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Comedy Stray Notes December 6, 2020
What is comedy therapy?
• Back at my childhood home, we have a book in our bathroom by one of the greatest hitting coaches in baseball history, Charlie Lau. I leafed through it many times as a kid. I wasn’t so interested in how to become a better batter; I was more intrigued by Lau’s arc.
He never quite made it as a player; he didn’t have the ability barely sipping a cup of coffee in the big leagues. However, Charlie did have the ability to recognize what made a great batter with concrete philosophies and practices. As I’ve aged into my 30s, I’ve begun to think of myself as a “Comedy Charlie Lau” (not that I’m all that great a coach) with this new comedy therapy gig I’ve thrust upon myself (I’m not a licensed therapist for the record!). Simply talking about the actual comedy writing process with my “clients” over the past few months, I’ve started to develop pretentious philosophies about the recipe for developing great material. I could tell you all of them here but that would make me a pretty poor salesman. You know those YouTube ads where they’re like, “Do you want to lose that extra belly fat?” and you’re like, “Yes, I do!” and then you click into their site and you have to sign up for it and it seems like a bigger hassle than it is? This is kind of like that but all you have to do is message me. I want to talk about your material and career at length. Let me be your therapist/manager or get 12 open mics worth of material in on an eager and willing audience member. There is a tiny price but if you hate our session or think it didn’t accomplish anything, I won’t charge you. Scout’s honor (well, cub scout’s honor. I stopped after fourth grade to get into baseball. That’s when I began reading Charlie Lau books. We’ve come full circle).
• The only constant I’ve had in my life since that fateful March day where the world effectively shut down is that Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center puts on a weekly show. Sometimes, they’re readings of radio shows of yesteryear, others are renditions of popular sitcoms but my favorite are their showcases of original works by emerging playwrights. This week, the emerging writer was none other than Dragonfly co-founder Catherine LaMoreaux (the other co-founder is the talented Anna E. Paone) who presented “We Love Our Town,” a satirical examination of all the baggage that comes with being in a community Facebook group. There’s name calling, punches are pulled, sides are taken and moderators do everything in their power to keep things in check. If you’ve ever want to see the internet come to life, check out the comments section below for a link that will take you to a reading of the comments come to life.
• We’re a few short weeks away from a vaccine; now is the time to stay inside and catch up with as much content as you can before we all feel socially obligated to be inside again. With that in mind, I recommend using your time inside to stream Nick Hopping’s excellent, tight new half hour “Giraffe In The Shed.” The 31-minute special takes place in Hopping’s backyard and is an amazing showcase of his writerly talents. A few standout jokes covered what it was like to be a.) a shy kid b.) own a tortoise and c.) have sad nipples. Stay for the end too; Nick’s act out of baby crying like an adult is laugh out loud funny. The link is in the comments and it’s free to watch. That’s a steal.
• One of my favorite things in comedy is seeing a little group of like-minded performers become a collective. In this case, I’m talking about the formation of Mark Heneley and Ben Miller’s Bomb Cypher; they’re quickly turning into New York comedy’s Wu Tang. In their Bomb Cypher series, Mark and Ben form a semicircle of comics with bravado in front of a pillar somewhere in Jersey City and the comics proceed to spit jokes instead of rhymes. I love it; we get to see all the highlights of their sets and this format gives the joke life. Not only are we watching the performer but we get to see the reactions of comics standing behind the performer supporting their bits. The most recent edition features choice cuts from Andrew Harms, Farooq Hussain, Joe Gorman and then the king Bobby Sheehan comes on to close the thing out in spectacular fashion. The link is in the comments and more than worth your five minutes.
• Not a huge week for watching movies and TV this week; don’t worry though. I still have a little bit for you here.
“Time” (2020): This documentary showed up on a number of “Best Movie” lists and I’m a sucker for “Best Movie” lists. The story the filmmakers tell here is simple yet tragic. A man (Robert G. Richardson) is incarcerated for a bank robbery for 60 years. We see the toll this takes on his family made up of an incredibly supportive wife (the magnetic Sibil Fox Richardson AKA Fox Rich) and his two children who wait patiently for his release. This arrest informs their entire life from Sibil’s budding activism to her children’s debate careers. They want to make sure no one else has to go through something this horrible. It’s by no means a comedy but a portrait of how unjust our prison system can be. Another one where you need to stay until the end; I haven’t seen a moment in a film that was this cathartic all year. (Streaming on Amazon Prime).
SNL hosted by Jason Bateman with musical guest Morgan Wallen: Fresh off a month-long break, SNL finally delivered an episode that felt at ease with itself. It felt as if there were no expectations that everyone was watching because the election is long from over. The stakes were lower and the show could just...be itself again. As a result, this was easily my favorite of the season thus far. Right out of the gate, Bateman brought an assured, relaxed presence to the show as a host with a monologue that detailed how a monkey almost ripped his face off at the goodnights fifteen years prior when he last hosted the show. They showed archive footage and follow up the story with great jokes about the fate of said chimpanzee. My only issue is they didn’t come through and bring the monkey back for goodnights tonight.
The actual sketches in the rest of the show were also of a higher caliber than in past episodes. There was one though that stood out in particular for me. That would be Kyle Mooney’s “Bits” about the friend that just can’t keep up in a group of funny friends. Mooney regularly gives a voice to the person inside all of us that so desperately wants to fit in that we adopt others’ speaking style and fall completely flat on our faces. SNL isn’t a perfect fit for his talents but this sketch rivals anything he did with Good Neighbor Stuff prior to his SNL tenure.
I also really liked Pete Davidson’s 18 years too late take on “Stan” where his “Stu” pines after a PS5 from Santa instead of Eminem’s admiration (gotta be honest, Chris Parnell is a far superior rapper though in terms of SNL’s all-time greatest rhymesman). The commitment to the bit was admirable and McKinnon’s Dido was a standout in an episode of small standout moments.
Honorable mentions go to SNL calling out that Morgan Wallen was asked not to do the show mid-October when he was spotted not wearing a mask and now a.) bringing him back while b.) mocking him mercilessly in a sketch about how much of a mistake he made. The only thing about this sketch that makes my skin crawl is SNL is making fun of anti-maskers while doing a show with performers who aren’t wearing masks. It’s a fine line to walk on and they feel like the preachy friend that says, “Oh, my God. I can’t believe people aren’t wearing masks while also not wearing a mask” oblivious to what they just said. Adding to that, there was a sketch about how folks shouldn’t travel for Christmas to see their families. Good idea, yes. A bit unfair to say that while getting a large group of folks together in a building to perform a sketch comedy show helmed by a man in his mid-70s.
• If you’re a film nerd and looking for avenues to go down while you’re on the web, I highly recommend the following:
Carson Reeves’ Scriptshadow: I’ve been a loyal reader of Carson’s newsletter for years where he takes on emerging screenwriting trends, Hollywood news, shares tips (the best I’ve ever read was “Every ten pages you write should be better than the last ten you wrote.” Imagine if every movie followed this rule and just kept getting better and better) and then reviews a hot, new screenplay at the end. Every time it shows up in my inbox, it feels like a treat has arrived. His site is just as fun and is linked below if this sounds like your kind of thing.
Hats Off Entertainment’s YouTube Channel: Sometimes, the YouTube algorithm knows you so well, they push and recommend a creator on you so often that you break down and finally give them a chance. In this case, I’m so glad I started watching this channel’s videos. The first one I saw was a 17-minute video essay about the “Planes, Trains and Automobile’s” three-hour shooting script and what the movie could have been. Then, a piece on the famous flop “The Chevy Chase Show” with footage showing us why the show was actually so bad. Others include the failed “Uncle Buck” sitcom and the Geico “Cavemen” sitcom (I had no idea Nick Kroll was one of the leads). As a film and comedy nerd, you always read about these stories but to actually see why they didn’t work is far more fascinating. This channel does the work for you and succinctly.
• Slow week in my neighborhood coming up. I am booked for Comedy Therapy Sessions every day except Saturday (if you’re interested, let me know) and I’m going to be doing a set on Joey Rinaldi’s Zoom/Twitch storytelling show about “Bad Decisions” on Thursday. I’ve been looking forward to it for a month.
See you on the timeline next week
01.) We Love Our Town: https://www.facebook.com/DragonflyMulticulturalArts/videos/200548051605933
02.) Nick Hopping’s “Giraffe In The Shed:”
03.) Bomb Mode Cypher Vol. 2:
04.) Scriptshadow: http://scriptshadow.net/
05.) Hats Off Entertainment: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCay-jgoQFnEFsJ8GD6fjzQ