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Comedy Stray Notes January 4, 2021
On creative New Year's Resolutions, "How To with John Wilson" and my thoughts on a 2015 Doug Stanhope special
Comedy Stray Notes
• I’m no expert but I think there is nothing better a comedian/creative person can do than write New Year’s Resolutions. A lot of our time is spent worrying about what we’re going to do; with resolutions, you tell yourself exactly what it is you want to do. Then, you really only have to do that thing, whatever it is. For me, I know my goal for 2021: Get to a point where I can start production on my feature-length movie “Shark Jumpers: The Movie Based On The Short Lived Sketch TV Show” based on the week where I was told I had one week to make a pilot if I wanted to get on the air at SDTV (that’s Sun Devil TV for those of you that didn’t attend ASU; pretty much everyone called it STD TV). Yes, I’ve only written one draft. Yes, it might be pretty expensive with some of the ridiculous effects shots I’ve written into this thing. Yes, I would like high profile cameos in the thing. Am I going to let any of this hold me back? Nope. Hopefully, by 2024, this thing will be streaming on Hulu or Netflix. Baby steps. You heard it here first and if you want to be a part of the project in any way, DM me. Sorry for sounding pompous but this is my way of holding myself accountable.
• Rebecca Kaplan is one of my favorite Twitter personalities. Over the pandemic, her account has exploded into a full on course on how to write consistently top notch, relatable Tweets. She had one particular Tweet reach a stratosphere of virality that very few ever reach though- 150K+ favs. Taylor Swift has to actually try a little bit to get that many likes. Rebecca pulled it off though and ended up writing an insightful, equally funny essay about the experience called “The 5 coolest things that happened after I went viral on Twitter.” It was a fast read with many practical tips on how to actually get better at social media. If this sounds like your type of thing, it’s just a scroll away in the comments.
• I’m always on the hunt for new podcasts so I was excited to hear that one of my favorite New York comics Mike Szar was releasing a new podcast with his pal Brad Wenzel (whom I’ve never met but am a fan of as well) called “Quiz Me, Dude.” The pod has an ingenious premise: two friends simply quiz each other about topics they recently researched like “Garfield” or quicksand. Things you THINK you know a bit about and end up walking away learning that there’s a whole Garfield strip dedicated to John maybe eating dog semen (my apologies for spoiling one of the best bits in the pod but that’s why it’s worth listening; you learn crazy stuff). Szar and Wenzel have an easy rapport and the show is just as educational as it is funny. I’m definitely going to revisit. Looking for a new pod? Look no farther than the comments.
• It’s end of the year list times. I never feel qualified to make a “Best of” list for the year because I feel like I’ve missed too much. In fact, I’m still working on my “Best Movies of 2014” (probably “Nebraska” or “Top Five” for those keeping score at home). So, since, there’s no rush to make a Best Of list of any kind, here’s a hodgepodge of things I saw this week that you may enjoy:
“How To With John Wilson” (2020): This was one of those shows that seemingly came out of nowhere and then all the comedy literati couldn’t stop gushing about. I saw glowing reviews by Jason Zinoman and Matt Ruby as well and received texts from my friends Charlton Jon Villavelez and Dave Stolz recommending this thing and finally, I made it a priority and I’m so glad I did. In this blink and you’ll miss it six-episode season, literal fly on the wall John Wilson who constantly journals (too relatable) takes on various small concepts like “splitting a check” and turns it into a treatise on what fairness really means finally ending up at a banquet for referees (my favorite episode) or “making the perfect risotto” serves as a metaphor for not holding ourselves to such high standards. The show, told in POV video diary cinema verite, revels in catching mundane moments that are so mundane you never even considered them for comedic fodder. Who knew that one could make a whole episode of comedy about scaffolding? And that there was so much to say about it? Or even find beauty in it? This is everything a comedy show should be: comfort food but also eye opening. I have no idea how Wilson got all of the unaware stars of the show to participate but I’m floored by his ability to turn NYC B-roll into something meaningful. Also, I can’t wait until you watch this and get to TLC Tugger. You’re in for the bizarro treat of the year. There’s so many other funny things here but I don’t want to spoil anything else. THIS FEELS LIKE IF THE LITTLE INSIDE JOKES YOU HAVE WITH YOURSELF WAS A TV SHOW (Streaming on HBO MAX).
“Moonraker” (1979): I wanted to see a random bad movie on New Year’s Eve and messaged a group of friends if they were interested in checking out “Howard the Duck” to watch over text. Sam Zelitch called the movie “bad bad” not “fun bad.” The rest of the week was spent trying to discover a movie that was “fun bad” that not everyone had seen. Sam suggested “Moonraker” which has been described as the most insane James Bond movie that ever was (it mostly exists as a film capitalizing on the recent late 70s “Star Wars” trend) and that’s pretty much what it is. Less a film, more than vignette of middle-aged Roger Moore fight scenes in space and on gondolas (both of the aquatic and airbound variety), bogus sex scenes, this thing is basically “The Room” with a budget. That’s not to discredit it at all; I was riveted the whole time. Yes, Bond does his typical Bond thing trotting the globe fighting baddies alongside elderly colleagues and ultimately saving the day but also we get to see Robert Kiel (whom you might know as the “I believe that’s Mr. Gilmore’s Jacket” guy from “Happy Gilmore”) in a star-making turn as “Jaws” that made me laugh so hard I snorted at points and so many clear visual influences for the “Austin Powers” and “Kill Bill” that this movie is a snapshot into the DNA of what inspired some of your all-time favorites. THIS IS THE PERFECT DUMB MOVIE (Streaming on YouTube for $3.99- it was free last week and they just started charging).
“The Forty-Year-Old Version” (2020): A darling of last year’s Sundance, this movie more than piqued my interest with its curious parody title. Having seen it now, I can confirm it’s not very similar to Steve Carell’s breakout performance other than it’s a nice little breakout feature for writer/director/star Radha Blank. She stars essentially as a beleaguered herself; a playwright turned drama teacher who had appeared on a “30 under 30” list and didn’t live up to her promise. This movie shows her getting her creative mojo back switching from writing to rapping (felt a bit like the 2017 “Patti Cake$” but I’ll give this a pass). It’s a solid commentary on how the need to express one’s self evolves over time; sometimes, simply writing words won’t suffice. The movie also serves as an excellent satire on modern theater with out of touch white producers who want to put up shows with on the nose statements about gentrification (stay for the climax that Anna E. Paone informed me was a direct parody of “In The Heights”) that cut a bit deeper than the typical “clueless white liberal” archetypes. There’s a striking rap battle sequence that’s just as fun/bold as anything in “8 Mile” and many visual nods to Spike Lee. Excited to see what Blank does next because this was A VERY SOLID DEBUT FEATURE (Streaming on Netflix).
“The Personal History of David Copperfield” (2020): It’s pretty wild that in 1800s England, even the homeless had impeccable style. That was mostly what I got out of this movie. I love Armando Iannucci (who doesn’t?) and was excited to see his spin on the costume period piece biopic and while it had moments, this rambling, all over the place curiosity wasn’t entirely for me. To quickly summarize, Copperfield (Dev Patel and younger versions of Dev Patel; Anna joked that Patel only does movies where there are younger actors portraying him) is born and run out of his home by an abusive stepfather, he works at a bottling factory and moves from place to place after that finding love, trouble and successes along the way. A lot happens and nothing happens at all too. That’s not to entirely discredit this film though. The tilt shift lens photography is some of the crispest I’ve ever seen and the segues between scenes are so inventive I rewound a few times to watch them more closely. There’s a lot to admire and the line “Run! We’re criminals!” certainly made me lol but this was a tough watch. TIL, I need a central conflict or my mind wanders. FOR THOSE THAT ARE SMARTER THAN ME (Streaming on Amazon Prime for $5.99).
“My Dad Wrote A Porno” (2019): My wife and I pretty much sit butt to butt in our apartment working from home in quarantine and I get to hear her giggle constantly. Whenever I ask what it is she’s larfing at, it’s always “MDWAP.” Always. I’ve tried getting into the podcast but I’ve never truly made the leap. This week, we sat down and watched the gateway HBO special to the podcast. In it, we hear the three hosts from the UK read a chapter from Rocky Flinstone’s “Belinda Blinked” universe and quip about how bizarrely delightful Flinstone’s writing is. For what is ostensibly a “porno” he is famous for zeroing in much closer on business and other minutiae that is anything but erotic. The special is chock full of interactive, bawdy crowd scenes but left a bit to be desired. As fun as the naughty jokes are, the whole affair could have been a bit more visual than just three friends sitting on couches gabbing. Hopefully, next time around. IF SILLY IS YOUR CUP OF TEA, THESE CHEEKY BRIT BITS ARE FOR YOU (Streaming on HBO Max).
“Beer Hall Putsch” (2015): Everyone has that glaring gap in their viewing history. I find a lot of people have never seen “Star Wars” and are deeply ashamed of it. For me, it was my limited exposure to Doug Stanhope. I’m familiar with him (he ran a one-minute stand up competition in Arizona, lives in Bisbee and hosted the bizarro second iteration of “The Man Show” with Rogan) but never actually saw the stand up he’s known for. So, when YouTube recommended I watch his hour, I agreed with their too smart algorithm. Clicked into this bootleg special and found myself wowed at Stanhope’s polished yet raw style. For the first 55 minutes, I was hooked. Jokes about Toys for Tots, Fun Runs, Occupy Wall Street and an assisted suicide made me gasp at their frankness, willingness to go there and fairly forward thinking ideas. My only beef was the last five minutes. After building goodwill for nearly all of his special, his anti-Semitic and homophobic bits at the end left me feeling cold. Somehow, they were surprisingly eaten up by a 2015 Portland audience. Not sure how I feel about it once he crosses a line and moves to a place of what feels like hatred rather than comedic inspiration but otherwise, this is a very impressive hour of comedy (Streaming on YouTube; link in comments).
Nothing major going on this week for me (is there for anybody anywhere?). Maybe I’ll get to that old New Year’s resolution early.
Congrats on making it to 2021. Let’s do it big this year!
Also, happy birthday Anna
01.) Rebecca Kaplan’s Medium article: https://medium.com/swlh/the-5-coolest-things-that-happened-after-i-went-viral-on-twitter-30b5bfa2cca8
02.) Mike Szar and Brad Wenzel’s Quiz Me, Dude: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/quiz-me-dude/id1545052154
03.) Doug Stanhope’s Beer Hall Putsch: