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Comedy Stray Notes February 7, 2022
On Quiplash, "Being The Ricardos," three (!) cut-for-time SNL sketches and so much more (ok, not that much more)
• The job of the comedian is to write an overlong weekly newsletter and put the word “comedy” in the title.
Now let’s do this thing.
• I’ve heard the word “Quiplash” thrown around in comedy circles but I’d never seen or played the game myself. However, when comedian/impassioned letter writer Matt Storrs asked me if I wanted to play, I jumped in head first (to be clear, I said, “Yeah, I’ll play” when asked over Messenger).
On Tuesday night, I joined a group of Quiplash pros spearheaded by Tristan Miller and Storrs having done minimal research on my end. The game seemed a bit intimidating- two competing writers go head to head entering “quips” into prompts like “What they call pooping in the Land of Oz.” Basically, it’s “Apples to Apples” or “Cards Against Humanity” with actual creativity (yeah, I said it). While it might seem silly, coming up with a solid joke on the spot is no easy feat. Seriously. Try drafting a great punchline for “Pooping in Oz” in 45 seconds. I’ll give the best response I see here a shout out next week.
Anyhow, I did OK. I won a few, I lost a few, I heard some great riffs. A few times I finished in the middle of the pack and others I came in last. Either way, I’m now a bit obsessed with Quiplash and can’t wait until my next go.
If you’ve never seen the game, you can watch this Twitch stream of our match from last Tuesday. You just might get hooked too.
• I’ve written 50+ profiles on my “A Profile About You” site about magicians, runners, comics, authors, directors, teachers and copywriters but none have endured anything quite as crazy as comedian/storyteller Joey Rinaldi, the subject of my latest piece.
I won’t get into the grisly details because it’s better to read in full but I did love this paragraph (unrelated to the crazy story) I wrote that exemplifies Joey’s can-do spirit when it comes to comedy:
“Joey has turned trolls into fans. One audience member trashed his comedy online and rather than getting sensitive, Joey responded with “Thank you! These are good notes.” Shortly after, the digital heckler came to a live show to see if he took the feedback.”
How did we get there? You’ll have to read the whole profile to find out.
• For some reason, New Mexico doesn’t have a comedy club. It doesn’t quite add up. The state has a blossoming scene, thriving arts community and a sizable population. Rather than accept this reality, comedian/podcaster/raconteur Sarah Kennedy treats this curiosity like a full-on mystery giving it the true-crime podcast treatment in her excellent series “Comedy Ghost Town.”
Half tongue in cheek, half deadly serious, Kennedy interviews local comics, politicians and theater folks to get to the bottom of this issue that’s been vexing her for years. In just three episodes, she’s extrapolated on the differences between bar shows and theater shows, compared New Mexico to Denver and Milwaukee’s flourishing clubs and most importantly completely hooked me. This pod is made for comedy nerds and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
• Milestone birthdays deserve something a little extra. If there’s a zero at the end of your age you’re turning, make it memorable.
That’s what Genevieve Rice did with her excellent “40 for 40” special she dropped last week. To celebrate, she performed her tight 40 over Twitch and absolutely knocked it out of the park. I was especially taken with a fantastic bit of hers early in the set about how after she took a short hiatus from performing, she had to start telling herself she was “pretty funny for a woman in comedy” and never let up from there. Stick around until the very end for the world’s most sophisticated poop joke.
• I religiously read a daily business newsletter called Morning Brew that dispenses financial news in a snarky, easily digestible format. At the end of each edition, they’ll recommend a video or two they enjoyed and I figure that if they went out of their way to recommend, I’ll give it a look.
Much to my surprise, this week, I clicked on one of their videos and found that waiting for me on the other side of that link was an ultra-viral Alex Falcone TikTok. I smiled and clicked “Play.” The next 96 seconds were a freakin’ delight. In the video, Alex explains that he “likes to hide things but has nothing to hide.” What follows is an increasingly clever showcase of all the items Alex has put inside surprising spaces like a baseball inside a copy of the book “Inside Baseball” which all leads to an elaborately orchestrated finale.
I’ve done the legwork and made sure this video wasn’t hidden from you- now go seek it out.
• ”Someone Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory” by Rafael Bob-Waksberg (2019): Early in the pandemic, I noticed a hardcover book with an immaculate pink cover at my brother’s apartment. After quickly discovering it was a collection of stories written by the creator of “Bojack Horseman,” I asked my brother if I could borrow it.
Almost two years later, after tearing through the first 100 pages, putting it down for months and then limping to the finish line this past week, I have finally completed one of my all-time favorite collections of humorous short stories. In this 240-page wild ride that’s reminiscent of Simon Rich at his very best, Waksberg takes us on immaculately constructed journeys from the perspective of a dog who refers to his owner as “ManMonster,” a “missed connections” couple who spend their entire lives on a New York City train and never end up talking to each other and the extravagant capper that takes place in the fictional PresidentLand which serves as a fictional Disney Land analog with Chester Arthurs and Benjamin Harrisons in the place of Mickeys and Goofys.
All stories are loosely tied together by the theme of “love” but what really unites them is Waksberg’s unmistakable comedic voice that employs the word “like” artfully.
I’ll definitely be revisiting this one.
•The back cover includes blurbs from both of Waksberg’s grandmothers. If you find that funny, then you’ll love the dense, sweet and absurd material that’s to come.
• With Oscar nominations fast approaching, I had to knock a few of the major players off my annual watch list. While I have a long way to go, here are quick thoughts on two biggies that you should be hearing about on Feb. 8 when all the nominees are announced.
“Belfast” (2021): The coming of age film from auteurs has been everywhere since Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma.” Last year, was PT Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza,” this year, is Spielberg’s forthcoming “The Fabelmans” (with Seth Rogen and David Lynch?). Also, in the mix is Kenneth Branagh’s love letter to his childhood in Northern Ireland when the Irish and Protestants warred against one another. Elegantly filmed with a roving camera in black and white, Branagh immerses the audience in a distant world not unlike our turbulent present day in the States.
“Belfast” is told from the perspective of an 11-year-old Branagh stand-in (Jude Hill) and his family as they decide whether or not they should stay in such a dangerous town in the midst of political upheaval. There’s young love, death and a dose of mischievous youthfulness which are all necessary ingredients for your standard bildungsroman.
A handful of scenes strike a cinematic chord— a standoff between Branagh’s father (Jamie Dornan) and protesters as well as a lip sync to “Everlasting Love” won’t be forgotten anytime soon— and the grandparents played by Ciarin Hinds and Judi Dench are so lived-in you forget they’re actors but the movie’s episodic storytelling put me to sleep in a few places. I feel guilty for checking out since there really is so much to like from the Van Morrison heavy soundtrack to the vintage “Star Trek” footage. Therefore, “Belfast” joins the list of movies I respect but don’t fully enjoy. A WARM FILM ABOUT GROWING UP THAT SOMEHOW LEFT ME COLD.
* Midway through the movie, Anna Paone pointed out to me that a man a few rows ahead of us was FILMING the movie on the big screen with his phone. He continued to do so for around three minutes before stopping. No idea why anyone would do that in the streaming era but that guy, he did. Hope he enjoys watching that one scene in the middle of the movie again.
“Being The Ricardos” (2021): After having mostly been known as America’s most well-known screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin has tried his hand at directing over the past few years. “Molly’s Game,” “The Trial of Chicago Seven” and now “Being The Ricardos” came in quick succession.
Each movie has been a little worse than the last (“Molly’s Game” is a ton o’ fun). “Ricardos” sees Sorkin doing his comedy dissection act again, and like “Studio 60,” he proves that the backstage drama at a show known for being funny is not nearly as compelling as a comedy about comedians.
Here, Lucy (Nicole Kidman, occasionally transformative, other times grating) and Desi (Javier Bardem, understandably over the top) bicker, banter and battle studio executives for the better part of the film trying to get the suits to work on their terms. “Lucy was a television trailblazer and fought for her vision” is a point that Sorkin can’t stop hammering home without an ounce of subtlety. When the movie shines though are the moments in which Kidman’s Lucy uses her comedy court vision imagining sitcom scenes in their final form before the writers do.
Near the end of the film, she envisions Fred (J.K. Simmons, as great as ever) and Ethel (a fiery Nina Arianda) on a bench too small for the two of them at a dinner. She dreams up every way this piece of physical comedy could be funnier and for a moment, we connect with the fun side of what made Lucy so special. She really was a true comic visionary and more emphasis on this focused side of her personality rather than the warts and all tale we get here would have served the movie well. Give us philistines what we want. AN OSCAR CONTENDER BASED SOLELY ON THE FILM’S PEDIGREE AND NOT ITS QUALITY (Streaming on Amazon Prime).
• A friend gifted me a free week’s worth of Master Classes and I spent most of it taking lessons from Judd Apatow (after I finished this course, I took in a few exhilarating, rambly David Mamet sessions). Although I’ve heard most of what Apatow has to say in podcast episodes I’ve heard over the years, I’ll do you a quick favor for getting this far and outline a few of the most valuable filmmaking nuggets he shared (he taught quite a bit about standup as well but this is what stood out to me):
- You can always remove jokes from a scene where the comedy isn’t working and tell people it’s a drama.
- Don’t take too long in pitch meetings. No studio executives want to hear you talk for more than five minutes.
- Be so active and good in a writer’s room that they can’t get rid of you.
- Don’t be a “room killer” that drains the fun.
- In a test screening of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” the creative team toyed with just how long audiences would be ok with seeing Segel’s junk whittling the shot down from 20 to four seconds.
• In its off week, SNL generously rolled out three (!) cut for time sketches from the past two episodes. All three are good. One is great, legendary even. They are:
- Please Don’t Destroy’s “New Personality” in which the guys try out new personas like “guy who lost all his scientific documents,” overly friendly Southern waitress and Snape. Essentially, this is the guys debuting what they’d be doing had they become cast members. All in all, this one is just as frenetic and self-deprecating as the rest of their work. If you count yourself among the rapidly growing PDD fanbase, you’ll dig this.
- The goofy logic to “Nice Jail” (“it’s like regular jail but nice”) with Willem Dafoe is so all over the place that you can’t help but admire its bravado. Plus, Willem Dafoe repeatedly refers to himself as “vampire head ass.”
- “Architect Presentation” with Will Forte is hands down my number one sketch of the year thus far. I don’t want to give anything away other than the premise which is “a band of misfits pitches a nonsensical, aggressively bizarre redesign for the city of San Francisco.” The only problem was this comedy confection never made it to air. Thankfully though, now you can see this incredibly dumb and brilliant video whenever you want.
• For the past few weeks, I’ve been promising something big. Still on its way.
You’ll just have to keep reading every week until it comes* muahaha, muaHAhaHA, MUAHAHAHA!
* Please read even after the big thing if that’s cool