity Fair (yes, Vanity Fair) defines as an “Unwelcome circumstance in which two similar but unrelated jokes appear in the same script, implying a connection that is not meant to be implied.” Love learning new comedy terminology.
For the second punch up, Brent called on three writers in the class (“five writers in a writer’s room is the sweet spot” he claimed) and each person added an alt line to a line of my dialogue. It was exhilarating to hear others pitch jokes for something I’d written; I truly felt like I was in a TV staff writer’s room with the power to greenlight or reject a pitch (although I didn’t). Overall, this was a great finale to an already fantastic course; I’d recommend it to anyone interested in learning the finer points of TV writing.
If you have any interest in reading my sort of award-winning spec, reach out to me and I’ll be happy to send you a 34-page PDF.
• ”It was a great week to experience shows live,” said the guy who went to three shows this week. Here’s what I saw:
- My wife Anna Paone played a large role in the darkly comic Off-Broadway play “Love Parade” written and directed by Justin Vibbert that had a three-show run in the Lower East Side. The narrative in the “Parade” is centered around the troubled Morrison family whose grandma just passed away. Her presence is felt the entire play- there’s an unnerving, gigantic projection of her smiling face on the back wall looking down on the actors and staring at the audience the entire time.
The meat of the play takes place during a tragic Christmas Eve dinner, where each tightly wound family member’s dark secrets come spilling out in the presence of Anna’s character’s hairstylist fiancee (who has given all of the women in the family identical blonde hairdos).
Somehow, everyone here is loosely tied to a mysterious incident on a college campus that slowly reveals itself. As a tragedy, the drama scores. To me though, what was most impressive is the way offbeat humor was infused into the serious subject matter. A shouting match about a banal issue like whether or not Entemann’s can be served as a dessert at Christmas was a perfect bit of whimsy in a serious climactic scene. Better yet was Anna’s character’s dialogue with her twin sister about her promiscuity building to a mean-spirited but hilarious crescendo.
The play concluded its run but may be back soon. If it comes back, I’ll be the first to let you know.
- The most prolific showrunner in New York comedy Matt Vita has yet another new show. This one, “Your Life Is A Joke” is an improv interview jamboree co-hosted with Heather Harrison at Brooklyn’s Tiny Cupboard. The two hosts put a new spin on the ASSSCAT, by interviewing multiple themed guests about their lives. In the show I went to, the hosts interviewed two rockstars- one guitarist from a screamo band and the other a frontman for a ska group called Chimichanga.
Their stories about life on the road were predictably nuts and the improvisers found the unusual moments from their anecdotes and heightened them beautifully. One scene had Vita and scene partner Mark Dudzinksi as Englishmen loudly repeating “Google analytics!” in unison which got goofier and funnier each time they said it. In the back half of the show, improviser Will Purpura caught on to a moment from the interview where the musicians had to describe their groups as “like if _____ had a baby with ______.” Will took this moment and turned it into a game making anything into “if ___ had a baby with ____” so quickly that the crowd started laughing in a new way. He’d found the comedy nirvana where one can effortlessly deliver perfect joke after perfect joke.
- Comedy shows are great at night but you know what’s even better? A 5 p.m. show on a Saturday afternoon. Matt Fishman is smart enough to know that we all want to get our laughs in early so we can go enjoy the night. So, Fishman has thankfully given the world Giggle Juice Comedy at QED which is a perfect hourlong mid-afternoon showcase of the best comics in the city. This week, all the comics on the lineup- Ben Katzner, Fluke Human, Danny Rathbun, Subhah Agarwal and Eli Disabato- brought their all to the mid-afternoon and when it was over there was still daylight. Would recommend to any who has ever said, “I’d love to go to your show but it’s past my bedtime.” Now they have no excuse.
- Also, shout out to Tom Thakkar who performed on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon this week. His five-minute set had clever observations about the elderly having trouble sleeping, and just how dangerous trampolines really are but the highlight was his extended closer about how he got banned from Twitter for running a fake account for a show called “My Cat From Hell.” No need to spoil the bit as you should see it yourself but the important takeaway here is that if you pack a story with enough jokes, it has the potential to transform from a funny gag into a legitimate punchline machine. This is a hell of a late-night set and one you should definitely give five minutes to. The link is in the comments.
• I fired up the old flatscreen this week to stream shows and also watch some live. Here’s what I saw:
“Ted Lasso” Season Two: Mid-season, this show caught a bit of flak online for not being funny and/or too positive. That’s a completely fair critique. The show about a fish out of water US football coach (Jason Sudeikis, hosting SNL this coming week) turned wholly unqualified UK football coach might not be for everyone with its teachable moments, pop culture-inspired wordplay and heartwarming Christmas episodes. However, Season Two took audiences to a surprising place that was smart enough to quiet the critics. AFC Richmond, Ted’s team, brought in a therapist (Sarah Niles) to treat the players and coaches. While a therapist storyline typically spells doom in terms of how much fun a show can have, “Lasso” didn’t care and leaned into athletes expressing themselves for the first time which is especially refreshing in the wake of Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles.
Other than the therapy angle, the whole season took a heavier, weightier, and darker turn. Hell, one whole episode takes place at a funeral and maybe the best the series has ever done using Rick Astley’s overused “Never Gonna Give You Up” rickroll track in a new way that borders on the sublime. Another standalone features an assistant coach on a bender trying to find himself. Lasso himself has a panic attack. Then, there’s a twist so jaw-dropping toward the end of the season, that I literally gasped as it happened. Maybe the haters find this show annoying or not funny, but that’s not the point. “Lasso” is flat-out entertaining.
Plus, it’s fun to see what life in the UK is like.
SNL hosted by Rami Malek: Last week, I said the show was humming along on a hot streak with singles, doubles, and home run sketches with nary a strikeout. After seeing this episode, I’m happy to report that the show has continued to remain consistent. Plus, Daniel Craig popped by. Starting to think that post-Bond, he should become a full-time cast member. Here’s a quick breakdown of how I ranked each sketch.
Sleepy Town- Perfect. Brilliant escalation, simple, laugh out loud funny.
Rami Malek Monologue- Excellent parody of the villainous types Malek plays.
Prince audition- Absurd, meta, inside baseball AND Prince jokes.
Celeb School Game Show- I’m a sucker for celebrity impression marathons.
Weekend Update- Smart climate change and streaming wars jokes; Chris Redd crushed.
Angelo- Featured player Aristotle Athari debuts his character that got him on the show.
Jon Gruden Cold Open: Solid takedown of the disgraced coach. Interesting non-political CO.
Bug Assembly: Will be in Bowen Yang’s “Best Of” in ten years.
Squid Game- Haven’t watched the show but this was tonally bizarre enough to work for me.
Best of all though are the three cut sketches including one from “Please Don’t Destroy” (thanks for the tip, Tom Scudamore). I have no idea how none of these made it in- AirBnB super hosts had all the makings of an instant classic, “Brutal Marriage Movie” is an excellent parody, and “PDD’s” dudes trying to please the host for being on good behavior- were all gold. Oh, well. At least, they exist online. I’ve linked them all in the comments.
That’s all from me for this week.
As I always wrote in yearbooks, HAGS (Have a great salad)