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Comedy Stray Notes January 18, 2021
On Zoom show producers, a friend's amazing newsletter, Netflix's new comedy hotline and the closing of an NYC club with a mixed reputation.
• You know who doesn’t get enough credit? Zoom show producers. They tirelessly invite friends and family to show, often pay the performers and make sure shows don’t ever go too long. It’s another thankless gig in the long line of comedy jobs and this week I want to give due props to Stuart Allard and Daniel Anderson for having me on their show this past Wednesday. The comedic duo, who have performed together for the past eight years, have produced 77 shows (!) and counting since the start of the pandemic, often getting in two a week. On Wednesday, they hosted comics from Long Island (Bruce Lipsky), New York (Helaine Witt), Chicago (Edgar Mota), Washington (Lucy Tollefson) and Queens (me). It was a breezy hour and I tried to mix things up with my set a bit. Having done quite a bit of Zoom comedy, I was tired of watching my face on screen so much. So, I mixed it up and used multiple cameras to try a different type of stand up figuring why not play with the medium if Zoom will allow it? If this doesn’t quite make sense and you want to find out what I’m talking about, click the link below and go to 42:24 to see my set. It’s about ten minutes and I start mixing things up about two minutes in (I say this in case you start watching and think, “Hey, this is a standard boring set! Levy tricked me!” No, keep watching).
• Major shout out to comedy writer and friend David Spector for spreading his wings this week and starting the fantastic satirical newsletter “Magician’s Secrets Revealed.” The pieces are brief, have eye popping headlines like “Do You Guys Only Like Me Because of Corona Virus? By Anthony Fauci” and “Republican Congressman Refusing to Assassinate Joe Biden to be Primaried.” If you love golden age “Simpsons,” The Onion and taking politicians to task, this is a no-brainer. The link to subscribe to this excellent comedy complement to your day is in the comments.
• One of my favorite NYC comics Joe Pontillo released the excellent short film “Social Media Killed The Supervillain” last month and it might be the finest portrayal of what post-cancellation life is like. So, I shone a light on the short and Pontillo’s budding stand up career for A Profile About You. We cover everything from producing a film during the pandemic, his start as a comic and what’s next for the cinematic universe he’s created. My favorite excerpt from the piece is:
In perhaps the “most 2020 moment” of production, Pontillo needed to reshoot a scene because of sound issues and also because he came up with a much funnier line. Rather than going back to the location and reshoot, Joe thought on his feet, moved the scene to a different location, reshot and edited the updated piece into the project all in the same night. What makes this most impressive is he did this while waiting to perform on a Zoom comedy festival. He had a great set that night too (Official sources claim otherwise).
The profile, which can be found linked below, brings you to the piece which brings you to the short, Joe’s podcast, his Amazon special and a whole treasure trove of other great things you ought to check out in your spare time.
• We all want to write for SNL, right? It seems so far away and unattainable though. Yes, they have open submissions but like me, you know you don’t really stand a shot without representation or a claim to fame. This is where Ali Farahnakian’s “SNL Writing Seminar” comes into play. On Monday, he put on a workshop giving amateurs and vets alike tips on how to move forward with your packet. Shared secrets about what order to submit your 3-5 sketches (always go shortest first), formatting and my favorite of all- you should be able to describe your sketch’s premise in 15 words max. If you can do it in ten, you’re golden. I loved the hour long course (I had taken it in 2014 too!) and after digging deeper, found The PIT has other free classes available. This is not paid sponsored content, I’m just saying, you can take their courses free of charge and they won’t even harass you to sign up for a paid class in the future. If you’re looking for an hour to learn about comedy without dropping a dime, the link of classes the PIT is offering is waiting for you.
• With clubs closing left and right (more on that later), it’s nice to see that at least one brick and mortar comedy club is actually...opening. Comedian and entrepreneur Steve Hofstetter is in the process of starting up The Steel City Arts Foundation in Pittsburgh refashioning a church into a comedy club/work/live space (according to Hofstetter’s Facebook, comedians can live there for up to six months free of charge). It all sounds too good to be true. When the pandemic is over, count me in for a road trip to check out the space. For now, if you want more details, there’s an article with plenty of them linked below.
• Here’s a few things I saw. They were all on Amazon. All are streaming for free if you have Prime. Once again, my apologies for sounding like a corporate shill.
“Peggy Sue Got Married” (1986): In terms of time travel movies, there’s no beating “Back To The Future.” However, this female-led crowd pleaser comes damn close. Surprisingly directed during Francis Ford Coppola’s “I’ll do anything!” decade, the movie allows its lead, Kathleen Turner, to transport from her high school class reunion back to high school itself. She gets to relive her senior year and avoid all the mistakes like marrying Nicolas Cage (doing what sounds like a “Trump as a nerd” impression) she made before. More than anything, it felt like the inspiration for the classic Marge flashback “Simpsons” episodes. There’s a killer 50s soundtrack featuring loads of Dion, Fabian and other one-name pop stars, sharp dialogue plus cameos from a young Jim Carrey, Helen Hunt and Sofia Coppola. THE DIRECTOR OF “THE GODFATHER” MADE A DAMN GOOD COMEDY
“Gemini Man” (2019): The main attraction here is the dual Will Smith roles- “He’s old! He’s young!” was all the media could talk about. I was mostly interested in this one because it’s by one of my favorite oddball directors Ang Lee who has made absolute banger movies as well as bizarro oddballs like “Taking Woodstock” and “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.” Categorize this as a strange experiment as well. The story centers on a world class assassin (Will Smith, 50s, grizzled, seen it all) who can only be taken down by an up and coming assassin (Will Smith, 26, fresh faced, naive). What sounds like a fun cat and mouse game is bogged down by draggy dialogue scenes when there should be action, semi-glitchy young Will Smith images and an egregious amount of Coca-Cola product placement. There is good in the movie as well; I loved the scene where older Will Smith proved to his younger self that he was him by explaining all the demons inside of him as well as the opening five minutes where elder Smith shows off his skills as a marksman. Also, Mary Elizabeth Winstead (so good in “Ten Cloverfield Lane” and “Scott Pilgrim”- decent here), Clive Owen and Benedict Wong appear. I love seeing movies like this just to be surprised by which characters show up in secondary roles. JUST EXCITED TO SEE WHAT ANG LEE DECIDES TO DO NEXT AFTER THIS WEIRD ONE
“Wild Things” (1998): As a kid at Blockbuster, the sultry VHS cover of this movie tantalized me. I was always too embarrassed to ask my Mom to rent it though. Then, I kind of just forgot about it. It didn’t really have any type of cult status or import and dropped off from my consciousness. Well, it’s on Prime and I wanted to know what I missed out on when I was 11. Having seen it, I don’t think my young self would have been ready for this twisty, comical psychological thriller. At times, it feels like an overwrought drama about Denise Richards’ rough high school experience as a wealthy teenager who has it all, then a realistic portrayal of Matt Dillon as a rapist/high school counselor, next a courtroom drama with Bill Murray crushing it in the Saul Goodman role and finally a con man tale with Kevin Bacon taking the lead as a detective. Neve Campbell is in there too (I was too young in the 90s to know much about her; I’m a fan now). Somehow, it’s all one through line and minus a few too many twists, it’s just as steamy, creepy and fun as advertised. Plus, a Smash Mouth song I’d never heard in the soundtrack. Very 1998 indeed. NOT FOR 11-YEAR-OLDS
Eddie Pepitone’s “For The Masses” (2020): Spotted this on a few year-end lists for best special of last year and as a fan of Eddie Pepitone’s loudmouthed, curmudgeonly style, I made absolute sure that I caught it as soon as I could to jump on that bandwagon. This relatively brief special is just as fun as advertised with many inspired moments of comic innovation. Pepitone pulls a bit of a Gaffigan jumping from his loud delivery to quiet reflection to comment on his material, there are multiple callback to his Father working on “the docks” and an on-the-nose prediction about the rise of the Alt-Right and the riots that took place in 2020. Gave me chills. Aside from having my hair stand on end, I was laughing hysterically at jokes about how he needs to stop asking his parents for financial help because he “should be earning my own money at 60,” Trump being the Joker makes sense to him and how he takes sports incredibly personally. PEPITONE IS AN ACQUIRED TASTE THAT IS WORTH GIVING A SHOT
You Made It Weird with James L. Brooks: In the week prior’s episode, Pete talked with Brian Koppelman about how he was not on his game chatting with James L. Brooks; as soon as he shed that self conscious note, I couldn’t wait to hear this episode. I know the feeling- being out of your element while talking to someone higher up the food chain than you is an anxiety I’ve experienced many times and I couldn’t wait to hear someone ELSE live through it. In this case, yes, there are moments of supreme awkwardness but above all, Holmes gets an amazing array of showbiz stories from this legend like the tale about how the line “Noodle salad” made its way into “As Good As It Gets,” Mat Groening coming up with “The Simpsons” on the spot for Brooks rather than repeating himself with “Life in Hell” for “The Tracey Ullman Show” what really happened on set when Mary Tyler Moore tossed her hat for the show’s credits and finally how TV writer’s rooms went from no one having gone to college to all writers having graduated from Harvard at “The Simpsons.”
• The Village Lantern closed this week (told you clubs were closing). I performed there a lot in 2013 and 2014 when I moved to New York and less often over the ensuing years. I always had a soft spot for the place. Walking down the narrow stairway to their basement, the sign that read “As seen on FX’s Louis” back in the day and odd bathrooms you had to pass the stage go to are some of my earliest NY comedy memories. The place was home to the rightfully maligned Laughing Buddha cult but the nice thing about Laughing Buddha was that the mics were usually good (you paid $5 to be there AND had to purchase a drink- they better have been good) and you could have a halfway decent set in the middle of a slump. I’ll admit it; I used the place as a pick me up plenty of times when I was floundering. Plus, one time I waited to go up at a mic for so long, that I was booked by Ryan Hernandez on a Lantern show based on my patience alone. It’s a true story and I used that line to start sets at mics when I went up late too many times to count over the years. Later, they switched to an upstairs space that I never really went to but I’ll always have the memories of that basement. Once again, I know it’s a place of business but I’ll miss it. The light has gone out on the Lantern.
• To end on a positive note, I wanted to share that Anna came across a commercial for Netflix and Ben and Jerry’s new ice cream collaboration that comes with a joke hotline. We were intrigued and I called 1-866-PUNCHLINE. It leads you to a prerecorded line of messages from Wanda Sykes, Fortune Feimster and Aparna Nanchernla running bits on a number of topics you can choose from (“Press 1 if you want jokes about ice cream,” “Press 2 if you want jokes about 2020” etc). A fun, free diversion.
What do I have going on this week? What do any of us have going on this week? All I know is I’ll be back here next Sunday with more stuff.
Comedy Stray Notes Official Comedy Links:
01.) Stuart Allard and Daniel Anderson’s Flower Shop Bangers (go to 42:24): https://www.facebook.com/FlowerShopBangers/videos/411179950102803
02.) David Spector’s Magician’s Secrets Revealed: Spector.Substack.Com
04.) Free PIT Classes: https://thepit-nyc.com/available-classes/
05.) Steve Hofstetter’s Steel City Arts Foundation: https://www.post-gazette.com/ae/celebrities/2020/12/16/Steve-Hofstetter-comedian-Stanton-Heights-church-live-work-play-space-stand-ups/stories/202012150028
06.) You Made It Weird with James L. Brooks: http://youmadeitweird.nerdistind.libsynpro.com/james-l-brooks