Discover more from Matt Levy's Comedy Stray Notes
Comedy Stray Notes December 13, 2020
On Homework shows, "Nate," "Dick Johnson Is Dead" and a few other things like Pauline Kael
• I’ve always been a huge fan of performing on homework comedy shows. For those not familiar with this concept, a homework show is when you have to perform anything other than your regular act. The two most common shows where you have to generate new material are typically roast battles and storytelling shows. I actually had never been asked to do a storytelling show before this week and was always a bit intimidated by the concept. With standup, you can hide behind jokes. With storytelling, you need to have a compelling enough story about your life to hold an audience’s attention for eight minutes. As soon as showrunner Joey Rinaldi told me the concept behind this week’s show broadcast on Twitch was “Bad Decisions,” I knew exactly what story I was going to tell. I won’t tell you exactly what story I told (because it’s linked below and I think worth a watch) but I really leaned into the homework aspect of the show and tried to not only try to tell the story but punch it up with jokes so it was more than just a story. I wanted to make it a performance. I tried to integrate interesting Zoom backgrounds with actual photos from the story to enhance the experience. I’m starting to love Zoom more and more. It’s a young medium and you can do so many creative things with your frame. Every Zoom set is an opportunity to do something that’s never been done in comedy.
• Quick shouts to folks doing unique things in comedy this week that also made me laugh:
- Seattle comic Taylor Clark just dropped a very funny album called “Addictive Tickle” that is more than worth a listen. What sets Clark apart though is he really leans into his character of an adult skateboarder (which is also his authentic self). This is a character we all know but for some reason hasn’t been lampooned much. Clark saw the opening and owned it; he put a clip from his album about his status as an elderly skatesman on Instagram and it rightfully went viral. See the popular clip and check out the album in the links.
- Comedy trio Danny Vega, Ronnie Fleming and Lucas Connolly regularly release fantastic absurd sketches and this week, their short “Coming Out As A Eunuch” really made me laugh. They mine jokes about eunuchs for all their worth and build to a surprising conclusion in under 100 seconds (it’s 97 seconds long). Definitely worth checking out the link in the comments if I do say so myself.
- It’s always exciting to scroll Facebook and see what project Matt Vita is up to. He’s the rare comic that seems to say “Yes” to anything and everything; there is no comfort zone for him. He’ll try anything. That’s the true comic spirit; to always be down and insert your brand of funny into something. This week, Matt made an appearance in a hysterical sketch called “GoPro at Home” that blew me away with its simple concept and effective execution of what an extreme activity is in 2020. 1000% worth watching if you have two minutes. Link is pretty close. You might as well give it a look.
- New York comedy’s most underrated Twitter belongs to Joe Pontillo. He regularly drops unassuming opinions on The Mets, observations about the comedy scene and sharp jokes about current events with regularity. Easily one of my most quality follows and deserving of your follow as well. You can find his handle in the comments.
• This was honestly a fantastic week for streaming for me. Let’s be honest. Every week is a great week for streaming for me. I never have a bad week in that regard. Either way, this one was particularly good and I’m excited to recommend these forms of media to you if you’re a.) looking for something new or b.) already seen these and can’t wait to tell me how wrong I am about my thoughts. OK, here goes:
Natalie Palamides’ “Nate” (2020): I watch so much comedy. Nonstop. Every day for probably 25 years now (became obsessed with it around seven which is probably too early). Still, I’ve never truly seen anything like this and I want everyone who watches the special to go in as blind to the experience as they can be so they can experience this in a pure way. Essentially, this hour special is what Andy Kaufman would have done if he had a heart and didn’t exist merely to infuriate. This is a live wire act all done in character as the titular “Nate” and full of audience participation that lends itself to a “Choose Your Own Adventure” narrative that always led to a shocking and beautiful conclusion. I’m surprised more people aren’t talking about this because it’s an INSTANT COMEDY CLASSIC (Streaming on Netflix).
Sam Morril’s “Up On The Roof” (2020): I can’t speak for comedy scenes all over America or the rest of the world but the New York scene has been kept afloat by shows mainly in parks and rooftops. Morril, who self released a special earlier this year, decided to pull a Taylor Swift and put out a second one of all the different rooftops he performed on these past few months. It’s amazing to see how much material he amassed in just a few months. A bit looser than his previous special, some of the jokes here are timely critiques of the Election but there’s also evergreen material about calls being marked “spam” that is a perfect chunk and a closer about the gig he played alongside a magician the week after he got “Conan” that is equal parts humbling and hysterical. Stay until the bitter end to see Morril get roasted by a dude serving him a slice of pizza. EASY WATCH; THIS ONE BREEZES BY (Streaming on YouTube; link is in the comments).
“Dick Johnson Is Dead” (2020): The trailer for this film stunned me. It’s the rare imaginative documentary that doesn’t just point and shoot its subjects. No, director Kirsten Johnson does something wholly new envisioning a love letter to her declining father. Here she envisions all the ways he might die and then executes them with Dick Johnson playing himself aided by stuntmen. There really is so much going on in this film though; it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. There’s the behind the scenes aspect of the affair where Johnson shows us her process and how they pulled these acts off, there’s the intimate portrait of a man who doesn’t want to be the star of a documentary but is it doing it simply for his daughter (I can’t say I’d want my child to make this raw a portrait of me; she shows her Dad’s stubby toes he’s been embarrassed about his whole life to the world), there’s surreal visions of Heaven complete with chocolate cake and professional dancers and finally there’s the portrayal of elderly life we so rarely see. The sexually active seniors, the close friends crying at funerals, the waking up in middle of the night thinking you’re going to work. This thing is visceral, tragic and life affirming all at once. I HONESTLY LAUGHED AND CRIED (Streaming on Netflix).
“What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael” (2020): Kael was a tough cookie. I love reading her reviews but after reading 20 of them I never have any idea what her criteria for what makes a good film. She’s the rare critic that never fails to surprise and evoke emotion out of a reader. Thus, I was very excited to see this documentary and get a slightly better idea of what made her tick and maybe gain a more sophisticated understanding of her tastes. Well, I learned quite a bit about her life story (she’s a bit of a failed filmmaker herself, worked with her daughter and was discovered arguing about movies in a coffee shop, directors hated her because her reviews were personal and didn’t follow the status quo) but I still have no idea why she likes what she likes. I’m fine with this. This is a sharply made documentary with amazing archive footage to accompany voiceovers of her reviews of various films like “Star Wars,” “The Godfather” and a scathing review of “Stardust Memories” which is one of my favorites. IF YOU CONSIDER CRITICISM AN ART FORM, WATCH THIS TO PAY RESPECTS TO ONE OF THE ALL-TIME GREATS (Streaming on Amazon Prime).
SNL with Timothee Chalamet and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: Expectations were low this week. As a massive SNL fan, in seasons past, the episode before the true Christmas episode is a low key affair. In fact, I used to tell people to go the episode that fell before the Christmas episode because it’s typically low profile. Not this week. Timothee and the Boss. Perfect for your kid brother or your uncle. Still, I came in with low expectations. Had a feeling that the writing staff would write sketches that would appeal to Chalamet’s young fanbase. Man, was I glad to have my expectations wildly exceeded. From the rare brief Cold Open with Kate McKinnon absolutely owning the Fauci impression (“The goal is that COVID is so far gone that I’m no longer famous”) to the brilliant satire of “The Ronas,” a sitcom send up of a bickering family made up of COVID people (kind of Coneheads-like) with a rebellious son who chugs Purell the show was off to a fast start. This became an early contender for sketch of the year. There was more. The earnest and touching “Tiny Horse” felt like something from an entirely different program; it’s the rare sketch that the more you think about it, the funnier it becomes. Finally, Pete Davidson and Chalamet as TikTok rappers who spout off nonsense like “YEET” and Jets fans who can’t come to terms with the team’s losing had me laughing way too hard at the end of the show. The rest of the episode had familiar beats like a product placement sketch featuring a Lexus where, not to brag, I called the game of the sketch before it happened (the family couldn’t afford the vehicle; felt like a genius for a second) but it still worked and a recurring Food Network bakeoff where the big reveal is a mind bendingly disgusting cake. Always fun but you know just where it’s headed. Also, for comedy nerds, it’s nice to see Max Weinberg playing in the E Street Band. It takes you right back to 90s Conan to see his deadpan face drumming away in the background.
“Take Your Shoes Off” with Rick Glassman: I do not take Sam Zelitch podcast recommendations lightly. No one I know is more in tune with what is quality in the audio entertainment world. This week, he suggested I check out Rick Glassman’s “Take Your Shoes Off” and I’m extremely glad I did. Dove into Episode #75 featuring comedy stalwart Beth Stelling where they shared valuable nuggets of advice like comics shouldn’t feel awkward having to take time out of conversations to write down funny thoughts so they aren’t burdened with remembering them. More than that, this is a podcast that doesn’t focus solely on auditory pleasures; it’s also a visual medium. Glassman uses quirky editing tricks like putting images of words that were just said onscreen and cutting to what appeared to be a fake rug commercial anytime it felt remotely appropriate or inappropriate. Coupled with emotional honesty in the conversation that these two shared, this is the rare podcast that doesn’t take itself too seriously (a fly got into Glassman’s smoothie and they spent a good few minutes going on a tangent about this) while also having a bit of weight behind it. Looking forward to exploring this world more.
• The only noteworthy events on my calendar this week are actually taking place at exactly the same time. On Wednesday at 8 PM, I’m booked on Dan Fitzpatrick’s exquisite Divine Comedy Show (comment linked below) and Anna Paone and Catherine LaMoreaux are putting on a reading of Tommy Wiseau’s magnum opus “The Room” for Dragonfly (also linked below).
Congrats on getting this far. Sorry for all the links below
Comedy Stray Notes Links For You:
01.) Story Night featuring me (playhead starts at my set) https://www.twitch.tv/videos/832930924?t=1h28m57s
02.) Taylor Clark’s “Addictive Tickle” clip
03.)”Coming Out As a Eunuch” by Danny Vega, Ronnie Fleming and Lucas Connolly:
04.) Matt Vita’s GoPro Sketch: https://www.facebook.com/jojitsu99/videos/10108253297128251
05.) Joe Pontillo’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/JoePontillo
05.) Sam Morril “Up On The Roof” Special:
06.) Rick Glassman’s “Take Your Shoes Off” with Beth Stelling:
07.) Dan Fitzpatrick’s Divine Comedy: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85238213895 (Wednesday at 8 PM EST)
08.) Anna Paone and Catherine LaMoreaux’s “The Room” Reading: https://www.facebook.com/events/410784266709403/?acontext=%7B%22source%22%3A%2229%22%2C%22ref_notif_type%22%3A%22plan_user_invited%22%2C%22action_history%22%3A%22null%22%7D¬if_id=1607913475892240¬if_t=plan_user_invited&ref=notif