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Comedy Stray Notes December 19, 2021
On performing comedy with a mask on, my favorite videos of the week, a new comedy class starting in 2022, this week's unusual SNL and a business/comedy podcast hybrid. Plus, a tiny bit more
• Right before Omicron officially pwned us all, there was live comedy at the beginning of the week. I participated. Over a month ago, riffer extraordinaire Todd Montesi generously booked me on his UG Comedy SHOW and I don’t take a booking lightly. To prep, I made sure to have two mics lined up ahead of time so I didn’t get onstage for an 8-10 minute spot with flaccid punchlines.
However, the beginning of this week wasn’t that long ago.
The old yet now new COVID fear was still there. So, I gave in and did something I’d wanted to do for a long time but didn’t have the courage to try out: comedy with a mask on. Yes, everyone is pro-mask but rarely does anyone ever perform with one on. I decided to swallow my pride and do my sets with a KN95 strapped to my face. Having now done it (using the opening line, “If I bomb, it’s the mask’s fault”), I can honestly say it’s not that bad. None of my sets were all that great but none were truly bad. I got laughs where I was supposed to and the material that didn’t hit was because it was lackluster and not the mask’s fault at all. Therefore, going forward, I urge more folks to wear masks while performing. Audiences won’t tune out like you think they might and it may stop or at least curb the rampant COVID spread in the community.
Getting off my soapbox now.
*Unrelated: I experienced something I hadn’t since 2019 where I went last at a mic and then was first on the lineup at a show. Running to the L to the 1 to a bar I’d never been to before was a rush I completely forgot about. Sometimes the commute is just as exciting as the comedy itself.
• Approximately four months ago, I finished taking Brent Forrester’s remote “writing the sitcom” class. Over the course of six weeks, I learned countless priceless writing hacks and tricks from one of the ‘90s, ‘00s and ‘10s greatest showrunners. As soon as it was over, I vowed that if Brent ever taught another class, I would take it again. Even if it was word for word verbatim what I’d already learned. That’s how good it was- the class simply just inspires you to start writing rather than daydreaming about the tv show you always wanted to make. Now, the class is back and Brent has promised a new curriculum. Starts up January at 5 p.m. EST. Sign up is $100 for five weeks. I can’t wait and I’ll see you there.
• In between refreshing the New York Times’ homepage for breaking news all day every day, I watched a few stellar sketches on the internet this week. Here they are:
- There’s something particularly funny about the Uber ride. Getting driven in a yellow cab is cold and often silent; rarely is there a moment of human connection. However, in Uber, you’re almost forced into a brief, friendly chat. In Yogi Paliwal and Ronnie Fleming’s excellent four-minute sketch “Doors,” they play on this social convention that ride shares have created. The two connect on a human level coming to a fundamental agreement on their respective car door philosophies. As Ronnie plaintively says, “People don’t understand. This is your car. It’s why bus doors are automatic.” To this passenger and driver, the door is sacred. Best of all, is the payoff. It’s a thing of beauty. Smart writing and hinted at all along. I give this one five stars.
- A lot of the TikTok experience is laughing at something, forgetting it existed, swiping up, repeat. There’s endless, fun, mindless content but rarely does any of it stick with you. However, occasionally, something you’ll see will get lodged so deep in your brain you can’t shake it for days. Jeremy Kaplowitz’s clever, animated, 90-second “When you criticize New York” is exactly that. A simple conversation between two people about the bagels in NY (or as he calls it “the Large Apple”) escalates into a fantastical debate with a mythical City icon who appears from out of nowhere to literally heighten the sketch. Sound arguments are made by all but a brief ode to the mythical bacon, egg and cheese is a showstopper.
- Certain videos you see and you instantly know, “Oh, this is viral good.” I felt it as soon as I saw the “Da Vinky” bros this summer (if you haven’t seen these dudes yet, it’s one of the funniest clips I’ve ever seen) and I certainly felt it this week when I caught Sami Bronowski’s one-minute “I’m back with my ex.” Deftly directed with a light comic touch by Dan Rosen, the two of them pack in sight gags, massive comic setpieces and inspired performances (including one from Sami’s unsuspecting ex he’s back with who I’m convinced wasn’t totally in on the joke here) to concoct a video that needs to be seen by all. It’s smart, it’s dumb, it’s triumphant, it’s romantic, it’s pure comedy.
- As noted before, I attended two mics this week and wanted to shout out my pal Andrew Harms who I’d seen perform a few times post-pandemics I & II (“Omicron” is number III in the never-ending COVID franchise) but really wowed me at Pine Box on Wednesday. Harms has always been great but he really elevated his game with this five-minute set. He opened with a rip-roaring bit about signatures that upset me that I’d never even thought to make fun of the concept of signing your name before. Just when you think everything under the sun has been done, a great comic like Andrew will prove you wrong. The rest of his set was filled with laugh out loud self-deprecating material but that signature bit- it shook me. Look around you. There’s funny everywhere. You just might not be able to see it yet.
• Anna Paone alerted me that SNL was going to be weird this week after she got a Twitter notification on Saturday afternoon reading that there would be “no live audience” and “musical guest Charli XCX had pulled out.” Apparently there was a bit of a COVID outbreak within the SNL cast (allegedly Colin Jost, Aristotle Athari and Sarah Sherman were diagnosed and Lorne Michaels was coughing the week prior according to host and musical guest Billie Eilish) that caused this semi-cancellation.
However, as Lorne says, “The show doesn’t go on because it’s good, it goes on because it’s 11:30,” and without missing a beat, SNL turned in a halfhearted bummer of a Christmas show. Eschewing a traditional cold open with a “Live from New York” or cast introductions, Tom Hanks entered to take center stage. Tina Fey and actual host Paul Rudd joined him. The three bantered (I’ll admit Fey’s line, “This isn’t the smallest crowd I’ve performed for because I have done improv in a Macy’s,” got me) and introduced a smattering of pre-taped sketches from this week along with old standby Christmas classics generally reserved for holiday specials.
Given the unique situation, many on Twitter wished the show had broadcast cut sketches from years past or done something unique with the platform rather than a rote clip show. I couldn’t agree more. Given the talent onstage, I would have much preferred to have seen them stretch their wings with a no-frills sketch that they’d written that day, one-act play or improv scenes (harkening back to Fey’s Macy’s days). There was a bit of that “Let’s put on a show!” spirit in a Weekend Update segment co-anchored by Fey and Che with an audience of three (Hanks, Rudd and Kenan Thompson) but mostly the show had a somber, defeated tone to it rather than its typical weekly cheer.
All that being said, one of the pre-tapes fit this melancholy vibe perfectly. “An Evening with Pete” inspired by “Raging Bull” painted a portrait of a washed-up Moe Syzslak-looking 2054 Pete Davidson who crowds egg on to do his Chad character. More than Scorsese, this black and white piece reminded me of the surreal, “longing for the early 20th century” work of former SNL shorts director Tom Schiller.
Amazingly, the cast and crew finished filming the sketch at 5 in the morning Rudd attested while introducing the piece. Comedy never sleeps. Crazier yet, while Anna and I watched the local news before the episode began, they broke that Davidson and Kardashian had rented out a movie theater in Staten Island that evening. Probably not the most COVID safe thing in the world considering the show probably told Pete to go home because of the outbreak but man, that guy is EVERYWHERE. He’s even on the freaking local news for going to a movie.
- I’ve been dabbling in listening to non-comedy podcasts lately and one of my favorites that I’ve stumbled into is “My First Million.” This week, when I opened Spotify, I found that I’d hit the jackpot as my interests were colliding- host Shaan Puuri had booked Hasan Minhaj as a guest this week.
Over the next two hours, the host and guest interchangeably interviewed each other about a number of topics. I learned that Minhaj got into comedy after seeing Chris Rock perform and thinking, “Oh, that’s just speech and debate with jokes” (a rough paraphrasing here) and Shaan’s start in the business world came after he realized that his dream of wanting to become an NBA team doctor wasn’t for him and he’d rather try to make a “Chipotle for sushi” happen. There are large swaths of fascinating conversation where the two discuss how Minhaj prepares for shows, who their audiences are (Kumon kids get a shout out!), how Hasan should handle his newfound financial success and what his place is in the comedy world (Puuri’s brutally honest assessment: “I can tell you’re not the funniest guy in the room but work really hard and practice”). Best of all, was a discussion about why Netflix is a more powerful platform than just reaching out to your fans directly with the “my new album is dropping, you can buy it for $5 here” business model.
This unconventional podcast is a breath of fresh air for those who enjoy business pods or comedy pods. More crossovers like this please.
• Well, the world is especially unpredictable again. Yikes.
Merry Christmas, and I’ll see ya next week, you filthy animals