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Comedy Stray Notes February 27, 2022
On a lost Mike Myers' script from the '90s, an obscure Quentin Tarantino film from the '80s and the best birthday show I've ever been to
• Sometimes, lost projects you thought didn’t exist online have been sitting there all along. Por ejemplo, for years, I thought Mike Myers’ and Jack Handey’s “Dieter” screenplay based on Myers’ off-putting but endearing German talk show host was one of those comedy urban legends you’d seldom hear about, hope you’d read someday and then forget about.
Then, I found a PDF in a Twitter thread last week.
I opened the screenplay and what I found was a twisted flick that would have fit in the mold of late ‘90s/early ‘00s studio comedies like “Zoolander” and “Superstar.” Just unabashedly silly, raunchy and roles specifically written for a young Will Ferrell and Jack Black (they were respectively set to play Dieter’s all-American, hot-tempered cousin and an obsessively monkey private investigator). Most of all, it’s full of belly laughs.
Structured a bit like “Borat,” the eponymous Dieter travels from Germany to find his kidnapped monkey sidekick Klaus in Hollywood, California, U.S.A. It’s your classic fish out of water tale, the only difference being the lead isn’t naive or charming like a Borat or Austin Powers- Dieter is unfailingly nihilistic, dark and kinky in unsettling ways.
This, folks, is probably why this lost classic wasn’t made.
Mike Myers famously vetoed this movie from being released and I understand why. It’s very funny but “Dieter” is not exactly your typical blockbuster comedy fare. I think this might have been 12-year-old me’s favorite movie but I could see this breaking Myers’ “Austin Powers’” hot streak that he was riding from ‘97-’03.
Anyway, forget all that. Let’s get to the fun and explore the screenplay itself.
Myers and Handey maintain a “Simpsons” like tone and pace lampooning fallen stars of yesteryear like David Hasslehoff and Dick Van Patten (had to do some research to find out who DVP was) and craft A+ absurd bits that still hold up to this day. I loved a scene toward the end where Dieter is given dog biscuits to throw at guard dogs while escaping a prison and then opts to eats them in the moment he needs them most. Perfect misdirect.
Another moment where Dieter’s monkey, Klaus, slaps Dieter with a tinier monkey paw made me LOL.
There are bawdy jokes on par with “Austin Powers” up until the final frame. It’s probably for the best this movie wasn’t made, but boy, I wish it was.
• Empowered after discovering “Dieter” online, I searched for “My Best Friend’s Birthday,” on YouTube. For those not in the know, “MBFB” is the unfinished Quentin Tarantino feature from the late ‘80s.
You wouldn’t believe it, but it’s ALSO online.
In the abbreviated available section of the film, Tarantino’s passionate disc jockey character (yes, played by Tarantino) who claims that he was a suicidal three-year-old until he saw “The Partridge Family,” is on a mission to make his “Best Friend’s Birthday” a smashing success. He even hires a lady of the night for him and then (spoiler) ends up with her himself.
What makes this fraction of a film so fascinating is not the plotting but Tarantino’s skills on display in such a nascent stage of his filmmaking development. Sure, his friends that he cast trying to deliver his trademark dialogue are awful but he’s electric defending Elvis, relaying a heartfelt message to a baker to inscribe on a birthday cake and admitting to his foot fetish (yup, really).
For big fans of the auteur, you’ll find Easter eggs like references to an Aldo Ray and characters named Yolanda and Clarence, which reoccur in the Tarantino Cinematic Universe. The biggest find of all though is the impeccable soundtrack. I’ve been listening to “Right Now” by the Creatures all week.
The internet has it all.
• For years, (well, 2016-18), I ran a birthday-themed show in Long Island City called It’s Everybody’s Birthday where the theme of every show was that “as soon as you walked through the door, it was your birthday.” Didn’t matter if you were a performer or an audience member, you were celebrating.
We had good times.
This week, I went to my good friend Matt Vita’s birthday show at Young Ethel’s on Twosday (02/22/22 if you forgot already) and it easily outpaced any birthday show of mine in terms of fun.
Kicking off with artist host Alice Michelle who painted all the performers on a mirror, the birthday celebration had the perfect variety show party vibe that I always dreamed about for my show. There were fire comics like David Rey Martinez, Mike Toohey, Matt Wayne, Brent Birnbaum and Will Purpura as well as a mini-play from married couple Tim and Mary, musical odes to Matt from Dave Deciglie, Heather Harrison and Nikki MaCallum, an anti-comedy set from yours truly where I outlined all the things I did the prior week instead of write jokes and finally a Reggie Watts-like freestyle from Vita himself summarizing the show.
Forget parties. This is how you celebrate a birthday.
• Anna Paone and I moved to Sunnyside in October yet I still hadn’t made the pilgrimage to Astoria’s Grove 34 in the four months since we’d gotten settled in. This week, that all changed when I headed over to their Monday evening mic and found a venue that reminded me of the best of Long Island City’s dearly departed Creek and the Cave with its warm, comedy-first environment.
If you haven’t swung by, the showroom is on full display as soon as you walk in- this place is a comedy club and nothing else. Chairs encircle a raised wooden stage and microphone- there are no distractions, just pure stand up.
The mic is free for three minutes; buying a drink gets you an extra 60 seconds. I heard a handful of great, short sets in the hour or so I was there and can’t wait to hear more in the near future.
Plus, no joke, their bathroom has legit hotel-level hand towels instead of paper towels. Now, that’s class.
• Due to some kind of divine coincidence, I attended two one-man shows on Friday and Saturday that were a) both performed by a man named Matt, b) took place on St. Mark’s at c) 10:30 p.m., d) both about spirituality and somehow ended up being wholly different.
Let’s go to Friday night first.
Matt Storrs’ 50-minute “Portly Lutheran Know It All,” playing in New York’s Frigid Festival outlined and examined Storrs’ love/hate relationship with his faith.
Entering onstage with a backpack, Extreme Teen Bible and a cheery disposition, Matt launched into a story about how he wanted to be a “purple witch” for Halloween as a kid. This led to humorous yarns detailing his religious and sexual awakening including one TV-ready bit where he portrayed his young self auditioning for mock trial as a Southern attorney defending Judas.
That great joke barely beat out numerous references to McDonalds’ Grimace, a refresher on “101 ways to practice abstinence,” a breakdown of all the “different ways a Lutheran person can be polite,” Bible comparisons to Dragonball Z, spin the bottle awkwardness and a tutorial on the “Song of Solomon” for us uninitiated non-Bible reading folk as my favorite chunk of the night.
While it may seem like I’ve given away the lion’s share of Matt’s show, I haven’t even scratched the surface of how much heart and story “Portly Lutheran Know It All” has. It’s a gem.
There’s one performance left on March 3. You should make it a priority if you haven’t seen it yet.
Now, to Saturday evening.
Headed back to the Lower East Side on Saturday evening for Matt Ruby’s “Misguided Meditation” show at Yoga To The People.
I’ve never met Ruby in person before but I’m a longtime reader of his thought-provoking and hysterical weekly newsletter.
If you’re not familiar with Ruby’s engaging writing, this recurring event/experience of his is an excellent primer.
The show began by having audience members grab a drink from an open bar, find a yoga mat and take a seat. Yes, the show takes place in a yoga studio. No, you don’t have to do yoga.
Ruby’s “Misguided Meditation,” which he compared to ballet as opposed to the typical “tap dance” comedians do at clubs, got underway with him telling everyone to take out their phones and send a nice text to a friend or family member so we’d all have something nice to come back to when the show concluded.
Then, for a little over an hour, a group of strangers listened to Ruby’s seemingly organic material over dreamlike live guitar and a stirring light show projected onto the ceiling.
A few minutes into the set, the show took on a dreamlike quality as inspired taken on men versus women transformed into experiences where the audience wasn’t watching a comedian’s mouth move- we were watching a guitarist or trippy patterns of light like one would at a concert.
At times “Misguided Meditation” was riotously funny with smart, extended riffs on the Proud Boys and at other times profoundly sad as he told stories about deaths in his family. Heck, we even meditated.
Over the course of my life, I’ve been to hundreds of comedy shows but I’ve never quite seen anything like this before. Add this to your New York bucket list.
• And now for a few great pieces of web content at your fingertips.
- Robby Hoffman’s tight, hour long “I’m Nervous” special is a perfect showcase for her as the rightful heir to Larry David’s neurotic throne. Over the course of the set, she hilariously diagnoses people with “Zero personality disorder” and astutely called the Holocaust wildly unproductive- the Nazis really did create the least able-bodied workers they could have. Smart take. You often hear in stand up “All killer, no filler” and this set is emblematic of that moniker. I’m still chuckling over her chunk on what it was like growing up as a seventh child.
- Former Sunday night Knitting Factory host Kenny DeForest’s 13-minute Comedy Central showcase is a master class in naturalistic stand up. His punchlines are undeniable and smartly constructed but Kenny also somehow manages to give his jokes a weightless feel similar to someone simply being funny at lunch with friends. Covering ground like mis-placed aggression post-basketball career and getting heckled by your therapist, Kenny masterfully wrestles with masculinity and the lingering effects of middle school bullies. Also, don’t sleep on his sly critique of New York he opens with. It’s what hooked me to begin with here.
- Eric Neumann’s tight five “Tonight Show” set is a solid introduction to the versatile comedian’s tool belt. Although he’s got a gift for crowd work, here, Eric calmly lets well-honed bits about his overprotective mom and how getting dumped in fifth grade affected him take center stage. The piece de resistance though is the closer where he turns an observation from a friend about how LeBron married his high school sweetheart into an extended rant about how she didn’t just “roll the dice on the guy that was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in his teens.” Well done. Now, that’s how you do a late night spot.
- Comedy Central is quietly debuting truly top notch comedy specials on their YouTube channel that deserve all the attention that Premium Blend sets used to attract before the internet cracked open how we consume comedy. Thankfully, Ian Lara’s superb 30-minute “Growing Shame” special is netting the attention it deserves. Right off the bat, Ian’s timely half hour skewers anti-vaxxers who think the government is tracking us and then smartly deconstructs the argument that “the government created the virus” rebutting with a solution to get people vaccinated that’s so smart, I won’t spoil it here. I also won’t give away his excellent bit about being a stockholder. Or how an ex of his dated Odell Beckham Jr. Or so many other bits. There’s a lot of good stuff here and I refuse to give it away. You’re going to have to see it yourself.
- And now for something completely different. Staged like a cinema verite documentary, Dan Carney’s 40-second “Target bag salesman” where he treats the retailers’ bags like they’re precious purses selling “Two for $35” is so fast, confoundingly funny and different, that you’ll want to watch it twice to catch everything you missed on the first time around. At the very least, stick around until the very end for a true wtf moment that appears to have been off the cuff.
• Ah, yes, this week, “Saturday Night Live” celebrated ye olde, annual Mulaney episode. Since 2018, it’s become a bit of a tradition that the former writer/”Big Mouth” creator-star/”Sack Bunch Lunch” creator-star/”Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers” star host the show.
This time around, he brought along indie-dance stalwarts LCD Soundsystem for their second musical guest appearance.
By my estimation, here’s how the sketches fared (using a “home runs to strikeouts” scale because baseball is the only thing I understand):
Five Timers Club: You thought a bona fide SNL nerd wouldn’t give the freaking Five Timers Club the vaunted grand slam spot? This ultimate fan service featuring Steve Martin, Paul Rudd, Candice Bergen, Tina Fey, a seated Elliott Gould and (a possibly slightly inebriated) Conan inducting Mulaney into the club (Mulaney on how he became well known to Bergen: “You wouldn’t know me but if you have a niece or son who’s bad at sports you might know me”) is everything fans of the show’s history long for each episode. It should also be noted that I think this sketch might have invented a new type of comedy when Mulaney whisked Paul Rudd off the stage by reading the stage direction “Paul Rudd exits.”
Good Variant: We keep hearing about Delta, Omicron, BA.2 but thankfully a “good variant” called Gelvenie that “makes you feel dope” is on the way according to Please Don’t Destroy. Paul Rudd and Al Roker show up with long hair and bliss out until they discover that Pokemon are real and have stormed the Capitol. Misdirect after misdirect at a wreckless pace makes this an easy four-bagger (home run) for me.
Subway Churro: Each Mulaney episode, we get a musical sketch dating back to his now immortal “Lobster Diner.” This time, it’s Andrew Dismukes’ desire for a subway churro after turning down an O. Henry bar that inspires the whole cast to break out into song and dance. Well-realized (and possibly offensive) observations about the city like B&H’s staff on lunch break, an emotional “Sleep No More” performer and a train conductor (on what seemed like a replica of a train no less) who announced that they will “skip random stations when they felt like it” all rang true. For sheer grandiosity, balls to the wall creativity and pure fun, it’s hard to beat these once-a-season mini spectacles.
Cupid Shuffle: Can’t get enough of Mulaney’s uber white characters’ seemingly effortless familiarity with his Black wife’s (Ego Nwodim) family at their reunion making him more comfortable with them than she is. Still laughing thinking of Mulaney perfectly in step with the “Atlanta Two Piece and a Biscuit” remix.
Mulaney’s monologue: At first, it seemed that this would consist of slightly catty material about his rehabilitation (although an early dig at the show pointing out that it’s not the greatest environment for recovering drug addicts or mental health was a nice touch) and how Hollywood elites Zoomed into his intervention but then Mulaney zagged where I expected him to zig. A story about how he blocked a drug dealer’s phone number goes much deeper than any monologue (stand up or not) deserves. He closed with thoughts on his newfound fatherhood and an early sign that his newborn is really his. Great stuff all around but this episode had so much going for it, I’m grading on a curve.
Monkey Judge: A subtle tribute (in my mind at least) to Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, Monkey Judge quickly tells the audience the sketch’s premise, heightens nicely where both the defense and prosecution do everything they can appeal to the primate’s sensibilities like bribing with cake and ragdolls. An especially inspired moment found Cecily Strong employing baby talk to Mulaney’s judge saying, “Attorney love judge” to win him over. Pure lunacy played with a straight face.
COVID Dinner Discussion: What begins as a dinner outing where Kenan “forgets” he’s wearing his mask at the table devolves into chaos as each member of the party walks on eggshells as they speak their piece on how “COVID is over but not over.” Kind of a ballsy, semi-irresponsible sketch. However, it’s redeemed by wicked sight gags like a tie rolling up and a mini-elevator closing on Kate McKinnon’s face (you have to see it to believe it) along with a hilarious exchange where Bowen Yang repeatedly interrupts Heidi Gardner’s character to let her know that “No one wants to hear that” right as she’s about to explain an article she read online. Somehow, even the “I like turtles” meme kid popped up at one point. I will say that, annoyingly, they didn’t acknowledge that the SNL cast never wears masks except for good nights which they totally should have called out (and even did this episode for those keeping score at home).
Weekend Update: Short and sweet. Forgoing desk correspondents for the first time in forever, Jost and Che made timely jokes about “Putin making the invasion of Ukraine happen with the help of Belarus and Tucker Carlson.” They boldly slammed NBC and Peacock multiple times, biting the hand that feeds and stayed sharp. Loved a dig at Trump calling Putin a genius. Overall, good, old fashioned, meat and potatoes Update here. Nothing too flashy or memorable which is why I give it a double rather than the higher score it would normally notch.
Behind The Slime: Half of this sketch based in the early 80s really worked for me and the other half did very little. The half that I jived with was all the uncomfortable small talk the TV show kids engaged in prior to getting slimed. Confrontational, inappropriate and completely normal for 1980. On the flip side, the actual slimings were so predictable that I couldn’t find much to laugh at. You call a sketch “Behind the Slime” and you know what you’re going to get. That being said, Mulaney introducing LCD Soundsystem in character, fully-slimed, was a radical touch.
Cold open: The show opened with a somber tribute to the tragic war being waged overseas right now. Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon introduced a Ukrainian choir and they sang “A Prayer For Ukraine.” Then, out of obligation, Strong said, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night.” Come on, guys, we didn’t need that. Just let the choir do their thing.
Blue River: Cecily Strong argues that “by spending an extra 32 cents a day” Heidi Gardner’s character can give her dog much higher quality dog food. Only problem is that Strong clearly hasn’t done the math and is way off. Strong’s singular obsession with dog food here is nice as is what felt like a cameo from Mulaney as her virgin husband; my issue is that the saccharine sentimentality and lethargic pacing turned me off. If they shaved “just 32 seconds” off this puppy, I’d bump it to “single” or “double” territory.
Cut for time sketches:
- The “Podcast toy set” for ages 34 and up is a brilliant send up of how no one should really be broadcasting their thoughts out into the world. This cautionary tale wrapped up in funny commercial packaging smartly puts Mulaney’s “recently fired from the office” character in his basement pretending to podcast with an inflatable co-host until his wife walks in on him and things take a turn. A touch preachy but the LPM (laughs per minute) is so high, I’ll forgive it.
- In terms of pure laughs, you can’t do much better than “Family Band.” Heidi Gardner brings classically put upon Mikey Day home to meet her family which turns out to be a “swing revival revival band.” Yes, you read that right. Double revival. These gents are obsessed with big ol’ bottles of gin and 1999. Everyone commits hardcore here and that’s what counts.
• In related SNL news, Laraine Newman appeared on last week’s “Fly on the Wall” with Dana Carvey and David Spade. In addition to the classic SNL stories the show has become known for, Carvey and Newman somehow latched onto wild Mickey Rooney anecdotes that have to be heard to be believed. The cherubic, former “biggest star in the world” fella wasn’t a great person but that doesn’t mean tales about him aren’t wildly entertaining.
• Also, this flew a bit under the comedy radar this week but Eric Adams surprised Chris Redd on New York local news this week a la Barbara Streisand stopping by the set of Mike Myers’ “Coffee Talk” in the ‘90s and on and on. The major takeaway here? Redd can roll with the punches and Adams is wilder and stranger than Redd’s impression.
• Closing this week on a sad note.
Bob McDuff AKA the professor who wanted to try Tim Robinson’s burger on “I Think You Should Leave” passed away this week. That was my favorite sketch the show ever produced and its mostly thanks to his inspired, greedy performance.
If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and check out Bob in the sketch here. You’ll thank me later.