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Comedy Stray Notes August 22, 2021
On a brand spankin' new sketch of mine, the new Billy Crystal movie and an unlikely book recommendation
• You ever have an idea you’ve been sitting on for years? Like something you’ve wanted to make really badly but just never got the chance? I know I've got too many. Just PDFs and PDFs of three-four page goofs I’ve written but never turned into anything. It’s a half blessing because it’s nice to know you’ll always have stuff to make but also a half curse because these projects can lose their sense of urgency. Well, this summer, I decided to take initiative and finally produce one of my old scripts “iPhone Funeral” I’d been sitting on for years. After reflection, I’m glad that it took so long to make because had I made it four or five years ago, it wouldn’t have come out nearly as good as it did. Yes, that’s a brag. Not even a humblebrag.
A lot of this has to do with the cast who came through for me willing to wear funeral garb on a warm June day at Amy Wong’s and Matt Rosenblum’s Tiny Cupboard church. Thanks to committed performances from Matt Holbert, Anna Paone, CW Headley, Danny Rathbun, Rosa Escandon, David Rey Martinez, Jerry Lalee, Julianne Ballington and Sam Zelitch as well as help from Sydney Giocamazzi, this little goof that I revised, reworked, rewrote and edited turned out way better than expected. Want to see if my bragging is justified? Check out this 3:24 gem and let me know what you think.
• Decades from now, entertainment historians will look upon the early 2020s as a golden age for TikTok. We don’t know just how good we have it- everyone is just putting up great stuff for free non-stop all of the time. Here’s two of the best that you can see without spending a penny from the past week.
- When you fancy yourself a comedy writer, the goal is to take the things we all observe on a daily basis and help audiences see them in a new light. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, it feels like everything has been done. However, every so often, a comic will find something universal that we’ve all somehow missed like “how different all the types of hand dryers in public restrooms are.” Simple, elegant premise and one I’d never seen explored. Thankfully, Danny Vega caught onto this and made a polished Tok where he plays multiple characters each representing each type of machine. No need to read anything else, check out that hyperlink.
- I remember being in elementary school and being terrified of going to the school nurse. It seemed like an incredibly serious place where only the kids who were injured really badly would go. Now having seen Bri Cala’s school nurse videos, it seems like the most fun place on campus. Her video where she performs a one-sided conversation with a never seen or heard disgruntled parent explaining to them that their child is a Slytherin is a work of comic perfection. It’s simultaneously loopy and naturalistic and a video you don’t want to miss.
• This week, I finished a book, completed a short series, watched a movie, listened to a podcast and on the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree. Here’s a little bit about all those things sans that partridge.
“10% Happier” by Dan Harris: I visited Phoenix in July and this book sat on my mom’s coffee table. I had been in a bit of a post-pandemic funk and needed some tips to ramp up the happy in my life. Based on the title alone, this short self help book of sorts landed in my lap at just the right time and place. I put aside all my other reading materials and made it a priority.
I’ll be honest, it takes a while to get to what makes this book special. The first 100 pages or so of this 240ish pager are devoted to Dan Harris’ history as a journalist where he served as a war correspondent and did drugs. He was jaded, career obsessed and unhealthily competitive with coworkers. In a surprising twist, the reader gets quite a bit of telling gossip about Peter Jennings of all people. Anyhow, once you make it over that hump, you get to go on a mission with Harris to learn how to “tame the voice in your head” and become 10% happier through meditation which he asserts is the best way to actively change your life. By sharing beginner-level tips, dunking on spiritual gurus Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra and retelling silent retreat anecdotes, this does not read at all like a dull guidebook that preaches to the reader. Rather, it’s more of a snarky companion that knows how to call out what’s bogus and what works. This is a game changer. Made me laugh and also practice metta compassion meditation. Certainly worth your time if you’re in a bit of a funk at all.
“3, 2, 1” (2021): As a diehard Beatles fan, it always surprises me just how much one can learn about the group. No matter how many documentaries you see, books you read, podcasts you listen to, or songs you hear, there’s always new stories about the Fab Four. It’s downright exciting. In “3, 2, 1,” a new six-episode Hulu series featuring Rick Rubin coaxing tales and insight out of Paul McCartney, fans are treated to new Easter eggs that we didn’t even know we were searching for. Some of the best moments include McCartney letting us in on why Beatles songs are memorable (because they had to actually memorize them since recorders weren’t readily available), the story of Pete Best not showing one day leading to Ringo’s role in the band, what it was like to meet the inventor of the moog at Abbey Road Studios and George Martin adding sounds in “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band'' that were at such a high frequency that they were made just for dogs to hear. That’s just a taste. There’s also an explanation of the country influence on “All My Loving,” an impressive vocal display as Paul shows off just how long he can hold a note for “Dear Prudence” which is genuinely shocking for a man in his 70s and a history of how the group created a new type of song with “A Day In The Life.”
My only complaints are 1) McCartney’s embarrassing impression of Little Richard which has to be seen to be believed, 2) how the series devoted more time to McCartney’s solo track “Check My Machine” rather than “Hey Jude” and 3) its lack of visual dynamism. Yes, it was great, but this was essentially a black and white podcast. FOR DEVOTED BEATLES FANS BUT NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE, YOU’LL PROBABLY LIKE THIS (Streaming on Hulu).
“Here Today” (2021): I never thought I would have the pleasure of seeing Billy Crystal and Tiffany Haddish headline a film together. Yet, this unlikely buddy dramedy written by comedy hero Alan Zweibel pairs them so well together that you’d think that they’d been comedy partners for years. In the film, Charlie Burnz (Crystal) is an aging award winning comedy writer at a sketch show who’s afraid to tell anyone he’s close to that he’s suffering from dementia. Enter Emma Payge (Haddish) whose boyfriend won a raffle to have lunch with the comedy legend. Payge has never heard of this Burnz fellow and hilariously employs Wikipedia to survey every diner until she finds her new lunchmate. After a bout with seafood poisoning, the two begin to spend time together forming an unlikely “will they, won’t they '' tension in what appears to be a strictly platonic relationship where Payge ends up taking care of the ailing Burnz.
Featuring artfully restrained flashbacks of Burnz’s ex-wife from his point of view as he writes about her that evoke a surreal melancholy, this movie goes much deeper emotionally than one might expect from a film where the lead discusses how to make a sketch about poop work. It’s that contrast that makes it unique.
Having said all of the above, I want to pitch you on why you need to see this film ASAP. Not to give too much away but there is one scene that truly makes “Here Today.” In it, Crystal critiques a smarmy performer on his show played by Matthew Broussard who can’t seem to nail a line reading. The brief scene is a comedic gut punch and a reminder of what makes Billy Crystal THE Billy Crystal. IT’S THE RARE MOVIE WHERE YOU’LL ACTUALLY LAUGH AND CRY (Streaming on Amazon for $5.99).
Entry Level with Trevor Moore: After Trevor Moore shockingly passed at the beginning of the month, I saw a Tweet from former SNLer Brooks Wheelan sharing that he’d interviewed Trevor for his podcast just a week before. Curiosity got the best of me and I tuned in. It ended up being an emotional listen beginning with a heartfelt eulogy delivered by Wheelan who wrestled with over whether or not he should release the episode while also lamenting the fact that he never spent more time with Moore. It’s about as heavy as a comedic pod can get. However, once we get to the actual interview, the podcast ends up being a light, even silly primer on what made Trevor great.
The two of them riff on how cheap the gifts Disney give to their employees are, a cut SNL sketch from Brooks’ time at the show about a “kids news show where they are tasked with breaking 09/11” and how Trevor was originally from “that” Charlottesville before going into his comedic history. The “Whitest Kid U Know” star had quite a background going from a public access sketch show in high school that was so popular that nearby college kids watched and PAX picked it up; from there, Trevor became Lorne’s intern at SNL and even took a disposable camera photo for George Lopez when he met Jay Z during an episode and pre-sketch fame, ran a popular, sold out sketch show at the legendary Lower East Side bar Pianos. Never knew any of this.
• That’s all I got.
Please, dear reader, I implore you, to consider keeping it real.