Discover more from Matt Levy's Comedy Stray Notes
Comedy Stray Notes February 16, 2022
On my first time in an off-off Broadway play, "Only Murders In The Building," the oddest Valentine's movie and so much more (not that much more)
• Got tied up with the back-to-back double whammy of the Crypto Bowl and Flower Inflation Day, so I didn’t have any time for this little newsletter the past two nights. Now that there’s no holiday today (well, other than National Wisconsin Day according to national today dot com), I am back in action.
Buckle up, here’s nine (!) days worth of Stray Notes.
• I have now officially acted in a New York off-off Broadway play. It wasn’t on my bucket list, so I just added it and crossed it off. The play, titled “Royal Oak,” was a 2-hour and 45 minute behemoth of a show about a fashion designer who was thwarted by everyone around him.
My part was small.
I was not the fashion designer nor did I thwart.
Over the course of five shows and innumerable rehearsals, I portrayed a sleazy social worker in a piece of low-level stunt casting (since I’m not a real actor). Like stand-up, my performances had varying degrees of success. Some nights, there were polite laughs. Others, I played my creepy scene to silence. A few times I ad-libbed lines.
My big takeaways from acting now that I’m a full-fledged expert ready to teach a Master Class are that it’s very hard to not look at the audience when you’re “acting” and dropping a line that’s an important plot point like “my sister’s a cop” can negatively impact the entire play.
Truth be told, I don’t think I’ll ever act in another live theatrical production but the experience gave me a newfound respect for actors. Anna Paone and I ran lines at least 25 times on every single train ride we took for a month. Before my scene, I had to put on a wrist watch in the dark which is much more difficult than it has any right to be. I got yelled at for being too quiet in my scene.
People with talent make it look easy. I’m glad I tried.
• My friend Clayton Porter is a prolific sports short story writer. His Medium account is littered with humorous and supernatural basketball yarns that always zag in unexpected directions. Lately though, Clayton’s interests have shifted from hoops to the links and his latest golf-centric ‘Twilight Zone”-esque “Penmar” wholly reflects that.
The 34-minute read (Medium’s estimation) tells the story of 40-something Griffin who’s just trying to get nine holes by himself before the course closes. That is, until he’s joined by Seb, a clumsy, mysterious fellow linksman who plays all nine with him- physically and mentally.
There are smart bits of comedy between the two littered throughout with Seb teaching Griffin how to fix his swing even though Griffin is the far superior golfer as well as astute observations about the difficulty of making prolonged conversation with strangers you’re forced to interact with.
On a storytelling level, Clayton does a few things expertly here playing on his protagonist’s frugality (he golfs on this particular day because he had already laid out a down payment on the game) and poor time management skills (he should have gone home to be with his wife and daughter on what was a special night) to give “Penmar” the weight and stakes it needs.
Told in nine chapters, one for each hole, Clayton incorporates stories within stories and it all leads to a chilling conclusion that’s giving me goosebumps just thinking about it.
If you have a penchant for golf or off-kilter slice of life, give “Penmar” a chance.
• Boris Khaykin just launched his new sketch platform “Billionaire Space Program” last week and the “yeah, we go there attitude” in their first offering “Stop and Frisk” demonstrates that, yeah, this is a collective to keep an eye on.
The one-minute vid, starring Derek Humphrey and John Swan as a cop and pedestrian respectively, takes what appears to be a racially motivated stop and frisk by a crooked cop in multiple unexpected directions that cross the line of decency. However, the lead performances are so winning that it works.
*I was the boom operator on this set. The best thing that happened was when Derek was frisking John, a plucky bystander filmed the interaction with their phone to expose what they thought was a corrupt cop. I mean, there was a whole film crew already recording but this would-be vigilante missed that and thought they would document the interaction. I’ll never forget it.
• Audible is rolling out ambitious comedy podcasts with big name comics lending their voice talents to this scripted content.
It’s the best.
The first in their slate was Achilles Stamatelaky’s “Christmas Delivery” starring a jaded Gillian Jacobs and giddy Sam Richardson along with J.K. Simmons, Janeane Garofalo, Jackie Hoffman and many more in a joke-heavy mash up of “Elf,” “A Christmas Carol” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” In fact, it’s so funny it doesn’t need to be the Christmas season to appreciate this series- you can enjoy it on dreary February work days.
Over the course of six 20-minute episodes, Achilles tells the story of Jacobs’ Beth who has to deliver meals on Christmas Eve to in order to earn a bonus that will net her enough coin to win an auction for a record by her favorite blues musician Chunky Legs (who comes packaged with fake blues songs). Everything is going according to plan until she hits Richardson’s happy go lucky, absent-minded character Andy Pepper on her route. He joins her for the remainder of her deliveries and together, they learn the true meaning of Christmas visiting major players from Beth’s troubled past.
Satisfyingly told with rich, laugh out loud jokes like Richardson’s character being “excited for celebrities to release awful Christmas albums, Jacobs’ music snob telling Thom Yorke his new album is “bloated and overrated” when she worked as a college DJ and a fortune teller whose iPhone unintentionally plays ominous sound effects when delivering prophecies, the series breezes by crazy fast and is worth the price of an Audible subscription by itself.
• Early ‘80s SNL cast member Gary Kroeger maintains the fantastic sociopolitical blog “Gary Has Issues” that occasionally touches on his tenure at the show that made his name. This past week, he shared a throwback entry from his time that he attended the show’s 40th anniversary.
Through his clear-eyed account of what it was like to be an insider at the major event rubbing shoulders with the likes of Paul Rudd, Billy Crystal and Martin Short to name just a few, Kroeger makes us readers feel like we’re there with him. My favorite anecdote was about how he and his son sat next to David Koechner for the 3.5-hour affair who ran bits on the two of them. That’s something that would never make the broadcast but is exactly what fans want.
Already can’t wait to read what he has to say about the 50th anniversary in three years.
• Saw a show and a movie this week. There was also a podcast episode and oral history in there as well. Not surprisingly, I liked them all quite a bit.
“Only Murders in the Building” (2021): The comedy murder mystery genre is everywhere. “Search Party.” “The After Party.” “Murderville.” Then, there’s this 10-episode sitcom that has a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s just as good as that score indicates and better than any movie chasing Oscar bait that I’ve seen this year.
Comprised of equal parts “whodunit” mystery and slapstick-y satire, Steve Martin, Martin Short (the most fun actor alive) and Selena Gomez have pulled off the impossible- a show about podcasts that is just as compelling as it is hysterical.
For the uninitiated, “OMITB” tells the story of three affluent-seeming New York neighbors with a penchant for true crime brought together by their love of Tina Fey’s NPR-like Cinda Canning.
When a real-life murder takes place in their building, the three take their knowledge and snap into action devising a podcast (appropriately titled “Only Murders In The Building”) and begin snooping around the other building dwellers to find out who could have killed one of their fellow tenants.
Featuring twists, turns, tight plotting, a literal murderer’s row of a cast (Nathan Lane, Roy Wood Jr., Jane Lynch, Jaboukie Young-White and Amy Ryan are just some of the standouts), Martin Short’s obsession with dips and stylized episodes unlike anything else on TV (no spoilers but I’m talking about episode seven), this show really took me by surprise. I had mild expectations given that murder mysteries seem to be played out but I was completely taken with this sitcom. BY TROJAN HORSING THE COMEDY INTO THE RICH STORY, “OMITB” DISTANCES ITSELF FROM THE PACK (Streaming on Hulu).
*It should be noted I did have a few minor quibbles with the series. They are as follows: 1) Selena Gomez is so expressionless, which even if it’s intentional, dampens the show’s lively energy; 2) the bit Jane Lynch does with Steve Martin in their episode together is masterful but it was done first in “Mr. Mayor” with Ted Danson in 2020 and 3) this whole show could have been solved with a surveillance camera (I forget if they covered this in an early episode. I bet they did and I look foolish).
“Secretary” (2002): The ultimate bizarre but somewhat erotic Valentine’s Day movie. Starring a young Maggie Gyllenhaal as a recently released institution inmate readjusting to society, this early 2000s film takes a minute to get to its cat and mouse BDSM game.
First, the filmmaker slowly introduces us to the tortured lead’s life in the shadow of her recently married sister and alcoholic father before finding herself gaining employment at James Spader’s one-man law firm. Something is clearly off there. Upon arrival, furniture and papers are strewn about but she doesn’t seem to notice or care. All she wants is the work.
Once she starts, long stares and legitimate sexual harassment between the co-workers ensue culminating in a fantastical, wish-fulfillment conclusion that rewards these two depraved souls that were made for each other.
Perfect for Valentine’s.
Some find “Secretary” sexy, but I admire it for the unsettling performances, offbeat pacing and “Breaking Bad” early 2000s aesthetic. Plus, at one point, characters eat dinner in a laundromat. A WELL-DONE STORY OF AN UNWELL WOMAN SEEKING AN UNWELL MAN (Streaming on Tubi).
“Fly on the Wall” with Darrell Hammond: At the risk of getting stale, I vowed I wouldn’t write about this podcast every week. Heck, I even refrained from documenting my thoughts on the fantastic Conan and Tom Hanks episodes. However, the novelty of master impressionist Darrell Hammond sitting down with impression hall of famer Dana Carvey was too delicious not to tell the masses about (and by masses, I mean the nine people who have gotten this far).
For one hour, SNL nerds get to live in a fantasy world where Carvey and Hammond perform dueling Regises and Bill Clintons. They explain their thought process behind finding the hook that elevates an impression from accurate to funny (Carvey would often speak in gibberish to get there) and completely bond over their unique connection.
Best of all though, David Spade is there too. I’m a bit of a “third wheel on podcasts” fetishist and this hit the sweet spot. There’s something hilarious about someone sitting in on a conversation for an hour and not getting to bring anything to the table. Sure, Spade has moments but when Darrell Hammond asked him, “Spade, did you just yawn?” while he was mid-story to which he replied, “Am I on camera?” I had heard my favorite podcast moment of the year. So real.
Also, of note: Dana Carvey claimed he saw “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” 17 times. After doing my research, that is the average amount of times the average 60-year-old Boomer has seen this movie.
• I applied to write Vulture’s comedy beat months ago and was quickly turned down via email before they had even hired someone for the position. I’d keep seeing the job listing for months taunting me. This week, I made peace with my swift rejection when I read the comprehensive oral history of SeeSo by Will Storey.
Storey lays out the story of the streamer that sounded like a great idea on paper but with limited advertising, budget and overall resources ended up becoming a punchline. Told from the suits, creatives, fair weather fans are exposed to fascinating behind the scenes details like SeeSo was very close to being named ‘Picky’” and seasons of shows that were filmed never aired.
My grudge is now long gone. Storey’s masterful story has me cheerfully looking forward to what Vulture does with the ill-fated rise and fall of Clubhouse and Twitter Fleets in the future.
• Last week, I promised I would award the best joke answering the Quiplash prompt “What they call pooping in the Land of Oz.”
First place is Brian Scott McFadden’s “Dropping A Flying Monkey."
Coming in a close second is Michael Sullivan’s “Representing the Lollipoop Guild.”
Thank you, guys. You hard work has been recognized.
• Finally, RIP Ivan Reitman.
Reitman, who directed “Ghostbusters,” “Meatballs,” “Stripes” and so many more is one of the most important and gifted comedy film directors of all time.
I paid my respects by listening to his 2014 WTF interview. He lived a hell of a life emigrating from Czechoslovakia at five to Canada, fell in with ‘70s comedy greats (Eugene Levy, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, everyone else) and ended up wrapping his career working with his son Jason.
The episode closes with a touching moment about working on “Up In The Air” with Jason that makes me miss this comedic titan even more.
Give the podcast a listen. You’ll hear a little too much about his work on the 2014 film “Draft Day” but you will find a portrait of a fascinating, brilliant human being.
With that being said, I bid you all adieu for the week.
Class dismissed lol