Discover more from Matt Levy's Comedy Stray Notes
Comedy Stray Notes April 25, 2021
On the return of live, indoor comedy, three great short, viral videos and my hot take on Sofia Coppola's "On The Rocks"
• Here’s a peek behind the curtain. These “newsletters” are written Sunday nights on the couch while my wife Anna Paone watches “90 Day Fiancee.” I occasionally glance at the screen for a bit of kooky international drama but tonight is the Academy Awards. So, my apologies if this entry feels a bit lackluster. I’m busy nerding out on the movies while writing about other things I nerded out about earlier in the week.
• Now that I’m fully vaxxed and more than two weeks removed from a second shot of Moderna, the time has come to see live, indoor comedy again. My first foray back into good, old-fashioned entertainment the way it’s meant to be seen came courtesy of Artie Brennan and Anthony Giordano’s freewheeling, variety extravaganza “Super Crazy Funtime Show” at the spacious Player’s Theater in the West Village. More than anything, the show evoked memories of “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” with a set full of talking inanimate Purell bottles (aptly named “Squirty”), paintings and bottles of scotch (“Scotchy”) but reducing the performance to just these bits would be doing it a disservice. “SCFS” absolutely packed the runtime full of new and exciting gags like Camille Theobald as a conspiracy theorist speaking her mind on COVID’s “true” origins, an unbelievable Whitney Houston lip sync that received a standing ovation, audience members playing interactive video games (something I’ve never seen pulled off in a comedy show anywhere), fake ads, video interstitials and runnings gags about the venue being haunted by a well-known pair of 90s child stars. Plus, everyone was given Playbills. Like those little booklets you get when you go to a Broadway show. It felt like a true event and I had the privilege of seeing it from the front row. Comedy’s back. Good show, old chaps.
• Saw three top notch short form videos (all roughly a minute) that deserve your eyeballs on them. They are:
- Incredibly serious dual screen CNN interviews were more than a fixture of our daily lives this past year as we all watched more than our fair share of breaking news. That’s part of what makes Neil Rubenstein’s straight faced parody of the form so great. In his TikTok video, he appears to be your typical, stammering, bemused interview subject but turns out to be anything but. Stick around for more than ten seconds and the joke reveals itself to be simple, dumb and ridiculously funny. There’s a reason this went super viral.
- If you’re not watching all of Ahri Findling’s Instagram sketches, you’re missing out on one of the most bitingly satirical accounts on the platform. Many of his vids have made me laugh out loud but his latest series where he sends a letter every day to Ryan Reynolds (yeah, the guy from “Deadpool”) until he hears back is his greatest yet. A great punchline comes at the end but what I admired most was what an excellent sendup of viral clickbait this was. I’ve seen a million and one videos employing this format but I’ve yet to see anyone mock it so perfectly.
- Occasionally, I kick myself when I see a simple idea executed so effectively it bugs me that I didn’t think of it myself. I certainly felt that while watching James Hamilton’s slyly brilliant “What A Month.” Throwing the “one second every day” format into a blender, Hamilton subverts all expectations of the rapid mundane images we typically see in this type of video and builds a wild narrative that has to be seen to be believed. It’s not at all what you expect.
• Caught surprisingly little, long form, mainstream entertainment this week. Well, for me. This is probably a lot for a normal person. Anyway, here’s what I saw, listened and geeked out to:
“On The Rocks” (2020): I saw someone make the point online that without box office to determine a film’s monetary worth and streaming services not revealing how many viewers they had, it’s hard to tell just how much of an impact a movie made. As a result, I feel like one of the very few people who actually saw Sofia Coppola’s newest film. Well, calling it a film is pretty generous. “On The Rocks'' is a slight, sitcom-like trifle of a movie that mostly exists for Bill Murray to dispense old school chauvinist wisdom to his daughter (Rashida Jones) about whether or not her husband (Marlon Wayans) is cheating on her. If you’ve seen the trailer or read the above summary, you’ve kind of seen the thing already. Bland dialogue like Jones’ character complaining, “I can’t focus on my writing '' drag down the whole affair and it barely passes the Bechdel Test as characters only discuss Wayans’ extramarital acts. The only true diversion is an extended cameo from Jenny Slate who can’t shut up spewing nonstop stories at Jones when she drops off her daughter at school. Murray and Jones are fine as a comic pair but this is a FAR CRY FROM “LOST IN TRANSLATION” (Streaming on Apple+; first week is free on the platform).
“The Father” (2021): Can’t go into Oscars night without having seen every Best Picture nominee. It’s sacrilegious to me. Just under the wire, I caught Anthony Hopkins’ towering, vulnerable tour de force demonstration of dementia. Far from my favorite film but one I’ll never forget. “The Father” is a largely plotless, kaleidoscopic puzzle that puts the viewer in the shoes of an elderly man in decline with a fuzzy memory. Hopkins’ character, conveniently named Anthony, resides in a flat and is frequently visited by his gentle and generous daughter (Olivia Colman). They argue about events that have transpired in the recent past and we end up becoming just as disoriented as Anthony is with shifting settings and different actors playing the same part. This immersive approach hurts your head a bit and makes you realize just how integral memory is to our sense of self worth. Without it, we’re grasping at straws. And, my God. That finale. Hopkins doesn’t die but what he does somehow even more heartbreaking. IT LOOKS LIKE AMOUR, FEELS LIKE THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE AND IS ENTIRELY ITS OWN THING (Streaming on Amazon for $19.99; I won’t be forgetting the price of this movie anytime soon).
Gary Gulman on Mike Birbiglia’s “Working It Out” podcast: I casually take notes while listening to podcasts but this one was so fun and right for comedy nerds that it’s better you just discover it on your own.
Not sold? I’ll share a bit. Gulman works out a joke about how he knew people wouldn’t wear masks since we’ve been complaining about “not eating peanuts on a plane when someone is allergic for years” that is a perfectly realized observation. He also goes into great detail sharing how painful it is to have to field questions about “making a living at comedy” from anyone that asks him about his career. Best of all, is a story he shares that took place at a grocery store checkout line that is the perfect encapsulation of everything that makes Gulman one of the best in the biz. 53 minutes whizzes by.
Finally, now that we’re almost at a place where going back to the movie theater will become commonplace, movies that waited out the pandemic are slowly creeping up on us. This week, two notable comedy previews dropped that I have to shout out.
First is Billy Crystal and Tiffany Haddish in Alan Zweibel’s “Here Today.” The comedy team I didn’t know I needed my whole life. “Here Today” looks like the rare, warm, crowd pleasing “comedy first, tears second” picture that works for the whole family. Comes out May 7.
Second up is Leos Carax’s “Annette.” If you’re not familiar with Leos Carax, he’s the mind behind my favorite movie of the 2010s “Holy Motors.” It’s one of the rare movies that’s so different and oddly familiar and life affirming that I had to see it twice in two days. After a nine-year hiatus, he’s back. This looks pretentious as hell, invigorating and electric. Worst case scenario, Adam Driver looks goofy as hell.
That’s all she wrote. Going to bed now very annoyed that Anthony Hopkins (who was admittedly great as discussed before) beat Chadwick Boseman for Best Actor. It don’t make sense.
Enough griping. See ya in May, pal