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Comedy Stray Notes April 4, 2021
On secrets to obtaining Twitter followers, overdue sequel/reboots and my list of 2020's top ten comedy movies
• In this ongoing series of increasingly self-indulgent “newsletters” I’ve tried to gloat about minor accomplishments in the most inoffensive milquetoast, self effacing way possible. Yeah, I might brag but I’ll make sure it’s not overly annoying. Well, this week, I hit the most arbitrary of comedy goals and I wanted to a.) inadvertently brag about it by bringing it up and b.) give you tips on how to achieve said goal as well following my (cue infomercial voice) four simple steps!
The goal? 10,000 Twitter followers. I’ve had my eye on it since June 6, 2011 when I first Tweeted, “I am now a Twitter man. The first thing I need to do here: quote as many Styx lyrics as I humanly can” (it rightly has zero likes). It took me forever to figure out how to “game” the system and build my follower count (hint: not through Styx lyrics). I probably languished in the 50 follower neighborhood for three years.
Then, it came to me. The secret to getting a ton of followers is a little sad and time consuming (if you’re aren’t busting out viral tweets on the regular) but it does work. All you have to do is follow these (cue infomercial voice again) four simple steps:
a.) Follow any person that likes a Tweet of yours. They usually follow back.
b.) If a friend of yours has a Tweet perform really well, see everyone that “liked” that Tweet.
c.) If the person that liked said Tweet has a Twitter bio and profile photo, follow them. They’ll probably follow back.
It takes forever, is ultimately meaningless but feels slightly validating (even if I imagine at least 500 of my followers are Bitcoin bots that want me to invest in Crypto).
Worst case scenario, go through my followers and follow them. That works too.
So, yes, annoying, but if you’re looking to juice your numbers, this is a viable strategy that actually worked for me. Did I get followers through merit or have a great ratio? Not exactly. I’m cool with this compromise though.
• Now that commutes are officially becoming a part of the newer 2021 normal, you may need some quick entertainment to pass the time on a train or a bus. Here are a few recommended clicks:
- My pal from across the pond Tom Scudamore is quickly becoming a prolific producer of sketch. Employing a technique where he has four actors film themselves using similar backgrounds to make it seem like they’re all in the same shared space, Tom seamlessly creates the illusion of togetherness and banter even though he’s directing American actors from the UK. In “Boyfriends,” the banter among Anna Paone, Shauni Ramai, Laura Paone and Sam Zelitch is an electric back and forth where four pals defend their soon to be cancelled, problematic significant others. No need to drop names and tell you who their significant others are; half the fun of the bit are the surprising reveals.
- I’ve written about Ari Rubin’s freewheeling variety show here a few times. It’s a long-form, Christopher Guest-like program where he invites comic actors on and lets them shine. This past week, he had my wife Anna on as a ventriloquist performing the rare bit that is just as funny for children as it is adults. Go to the 36-minute mark in the video to see Anna and Ari trip the light fantastic with a surprisingly legitimate puppet made with just a sock, ping pong balls and sharpie. You gotta love when a million dollar joke costs $2.00 to produce.
- Last year, Dan Wickes had Twitter’s best running gag when he Tweeted out, “My roommate is fucking his girlfriend on Easter Sunday of all days” and followed that every single day for months with a variation on that very Tweet (a favorite of mine was “My roommate is fucking his girlfriend on Easter As Of Now Ghislaine Still Alive Day of all days”). In a weird time of “unprecedented uncertainty,” I knew I could depend on Dan’s roommate getting it on and it’s so nice that it’s back today.
- The Ringer is the rare site that speaks to all of my interests at once: in-depth sports analysis, insightful pop culture criticism and the occasional humor piece. Josh Gondelman’s recent “It’s Time to Stop Letting Actors With Hair Play Bald People” combines all three of these elements (there are a few excellently placed sports jokes) to create a supremely compelling narrative about why a character actor Jared Leto shouldn’t steal roles from a Paul Giammatti. Lines like, “MY CRANIUM IS NOT YOUR COSTUME, JARED” and “The issue of hair restoration falls firmly under the umbrella of ‘don’t hate the player, hate the game,’ except in the cases of Piven and Elon Musk, where you can hate both player and game alike” made me laugh out loud but the piece also makes an important point about accurate onscreen representation that lands unexpectedly hard in an article that begins on such a light note.
- OK, Netflix does put out an alarming number of comedy specials (or it did). Joe Pontillo recognizes the absurdity of their willingness to hand a special to just about anyone and everyone and takes that premise to its logical conclusion in his very funny, very short “Netflix: Behind The Scenes” video. Honestly, I laughed so much, I thought the video deserved its own special. On Netflix, of course.
- When I moved to NY in 2013, it was really hard to tell the difference between comics for the first few months. I’d go to mics and try my best to get a handle on the scene but it was never easy to tell who was who, where they were on the comedy pyramid, what their best bits were. However, a seldom few stood out right away with a style all of their own. One such comic was the inimitable Bob Hansen whose rat-a-tat, 1000 words a minute delivery was unlike anyone else around. This week, it was really nice to see Bob put his silly style on display in his short sketch “Lean Cuisine.” There’s too-relatable observations about Lean Cuisines themselves (something that’s needed to be roasted for a long while, excuse the pun) and a few nice bits of slapstick plus Bob being Bob. Be the best Bob you can be and give this quickie a well-deserved view.
- Anna and I released the season finale to our ten-part web series “Minute Made” this past Monday. I’ll be honest; it’s probably the least funny of all the episodes (this is admittedly my fault, not her’s). However, it may be the most emotionally satisfying giving both characters the resolution they deserve. It’s just a minute. You made it this far in the series; might as well see how the puppy ends.
• Had the apartment to myself for a few days this week and things got pretty wild. I ate croutons out of the bag and I watched all of this stuff:
“Bill and Ted Face The Music” (2020): The self aware reboot/long overdue sequel is a genre that I have mixed feelings on. It’s typically fan service and a bit weird to see the original actors so much older reprising roles from 30 years prior. In the case of the new “Bill and Ted’s,” it was all of the above, but still too much of a gas for me to really complain. There’s wicked historical reimaginings off the top honoring the original in an inventive way like Kid Cudi being dropped into The Last Supper and then a bizarre wedding segment where a father technically becomes his own son through marriage. What really sells this though aren’t these inspired jokes; it’s Keanu Reeves and Alex Winters having so much fun just “being” Bill and Ted that it doesn’t matter what happens here- whether it’s playing horrible (yet interesting) music, time traveling or struggling in couples counseling- they’re going to be likeable doing it. In fact, this is the rare comedy where I don’t mind that it’s not actual comics headlining it since they bring such a specific, earnest and straight faced SoCal Gen X surfer energy that I can’t imagine another duo (other than their daughters that they hand the baton over to) in their roles.
That said, the story here is nothing to write home about- they need to deliver the most perfect song to save the universe, you know exactly where this is going, etc. etc. but when you have the iconic duo at the helm and Kristen Schaal replacing George Carlin as Rufus, Jillian Bell (putting her in your movie is cheating for comedy- she always scores big in these bit parts), Beck Bennett doing his best Beck Bennett and then an assembled supergroup made up of Mozart, Jimi Hendrix and Louis Armstrong (and Dave Grohl shows up for a split second), it’s incredibly crowd pleasing. ALREADY LOOKING FORWARD TO “BILL AND TED’S BODACIOUS RETURN” IN 2040 (Streaming on Amazon Prime for $5.99)
“Coming 2 America” (2021): Coincidentally, I caught both of the major, high profile, overdue sequels from the past year in the same week and while this one was fun, it didn’t have the juice that “Bill and Ted” did. Eddie is undoubtedly one of the greats, but here, his Prince Akeem didn’t have the energy or urgency displayed in the original (even if he is essentially playing the straight man here). Murphy just kinda showed up in sweats. The story does too. It’s another predictable affair (Anna called all the beats); Akeem and his bride Lisa bred three daughters but due to sexist traditions, they need a son to hand the kingdom off to as is King Jaffe Joffer’s (James Earl Jones at freaking 90; really wish he hosted SNL back in the day) final wish. Thanks to a bit of technical wizardry, the film seamlessly integrates an unfortunate hook up between 1988 Eddie and Leslie Jones that leads to an unknown son (Jermaine Fowler) born out of wedlock that is the “rightful heir to the throne” who heads to Zamunda for a reverse fish out of water with the original- an American from Queens in an unfamiliar land.
There are a few fun scenes along the way; Eddie and Arsenio bring back the crackling barbershop patrons and every other thing you loved about the original in a way that is more of a reminder of jokes you loved than a new spin on them.
Also, Tracy Morgan shows up as Fowler’s uncle and steals the show anytime he’s in the frame. The moment he shows up, he’s just funny. Tracy’s posture is funny. He makes anything watchable. Another actor that’s basically cheating for a director to use. Then, there’s a surprising Colin Jost cameo that really works for a minute before quickly petering out when the scene calls on Jost to emote.
It should be noted that Fowler deserves credit here too. The scene in which he bonds with his true love instead of Wesley Snipes’ rival leader’s daughter sparks with electricity in a flirtatious back and forth about favorite movies leading to an excellent meta-commentary about “sequels no one asked for” to Fowler earning Eddie’s respect using his street smarts to cut off a lion’s whisker with a classic bait and switch. Dikembe Mutombo shows up for a second too which felt straight out of a Sandler movie. COMEDY COMFORT FOOD (Streaming on Amazon Prime).
“The Last Blockbuster” (2020): A movie about Blockbuster going out of business streaming on Netflix, the very company that led to their demise, is a delicious piece of irony. The movie itself, a love letter to a corporation, is a familiar jaunt through 90s nostalgia and features fun “I didn’t know that!” anecdotes like Jamie Kennedy and Jim Gaffigan getting their first big break in a Blockbuster commercial and how the company grew so much larger than its mom and pop competitors with its business acumen and inventory system. In the present day, the company holds on for dear life in Bend, Oregon at its last location that, to me, looks less like a film geek’s pilgrimage and more like a place where people rent “Central Intelligence.” This thing does fly by though and I could never dislike a movie narrated by Lauren Lapkus and featuring Doug Benson and Ron Funches as talking heads. Bonus points for working the brilliant John Oliver Alaskan Blockbuster stunt into the narrative in the movie’s funniest sequence. IF YOU’RE A GEEK THAT SPENT YOUR FRIDAYS HERE IN 1998 RENTING “A NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY” ON REPEAT, YOU’LL PROBABLY SMILE AT THIS (As mentioned before, streaming on Netflix).
“Mr. Mayor” Season One (2021): I am genuinely angry at the critical reception this show received at its outset. Upon release, this show was unfairly maligned (however, a show about an elderly, widowed ((just like “Kenan”- NBC, why so many shows about single fathers?)) white politician that may have reminded some of 45 at the time may have deserved a skeptical raise of an eyebrow) but had critics stuck around, they would have found an excellent “30 Rock” companion piece that’s just as quick-witted and warm as Fey and Carlock’s previous crackerjack sitcom. If you need a little catching up, Ted Danson stars as Neil Bremer, a billboard magnate who runs for office on a whim to regain the respect of his only daughter and wins. The show revolves around the exploits of Bremer and his staff made up of old school Liberal with gumption Holly Hunter, scapegoat and series MVP Bobby Moynihan (playing the world’s oldest Jayden) and Vella Lovell and Mike Cabellon as their Millennial counterparts. It’s a bit like “Veep” but with an instantly recognizable Jeff Richmond score that makes scenes pop like they did in any other Fey project. Another secret weapon. As are Rachel Dratch, David Spade, Andie MacDowell, Beau Bridges and Ed Begley Jr who show up in small doses. Still not sold? Seriously, watch Episode Six. It’s an updated 2021 version of the “Diversity Day” episode of “The Office” that I would put against anything I’ve seen this year on television comedically. In fact, I did a rare rewatch and I never rewatch anything. THIS IS A SPEEDY NINE-EPISODE BINGE (Streaming on Hulu).
“Baskets” (2016-2019): I hungrily watched the pilot for this show the day it came out in 2016, loved it and then promptly never caught another episode. It just fell off my radar. Luckily, now with abundant amounts of free time, I can afford to casually consume 40 episodes of Galifianakis doing his thing.
Let’s start back at the beginning. So you know, “Baskets” refers to Zach’s clown character’s name “Chip Baskets” (so gloriously dumb). He has a twin brother, also played by Zach, named “Dale Baskets.” Most impressively, Louie Anderson (also in “Coming 2 America!”) convincingly plays their doting, dim mother Christine Baskets in one of the most incredible casting stunts of all time. The series follows the arc of aspiring clown student (pronounced “Cloon”) Chip in France who returns to the States with his French green card bride and then everything promptly falls apart similar to “90 Day Fiance” all while majestically deadpan platonic friend Martha Kelley loyally stands by his side with no inflection in her flatly delivered lines whatsoever for all the hijinks that ensue ove four seasons.
The show is a lot of things- a perfect mixture of highbrow and lowbrow comedy (self serious clowns, misunderstandings of French menus, unselfconscious “Dog Days are Over” singalongs and a payoff with crickets getting into the Baskets home that pays off as beautifully as any Chekhov’s gun I’ve ever seen), an ode to the pleasures of suburbia (the show fetishizes Arby’s and PT Cruisers endlessly; there’s even a Lori Grenier from “Shark Tank'' appearance) and surprisingly heavy, grounded slice of life drama that veers toward depressing but always returns to overly dumb, larger than life humor.
The show finds its stride in later seasons in episodes when we meet real French clowns with actual talent and in beautiful throwaway lines like, “Anybody can be on television. All you have to do is rob a bank or kick a dog” are spouted off. It’s no surprise that every episode was directed by Jonathan Krisel of “Portlandia,” “Tim and Eric” and “Man Seeking Woman;” it hits that humanistic, absurd 2010s comedy sweet spot that became the benchmark for humor. AN ODDBALL, REWARDING, HUMANE AND STUPID SHOW ALL AT ONCE (Streaming on Hulu).
SNL hosted by Daniel Kaluuya: After an off week with Maya Rudolph, SNL returned in fine form with this episode hosted by Kaluuya. Best of all was the exquisite Kyle Mooney-starring David Dobrik parody “Viral Apology Video” satirizing immature influencer culture demonstrating that there are consequences for your actions. Honestly, everyone 24 and under should see the video just to learn what not to do. Other standouts were a.) “Proud Parents” where a medical student quietly admits he’s going to school for creative writing which puts his Mom and Dad in a tailspin furious with his choices, b.) a scene where Kate McKinnon incessantly interrupted a board game with every loud appliance one could conceivably find in a kitchen and c.) Kaluuya’s winning monologue where he shouted out Kel. SNL, it’s not too late. Bring in Kel to work with Kenan. I wasn’t crazy about anything else other than Jost’s run of Matt Gaetz jokes off the top of Weekend Update.
My only real complaint is most sketches tonight were met with abrupt endings. Yeah, I know how hard it is to finish a sketch but just give us a cherry on top instead of a limp question mark at the end (see the end of “Frat Trip” if you’re wondering what I’m talking about here). Also, four sketches took place in living room settings which has to be a record. Felt almost like a bizarro sitcom. Finally, there were three (!) cut for time sketches this week which is an abundance of riches. Best of all, is this pre-taped “Hero” featuring Chris Redd doing his best Chris Redd.
Finally, your moment of zen for the week is my revised “Top 10 Comedies Released in 2020*” list inspired by my pal Phillip Karagas’ pitch perfect reviews of 2020’s “Top 20 Horror Films” (there’s even a tiny bit of overlap on our lists):
“Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm”
“The King of Staten Island”
Honorable mentions: “An American Pickle,” “Another Round,” “Bill and Ted Face The Music,” “Come to Daddy,” “David Copperfield,” “Eurovision,” “Hubie Halloween,” “The Forty-Year Old Version,” “The Lovebirds”
*Not sure if I should include “Promising Young Woman” or not because it’s so heavy but it’s better than all the above.
Catch ya in a week. Got something cool coming for you then that I’m pretty pumped about