Discover more from Matt Levy's Comedy Stray Notes
Comedy Stray Notes August 29, 2021
On recurring TikTok gags, why Neal Brennan is the GOAT podcast guests and the hottest take on the milk crate craze
• I’ve heard one of the key tenets to TikTok success is that once you figure out your niche, you replicate what you’ve done by shaking up the ingredients to the formula you created. It sounds cheap but the idea has existed in comedy for ages; this is essentially the template for recurring characters on Saturday Night Live. So, having had a minor taste of success with a viral video two months ago, I wanted to see if I could recreate the popularity of my most viewed video and get the same level of engagement. Much to my surprise, this experiment mostly worked. Using the “joke every five seconds” format where I put a voiceover track over b-roll footage of offbeat images, I didn’t get quite the same response that I did the first time when I did this at the Holiday Inn Express. However, somehow 13,000 people viewed my 56-second faux ode to Times Square which is a lot more than the rest of the videos I’ve produced.
I don’t know how or why these types of vids perform better than others I’ve made but I’ll take what I can get with my first ever “recurring bit.” If you’d like to see what this recurring bit I’ve been going on and on about is, take a look here.
• Forget YouTube; all the fun these days is on the Tok and the Gram. Here’s the two most fun shorts there I saw this week:
- Lindsay Lucido has one of the funniest Instagrams in the game poking fun at dates finding out that you do standup, frustrating notes male comics give post-show and the story of her most humbling moment in comedy. However, my favorite of all her bits is a recurring gag of hers where she has friends lip sync for her and the reveal that it’s (SPOILER) Lindsay at the end always works. Simple, universal, hilarious. I’ve linked the latest one here but you should really scroll and watch them all; they’re all fantastic in their own way.
- One of the greatest skills a comic needs to have is what I call “hot take radar.” When a major cultural event takes place, like say, the current milk crate craze, you have to see it differently than everyone else. Rather than going for the obvious angle, you need that “hot take radar” to find the joke no one is making. In this case, Dan Carney and Tre Stewart did just that for the milk crate challenge, building a sketch where they play the fictional owners of Crates & Crates, the company that was in the right place at the right time for the craze. The two share the smug aww shucks humility of startup founders and in the process send up entrepreneurs, milk crates and the ridiculousness of the trend they’re cashing in on. It’s only two minutes but I could have watched this for two hours.
• If you planted yourself in front of the internet for 100 years, I don’t think you’d run out of stuff to check out. Should you find yourself in this scenario, here’s a few things you can add to your queue:
“Together Together” (2021): This year’s most unconventional romcom pairing of Ed Helms and Patti Harrison may also be its most satisfying. In “Together Together,” the two play Matt, a 40-something, overbearing, lonely app developer on the hunt for a surrogate so he can be a father and Anna, the woman who will carry his child. They’re never truly romantically linked but end up sharing a bond that’s as sweet as it is critical of friendships of men in their 40s and women in their 20s. For a film with so little conflict because all the major characters mostly like each other, there’s a lot of understated tension bubbling beneath the surface evidenced through the leads’ loneliness and debates about the roles of a parent. In one particularly great scene, the Matt character scolds Anna for making an unhealthy choice at an Italian restaurant. She counters, “You shouldn’t get the carbonara since you’ll need to live longer to actually take care of the baby.” Savage.
It should also be noted that the creative team cast Harrison, a trans woman, as cisgendered to deliver the baby. It’s a nice touch and is tastefully never commented upon in the film. We’ve come a long way. Plus, don’t sleep on the supporting cast which was essentially an all star game for indie comedy featuring Julio Torres (who utters the immortal line, “We’ve shared a lot of cold stares” when asked if he’s met Helms’ Matt), Nora Dunn, Tig Notaro and Jo Firestone to name just a few. THE BEST GEN X/MILLENNIAL ANTI-ROMCOM ROMCOM I’VE SEEN (Streaming on Amazon for $2.99).
“Dave” Season Two (2021): I loved the breakout first season of Dave Burd AKA Lil Dicky’s show. It took six episodes for me to fully fall into its rhythms but once I did, I couldn’t wait to see what they’d do in Season Two. Now having seen it, I can confirm the creative team here impressively takes bigger swings while also going quieter and more self reflective. The season begins in Korea with Dave collaborating with a K-Pop star and ends with him re-evaluating how he’s treated everyone in his life. In between, there are meditations on how one acts differently in front of different types of friends, what it would be like to flirt with Doja Cat over text and how little we know about our own parents. It should also be noted that the show pulls off the impressive feat of making each episode feel like a standalone (the bar mitzvah, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, marketing start up origin story, and Rick Rubin flotation tank episodes to name just a few) while also existing within the show’s overarching narrative.
All that being said, the most fun joke in the series can be found when indefatigable hype man Gata shouts out influencers on his social while they shout him out at the same time making for an unintelligible mess of the algorithm’s echo chamber. THE RARE SECOND SEASON THAT IMPROVES UPON A FANTASTIC FRESHMAN YEAR (Streaming on Hulu).
Neal Brennan on Working It Out: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- Neal Brennan is appointment podcast listening. Of the countless times I’ve tuned into a conversation in which he was the guest, he’s never once repeated himself and has been totally present. In this edition, Neal admits that he pivoted from straight stand up to the gimmicky “Three Mics” style from his Netflix special because it’s a less competitive space than those who are just doing regular, good old fashioned, meat and potatoes jokes. He also lets us common folk in and lets us know that celebrities are known for giving gifts to one another while hanging out via an amusing Ellen Degeneres/Portia De Rossi hangout anecdote. However, what’s best about this episode are Neal’s on the fly joke writing abilities on full display. He riffs out a bit about how college should be paid by students having to listen to ads a la a Spotify or subscription based service rather than tuition. Brilliant. Funny and practical. Then, toward the end he effortlessly punches up a goofy Birbiglia mac and cheese joke that needs work. Interestingly, Neal reflects quite a bit on how he’s so into comedy that he will sadly probably think about the job on his deathbed and then also added that being a fan of comedy means when you read biographies and consume entertainment about the entertainment, it’s no vacation. You’re just reading about work. He’s articulated something I’ve thought for years but could never put into words. That’s the exact reason why I listen to him talk every chance I get.
Hugh Grant on WTF: While listening to WTF for the past few months, this episode was constantly referred to in other episodes as one of the best. Having now listened, the hype is well-earned. Hugh Grant is a funny son of a gun willing to entertain even after a long day’s work on set overseas. In this chat, the once aspiring character turned accidental leading man tells stories I’d never heard about playing to crowds of just ten audience members at a massive theater in Edinburgh that his manager rented and how he was often criticized in “The Undoing” for faking emotions but now that he’s found love late in life, it’s the first time he’s ever accessed portraying this feeling on camera to what have been mostly mixed results. He even added that he faked it in all those romantic comedies so many years ago. This is a pure delight and an interesting glimpse inside the mind of a gifted actor and student of the craft.
• Finally, thanks to my beautiful wife Anna Paone, I had the distinct honor of catching a Dragonfly production this past weekend in New Jersey. The prolific theater troupe put on four summer plays and each one had its own distinct flavor that made it feel wholly unique from the last. This final show, the very funny “Popcorn Falls” directed by Catherine LaMoreaux, tells the tale of a town about to go under that can only be saved by putting on a play. It’s a fun story but what makes this show especially special are the varied performances from Chris Grant and Tim O’Connor who each play multiple parts with chameleonic ease. At times, Grant would disappear behind a partition only to return seconds later as a new character in a new costume with completely new body language. Both players give star turns that elevate the material into goofy, madcap lunacy.
If this sounds like your kind of thing, Dragonfly is putting on an encore performance next weekend at the DuCret Center for the Arts in Plainfield, NJ. You can find $10.00 tickets here.