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Comedy Stray Notes April 11, 2022
On leftovers, indie films on Amazon Prime, Jake Gyllenhaal's bizarre SNL hosting stint and SO MUCH MORE (not that much more)
• Sometimes when you reach into the back of your fridge, you find something you meant to eat weeks before that somehow smells ok and hasn’t expired. It’s a beautiful thing.
Anyway, that’s what I’m going for with this installment of Stray Notes. I wanted to write about all of these things when they happened but I’ve been too tied up to get around to highlighting all the leftovers from these past few weeks.
So, as Pete Holmes says after he transitions from ad copy to actual interviews on his pod, “let’s get into it.”
• Back in February, I did an open mic at QED. When I left work that day, I wasn’t prepared to perform and had mentally made plans to write a perfect set on the train which, as everyone knows, never works.
Thing was, while I was on the train, it was one of those rare occasions where I was going stupid viral on Twitter and couldn’t focus. The dopamine high was out of control. So, rather than try to BS a set, I went onstage with disparate notes about going stupid viral and tried my best to explain what this superficial high feels like.
My four minute-set went really well (by my lowered standards) so I put the most fun snippets on TikTok.
Also, I want to let it be known that I’m self aware enough to appreciate the irony that my video about GOING viral has had the exact opposite effect.
• Continuing with the trend where I talk about things from a month ago, I started a dumb Twitter thread which felt like the best writing I did all year in mid-March.
It started with a poorly worded tweet that reads, “If we American men got drafted for WWIII, we’d meet our fellow soldiers and be like, ‘Yo, I follow you on IG, I can’t believe we’re battling together’” (Elon, deploy the edit button NOW so we can punch up our bits).
However, after I wrote that dumb joke, I couldn’t stop adding tags. All in all, I tweeted 30ish alternate bits based on this premise. For a few hours, I was a man possessed and I couldn’t stop making jokes about what military life would be like for soft, WFH millennial bros such as myself.
Feel free to roast softies like me in the thread with a joke or two of your own. I’d love for this bit to live on forever.
• One of my favorite comedians, Greg Orme, is taking a brief respite from performing stand up to focus on other creative ventures. Although I haven’t seen Greg perform in years since his move to Salt Lake City, the comedy world is a little darker knowing that he won’t be gracing the stage in the foreseeable coming years.
Open mics and bar shows can be a slog but I’ll never forget Greg’s trademark deadpan delivery that was simultaneously reminiscent of the best of both Norm MacDonald and Steven Wright. Already looking forward to the day he returns to hawking jokes to future fans of his whether it will be in NYC or SLC.
• Lucas Connolly is known for his high wire, high level crowd work in New York City’s comedy circles. I’ve seen him host and roast crowds with the best of them for years and now that he’s started documenting his best moments on TikTok, anybody with an account can too. As a fan of Lucas’, I’d suggest you start with his “Can I stay at your place” gag he has with an audience member that turns from amusingly creepy into abundantly joyous back into amusingly creepy all in 20 seconds. That’s comedy.
• Super late here but about a month ago, I watched Sam Evans’ stand up clip about getting COVID on repeat for days. In said quickie video, Sam brilliantly compares getting COVID this late into the game with…
I’m not going to tell you. Watch the video instead if you haven’t already. I won’t do it justice here and once you see the joke yourself, you’ll be playing this brilliant bit on a loop too.
• Now, we jump into the “every movie, tv show, podcast and impressive piece of comedy I saw over the past few weeks” section of the newsletter. While what you see below may seem like a lot, please know that I omitted quite a bit for brevity’s sake. I’m a big fan of brevity; I just can never get around to actually making it happen.
“Salesemen” (2022): Robert Pooley’s naturalistic and funny indie about three vacuum salesmen at a crossroads in their lives is a perfect slice of life comedy. The three salesmen (Orlando Baxter, Will Noonan and Cory Rodrigues) bring stand up chops and understated pathos to their roles and in turn, the 80-minute flick alternates between laugh out loud funny and melancholy weightiness effortlessly.
Plus, there’s a nicely realized extended cameo from Stavros Halkias that quietly blossoms from what seems to be a scene-stealing five-minute appearance into the film’s crux. EXCELLENT SCREENWRITING, PERFORMANCES AND PAYOFFS ELEVATE THIS INDIE (Streaming on Amazon for $3.99).
“Full Capacity” (2021): Right when the pandemic was winding down for the first time in summer 2021, comic Sam Morril and a documentarian took a camera around New York City to capture a moment in time when comedy was slowly returning to the clubs.
Audiences were rude, comics were rusty, reminiscences were had about how great “hangs” are. My two favorite sequences though have nothing to do with the weight of that now distant past. They were a) footage from rising star Caitlin Peluffo’s triumphant Comedy Cellar debut and b) a homeless dude defecating on the street in the background of a serious interview. A PERFECT WAY TO RELIVE THE JOY AND HOPE OF SUMMER 2021 (Streaming on YouTube).
“Drive My Car” (2021): Want to know how long ago I saw this movie? My wife Anna Paone and I caught it at a time when the only news Will Smith had recently made was that he wasn’t going to be in the serious “Fresh Prince” reboot.
All of that has nothing to do with this nearly three-hour adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story. Just wanted to point it out.
Anyhow, “Drive My Car” shot to number one on many Oscar prognosticator’s Best Picture power rankings before the now infamous ceremony. Having not seen it, I scrambled on the final weekend to get it in before the award show to make sure I’d seen all the nominees like any self-respecting snob.
After completing the marathon watch, I am sad to admit that I am “that guy” that didn’t quite get the hype.
The film starts promisingly enough. A role play activity between a married couple is a piece of intimacy so private that viewers are no longer passive audience members; we’re voyeurs. We’re off to the races. Things then fall apart from there for the couple.
Infidelity, death, intentionally bad pasted-on mustaches all ensue.
I should mention that that’s all before the opening credits that inexplicably take place 45 minutes into the film.
Our star, Yusuke Kafuku (a pensive Hidetoshi Nishijima) then heads to Hiroshima to spearhead a production of “Uncle Vanya” as part of an extended residency. Once there, through a bit of expositional dialogue, it’s explained that he won’t be allowed to drive himself while on the trip and has been assigned a responsible chauffeur. The two strike up a meaningful, quiet friendship that culminates in a smoldering wallop of a set piece that accurately captures how deep guilt can fracture itself into our fabric as human beings.
If it sounds like I liked it, I did. It’s a fine film.
However, I do not believe “Drive My Car” is the masterpiece that many others claim it is. Languid driving footage drags the film down, padding its already exorbitant runtime. Meanwhile, fairly static camera work demonstrates that, yeah, great acting is more important than fancy visual tricks but giving the audience something to look at other than faces and cars doesn’t hurt either. THERE’S A GREAT 90-MINUTE FEATURE HIDING IN THIS 180-MINUTE MARATHON (Streaming on HBO Max).
“Tick Tick Boom!” (2021): “The tortured artist desperate to get their work seen” is one of my all-time favorite genres and Lin Manuel Miranda’s slammin’ directorial debut dips its toes into the biopic pool with oodles of unwavering confidence and charisma.
In late 80s New York, HIV sweeps through the city and Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield, singin’ dancin’ and actin’ his heart out in an Oscar nominated role) wants to usher in a new era of musicals. This is pre-”Rent” and he dreams in song, focusing every fiber of his being on his creative projects and showcases rather than friendships and romantic relationships. Staged with showstopping, gravity-defying visual panache, the expanse of Larson’s visions whimsically comes together blending harsh reality and flights of fancy together into a highbrow cocktail of musical comedy and heartbreak.
Ol’ Mr. Hamilton himself does allow the material to meander into in-joke territory that leaves uninformed audiences (such as myself) in the dark and veers into on-the-nose treacliness that gives a bit of an on the nose after school special stench to the picture. However, this crowd pleaser has so much going for it, so much sui generis joie de vivre, that there’s no need to knock “Tick Tick Boom;” THIS IS A FUTURE CULT CLASSIC THAT SHOULD BE CELEBRATED (Streaming on Netflix).
• Weird SNL this week.
Jake Gyllenhaal (who I believe should replace Adam Driver in every movie he’s in) hosted for the first time since 2007 which he was quick to point out in his monologue. This time around, he…wanted to sing. A lot.
There were a few standout sketches (the confrontational talk show “Why’d You Like It,” darkly weird “Dream Home Cousins,” strangely intoxicating “Truck Stop CDs” and twisted logic puzzle that was “Couples Counselor” all had fleshed out rhythms and original bits) but they were outnumbered by clunkers (Ketanji Brown cold open, monologue, a flat Weekend Update) and oddities (“Cabaret Night” bordered on “collection of tweets assembled into song,” the overly ambitious “Spring Flowers” tried to do too much rather than stick to a single joke, the befuddling, bizarre “Tombstone” confused me and of course, “Chucky at work,” a fever dream which will haunt America’s nightmares for weeks to come).
There’s more though.
Tonally, this week’s cut for time sketches didn’t quite jibe with the content that makes the air but I loved Kyle Mooney’s mockingly self-important “Serious Night Live” which was yet another rejection for the shaggy haired comic that will have to live on YouTube. We need a “Best Of Kyle Mooney’s shorts that didn’t make it to air.”
Second up is the “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” parody “Dinner With The Dean.” The joke of the scene takes a minute to reveal itself but once it emerges, it’s so proudly and profoundly dumb that you can’t help but sit back and laugh at just how unintentionally goofy this hoity toity middle aged couple can be.
• Color me very excited for the 2022 release of the upcoming A24 flick “Marcel The Shell with Shoes On.” Adapted from a “now ancient in internet years” webseries (I’m old enough to remember these “webseries”), Jenny Slate will reprise her role as the tiniest main character in history, this time on the silver screen. Although the plot appears to be no great shakes, I already feel like this will be the quotable comedy of 2022 just like last year we had “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.”
My foot is asleep on the toilet. That’s enough